Russian revolution 1917 - reading guide

Russian revolution 1917 - reading guide

Libcom.org's reading guide on the 1917 Russian revolution.

Key texts

Key people and groups

  • The Bolsheviks - Revolutionary socialist party which came to power in the 1917 Russian revolution. Important figures included Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin.
  • Gavril Miasnikov and the Workers' Group - Gavril Miasnikov was a Russian metalworker and veteran Bolshevik activist who was expelled from the party in 1922 for demanding workers' control of industry and a free press. He then set up the Workers Group of the Russian Communist Party aka The Workers' Group. Repeatedly arrested and imprisoned by the Russian Communist Party and he was eventually executed in 1945.
  • Workers' Opposition - Faction in the Russian Communist Party who opposed the bureaucratisation of the party, though never fully broke with Bolshevik ideology.
  • Nestor Makhno - Ukrainian anarchist and commander of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine aka 'The Makhnovists', an independent anarchist army which fought both the old Tsarist regime and the new Bolshevik one (see reading list below).
  • Gregori Maximov - Russian anarcho-syndicalist sentenced to death by the Bolsheviks but saved by the solidarity of Russia's metalworkers union. The editor of several anarcho-syndicalist newspapers he was eventually expelled from Russia.

Other recommended texts

Kronstadt

In 1921 there was a mutiny and rebellion of sailors and workers in the Russian port town of Kronstadt against the autoritarianism of the new Bolshevik government. The uprising in the town of Kronstadt, famous for its radicalism in both the 1905 and 1917 revolutions was declared 'counter-revolutionary' and 'a White (Tsarist) plot' by the Bolsheviks.

  • 1921: The Kronstadt rebellion - Short and simply written introductory text into the events at Kronstadt.
  • The Kronstadt uprising of 1921 - Ida Mett - Fantastic history of the Kronstadt uprising, dispelling Bolshevik misinformation about the rebellion and includes many original sources from the uprising itself.
  • Kronstadt Izvestia - Archive of the Kronstadt rebels' publication, written and published at the time of the uprising, outlining their demands and events as they happened.
  • The Kronstadt Revolt - Ante Ciliga - Short account written by the Croatian Marxist at the time of some of Trotsky's writings on the subject, which faces many of the major issues.
  • The Kronstadt Uprising of 1921 - Lynne Thorndycraft - Excellent article including information which demolishes the lie put forward by the Bolsheviks at the time (and repeated by their supporters today) that the workers and sailors of Kronstadt had, between 1917 and 1921, turned from solid revolutionaries to backward self-seeking peasants.
  • Kronstadt '21 - Victor Serge - Excerpt on the Kronstadt rebellion from Memoirs of a Revolutionary by an ex-Bolshevik. Despite remaining remaining in the camp of those claiming Kronstadt as 'a tragic necessity', he is honest enough to describe the facts of the situation in their own damning terms.

The Makhnovists

Between 1918 and 1921 in the Ukraine, the anarchist Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine aka 'The Makhnovists' battled against both the 'White' armies of the old Tsarist regime and the 'Red' armies of the new Bolshevik one.

Other media

  • Reds - Film written, directed, produced and starred in by Warren Beatty, who plays the American communist and writer John Reed as he experiences first-hand the Russian revolution. Also starring Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Gene Hackman.

Comments

Spikymike
Sep 29 2012 15:07

Not being too pushy here but could I recomend adding to this list of short texts the Wildcat article 'The Hunt for Red October' in the library here and the book by S.A.Smith titled 'Red Petrograd - Revolution in the factories 1917-1918' originally published by Cambridge University Press.

Ed
Sep 30 2012 09:37

Alright spikey, will chuck in the Wildcat article, but can you give a little description of what that book is about as we don't just want to add book titles but also include why they're of interest..

Spikymike
Oct 1 2012 11:43

Thanks Ed,

The book 'Red Petrograd' is a well reserached and detailed study of the impact of the Russian Revolution at Factory level in Petrograd and deals in particular with the factory councils implementation of workers control of production in conditions of economic chaos and in relation to syndicalist and bolshevik ideology. It is not written from a particularly pro-revolutionary perspective but is a useful accompliment to the Maurice Brinton booklet which gets a brief mention.

fromp
Oct 3 2012 16:08

Red Petrograd is great. Indeed, all the books on the reading list are worth reading. The only problem is that anyone who only read these books might be left with the impression that, in 1917, Russia's workers were desperate to self-manage their workplaces - and that if it wasn't for the authoritarian Bolsheviks, they would have gone on to create a genuinely anarchist-communist society.

Unfortunately things were more complicated than this. In conditions of extreme hunger and poverty, workers were more interested in individual survival than in self-management of their miserable factory jobs. Then when they did express opinions about wider political issues, they often voted for soviet and factory committee representatives who promised very strict discipline, simply in order to keep the economy going so they wouldn't all starve to death (often these representatives were Bolsheviks but some Russian anarchists, such as Makhno, could also be quite authoritarian).

By the summer of 1918 most workers were very disillusioned by the Bolshevik dictatorship - but they could see no practical alternative. These workers had organisations, such as the Assemblies of Factory Representatives, and they had access to guns, but they made no serious attempts to overthrow the very unstable Bolshevik regime. Of course, Bolshevik repression was also a major factor in this hesitancy but it was clearly not the only factor.

The best article on this situation (and a must in any reading list) is
'Russian Labour and Bolshevik Power after October' by William Rosenberg.

Chris Goodey's article, 'Factory Committees in 1918', and his debate with Maurice Brinton, is posted at lib com, is very thought provoking and gets beyond any crude ideas of factory committees are 'good' and Bolsheviks are 'bad'.

Until Michael Sideman publishes his promised work on the Russian Revolution, Christopher Read's
From Tsar to Soviets is probably the best recent account of the revolution seen from the point of view of the workers and peasants.

Barbara Engels' 'Subsistence riots in Russia during World War I' (at Libcom)
and
Jane McDermid's Midwives of the Revolution
both provide crucial information on proletarian women's often ignored role in initiating the Russian Revolution.

And Alexander Rabinowitch's three books on the revolution in Petrograd are unsurpassed, especially The Prelude to Revolution.

There he shows how the workers largely wanted a change of government and hence looked to politicians, such as the Bolsheviks for leadership. Like the Trotskyist parties of today, the Bolsheviks, however, hesitated to lead any direct action and instead focused on flooding demonstrations with their slogans. Meanwhile the anarchists hung out a the back of the demonstrations, attacked prisons and squatted large buildings. In other words things were uncannily similar to the activities of today's workers and lefties!

Hopefully any anti-capitalist revolution in the 21st Century will take place without the hunger, illiteracy and isolation of Russia in 1917 - and will be vastly more radical than the tragic dead-end of the 1917 revolution and its horrific outcome in Stalinism.

Spikymike
Oct 3 2012 16:27

fromp,

Agree with your opening comment and...

Yes the Chris Goodey-Maurice Brinton debate in the library is a good shortish item to reference and something more on the role of women would be good though I haven't read the books mentioned.

Must say that despite an initial interest in Michael Seidman's de-romanticising efforts on some of the the anarchist accounts of the Spanish Civil War that I saw a long time back, I was more than dissapointed with his pretty unbalanced follow up in 'Republic of Egos' and would be a little suspicious of anything he produced on the Russian revolution.

JoeMaguire
Oct 6 2012 01:42

Maximoff's - The Guillotine at Work?

trellis 5
Oct 6 2012 15:32

Here's links to those various texts:

William Rosenberg - 'Russian Labour and Bolshevik Power after October'

Chris Goodey - 'Factory Committees in 1918'

Barbara Engels - 'Subsistence Riots in Russia during World War One'

Gregor Maximoff - The Guillotine at Work

Anyone interested in Michael Seidman's unique, thought-provoking (and controversial) approach to revolutionary history should check this post: 'Michael Seidman versus stuart Christie on Paul Preston's The Spanish Holocaust'

rooieravotr
Oct 14 2012 15:53

"MK" "Beyond Kronstadt" One of the clearest articles on what went wrong and why it was not just 'circumstances'. Strongly recommended.

Dan Radnika
Oct 26 2012 16:49

An absolutely top book about Kronstadt is:
Kronstadt 1917-1921 - The fate of a Soviet democracy, Israel Getzler, Cambridge University Press, 1983

Of course, it's long out of print but you can still order it online from places like Abe Books. It traces the whole history of the Kronstadt Soviet from February 1917 to its suppression after the 1921 uprising.

Reading this book gives you a really strong sense of all the different influences on the workers and sailors of Kronstadt as they tried to work out the way forward and, along the way, nails the ridiculous Bolshevik lie about how the rebels of 1921 were "different people" from those who participated in the revolution of 1917. The continuity (right down to individual people) between those who fought the Tsar and those who fought the Bolsheviks is spelt out very clearly.

Entdinglichung
Nov 26 2012 15:39
georgestapleton
Nov 26 2012 16:17

Can I add Simon Pirani's book The Revolution in Retreat which is on here on libcom. I haven't read it myself, but I've heard its great. Afaik it basically continues what Steve Smith did for Petrograd but looking mainly at Moscow.

ptar
Dec 18 2012 13:26

Thanks for mentioning 'Beyond Kronstadt'. The better version is here:

'Beyond Kronstadt; the Bolsheviks in Power' - Mark Kosman

Tom de Cleyre
Dec 18 2012 16:11

Hm. About this:

Quote:
The unknown revolution, 1917-1921 - Volin - Extensive work on the Russian Revolution, its usurping by the Bolsheviks and on workers' rebellions against the new dictatorship.

The Unknown Revolution's timeline starts in 1825, certainly not 1917 given the space given to 1905. It actually starts with a note to the reader:

Quote:
"Russian Revolution" can mean three things: either the entire revolutionary movement, from the revolt of the Decembrists (1825) until the present; or only the two consecutive uprisings of 1905 and 1917; or, finally, only the great explosion of 1917. In this work, "Russian Revolution" is used in the first sense, as the entire movement.

The title of your article implies that you choose on the third possibility (which is a very strange partisan choice for libertarian communists, but it belongs to you). However, citing the dates 1917-1921 for The Unknown Revolution is just weird.