ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialism, Autumn 1963



Socialist Peasants


From International Socialism, No.14, Autumn 1963, p.38.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Sickle Under The Hammer
Oliver Henry Radkey
Columbia University Press. 70s.

This book is the second volume of the author’s exhaustive study of the Russian Social Revolutionary Party. Politically, Radkey has set himself the task of grasping one of the most prickly historical nettles in the socialist movement: the formulation of a progressive anti-Bolshevik position during the decisive years of the revolution itself. The Social Revolutionaries, heirs to the revolutionary Populist tradition – the dominant tendency in the 19th century Russian revolutionary movement – were the mass party of the peasantry, and by that fact alone the strongest party in Russia. Yet, with a political confusion and sheer incapacity that would do honour to a Tory Cabinet, it played this chance away and broke on the waves of its own one-time following, inspired by the Bolsheviks to ‘storm the heights’ and win state power. Why was it only the Bolsheviks who were able to profit from the revolutionary ideals of the Russian people in 1917? asks Radkey. Why could not the SRs have pulled themselves together, wrapped themselves in a revolutionary programme and ridden to power in the way the Bolsheviks did? And if they had, wouldn’t they have done better and not piled up the ruthless record of the Bolsheviks? Though Radkey says ‘yes’, his own book is evidence that the answer should on the contrary be ‘no’.

In fact the SRs did take power, as coalition-partners in the Kerensky Government, and their record there was worse than the Bolsheviks’. Radkey recognises this, and ‘raging at the dying of the light’, deals intricately with the swamp of largely meaningless factional disputes that confused and lamed the SRs at the crucial point in their history. His artificial post facto attempt to construct a more successful line is ingenuous. It overlooks what every reference to party activity in his book confirms: the SRs as a movement were completely incapable of carrying out any revolutionary policy, as was every Russian movement, with the sole exception of the Bolsheviks. Many other problems raised by Radkey’s book remain to be touched. There was for example the Left SR Party, with a revolutionary Soviet policy, at first coalition-partners with the Bolsheviks. Particularly with reference to the Soviets and the whole question of workers’ control this party had possibly a more left ideology than the Bolsheviks, yet in the last analysis they owed their whole policy, and their break from the right-wing of the SR Party, to the revolutionary firmness of the Bolsheviks.

The fact remains that the Bolsheviks’ policy, under the tutelage of Lenin and Trotsky, was nigh on to a model of revolutionary militancy and purity, up to and including the seizure of power. Only afterwards, when they were faced with wielding power in the traditional sense, did the unbridgeable gap between revolutionary policy and state power make itself felt. But mark well: a revolutionary critique of Bolshevism in power is in no way dependent upon, in fact loses from being coupled with anything but the most enthusiastic support for the revolutionary path of Bolshevism on its way to power.

Top of page

ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 24 March 2010