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Alex Callinicos

Guide to Reading:
Russian Revolution

(November 1977)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.103, November 1977, p.13.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

There is no doubt about what book heads this reading list. Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, republished this autumn by Pluto Press (£5.00), is the book to read on this subject. If you haven’t already, read it now.

John Reed’s eyewitness account of the actual seizure of power in November 1917, Ten Days that Shook the World (Penguin £1.00), is vivid, exciting, moving. Again it’s a must.

The second volume of Tony Cliffs Lenin, All Power to the Soviets (Pluto £3.60), concentrates on Lenin’s role in 1917, filling a gap left in Trotsky’s History from which, as Cliff puts it, ’the party, alas, is almost absent’.

Two other books add to our understanding of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917. The Bolshevik Central Committee minutes for the period August 1917-February 1918, published by Pluto in The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution (£2.70), give us the atmosphere of muddle, and argument in which the vital decisions were taken. There is also Marcel Liebman’s interesting study, Leninism under Lenin (Allen Lane £12.00), although its price makes it something to read in a library rather than to buy.

Trotsky’s autobiography, My Life (Penguin £1.25), fills in aspects of his role in 1917 omitted from his History. 1905 (Penguin 75p), apart from its account of the first Russian revolution and the first Soviets, contains the finest of Trotsky’s analyses of the driving forces of the revolution, which provided the basis for his theory of permanent revolution.

The first three volumes of E.H. Carr’s History of Soviet Russia, The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-23, scrupulously assemble many useful facts. Unfortunately, the heart of the matter – the working class – is missing.

Victor Serge’s Year One of the Russian Revolution (Allen Lane £3.75) describes the immediate aftermath of the revolution. As to its fate, Chris Harman’s pamphlet, How the Revolution was Lost, is unfortunately out of print. Cliff’s State Capitalism in Russia (Pluto £1.50) is indispensable. For an interesting discussion of the early years of the Soviet state, written from a sophisticated Maoist point of view, read Charles Bettelheim’s Class Struggles in the USSR (Harvester £12.50).

Hopefully Volume 3 of Cliff’s Lenin will fill an important gap – the international impact of the October revolution. New Park have done a useful service by publishing the proceedings of the vital Second Congress of the Communist International (2 volumes, each £3.50).

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