This book can be read in three ways. First, it is a work of considerable scholarship and the fruit of much archival probing by a fine scholar of early Bolshevism – and much of it is fresh, exciting and overdue. Secondly, it is a study of how a new, radical and illicit government used all means possible to launder the money and treasures of Russia’s tsarist regime, sell them to the capitalists who hated the Bolsheviks, and use the ill-gotten gains to buy arms and fund the nightmarish, blood-spattered experiment of the Soviet Union. Thirdly, it has a contemporary relevance since it is the first study of illegal funding – or, as we would say today, sanctions busting – on a colossal scale.
‘The knell of private property sounds’, wrote Karl Marx. ‘The expropriators are being expropriated.’ Nothing could have been more true. From the beginning, the Bolsheviks had embraced violence and terror: ‘A revolution without firing squads is meaningless,’ said Lenin. But he had also, since the early years of the twentieth