MIA: History: Sowiet History: 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution: Introduction

The JACOBIN Russian Revolution 1917 Commemoration Project

by Einde O’Callaghan

Einde O’Callaghan is a political activist of Irish origin now living in Germany. He is a member of DIE LINKE and active in the anti-racist and anti-war movements. He is also a member of the Marxists’ Internet Archive collective.

Lenin with Kamenev and Trotsky

Lenin addresses a meeting in Moscow while Kamenev and Trotsky look on. Source: Marxists.com

This year 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the momentous events that shook Russia in 1917 and shaped the world for the rest of the 20th century. Although the regime that emerged from the revolution finally collapsed 25 years ago, it is probably fair to say that the reverbrations of those revolutionary upheavals are still being felt. No matter what attitude leftists take toward the regimes that eventually emerged in the aftermath of the revolution, it is clear that the revolution is of central importance in defining people’s concept of socialism, regardless of their exact interpretation of events.

However, the revolution and its events have to a large extent been obscured by myth, misrepresentation, and propaganda not just by defenders of the old regime and opponents of the new one, but also by many who saw or see themselves as defenders of the revolution. To cut through a lot of this confusion an international group of radical historians has joined together with Jacobin Magazine to provide short articles on various aspects of the revolution from various broadly left-wing perspectives. To ensure a wider audience many socialist activists from different countries have joined the project to translate the articles into various languages. The articles will appear in English on the Jacobin website and translations will appear internationally on many websites and blogs, which will publish some or all the articles mentioned below.

In addition, all the translations will be gathered together and hosted by the Marxists’ Internet Archive as part of their Soviet History Archive.

The purpose this article is to provide an introduction to the articles and their authors.

The first article, “Before February” by Todd Chretien, deals with the background to the revolution. Todd is an American political activist from the San Francisco region and is a frequent contributor to International Socialist Review.

Following this is “The Story of the February Revolution” by Kevin Murphy, which, as its name suggests, looks at the events that led to the collapse of the centuries-old Romanov regime and started the openly revolutionary process. Kevin is a historian at the University of Massachusetts Boston and author of Revolution and Counterrevolution: Class Struggle in a Moscow Metal Factory, which won the prestigious Deutscher Memorial Prize in 2005.

In the standard account, February was the good revolution and October was the extremist one. But events in Russia were far more complex than that. This is the topic of Lars Lih’s “From February to October”. Lars is an scholar who lives in Montreal and his books include Bread and Authority in Russia, 1914–1921 and Lenin Rediscovered: “What is to be Done?” in Context.

The next articles deal with thematic aspects of the revolution. The First World War provided the backdrop to the revolution and was also a major cause of the first crisis of the revolutionary period. This is covered in Yurii Colombo’s essay “From the Finland Station”. Yurii is a long-standing Italian socialist activist based in Moscow and Milan and he has written extensively about working-class history and Russian society.

Eric Blanc then looks at a much-neglected aspect of the revolution in “Finland’s Revolution”. Eric is an activist and historian in Oakland, California and is the author of Anti-Colonial Marxism: Oppression & Revolution in the Tsarist Borderlands.

Of course, the international repercussions of the revolution cannot be ignored. Daniela Mussi and Alvaro Bianchi look at the way Italy was affected in “Gramsci and the Russian Revolution”. Daniela is a Brazilian political scientist and journalist; Alvaro is a political scientist at the University of Campinas (Brazil). They are both on the editorial board of the magazine Outubro and members of the editorial collective of the blog Junho.

The strikes that provoked the February Revolution were started by women textile workers but after this women tend to disappear from accounts of the Revolution. Megan Trudell sets the record straight in her essay, “The Women of 1917”. Megan has been a socialist activist in Britain for 30 years. She has written widely on the First World War, The Russian Revolution and the Civil War and is currently working on the post-World War I crisis in Italy.

Antisemitism was a political tool used by the Tsarist regime in its efforts to divert the masses from political activity against the regime. Of course, it didn’t just disappear when the revolution broke out. This is the topic of Brendan McGeever’s “The Bolsheviks and Antisemitism”. Brendan is a sciologist at Birkbeck College, University of London, and author of The Bolsheviks and Antisemitism in the Russian Revolution.

Another constant theme for opponents of revolution of any kind is the question of violence. This is dealt with by Mike Haynes in his article “Violence and Revolution in 1917”. Mike is a political economist at the University of Wolverhampton and author of many books and articles including Russia: Class and Power in the Twentieth Century and Nikolai Bukharin and the Transition from Capitalism to Socialism.

Returning to specific episodes in the Revolution, Ronald Suny looks at “The Baku Commune”. Ronald is among other things director of the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies and author of very many publications including The Baku Commune, 1917–1918: Class and Nationality in the Russian Revolution and The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States.

Daniel Gaido deals with another of the great crises of the revolutionary period in “The July Days”. Daniel is a researcher at the National Research Council (Conicet), Argentina, author of The Formative Period of American Capitalism and co-editor, with Richard Day, of Witnesses to Permanent Revolution.

Chris Read examines “After the February Consensus”. Chris is a historian at the University of Warwick and author of among other books Lenin: A Revolutionary Life and War and Revolution in Russia: 1914–22.

Kevin Murphy returns to discuss one of the most important organisations in the revolutionary process in his essay on the Petrograd Soviet, “From Compromise to Power”.

One crucial aspect of the revolution was the combination of urban revolution with massive peasant unrest in the countryside. This is the theme of Sarah Badcock’s article “Russia’s Rural Revolution in 1917”. Sarah is a historian at the University of Nottingham and author of Politics and the People in Revolutionary Russia.

The last major attempt to block the revolutionary process was Kornilov’s unsuccessful attempt to capture Petrograd at the end of August. Paul Le Blanc examines this episode in “The Kornilov Coup”. Paul is a historian at La Roche College in Pittsburgh, the editor of V. I. Lenin, Revolution, Democracy, Socialism: Selected Writings and author of Lenin and the Revolutionary Party.

Alexei Gusev takes a look at the other wing of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in “1917 – The Menshevik Alternative”. Alexei is a historian at the Lomonosov Moscow State University and has co-authored and edited a number of books, including Political Parties of Russia: Pages of History and Victor Serge: Socialist Humanism against Totalitarianism.

As mentioned at the start of this introduction, the Russian Revolution of 1917 was one of the pivotal events of the 20th century. David Mandel looks at this aspect in his essay “The Legacy of the October Revolution”. David is a political scientist at the Université du Québec à Montréal and has been active in labour education in the Russia, Ukraine and Belarus for many years. He is author The Petrograd Workers in the Russian Revolution – February 1917–June 1918 and Labour after Communism.

No series about the Russian Revolution would be complete without an account of the insurrection in October/November. China Miéville gives an account of this in his article “The Day That Shook the World”. China is a well-known author of what he describes as “weird fiction”. Less well known is his role as author of Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law and most recently October: The Story of the Russian Revolution.

Alexander Rabinowitch returns to the topic of his seminal 1976 book, The Bolsheviks Come to Power in “How the Bolsheviks Won”. Alexander is a historian and an Affiliated Research Scholar, St. Petersburg Institute of History, Russian Academy of Sciences. In addition to The Bolsheviks Come to Power, he is also author of Prelude to Revolution and The Bolsheviks in Power.

One of the chroniclers of post-revolutionary Russia is Victor Serge, the subject of Suzi Weissman’s “Victor Serge – From October to January”. Suzi is a political scientist Saint Mary’s College of California as well as being a broadcaster and author of Victor Serge: The Course is Set on Hope.

One of the criticisms of the Bolsheviks is that they set up a dictatorship, but at the time of the revolution this was not the perception of many people both in Russia and abroad. Soma Marik discusses “Revolutionary Democracy”. Soma is a historian at RKSM Vivekananda Vidya Bhavan, Calcutta, and a political activist who has written extensively for International Viewpoint.

Leon Trotsky was not only a leading figure in the October Revolution, second only to Lenin, he was also the first great historian of the revolution. Neil Davidson examines this legacy in “Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution”. Neil is a sociologist at the University of Glasgow and author of How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions? and We Cannot Escape History: States and Revolutions.

As the articles are published we will add links to them from here.

We are also still looking for volunteers to help us translate into the languages we already have covered but also, more importantly, for languages we don’t have covered yet. We are particularly interested in finding people to translate into Arabic, Turkish, Hindi, Bangla and the other languages of India, where we are particularly weak. If you are interested in helping, please contact me at eindeo (at) marxists (dot) org.

Last updated on 10 November 2017