Top 10 texts about the 1917 Russian Revolution

International Working Women's Day march, 8 March 1917, Russia
International Working Women's Day march, 8 March 1917, Russia

A century after the Bolsheviks seized power from the soviets, choose some of the best texts about an uprising that changed the world forever

Submitted by libcom on April 12, 2017

The Guardian has just published a listicle by Tariq Ali promoting his new Verso book, where he claims Lenin synthesised 'anarcho-terrorism and social democracy'. Rather than read Ali's book for £16.99 why not try some of our extensive collection of free literature on the class character of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath.

1. The Bolsheviks and Worker's Control - Maurice Brinton

A remarkable pamphlet by Maurice Brinton exposing the struggles over the running of workplaces between workers and the new state in the Russian Revolution. In doing so it demolishes the romantic Leninist 'history' of the relationship between the working class and their party during the years 1917- 21. It also provides a backbone to understanding why the Russian revolution failed in the way it did.

2. Factory Committees in the Russian Revolution - Rod Jones

Alongside the Russian workers' attempts to create socialism -- not as some abstract far-off utopia in a political party program, but through confronting and changing the concrete reality of their everyday life -- were the activities of socialist parties, supposedly sympathetic to working class aspirations. This pamphlet tells the story of the Russian workers' struggle, in particular the efforts of the factory committees.

3. Red Petrograd: revolution in the factories 1917-1918 - S.A. Smith

Well researched and detailed study of the factory-level impact of the Russian Revolution in Petrograd, dealing in particular with implementation of workers' control by the factory councils.This book explores the impact of the 1917 revolution on factory life in the Russian capital. S.A. Smith traces attempts of workers to take control of their working lives from the February Revolution through to June 1918, when the Bolsheviks nationalised industry.

4. Soviets and Factory Committees in the Russian Revolution - Peter Rachleff

Peter Rachleff traces the development of the Factory Committees from early 1917 until the beginnings of the Bolsheviks' suppression of these organisations shortly after October.

5. Subsistence riots in Russia during World War I - Barbara Engel

Food riots, mostly by women, during World War I helped spark the Russian revolution. Barbara Engels' article provides crucial information on proletarian women's often ignored role in initiating the revolution.

6. Russian Labour and Bolshevik Power after October - William Rosenberg

William G. Rosenberg analyses the relationship between the working class and the Bolsheviks between 1917 and 1918, emphasising the role of strikes, protests and demonstrations during the period before and after October.

7. The unknown revolution, 1917-1921 - Volin

Volin's extensive work on the Russian Revolution, its usurping by the Bolsheviks and on workers' rebellions against the new dictatorship. Volin follows the development of the Russian revolutionary movement from the mid-19th century, through the 1905 revolution and into 1917: the revolution, the relationship between Bolsheviks and anarchists, and, finally, the repression of revolutionaries.

8. History of the Makhnovist movement, 1918-1921 - Peter Arshinov

Peter Arshinov's definitive history of the revolutionary Ukrainian guerrilla movement led by anarchist Nestor Makhno. It was in prison in 1911 that Peter Arshinov established a close personal and political friendship with Makhno, which continued after their release following the February Revolution in 1917. In 1919 Arshinov became Makhno's secretary, and remained with the Makhnovists until 1921.

9. Kronstadt 1917-21: The fate of a soviet democracy - Israel Getzler

The first major study of revolutionary Kronstadt to span the period from February 1917 to the uprising of March 1921. Israel Getzler's book focuses attention on Kronstadt's forgotten golden age, between March 1917 and July 1918, when Soviet power and democracy flourished there before discussing the controversial events of 1921, Kronstadt's 'third revolution', this time against the Bolshevik regime they had previously fought alongside.

10. From the Russian revolution of 1917 to Stalinist totalitarianism - Agustín Guillamón

A historical essay by Agustín Guillamón on the transition from Russian Revolution of the Soviets to bureaucratic dictatorship under Stalin, with special emphasis on the period extending from the February Revolution to the period of War Communism.




7 years 3 months ago

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Submitted by Anarcho on April 14, 2017

Those are all very good. The following are also worth reading:

Workers Against Lenin: Labour Protest and the Bolshevik Dictatorship by Jonathan Aves

The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd by Alexander Rabinowitch

The Economic Organisation of War Communism, 1918-1921 by Silvana Malle

The Russian revolution in retreat, 1920-24: Soviet workers and the new Communist elite by Simon Pirani

Building Socialism in Bolshevik Russia: Ideology and Industrial Organisation 1917-1921 by Thomas F. Remington

Workers' Control and Socialist Democracy by Carmen Sirianni

Plus many others -- I have tried to summarise the key points from these and other works in section H.6 of An Anarchist FAQ (also see The Bolshevik Myth Reloaded)

Also, of course, Berkman's The Boshevik Myth and Goldman's My Disillusionment in Russia -- plus the new book To Remain Silent is Impossible: Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman in Russia by Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman.

klas batalo

7 years 3 months ago

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Submitted by klas batalo on April 18, 2017

Thanks for this informative list!

klas batalo

7 years 3 months ago

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Submitted by klas batalo on April 18, 2017


The Bolsheviks seized power as part of a coalition within the soviets, not from them.

Actually no. Read the Bolsheviks in Power, etc they clearly stacked the soviets and purposefully tried to dominate them and outlaw opposition parties.

Susan Snyder

7 years 2 months ago

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Submitted by Susan Snyder on April 24, 2017

Thanks for this.


6 years 8 months ago

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Submitted by dvar on November 4, 2017

Hey - I'm finding it extremely hard to get my hands on Workers' Control and Socialist Democracy by Carmen Sirianni - do you know of any PDFs online?


donald parkinson

6 years 6 months ago

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Submitted by donald parkinson on December 30, 2017

How does winning majority support for your programme count as "stacking" the Soviets?


6 years 6 months ago

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Submitted by jondwhite on December 30, 2017

donald parkinson

How does winning majority support for your programme count as "stacking" the Soviets?

Basically by treating your members as "cadre"and "rank and file" rather than individuals you can win majorities through stacking.
By disciplining your members ("cadre") unless they vote your way on all issues (bloc voting), ie. not a free vote or matter of conscience.
By disciplining your members if they fail to attend.
By telling non-members voting against you to leave.
By suppressing those voting against through scorn, threats or making them illegal.
By being selective on participating in bodies only where you can win majorities ie. gerrymandering.
By winning majorities in order to prevent minorities becoming majorities in future.
Generally excluding and marginalising opponents rather than encouraging democratic participation.
Of course socialists fundamental program is democracy so they don't do this stacking, unlike the Bolsheviks.