History in the making can be messy. As a tale told years later by historians, it is usually a clean narrative, with a beginning, a middle, and a mostly logical and foreordained end. Much of that messiness gets lost. Not in Jonathan Schneer's new book, The Lockhart Plot: Love, Betrayal, Assassination and Counter-Revolution in Lenin's Russia (Oxford UP, 2020). Schneer's recounts the story of a young British diplomat, Bruce Lockhart, sent to Soviet Russia soon after the October Revolution in 1917. Initially seeking some sort of accommodation with the Bolsheviks, Lockhart ends up plotting to overthrow the regime. The plot--set for September 1918--fails for all sorts of reasons, not least of which the plotters were outsmarted at every turn by Felix Dzerzhinsky, the head of the newly formed Cheka. The plot and its failure are a minor footnote of history. The book's great value is its description of the chaos in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Western intelligence efforts, the political geography of early Soviet Russia, and the personal lives of many of the leading characters. Lockhart's leading lady at the time of the plot, Moura von Benckendorff, is her own "force of history." For her, the Lockhart plot would end up being only one of many exciting moments of a long and dramatic life.
Daniel Peris is Senior Vice President at Federated Investors in Pittsburgh. Trained as a historian of modern Russia, he is the author most recently of Getting Back to Business: Why Modern Portfolio Theory Fails Investors.