r l f a d etery over a century ago. The true legacy of these early efforts, however, takes the form of the many converts who flock back to Christianity today, as religion offers some sense of spirituality and meaning in the midst of grinding poverty and rampant corruption. Since so many of the converts belong to underground churches it is impossible to come up with exact numbers, but most independent estimates range from 40 to 70 million, possibly as many as 130 million Christians, most of them in the countryside. Some of us may hold that God is a delusion, but readers will surely share Liao Yiwu’s admiration for the resilience and courage of those who, in China, fight against all odds to preserve their faith, illuminating in the process much bigger issues: how ordinary people struggle to keep their hope and dignity intact when faced with the daily reality of a one-party state. q h i s t o r y c h r i s t o p h e r a n dre w
For Your Eyes Only Spies and Commissars: Bolshevik Russia and the West
By Robert Service (Macmillan 440pp £25)
Robert Service is well known for his impressive biographies of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin. Spies and Commissars is his most vividly written book so far. Its subject is the ‘dynamic interaction between Russia and the West’ during the early years of Bolshevik rule, which, Service argues, was shaped not merely by political leaders on both sides but also by ‘an extraordinary miscellany of people’: spies, commissars, diplomats, reporters, unofficial intermediaries, intellectuals, opportunistic businessmen and casual travellers.
Colourful characters abound. In the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University, Service’s main source of new material, he has uncovered possibly the most preposterously named intelligence officer of the early twentieth century, Monsieur Faux-Pas Bidet, who was partly responsible for expelling Trotsky from France in 1916. Trotsky turned the tables on Faux-Pas Bidet after he was arrested during a mission to Russia in 1918, subjecting him to a sarcastic interrogation which left Faux-Pas Bidet persuaded that Bolshevik rule was more strongly established than he had previously supposed.
The best known of the Western conspirators against the infant Bolshevik regime was the junior British diplomat, Robert Bruce Lockhart, the leading figure in the inept ‘envoys’ plot’ (sometimes called the ‘Lockhart plot’), which was easily penetrated by the Cheka, the Leninist forerunner of the KGB. The KGB later claimed, with characteristic hyperbole, that this ‘shattering blow dealt by the Chekists to the conspirators was equivalent to victory in a major military battle’. In reality, the envoys’ plot was the brainchild not of an organised coalition of capitalist governments but of a group of politically naive Western diplomats and secret agents left largely to their own devices during the first chaotic year of Bolshevik rule.
Though arrested after the envoys’ plot was publicly revealed, Lockhart and other British officials were allowed to return to London in October 1918 in return for the release of Soviet officials imprisoned in Britain, among them the future Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Maxim Litvinov. Lockhart’s memoirs contain an extraordinary (but, as Service suggests, probably authentic) account of his final meeting with Yakov Peters, deputy head of the Cheka, before his return home. ‘I have a favour to ask of you,’ Peters said. ‘Will you give this letter to my English wife?’ To help Lockhart identify his wife, Peters gave him several photos of her, before having second thoughts. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I shan’t trouble you. As soon as you’re out of here you’ll blaspheme and curse me as your worst enemy.’ Lockhart told Peters not to be a fool, took the letter and delivered it to Mrs Peters on his
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