Further Reading on the Russian Revolution

Against the Current, No. 199, March/April 2019

Peter Solenberger

In addition to Before Stalinism: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy, Samuel Farber has written four books on Cuba taking up the theme of socialist democracy there: Revolution and Reaction in Cuba, 1933-1960 (Wesleyan University Press, 1976), The Origins of the Cuban Revolution Reconsidered (University of North Carolina Press, 2006), Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment (Haymarket Books, 2011), and The Politics of Che Guevara: Theory and Practice (Haymarket Books, 2016). See my review of The Politics of Che Guevara in ATC 185.

E.H. Carr’s three-volume The Bolshevik Revolution (Norton, 1985) is a sympathetic history of the period covered in Before Stalinism. Its main limitation is that in recounting what happened it can seem to argue that what happened must have happened. Readers must add their own critique.

Isaac Deutscher’s three-volume biography of Leon Trotsky is an excellent, sympathetic account of the history through which Trotsky lived, including the 1917-23 period. Its volumes are The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed and The Prophet Outcast (Verso, 2004).

Stephen Cohen’s Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, 1888-1938 (Oxford University Press, 1980) is another excellent biography covering the period. Cohen is sympathetic to the viewpoint of Nikolai Bukharin and the right wing of the Bolshevik Party in the 1920s. His Rethinking the Soviet Experience: Politics and History since 1917 (Oxford University Press, 1986), published four years before Farber’s book, rejects the totalitarianism school of Sovietology and traces the reform policies of Mikhail Gorbachev, with which he is sympathetic, back to Bukharin’s thinking.

Roy Medvedev’s Let History Judge: The Origin and Consequences of Stalinism (Knopf, 1972, and Columba University Press, 1989) and Marcel Liebman’s Leninism under Lenin (Merlin Press, 1975, and Haymarket Books, 2017) “expounded on the libertarian side of Lenin,” as Farber put it in Before Stalinism (210).

October 1917: Workers in Power (Resistance Books, IIRE and Merlin Press, 2016), edited by Fred Leplat and Alex de Jong, is “a fine tribute to the Revolution, with articles by Paul Le Blanc, François Vercammen, Ernest Mandel, David Mandel (unrelated), Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky,” as I put it in my ATC 189 review.

Paul Le Blanc’s October Song: Bolshevik Triumph, Communist Tragedy (Haymarket Books, 2017) covers the history and issues raised in Before Stalinism but from a standpoint more sympathetic to the Bolsheviks. Bill Smaldone reviewed the book in ATC 197.

David Mandel’s lengthy study of the Petrograd working class in the revolution is forthcoming in paperback from Haymarket, and will be reviewed in a future issue of ATC.

Alexander Rabinowitch’s study, The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd (Indiana University Press, 2007) draws on archival documents that became available in the 1990s. His previous books are Prelude to Revolution: The Petrograd Bolsheviks and the July 1917 Uprising and The Bolsheviks Come to Power: The Revolution of 1917 in Petrograd. Rabinowitch is not a Marxist or a proponent of socialist revolution, but his research provides essential information whatever your political viewpoint.

Secondary sources are not enough to really understand the period, especially since the writings of the protagonists are so readily available in print and on the Internet. See particularly the writings of Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky and Serge at https://www.marxists.org/.

March-April 2019, ATC 199