International Relations Russian Revolutions and Civil War, 1917-1921
by
Michael Kort
  • LAST REVIEWED: 07 October 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0088

Introduction

The Russian Revolution has not permitted Western historians the comfort of neutrality. It led to the establishment of a regime, the Soviet Union, that on the basis of Marxist ideology claimed to be building the world’s first nonexploitative and egalitarian society. As such, the Soviet regime further claimed to represent humanity’s future and therefore the right to spread its communist revolution worldwide. These pretentions, however dubiously realized in practice, won the Soviet Union millions of loyalists over the world. At the same time, because these pretentions also threatened any society organized according to different principles, including those of liberal democracy and free enterprise, they made the Soviet regime the object of intense fear and opposition. This reaction was reinforced as the Soviet Union quickly became a brutal dictatorship and, after World War II, emerged as one of the world’s two nuclear superpowers. For these reasons Western scholarship on the Russian Revolution has had an element of contentiousness not often seen in other fields. That in turn is why any serious student of the Russian Revolution must be familiar with its historiography, and why this bibliography not only contains a major section on historiography but also includes historiographic commentary in many of the individual entries. The term Russian Revolution itself refers to two upheavals that took place in 1917: the February Revolution and the October, or Bolshevik, Revolution. The former was a spontaneous uprising that began in Russia’s capital in late February 1917 and led to the collapse of the tsarist monarchy and the establishment of the Provisional Government, a regime based on the premise that Russia should have a parliamentary government and free-enterprise economic system. The latter took place in late October and was the seizure of power by a militant Marxist political party determined to rule alone, turn Russia into a communist society, and spark a worldwide revolution. (These dates are according to the outdated Julian calendar in use in Russia at the time, which trailed the Gregorian calendar used in the West by thirteen days. According to the Gregorian calendar, the two revolutions took place in March and November, respectively.) Because the Bolsheviks did not consolidate their power until their victory in a three-year civil war, many histories ostensibly about the “Russian Revolution” include not only the events of 1917 but also their immediate aftermath in early 1918, and then the civil war, which began in mid-1918 and lasted until 1921. That framework has been adopted for this article as well. Matters of evidence and documentation have additionally complicated this subject. In this case the key date is 1991, as that is when the collapse of the Soviet Union finally made many important Russian archives available to scholars for the first time. This significant development is covered in the Published Documentary Collections section of this article.

General Overviews

Although all of the volumes listed in this section can be called general overviews, they vary considerably in their structure and approach. Carr 1950–1953 provides a multivolume and extraordinarily detailed institutional narrative of the establishment and consolidation of the Bolshevik regime, which the author essentially endorses. Chamberlin 1965 is a traditional, sweeping narrative that is critical of the Bolshevik regime, as is Figes 1998, although it begins the story in 1891 and carries it to 1924. Pipes 1996 provides a broad narrative in the condensation of two large volumes on this subject, and provides a view that is highly critical of the Bolshevik regime. Fitzpatrick 1982 is an interpretive essay sympathetic to the Bolshevik regime and adopts a framework that extends to 1932. Schapiro 1984, likewise, is an interpretive essay, albeit from a liberal perspective critical of the Bolsheviks. Read 1996 is a revisionist narrative that, while scholarly, comes close to being a textbook. (See the introduction to the Historiography section for the definition of revisionist and related terms in the context of Soviet history.) Shukman 1998 is a short survey with a conclusion critical of the Bolshevik regime.

  • Carr, Edward Hallett. A History of Soviet Russia: The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917–1923. 3 vols. London: Macmillan, 1950–1953.

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    The first three volumes of a series that, first under Carr and then R. W. Davies, eventually totaled fourteen volumes and thousands of pages upon reaching its terminus in 1929. Some scholars argue these volumes constitute a classic work; others, largely because Carr writes as if the Bolshevik regime was the inevitable outcome of the revolution that ended the tsarist regime, dismiss them as an apologia for Bolshevism and therefore largely useless.

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  • Chamberlin, William Henry. The Russian Revolution, 1917–1921. 2 vols. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1965.

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    Originally published in 1935, this work remains an extremely valuable source. The author, who covered Russia for the Christian Science Monitor from 1922 to 1933, was a skilled writer, objective observer, and careful researcher. Many specialists believe it has still not been surpassed as an overall history of the period. Volume 1, 1917–1918: From the Overthrow of the Czar to the Assumption of Power by the Bolsheviks. Volume 2, 1918–1921: From the Civil War to the Consolidation of Power.

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  • Figes, Orlando. A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891–1924. New York: Penguin, 1998.

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    A panoramic narrative that draws on recently opened archives and numerous anecdotes with great effect. Figes argues, on the one hand, that Russia’s long history of serfdom and its autocratic traditions doomed the 1917 effort to establish a democratic regime and, on the other, that it was the Bolshevism and Lenin’s policies after the seizure of power that put in place the basic elements of the Stalinist regime.

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  • Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution, 1917–1932. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

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    A thematic essay rather than a narrative history by the doyenne of revisionist social history. Fitzpatrick views the events of 1917–1932 as a “single process” in which Stalin’s program of industrialization and collectivization, with mass working-class support and through brute force, completed and fulfilled Lenin’s revolution. The overall revolution is summarized as “terror, progress, and social mobility.” Slightly less than a third of the book deals with the 1917–1921 period. Crafted for use in college-level courses.

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  • Pipes, Richard. A Concise History of the Russian Revolution. New York: Vintage, 1996.

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    The author calls this volume a “précis” of his two massive, path-breaking earlier volumes, The Russian Revolution (Pipes 1990, under The October Revolution and the Establishment of the Bolshevik Regime) and Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime (Pipes 1993, under The Civil War and Its Immediate Aftermath). Pipes argues that with the coup of October 1917 fanatical intellectuals seized control of the upheaval of 1917 intent on establishing a socialist utopia, but in the end they reconstituted Russia’s authoritarian tradition in a new regime that laid the basis for totalitarianism. Excellent for advanced undergraduates, this volume covers the period from 1900 to 1924.

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  • Read, Christopher. From Tsar to Soviets: The Russian People and Their Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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    A comprehensive but reasonably concise (three hundred pages) overview written from a revisionist social history perspective. As the subtitle suggests, Read stresses the activities and efforts of workers and peasants to defend their interests. While sympathetic to Lenin, Read also is critical of the Bolsheviks for suppressing popular movements after seizing power. Includes an extensive bibliography, which increases its value to undergraduates and graduate students.

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  • Schapiro, Leonard Bertram. The Russian Revolutions of 1917: The Origins of Modern Communism. New York: Basic Books, 1984.

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    Schapiro argues that the Bolsheviks ruthlessly sabotaged the Provisional Government’s effort to lay the basis for democracy in Russia and, having seized power in a coup d’état, laid the basis for a totalitarian regime. A concise account that sums up the lifetime work of a distinguished historian of Soviet Russia. Excellent for undergraduates.

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  • Shukman, Harold. The Russian Revolution. Stroud, UK: Sutton, 1998.

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    A short but up-to-date survey by the editor of The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the Russian Revolution (Shukman 1988, cited under Bibliographies and Reference Works). This work concludes that Lenin prepared the way for Stalin. Suitable for undergraduates.

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Textbooks

The line between a general overview and a textbook can be thin, and several of the sources cited under General Overviews could be included here as well. That said, all the volumes listed in this section are designed for classroom use and well suited to undergraduate and/or graduate courses. Curtis 1957 is concise and includes documents; Kowalski 1997 likewise includes documents but integrates them into the narrative. Thompson 1981 and Wade 2005 provide traditional narratives, although the latter volume is considerably longer. Pipes 1995 confines its coverage to asking and answering three fundamental questions about how events unfolded, although the third question carries the story forward to the rise of Stalin.

  • Curtis, John Shelton. The Russian Revolutions of 1917. New York: Van Nostrand, 1957.

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    A concise narrative of about one hundred pages and forty documents together cover the period from the beginning of World War I through the collapse of the monarchy, the February and October revolutions, and the Treaty of Brest Litovsk of March 1918.

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  • Kowalski, Ronald. The Russian Revolution: 1917–1921. Russian Sources in History. Edited by David Welch. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.

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    A textbook with an interesting format in which the author’s commentary and primary source documents are integrated into a single narrative. A historiography of the revolution serves as an introduction. The author is sympathetic to the revisionist approach to the revolution, claiming that the October Revolution was accepted by most ordinary citizens. However, he also argues that the Bolsheviks lost legitimacy by clinging to power by dictatorial means and that the foundations of Stalinism had been laid by 1921. Includes an extensive bibliography.

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  • Pipes, Richard. Three “Whys” of the Russian Revolution. New York: Vintage, 1995.

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    A short, provocative, and illuminating introduction to the subject that in about eighty pages asks and answers three key questions: “Why did Tsarism fall?” “Why did the Bolsheviks triumph?” and “Why did Stalin succeed Lenin?” See General Overviews for a synopsis of how Pipes views the revolution.

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  • Thompson, John M. Revolutionary Russia, 1917. New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1981.

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    A clear and concise overview of the events of 1917, culminating with the forcible dispersal of the Constituent Assembly and the Treaty of Brest Litovsk. Thompson argues that there is a significant link between the Bolshevik coup and the Party’s subsequent efforts to retain power and the resultant dictatorial Soviet state and society that emerged from the revolution.

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  • Wade, Rex A. The Russian Revolution, 1917. 2d ed. New Approaches to European History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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    A comprehensive overview of events from February 1917 to January 1918 and the forcible dispersion of the Constituent Assembly. Following the revisionist social historians, Wade argues that the Bolsheviks had significant support when they seized power in October in the name of “Soviet power.” However, he adds that their determination to rule alone, made clear when the Constituent Assembly was dispersed by force, marked the end of the revolution and set Russia on the road to civil war and dictatorship.

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Bibliographies and Reference Works

Two of the volumes listed in this section are bibliographies and two are reference works. Frame 1995 is a bibliography that covers works dealing with the period from 1905 to 1921 and places them in categories, but it does not provide annotations. The Smele 2006 bibliography covers the period 1917 to 1921 and annotates every entry. Jackson and Devlin 1989 is a dictionary organized thematically, while Shukman 1988 takes a chronological approach in the first several chapters and then switches to a topical approach before concluding with an A-to-Z biographical section.

  • Frame, Murray, ed. The Russian Revolution, 1905–1921: A Bibliographical Guide to Works in English. Westport, CT, and London: Greenwood, 1995.

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    A comprehensive listing of books as well as articles from forty journals. Contains both author and subject indexes. However, the entries are not annotated.

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  • Jackson, George D., and Robert James Devlin, eds. Dictionary of the Russian Revolution. New York: Greenwood, 1989.

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    This seven-hundred-page volume contains more than three hundred entries by almost one hundred contributors organized into seven categories: social forces; political parties; prominent individuals; institutions, groups and associations; significant events in the revolutionary calendar; consideration of the revolution by area, region, and/or nationality group; and other major themes or topics. There are one hundred major articles on the most significant issues and two hundred shorter articles. In the preface Jackson notes his particular effort to include works of social history.

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  • Shukman, Harold, ed. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the Russian Revolution. Oxford and New York: Blackwell, 1988.

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    The entries in this valuable encyclopedia were written by more than forty scholars. Part 1 is organized into seven chapters: “Russian Society and Institutions Before and After 1917,” “The Revolutionary Movement,” “The Road to Revolution,” “1917 and After: Political Developments,” “Post-October Institutions,” “Spreading the Revolution,” and “The Cultural Impact of the Revolution.” Most of these articles include suggestions for further reading. Part 2 consists of about 175 biographies. The introduction includes a short historiography.

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  • Smele, Jonathan D., ed. The Russian Revolution and Civil War, 1917–1921: An Annotated Bibliography. London and New York: Continuum, 2006.

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    The most up-to-date and comprehensive available source of this kind. It contains almost 6,000 annotated entries divided into twenty-five chapters, which in turn are divided into subsections. Among the many types of materials included are books (including edited collections of documents); articles and essays from scholarly journals; chapters and essays from edited volumes; and published letters, speeches, and interviews. The great majority of the entries are for English-language materials. Materials in Russian are not included––the editor justifiably points out that doing so would have expanded this volume to “indecent corpulence” but there are some entries for Western European languages. While generally balanced, Smele tends to point out when authors are anti-Bolshevik but not when the reverse is the case.

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Published Documentary Collections

Perhaps the single greatest problem for scholars of the Soviet Union has been access to documents. During the Soviet era vital state and party archives were closed, and Western scholars had to rely largely on published materials, archival collections available in the West, and, beginning in the 1970s, limited access to certain Soviet archives and libraries. The year 1991 is used here as a dividing point within this section because after the fall of the Soviet Union many––though hardly all––important archival collections were opened to scholars for the first time. The volumes listed here also may be categorized by their intended audience: Some are intended for scholars whereas others are suitable for undergraduate or graduate students and university courses. For documentary collections dealing exclusively with Lenin, see the Lenin and Leninism section.

Prior to 1991

Golder 1927, Bunyan 1936, Bunyan 1967, and Bunyan and Fisher 1934 are useful to specialists. Daniels 1972 and McCauley 1975 are designed for undergraduate and graduate use.

  • Bunyan, James, ed. Intervention, Civil War, and Communism in Russia, April–December 1918: Documents and Materials. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1936.

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    More than five hundred pages of documents most from the Hoover Institution, focusing on a nine-month period during which the Bolsheviks consolidated their one-party rule and Russia plunged into civil war. Includes materials on foreign intervention in Russia, the Red Army and Cheka, Bolshevik economic policy, and widespread worker and peasant opposition to Bolshevik rule. Reprinted in 1976 (New York: Octagon).

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  • Bunyan, James, ed. The Origin of Forced Labor in the Soviet State, 1917–1921. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967.

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    This collection of documents traces the origin and evolution of Bolshevik forced-labor policies from 1918 to 1921. The documents are annotated and accompanied by commentary. Published in cooperation with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace.

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  • Bunyan, James, and Harold Henry Fisher, eds. The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917–1918: Documents and Materials. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1934.

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    The editors selected documents to illustrate how the Bolsheviks seized power in October 1917 and succeeded in holding it during the six months that followed. The twelve chapters range from topics such as “The Bolsheviks and the Provisional Government” and “The Last Days of the Provisional Government,” to “Consolidating the Dictatorship” and “The Workers, the Peasants, and the Government.”

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  • Daniels, Robert Vincent, ed. The Russian Revolution. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972.

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    A collection of eyewitness reports, memoirs, and official statements and documents covering the collapse of the tsarist regime, the formation and crises of the Provisional Government, the social revolutions in the cities and countryside, and the Bolshevik Party’s seizure of power and efforts to consolidate its rule through early 1918. This volume includes an introduction and annotations helpful to nonspecialists and undergraduates.

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  • Golder, Frank Alfred, ed. Documents of Russian History, 1914–1917. New York: Century, 1927.

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    About two-thirds of this venerable but still-important volume focuses on February to October 1917. The majority of the documents are drawn from two newspapers: Rech, the official paper of the Constitutional Democrats, and Izvestiya, which in 1917 spoke for the Petrograd Soviet. Many of these documents have been reproduced elsewhere, but this source does include materials not available elsewhere in translation. The contents of this volume are available online from the Internet Archive.

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  • McCauley, Michael, ed. The Russian Revolution and the Soviet State, 1917–1921: Documents. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1975.

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    Includes many key documents, a series of helpful maps, and introductory comments by the editor. Along with material on politics, revolution, and war, there are documents on social, economic, and cultural developments. Includes materials on Bolshevik economic and social policies during the civil war and the hopes and plans of avant-garde artists sympathetic to the Bolshevik regime. Suitable for undergraduates.

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Since 1991

Wade 1991 and Butt, et al. 1996 are useful to scholars. Daniels 1993 has often been assigned in Soviet history courses. Steinberg 2001, Steinberg and Khrustalëv 1995, and Daly and Trofimov 2009 are suitable for undergraduates.

  • Butt, V. P., A. B. Murphy, N. A. Myshov, and G. K. Swain, eds. The Russian Civil War: Documents from the Soviet Archives. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1996.

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    The documents in this volume, drawn from five Russian archives, were selected to illustrate the complexity of the Russian civil war. Among other topics, they cover the Bolsheviks’ early resort to force and terror, the dreadful conditions of everyday life, and Bolshevik hostility to much of the peasantry. In their choice of documents and commentary, the editors stress the democratic nature of the socialist opposition to the Bolsheviks.

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  • Daly, Jonathan W., and Leonid Trofimov, eds. and trans. Russia in War and Revolution, 1914–1922: A Documentary History. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2009.

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    This excellent volume, which is designed for classroom use, is divided into five chapters: “War and Social Unrest,” “People’s Revolution,” The Bolshevik Revolution and the Road to a New World,” “Popular Opposition and Civil Wars,” and “Revolution’s Finale.” It contains 158 documents, six helpful maps, and an introduction by the editors.

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  • Daniels, Robert Vincent, ed. A Documentary History of Communism in Russia: From Lenin to Gorbachev. 3d rev. ed. Hanover, NH, and London: University Press of New England, 1993.

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    Chapter 2 contains more than forty documents on the 1917–1921 period, including one not available when the previous edition was published (1984). The original edition was published in 1960. A helpful introduction precedes each document. An excellent resource for undergraduate and graduate courses.

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  • Steinberg, Mark D., ed. Voices of Revolution, 1917. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001.

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    This volume features 132 documents written by workers, soldiers, and peasants during the turmoil of 1917. Petitions, personal letters, appeals, and even poems are included. The goal is to make available to students and general readers, as well as specialists, the hopes and concerns of ordinary Russians during that crucial year. The editor provides a lengthy and informative introduction, explanatory notes, a chronology, and a glossary. There is also a thirty-page afterword called “Style in Lower-Class Writing in 1917,” written by a linguist. Many of the documents come from Russian archives opened to scholars after the fall of the Soviet Union.

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  • Steinberg, Mark D., and Vladimir M. Khrustalëv, eds. The Fall of the Romanovs: Political Dreams and Personal Struggles in a Time of Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.

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    The most comprehensive and up-to-date documentary collection on the captivity and execution of Nicholas II and his family. Most of the 160 documents come from archives not opened to scholars until after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A helpful introduction and commentaries to each of the volume’s four sections accompany the documents. Russian documents translated by Elizabeth Tucker.

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  • Wade, Rex A., ed. Documents of Soviet History. Vol. 1, The Triumph of Bolshevism, 1917–1919. Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press, 1991.

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    Continued in Volume 2, Triumph and Retreat, 1920–1922 (Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press, 1993). The first two volumes of a proposed twelve-volume series, containing many documents in English translation for the first time. Volume 1 is divided into three chapters, one for each year, and contains 157 documents. Volume 2, likewise, has three chapters and contains 106 documents. A useful source for advanced undergraduates and graduate students as well as specialists. Each volume contains an introduction and annotations.

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Historiography

Historiographic works on the Russian Revolution generally have revolved around debates over why the tsarist regime collapsed, why the Bolsheviks succeeded in seizing and holding power, and whether the regime set up under Lenin laid the foundations for Stalinism. These debates at times have been sharp, a quality that is evident in several of the works listed in this section. Roughly speaking, most Western scholars since World War II working on the Soviet Union—and therefore the Russian Revolution—whatever their differences on any number of points, have fallen into two broadly defined camps: the traditionalist, also labeled by its critics as the “liberal” or “Cold War” camp, and the “revisionist” or “social history” camp. Traditionalists, who dominated Western scholarship of the Soviet Union until the 1960s, viewed the Soviet Union as a totalitarian society and the Bolshevik Revolution as a coup d’état by a militant minority that established a one-party dictatorship against the will of the majority. The revisionists, who first emerged along with the rise of the New Left on American college and university campuses, tended to be influenced by the French Annales school of social history and often by Marxism, and generally were sympathetic to socialism and/or to what they sometimes call the “Soviet experiment.” The revisionists, in fact, stuck the liberal and Cold War labels on the traditionalists. With specific regard to the two revolutions of 1917, they criticized the traditionalists for focusing on the country’s elites and political history, thereby viewing that event strictly “from above,” and ignoring social history and the “revolution from below,” that is, the activities of the working classes (urban workers and peasants) and rank-and-file soldiers. Having ignored the masses, the revisionists argued, the traditionalist overlooked the support among those groups for the Bolsheviks’ October Revolution. In taking a social history approach, the revisionists were especially concerned with demonstrating that the October Revolution was not a coup d’état by an extremist minority, as is often argued by traditional historians, but an uprising with considerable popular support and that therefore the regime it produced was legitimate. The revisionist offensive produced a vigorous traditionalist response. Among other things, the traditionalist historians accused the revisionists of ignoring politics and ideology, in particular the authoritarian ideology of the Bolshevik Party, factors that were decisive in how the Russian Revolution turned out. The traditionalists further noted that the revisionists were at a loss to explain how a presumably mass uprising in October turned so quickly into a one-party dictatorship. With regard to methodology, it was suggested that the revisionists have focused on a narrow range of topics that appears to support their theses while ignoring a vast range of subjects that does the opposite. The net result of this clash of views has been an ongoing historiographic debate in which the participants spar over their research methods as well as the events in question.

Prior to 1980

Karpovich 1930 consults works in four languages and provides an introduction to this subject that remains helpful. Billington 1966 breaks down the debate into unique but nonetheless useful categories, while Warth 1967 provides a conventional but erudite overview of works as of the fiftieth anniversary of the revolution.

  • Billington, James H. “Six Views of the Russian Revolution.” World Politics 18.3 (April 1966): 452–473.

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    The author of a monumental cultural history of Russia, Billington eschews conventional categories based mainly on ideology and instead divides works on the Russian Revolution into three sets of opposing “views”: “accidental–pathetic” versus “heroic–inevitable,” “nostalgic–traditionalist” versus “visionary–futurist,” and “tragic” versus “ironic.” His comments on prominent historians such as E. H. Carr, Leonard Schapiro, Robert Daniels, and George Kennan, and on leading historical figures such as Kerensky, Miliukov, and Trotsky are at times provocative and always insightful.

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  • Karpovich, Michael. “The Russian Revolution of 1917.” Journal of Modern History 2.2 (June 1930): 258–280.

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    Written by a distinguished émigré historian who later would mentor several of the most prominent postwar American scholars, this remains an extremely useful guide to documentary collections, memoirs, historical periodicals, and other works produced before 1930 in Russian, English, French, and German.

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  • Warth, Robert D. “On the Historiography of the Russian Revolution.” Slavic Review 26.2 (June 1967): 247–264.

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    A helpful overview of works and collections produced prior to 1967. For the purposes of his essay, Warth defines the Russian Revolution as “roughly” the events of 1917 from the fall of the monarchy to the Bolshevik seizure of power. He does, however, discuss works that go beyond those chronological limits. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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1980–1991

Acton 1990 and Suny 1983 take what might be called a hard revisionist view, while Mawdsley 1990 takes a somewhat more moderate approach. Laqueur 1987 and Malia 1998 respond with vigorous critiques of the revisionist effort.

  • Acton, Edward. Rethinking the Russian Revolution. London: Arnold, 1990.

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    Acton integrates a historical narrative that runs from pre–World War I Russia to the Bolshevik victory with a historiographic commentary that covers what he calls the Soviet, liberal, libertarian, and revisionist views. His sympathy lies with the revisionist view, which always gets the last word and, in this telling of the story, consistently seems to correct the errors of the other views. This volume includes an extensive bibliography.

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  • Laqueur, Walter. The Fate of the Revolution: Interpretations of Soviet History from 1917 to the Present. Rev. ed. New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1987.

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    This update of the original 1967 edition includes a critique of the revisionist/social history school. Laqueur argues that the revisionists have ignored crucial political factors, including Lenin’s decisive role. He adds that the social history of the revisionists “has produced some fascinating footnotes to the events of 1917 but no synthesis or serious alternative interpretation” (p. 216).

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  • Malia, Martin. “Clio in Tauris: American Historiography on Russia.” In Imagined Histories: American Historians Interpret the Past. Edited by Anthony Molho and Gordon S. Wood, 415–433. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.

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    In this erudite and elegantly written essay, Malia discusses a number of issues before turning to what he calls the “social science” or “revisionist” view of the Soviet regime. He notes that the first step of the “revisionist enterprise” was an attempt to “rehabilitate the October Revolution” (p. 427) by demonstrating that it had widespread working-class support. He points to numerous shortcomings and contradictions in what he sees as two distinct revisionist trends, which diverge based on their acceptance or rejection of Stalin as Lenin’s logical heir. Ultimately, Malia finds that although the revisionist effort since 1970 has been “often valuable in detail,” it ultimately was “misleading in the aggregate” (417).

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  • Mawdsley, Evan. “Rewriting Russia’s Revolution.” History Today 40.6 (June 1990), 48–52.

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    Mawdsley begins by quickly summarizing the “traditional” (or Cold War) analysis of the Russian Revolution and then turns to the “new wave of historical research” that began in the mid-1960s. A clearly written overview of this revisionist history constitutes the bulk of this article. The author concludes by speculating how the availability of new materials as a result of glasnost and “the experience of the turmoil now taking place in Russia” (p. 52) will affect how historians approach the revolution and civil war.

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  • Suny, Ronald Grigor. “Toward a Social History of the October Revolution.” American Historical Review 88.1 (February 1983): 31–52.

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    Suny criticizes Western historiography of 1917 for its almost exclusive focus on “political explanations” and for approaching the Russian Revolution “from the top down” (p. 32). He cites a new wave of scholarship that takes a “sociohistorical approach,” noting the work of William G. Rosenberg, Diane Koenker, Stephen A. Smith, Rex A. Wade, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, and others. He concludes that these historians have established a “new paradigm” for understanding the Bolshevik Revolution, one that sees the Bolsheviks “less like Machiavellian manipulators or willful conspirators and more like alert politicians” (p. 51) and that takes account of the deep social polarization that doomed the Provisional Government. The Bolsheviks came to power because their policies “placed them at the head of a genuinely popular movement” (p. 53).

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Since 1991

Buldakov 2001 and Kolonitskii 2009, both of whom are attached to the Russian Academy of Science, trace the treatment of the revolution by Russian historians since 1991. Smith 1994 and Suny 1994 offer historiographic analyses from a revisionist perspective. Kotkin 1998 critiques both the revisionists and the totalitarian model approaches. Malia 1991 and Pipes 1993 critique the revisionists in light of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Pereira 2010 offers a broad but concise overview that begins with the Russian émigrés and stretches to what he calls the “post-revisionists” while remaining unusually neutral.

  • Buldakov, V. P. “Scholarly Passions around the Myth of ‘Great October’: Results of the Past Decade.” Translated by David Habecker. Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 2.2 (Spring 2001): 295–305.

    DOI: 10.1353/kri.2008.0132Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this review of Russian-language historiography of the Russian Revolution since 1991, Buldakov sees both a “new wave of mythmaking” and a “qualitative new state of historical thinking” (p. 304). The most positive results have been a “widening of the source base” and the writing of regional histories. Available online for purchase or by subscription. See also “The October Revolution: Seventy-Five Years On,” translated by Alan Wood, in European History Quarterly 22.4 (October 1992), pages 497–516, for Buldakov’s earlier overview of works by Russian historians during the Gorbachev era. Buldakov currently works at the Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

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  • Kolonitskii, Boris. “Russian Historiography of the 1917 Revolution: New Challenges to Old Paradigms?” Translated by Yisrael Elliot Cohen. In Special issue: Historical Scholarship in Post-Soviet Russia. Edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky. History and Memory 21.2 (Fall/Winter 2009): 34–59.

    DOI: 10.2979/HIS.2009.21.2.34Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Kolonitskii is a resident senior scholar at the St. Petersburg Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He points out that despite the censorship of the Brezhnev era, several Soviet historians created a picture of the revolution significantly different from the official Soviet version. To an extent this work paralleled that carried out by revisionist historians in the West, although the latter works generally were not available to Soviet researchers until the Gorbachev era. During that era, the “liberal-democratic” interpretation gained popularity, and many referred to the October Revolution as a coup. Since 1991, interest in the events of 1917 has waned among researchers, in part because of the “implosion of the communist experiment in the USSR” (p. 47). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Kotkin, Stephen. “1991 and the Russian Revolution: Sources, Conceptual Categories, Analytical Frameworks.” Journal of Modern History 70.2 (June 1998): 384–425.

    DOI: 10.1086/235073Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Kotkin’s wide-ranging survey leaves no major school of historiography regarding the Soviet Union in general or the revolutions of 1917 in particular unscathed. He is critical of the revisionist social historians and has no use for the totalitarian model. His article is followed by two critical commentaries, respectively, by Abbot Gleason and Robert Daniels, both of whom point out contradictions in Kotkin’s article as he moves from one target to another. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Malia, Martin. “The Hunt for the True October.” Commentary (October 1991): 21–28.

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    A review of the book The Russian Revolution by Richard Pipes (Pipes 1990, cited under The October Revolution and the Establishment of the Bolshevik Regime). Malia’s main purpose is to provide a critique of the views of Richard Pipes on the October Revolution and the origins of Soviet totalitarianism. (Malia and Pipes agree that the Soviet Union was a totalitarian regime, but disagree on the origins of Soviet totalitarianism.) But in the process he also presents a critique of the revisionist school. Malia concludes that the “necessary starting point for a valid post-Sovietology can only be the unprecedented catastrophe to which the Great October has led.”

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  • Pereira, N. G. O. “Revisiting the Revisionists and Their Critics.” The Historian 72.1 (Spring 2010): 23–37.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6563.2009.00255.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A balanced and, given its conciseness, remarkably comprehensive overview of the historiography of the Russian Revolution from the post-revolution émigrés to contemporary historians Pereira calls the “post-revisionists.” He cites Stephen Kotkin and Michael David-Fox as representative of that latter group. Pereira concludes by suggesting that it is “possible to regard the early ideas of Marx as guidelines for establishing democratic socialism” that is consistent with “personal liberty and the rule of law” (p. 36). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Pipes, Richard. “1917 and the Revisionists.” The National Interest 31 (Spring 1993): 68–79.

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    A vigorous critique of revisionist social history, including specific critiques of the work of Ronald Suny, Alexander Rabinowitch, and several others, by the author of The Russian Revolution and Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime (see Pipes 1993, under The Civil War and Its Immediate Aftermath, and Pipes 1990, under The October Revolution and the Establishment of the Bolshevik Regime, respectively). Pipes’s conclusion regarding the revisionists is that “what is true in their writings is not new, and what is new is not true” (p. 79).

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  • Smith, Steve. “Writing the History of the Russian Revolution after the Fall of Communism.” Europe-Asia Studies 46.4 (1994): 563–578.

    DOI: 10.1080/09668139408412183Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A brief historiographic section that dismisses the totalitarian model and, with some modifications, endorses the revisionist social history approach. Smith glosses over the fact that in post-Soviet Russia during the 1990s the totalitarian model found favor with such notables as Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. Author’s agenda begins with a call to “advance the social history of the late-imperial and Soviet periods, first, by continuing to extend its reach” (p. 570). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Suny, Ronald Grigor. “Revision and Retreat in the Historiography of 1917: Social History and Its Critics.” Russian Review 53.2 (April 1994): 165–182.

    DOI: 10.2307/130821Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of the debate between advocates of the totalitarian model and the revisionists, updating Suny’s 1983 article (see 1980–1991) that in effect also serves as Suny’s response to Pipes 1993. A substantial part of this article is devoted to a critique of Pipes’s work. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Eyewitness Accounts

All of the well-known eyewitness accounts to the Russian Revolution were written from a political point of view, so using them requires a certain element of caution. Von Mohrenschildt 1971 includes eyewitnesses who span Russia’s political spectrum from monarchist to Bolshevik. Chernov 1936, Kerensky 1932, and Martov 1938 all belonged to socialist groups the Bolsheviks swept aside in October. Sukhanov 1962, although a partisan in the events he describes, provides the most balanced of all eyewitness accounts. Lunacharsky 1967 provides surprisingly objective portraits of his fellow Bolsheviks, while John Reed, an American communist, unabashedly presents the October Revolution as a heroic enterprise (Reed 1967). Trotsky 1932 provides both the ultimate insider’s account and a stirring panoramic overview in his three-volume history. Lyandres 2013 contains oral histories by ten witnesses to the February revolution, several of whom were major participants in the events they describe, recorded by a prominent historian in the spring of 1917.

  • Chernov, Victor. The Great Russian Revolution. Translated and abridged by Philip E. Mosley. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1936.

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    Chernov was the leader of the Socialist Revolutionaries and minister of agriculture in the Provisional Government. Not surprisingly, he views the Bolshevik victory as a disaster, but he also can be reasonably balanced in discussing factors that contributed to that victory.

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  • Kerensky, Alexander. “The Policy of the Provisional Government.” Slavonic and East European Review 11.31 (July 1932): 1–19.

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    As in other articles and books where he defended his record, the most important figure in the Provisional Government argues that while he and his colleagues struggled to represent the Russian people as a whole and avoid a civil war, their government was undermined by both the extreme Right and the Far-Left Bolsheviks. Available online for purchase or by subscription. Also see Kerensky’s works: The Catastrophe: Kerensky’s Own Story of the Provisional Government (New York: D. Appleton, 1927) and Russia and History’s Turning Point (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1965). The latter volume is not as shrill as Kerensky’s earlier works and fills in gaps left by those writings.

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  • Lunacharsky, Anatoly Vasilievich. Revolutionary Silhouettes. Translated by Michael Glenny. London: Penguin, 1967.

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    A translation of a volume originally published in 1923. Lunacharsky was a prominent Bolshevik who served under Lenin (and later under Stalin) as Commissar of Enlightenment. Nonetheless, his portraits of Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Plekhanov, Sverdlov, and several other major figures are generally regarded as balanced and quite insightful.

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  • Lyandres, Semion. Fall of Tsarism: Untold Stories of the February 1917 Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199235759.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contains the text of ten interviews conducted by the historian M. A. Polievktov during the spring of 1917 that were in private hands from 1917 until 2006. Those interviewed include major participants in the events they describe, including Alexander Kerensky, Mikhail Rodzianko, and Nikolai Chkheidze. Each interview is accompanied by an introduction that includes a biographical note on the interviewee and other valuable information. Lyandres also provides an essay on Polievktov and the interesting story of how after the passage of so many years he managed to track down Polievktov’s lost interviews.

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  • Martov, Julius. The State and the Socialist Revolution. New York: International Review, 1938.

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    Martov was the most prominent leader of the Menshevik faction and bitterly opposed the Bolshevik seizure of power. He went into exile in 1920. This pamphlet consists of three essays written during 1918 and 1919 that argue the Bolshevik regime is a dictatorship over the people. This pamphlet is available online at the Internet Archive.

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  • Reed, John. Ten Days That Shook the World. New York: International, 1967.

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    The classic endorsement of the Bolshevik Revolution by an idealistic American communist and enthusiastic devotee of Lenin. The original edition published in 1919 included an introduction—reproduced here––by Lenin, who recommended the work “unreservedly” to “the workers of the world.” Reed in his preface calls his work “a slice of intensified history––history as I saw it” (p. xxxiii).

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  • Sukhanov, Nikolaĭ Nikolaevich. The Russian Revolution, 1917: Eyewitness Account. 2 vols. Edited, abridged, and translated by Joel Carmichael. New York: Harper, 1962.

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    This account––abridged from Sukhanov’s 2,700-page memoir––is widely considered the most valuable eyewitness account of the events of 1917 and an indispensable source regarding those events. A long-time socialist, Sukhanov in 1917 was loosely associated with Martov’s Menshevik Internationalist faction. Sukhanov was also a talented journalist, and his account is marked both by honesty and detached analysis. Though opposed to the Bolshevik seizure of power, Sukhanov reconciled himself to the regime. He nonetheless was convicted of trumped-up treason charges in 1931 and shot in 1940. Originally published as one volume in 1955.

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  • Trotsky, Leon. The History of the Russian Revolution. 3 vols. Translated by Max Eastman. London: Victor Gollancz, 1932.

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    Trotsky’s version of the October events provides fascinating insights into the Bolshevik seizure of power and a great deal more. Brilliant from a literary point of view, at the same time it is self-serving and one-sided and therefore, while gripping to read, must be used with caution. The first volume covers from the collapse of the monarchy to June 1917; the second volume takes the story to the end of September; the third volume covers the October insurrection and the establishment of the Bolshevik regime. There are several later editions, including one, published in 2008 (Chicago: Haymarket), which packs all three volumes into one book.

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  • Von Mohrenschildt, Dimitri, ed. The Russian Revolution of 1917: Contemporary Accounts. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.

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    Contains accounts from eyewitnesses and participants, divided into two chapters: “Russia on the Eve of the Revolution” and “Revolution and Civil War.” Along with the writings of prominent participants such as Miliukov, Sukhanov, Kerensky, Lenin, and Trotsky, the editor has included accounts from people such as a tsarist minister of finance and the daughter of Peter Stolypin, Russia’s prime minister from 1906 until his assassination in 1911. Helpful introductions to each entry make this an excellent resource for undergraduates.

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Collections of Articles and Essays

Collections of articles and essays on the Russian Revolution cater to audiences ranging from undergraduates to specialists. Those listed in this section are relatively broad in their coverage. Adams 1960 is part of a series published by D. C. Heath for university classroom use, while Suny and Adams 1990 is a revised and considerably enlarged and altered version of the original Adams volume. Kaiser 1987 and Service 1992 are collections of revisionist social history studies. Pipes 1969 brings together contributions from more than two dozen leading Soviet specialists of the time, providing a variety of viewpoints. Edith Rogovin Frankel also includes contributors with a variety of perspectives, with the focus on February 1917 to April 1918 (see Frankel, et al. 1992). Brovkin 1997 includes contributions from Western and Russian historians who had access to newly opened Russian archives and whose study of “history from below” draws very different conclusions from revisionist social-history historians.

  • Adams, Arthur E., ed. The Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik Victory: Why and How? Problems in European Civilization. Boston: D. C. Heath, 1960.

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    Organized into three sections: “The March Revolution: What Caused It? And Who Led It?,” “From March to October: Why Did Russia Seek Ever More Radical Solutions?,” and “The Bolshevik Victory: Why Did the Provisional Government Fall? And Why Did the Bolsheviks Successfully Seize Power?” Includes selections by Kerensky, Trotsky, Chamberlin, Isaac Deutscher, Richard Pipes, Merle Fainsod, and others. This volume is part of the D. C. Heath Problems in European Civilization series.

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  • Brovkin, Vladimir N., ed. The Bolsheviks in Russian Society: The Revolution and the Civil Wars. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

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    This pathbreaking anthology features contributions from both Western and Russian historians who made use of recently opened archives to chronicle resistance to Bolshevik rule by workers, peasants, and other groups. Whereas revisionist “history from below” has chronicled popular support for the Bolsheviks, the editor states in his introduction that “This history from below in fact demonstrates the degree to which various social groups in Russia defended their autonomy and resisted the imposition of centralized dictatorship” (p. 4).

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  • Frankel, Edith Rogovin, Jonathan Frankel, Baruch Knei-Paz, and Israel Getzler, eds. Revolution in Russia: Reassessments of 1917. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

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    The contributions to this collection began as papers presented at a conference in Jerusalem in 1988, which focused on the period from February 1917 to April 1918. The authors, who hold a range of perspectives on the Russian Revolution, discuss a wide variety of subjects. However, all of their contributions are tied in some way to what the editor calls the “central issue which has always engaged the historians of 1917” (p. 3): the extent to which the ultimate Bolshevik victory was “preordained” and whether any other outcome was possible.

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  • Kaiser, Daniel H., ed. The Workers’ Revolution in Russia, 1917: The View from Below. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511626029Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of papers by revisionist historians that focus on worker alienation and how the Bolsheviks appealed to that sentiment––as opposed to exploiting it––especially in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The first chapter is an overview of the revisionist outlook by Ronald Grigor Suny.

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  • Pipes, Richard, ed. Revolutionary Russia: A Symposium, Harvard University, 1967. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969.

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    A collection from a symposium held in Cambridge, MA in 1967 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. It includes thirteen papers from some of the leading historians of that era including George Kennan, Leonard Schapiro, John Keep, E. H. Carr, Adam Ulam, and Marc Ferro. Also included are commentaries on each paper and the discussion that followed, which brings the number of contributors to twenty-seven.

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  • Service, Robert, ed. Society and Politics in the Russian Revolution. New York: St. Martin’s, 1992.

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    A collection of chapters by British historians of Russia focusing on social groups. Among the contributors are Robert Service (on the industrial workers), Maureen Perrie (on the peasants), Evan Mawdsley (on the soldiers and sailors), and Howard White (on the urban middle classes). Service provides the introduction and Edward Acton the epilogue, which actually is a historiography written from a revisionist perspective.

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  • Suny, Ronald, and Arthur Adams, eds. The Russian Revolution and Bolshevik Victory: Visions and Revisions. 3d ed. Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath, 1990.

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    Although this is called the third edition of Adams 1960, it contains only two selections (by Trotsky and historian Bernard Pares) from the original edition. Most of the new material consists of selections by revisionist historians.

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The February Revolution and the Provisional Government

The reasons the tsarist regime collapsed and the travails that plagued the Provisional Government that succeeded it remain contentious issues. Burdzhalov 1987 disagrees with the official Soviet version of the February Revolution by downplaying the role of the Bolshevik Party and for doing so ran afoul of Soviet authorities. Florinsky 1961 focuses on the political and economic factors that resulted in the fall of the tsarist regime. Rabinowitch 1968 and Ferro 1972 are among the early social-history historians to examine the revolution “from below.” Hasegawa 1981 provides a blow-by-blow narrative of the nine crucial days that saw the collapse of the monarchy and establishment of the Provisional Government. Gill 1978 examines the Provisional Government’s loss of support among the peasantry, a key reason it was overthrown so easily by the Bolsheviks. Radkey 1989 is a meticulous overview of the results of the November 1917 election to the Constituent Assembly planned by the Provisional Government but carried out several weeks after its overthrow.

  • Burdzhalov, Eduard Nikolaevich. Russia’s Second Revolution: The February 1917 Uprising in Petrograd. Edited and translated by Donald J. Raleigh. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

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    A prominent historian in the Soviet Union when this book was published, Burdzhalov daringly challenged Soviet orthodoxy regarding the presumed centrality of the Bolshevik Party’s leadership role during the February Revolution, losing his prestigious position on the editorial board of the journal Voprosy istorii as a result. His meticulously researched volume was published in 1967 and translated into English in 1987, accompanied by an introduction describing his career by the American scholar who translated the work. Burdzhalov’s thesis is that the monarchy was brought down by a spontaneous uprising in which the role of workers was decisive.

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  • Ferro, Marc. The Russian Revolution of February 1917. Translated by J. L. Richards. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972.

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    An early social history of the February Revolution that makes use of materials from four major Soviet archives to highlight the aspirations and demands of workers, soldiers, peasants, and minority nationalities. Ferro also examines how the demands of those groups had evolved since 1905 and, among other subjects, how they were at odds with the programs of political parties that presumably spoke in their names. Other scholars have pointed out numerous factual errors in this work, and the translation from the French is considered substandard.

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  • Florinsky, Michael T. The End of the Russian Empire. New York: Collier, 1961.

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    Originally published in 1931, this succinct overview by a Russian émigré who subsequently became a professor of economics at Columbia University and the author of a highly regarded two-volume history of Russia focuses on political and economic developments during the years 1914–1917. Notwithstanding its age, it remains a valuable overview.

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  • Gill, Graeme J. “The Failure of Rural Policy in Russia, February–October 1917.” Slavic Review 37.2 (1978): 241–258.

    DOI: 10.2307/2497603Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author argues that the Provisional Government squandered the initial “surge of enthusiasm” it received from the peasantry by postponing “major structural alterations” on the countryside pending the elections of the Constituent Assembly and by remaining committed to the Allied effort in World War I. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Haimson, Leopold H. “The Problem of Social Stability in Urban Russia, 1905–1917 (Part 1).” Slavic Review 23.4 (1964): 619–642.

    DOI: 10.2307/2492201Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Continued in “The Problem of Social Stability in Urban Russia, 1905–1917 (Part II),” Slavic Review 24.1 (1965), pp. 1–22. An influential article that in some ways became the fountainhead of revisionist social history. Haimson challenges the view that the semiconstitutional regime that emerged from the 1905 Revolution had a reasonable chance for success until shattered by World War I. Instead, he argues, “What the war years would do was not to conceive, but to accelerate substantially the two broad processes of polarization that had already been at work in Russian national life during the immediate pre-war period” (p. 17, Part II). Available online for purchase or by subscription. See also “‘The Problem of Political and Social Stability in Urban Russia on the Eve of War and Revolution’ Revisited.” Slavic Review 59.4 (2000), pp. 848–75.

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  • Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi. The February Revolution: Petrograd 1917. Publications on Russia and Eastern Europe of the School of International Studies 9. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981.

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    The bulk of this large (almost six hundred pages), well-crafted volume focuses on a period of nine days during which the autocracy collapsed and the Provisional Government was established. The author provides a wealth of new detail on the events in questions but not any startling revelations.

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  • Rabinowitch, Alexander. Prelude to Revolution: The Petrograd Bolsheviks and the July 1917 Uprising. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968.

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    The author argues that the Bolshevik Party was divided into factions between April and July 1917––with its Military Organization being the most radical and the Central Committee the most moderate––and that this in turn explains the party’s inconsistent behavior during the uprising known as the July Days.

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  • Radkey, Oliver H. Russia Goes to the Polls: The Election to the All-Russian Constituent Assembly, 1917. Studies in Soviet History and Society. Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1989.

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    Radkey “revisited” his pioneering 1950 work, which constitutes the first part of this volume, now the standard work on the Constituent Assembly election. Although the election actually took place about three weeks after the overthrow of the Provisional Government, it provides the best available sense of the mood of the people of Russia during that regime’s final months. Radkey concludes the election demonstrates that “Bolsheviks were strong but not strong enough to govern democratically, even had they so desired” (p. 114).

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The October Revolution and the Establishment of the Bolshevik Regime

The ultimate hot-button issue regarding the Russian Revolutions of 1917 and the civil war is the question of the legitimacy of the October Revolution, that is, the degree to which the Bolshevik seizure of power enjoyed popular support. Melgunov 1972, Daniels 1984, Pethybridge 1972, and, most emphatically, Pipes 1990 view the Bolshevik Revolution as a coup d’état that enjoyed only a narrow base of support and thereby set the stage for the civil war and/or totalitarian dictatorship. Ferro 1980 examines the struggles of the workers, peasants, and non-Russian nationalities and tends to take a middle ground in the debate. Rabinowitch 2004 and Rabinowitch 2007, likewise focusing on the “revolution from below,” emphasize that the Bolshevik goals were consistent with the aspirations of the working classes.

  • Daniels, Robert Vincent. Red October: The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Boston: Beacon, 1984.

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    Daniels argues that the Bolsheviks lacked a master plan to seize power, as other top leaders ignored Lenin’s orders to stage a coup. Instead, on the night of October 24 they reacted to threatening moves by Kerensky, taking the offensive only after Lenin’s arrival at party headquarters. In other words, the Red October happened almost by accident. That said, the Bolsheviks had only minority support and their coup laid the basis for totalitarianism. Well written and suitable for undergraduates.

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  • Ferro, Marc. October 1917: A Social History of the Russian Revolution. Translated by Norman Stone. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980.

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    An analysis of the October Revolution that focuses on the aspirations and activities of workers, peasants, and non-Russian nationalities. This volume and Ferro 1972 (cited under The February Revolution and the Provisional Government) represent an attempt to write a social history of the Russian Revolution similar to histories of the French Revolution produced by scholars such as Georges Lefebvre and Albert Soboul of the Annales school. As with Ferro 1972, some critics point to Ferro’s questionable use of evidence and factual errors.

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  • Melgunov, Sergeĭ Petrovich The Bolshevik Seizure of Power. Edited and abridged by Sergeĭ G. Pushkarev in collaboration with Boris S. Pushkarev. Translated by James S. Beaver. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1972.

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    Melgunov was a trained as an historian. After 1905 he was a leader in a moderate socialist party and opposed the Bolsheviks during the revolution and civil war. He left Russia in 1923. His book, based on contemporary memoirs, newspapers, and other documents as well as his own experiences, argues that the Bolsheviks were able to seize power because their opponents were disorganized and inept and failed to take them seriously.

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  • Pethybridge, Roger William. The Spread of the Russian Revolution: Essays on 1917. London: Macmillan, 1972.

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    As the title indicates, this volume is not a traditional historical narrative but a thematic approach to explaining the failure of the Provisional Government and the Bolsheviks’ successful seizure of power. The author argues that the problems facing the Provisional Government were in fact insurmountable and that the Bolsheviks effectively exploited them to increase their influence among the workers and soldiers. The October Revolution is viewed as a coup d’état that, in effect, made civil war inevitable.

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  • Pipes, Richard. The Russian Revolution. New York: Knopf, 1990.

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    A monumental effort based on a daunting mastery of the sources and encyclopedic knowledge that covers from 1905 to the early months of 1919, by which time the civil war was in full swing. Pipes argues that the October Revolution was a coup d’état lacking in popular support, led and driven forward by Lenin, a politician of extraordinary ruthlessness whose goal was to seize power in Russia and spark a world revolution. This volume, in combination with the author’s Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime (Pipes 1993, cited in The Civil War and Its Immediate Aftermath), stands as an imposing challenge to the approach of the revisionist social historians, many of whom have gone into print in response to that challenge. Yet even some critics acknowledge that this work and Pipes 1993, cited in “The Civil War and Its Immediate Aftermath together constitute a comprehensive history of the Russian Revolution matched only by the classic Chamberlin 1965 (see General Overviews).

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  • Rabinowitch, Alexander. The Bolsheviks Come to Power: The Revolution of 1917 in Petrograd. Chicago: Haymarket, 2004.

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    One of the earliest and most notable works of the revisionist social history school. Rabinowitch focuses on what he calls the “revolution from below” and then argues that the Bolsheviks were successful in coming to power because their chief goals, such as an immediate end to the war and the transfer of power to a democratic all-socialist regime––corresponded to popular aspirations. Further, the party in 1917 was not an authoritarian, conspiratorial organization but a mass party with a relatively free and flexible structure that made it responsive to the mood of the working classes and soldiers.

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  • Rabinowitch, Alexander. The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.

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    For revisionist social historians, one great unanswered question––Rabinowitch calls it the “still puzzling question”––is how the Bolshevik Party, which in 1917 supposedly had a loose, democratic structure and therefore responded to the aspirations of the masses, was transformed into the centralized, highly authoritarian entity of the Soviet era. Rabinowitch, one of the founders of that school, suggests in this volume that the most important factors were the challenges that had to be overcome in order to survive, carrying the story through the end of 1918. Rabinowitch rewrote large parts of this volume after the collapse of the Soviet Union gave scholars access to previously closed archives.

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  • Radkey, Oliver H. Russia Goes to the Polls: The Election to the All-Russian Constituent Assembly. Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1989.

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    This is a revision of the original work published in 1950 that takes into account newly available evidence. Radkey argues that despite the fact that the Socialist Revolutionary (SR) Party won the election with a plurality of almost 40 percent, the actual support for the party can be questioned because voters generally were not aware that the party was in the process of splitting. This argument has been seized upon by revisionist historians as indicating broad support for the October Revolution. But it has been criticized by more traditional historians, who point to the dearth of documentary evidence for this claim and that, in any event, the Left SRs opposed one-party rule and within a few months had split with the Bolshevik regime.

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The Civil War and its Immediate Aftermath

The most commonly asked question regarding the civil war is how the Bolsheviks managed to win despite being confronted with a list of opponents who spanned the political spectrum from avowed monarchists to liberals to moderate and radical socialists. At the same time, some historians focus on other issues. Footman 1975 provides an overview of several arenas in which the civil war was fought, while Swain 2000 stresses the opposition to the Bolsheviks by peasant groups. Brovkin 1994 focuses on what he calls the “internal front”: peasant and worker opposition to the Bolsheviks. Lincoln 1989 attributes the Bolshevik victory to the party’s use of its resources and opportunities, while Pipes 1993 stresses the Bolsheviks’ use of repression and timely concessions. Kenez 1980 focuses on the ideology and outlook of the White military leaders to explain the White defeat. Mawdsley 2005 points to the Bolsheviks’ control of the center of the country and the resources that that control provided. Bullock 2006 covers the impact of Red Army armored units on the military balance during the civil war.

  • Brovkin, Vladimir N. Behind the Front Lines of the Civil War: Political Parties and Social Movements in Russia, 1918–1922. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.

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    A groundbreaking volume that draws heavily from recently opened Russian archives. Brovkin argues that during the civil war there was an “internal front” of mass opposition to the Bolsheviks that was, for example, reflected in the growing Menshevik popularity among the workers. There was peasant opposition as well, which reached its peak in a rebellion in the Tambov region during 1921–1922. See also Brovkin’s “Workers’ Unrest and the Bolsheviks’ Response in 1919” (Slavic Review 49.3: 350–373, 1990).

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  • Bullock, David. Armored Units of the Russian Civil War: Red Army. New Vanguard. Oxford: Osprey, 2006.

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    This short (48 pages) work and its companion volume, Armored Units of the Russian Civil War––White and Allied, coauthored by Alexander Deryabin (Oxford: Osprey, 2003), covers what was pioneering use, by both sides, of armored trains, cars, and tanks during the Russian civil war.

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  • Footman, David. Civil War in Russia. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1975.

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    Rather than providing an overall narrative, Footman discusses six arenas or aspects of the civil war. The most effective of these is the chapter on Nestor Makhno, the Ukrainian anarchist guerrilla leader who fought against the Whites as well as the Bolsheviks, until the latter defeated him in 1920.

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  • Kenez, Peter. “The Ideology of the White Movement.” Soviet Studies 32.1 (1980): 58–83.

    DOI: 10.1080/09668138008411280Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author, focusing mainly on the Volunteer Army, discusses how the attitudes and ideology of the White generals and officers contributed to the movement’s defeat at the hands of the Bolsheviks. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Lincoln, W. Bruce. Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.

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    Lincoln is known for his ability to combine scholarly research with outstanding writing that appeals to a wide general audience. This massive (more than six hundred pages) overview of the civil war is another example of his skills. In the end, Lincoln attributes the Bolshevik victory to their ability to make the most of their resources and opportunities, in contrast to the Whites, who squandered theirs.

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  • Mawdsley, Evan. The Russian Civil War. New York: Pegasus, 2005.

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    This well written and up-to-date volume draws on a wide range of primary sources and the work of other historians. While there is interesting detail, there are no striking new conclusions. Mawdsley concludes that the key reasons the Bolsheviks won were their control of the center of the country and its resources, and a result of the divisions among their opponents. Good for undergraduates and general readers.

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  • Pipes, Richard. Russia under the Bolshevik Regime. New York: Knopf, 1993.

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    Pipes carries the story he began in The Russian Revolution (Pipes 1990, cited under The October Revolution and the Establishment of the Bolshevik Regime) through the civil war and Lenin’s death in 1924. He stresses that the Bolsheviks survived with a combination of brutal repression and, once the civil war was won, concessions in the form of the New Economic Policy. Pipes also argues that by the time of Lenin’s death most of the foundations of Stalinism were in place.

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  • Swain, Geoffrey. Russia’s Civil War. Stroud, UK: Tempus, 2000.

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    This overview of the civil war stresses the role and importance of armed resistance by peasant groups and the Socialist Revolutionaries to the Bolshevik regime.

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Foreign Reaction and Intervention

Kennan 1958 deals with the US decision to intervene in the civil war. Schmid 1974 focuses on Winston Churchill’s role in bringing about British intervention in that struggle, while Carley 1983 stresses the role of the French foreign ministry in pushing that country’s intervention. Unterberger 1969 is a collection of primary source documents and commentaries by several historians.

  • Carley, Michael Jabara. Revolution and Intervention: The French Government and the Russian Civil War, 1917–1919. Toronto: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1983.

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    A meticulous study of France’s intervention in the Russian civil war. The author argues that Quai d’Orsay pushed intervention in the face of reluctance of the French military, which was focused on winning World War I and therefore at times prepared to accept the Bolshevik regime.

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  • Kennan, George Frost. Soviet-American Relations, 1917–1920. Vol. 2, The Decision to Intervene. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1958.

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    The second volume of Kennan’s two-volume work on the American reaction to the Bolshevik Revolution. This meticulously detailed monograph focuses on events between March and August 1918.

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  • Schmid, Alex Peter. Churchills Privater Krieg: Intervention und Konterrevolution im russischen Bürgerkrieg, November 1918–März 1920. Zurich: Atlantis, 1974.

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    Making extensive use of British and German archives, the author argues that Churchill played the key role in convincing the British cabinet to intervene in the Russian civil war to destroy the Bolshevik regime.

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  • Unterberger, Betty Miller, ed. American Intervention in the Russian Civil War. Problems in American Civilization. Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath, 1969.

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    This anthology is divided into three sections. The first contains introductions to the subject by three noted historians. The second contains twenty-one documents. The third––“Conflicting Interpretations”––features five selections that mainly debate the motives behind US intervention in the Russian civil war.

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Political Parties, Social Groups, and Selected Topics

The volumes listed in this section deal with several political parties that opposed the Bolsheviks, dissent within the Bolshevik Party, major political figures, the activities of various social groups, non-Russian nationalities, the Cheka, the Bolshevik state and private property, and the Comintern. Some of the volumes, such as Burbank 1986 (cited under Political Figures and Intellectuals and Schapiro 1977, cover more than one of the aforementioned categories.

Political Parties

Schapiro 1977 focuses on developments inside the Bolshevik Party and on the fate of several socialist parties, while Daniels 1960 concentrates on dissent within the Bolshevik Party. Brovkin 1987 and Galili y Garcia 1989 focus exclusively on the Mensheviks, while Oliver H. Radkey in his two volumes (Radkey 1958 and Radkey 1963) discusses the Socialist Revolutionary movement more broadly conceived, rather than just the party of that name. Service 1979 focuses on the evolution of the Bolshevik Party during the revolutionary period, while Rosenberg 1974 discusses the failure of liberalism in general and the Constitutional Democrats in particular during that period. Häfner 1994 exhaustively covers the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. Smith 2011 chronicles the history of the Socialist Revolutionary party from 1918 through 1923.

  • Brovkin, Vladimir N. The Mensheviks after October: Socialist Opposition and the Rise of the Bolshevik Dictatorship. Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1987.

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    In the process of providing the fullest account of the Mensheviks during the first year of Bolshevik power, Brovkin does pioneering work in demonstrating widespread working-class opposition to Bolshevik rule during the spring and summer of 1918, which was reflected in Menshevik/SR victories in elections to provincial soviets. He also focuses on the internal debates that rendered the Mensheviks incapable of effectively opposing Bolshevik dictatorial rule during those months. See also “The Mensheviks’ Political Comeback: The Elections to the Provincial City Soviets in Spring 1918.” Russian Review 42.1 (1983): 1–50.

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  • Daniels, Robert Vincent. The Conscience of the Revolution: Communist Opposition in Soviet Russia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960.

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    A pathbreaking study of factions within the Bolshevik Party that dissented from the policies of the leadership between 1917 Stalin’s consolidation of power. The first third of the book deals with events between 1917 and 1921 and groups such as the Left Communists, Democratic Centralists, and Workers’ Opposition.

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  • Galili y Garcia, Ziva. The Menshevik Leaders and the Russian Revolution: Social Realities and Political Strategies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.

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    This detailed study examines the failure of the Menshevik Party to maintain its influence during 1917. Galili focuses on why the Mensheviks initially supported “dual power” and refused to participate in the Provisional Government and then became part of a coalition, with socialists as a minority, in that government. She does not argue with the wisdom of hindsight but rather attempts to explain the “social realities” that pushed the Mensheviks to make certain choices that proved disastrous for the party.

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  • Häfner, Lutz. Die Partei der Linken Sozialrevolutionäre: In der Russischen Revolution von 1917–1918. Cologne: Böhlau, 1994.

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    This massive monograph must be considered the authoritative work on the Left SRs. The author defends the party from the accusations by Western historians that it was guilty of naivety during this crucial period.

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  • Radkey, Oliver H. The Agrarian Foes of Bolshevism: Promise and Default of the Russian Socialist Revolutionaries, February to October 1917. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1958.

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    Although detailed and grounded in exhaustive research that over time has won it respect in certain quarters, this volume is also a polemical attack on the leadership of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. The leaders stand accused of being intellectuals rather than peasants who in the end fought among each other and failed to respond to the needs of their presumed constituents.

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  • Radkey, Oliver H. The Sickle under the Hammer: The Russian Social Revolutionaries in the Early Months of Soviet Rule. Studies of the Russian Institute, Columbia University. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1963.

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    As with Radkey 1958, this monograph is based on exhaustive research. It covers, in five hundred pages, the short period from the October Revolution to the Bolshevik suppression of the Constituent Assembly. The author continues and expands the basic critique of the SR leadership developed in his earlier volume.

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  • Rosenberg, William G. Liberals in the Russian Revolution: The Constitutional Democratic Party, 1917–1921. Studies of the Russian Institute, Columbia University. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.

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    A detailed and meticulous monograph that examines both the failure of the Constitutional Democrats as a political party and, more fundamentally, the dilemmas Russian liberals faced as they tried to cope with the challenges of revolutionary change.

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  • Schapiro, Leonard Bertram. The Origin of the Communist Autocracy: Political Opposition in the Soviet State—First Phase, 1917–1922. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1977.

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    In this pioneering effort in which Schapiro unearthed considerable new evidence, his fundamental argument is that the basis for Stalin’s dictatorship grew directly out of the Bolshevik seizure and forceful retention of power. The author traces how the Bolsheviks seized power, how they repressed rival revolutionary parties, and how, in the end, the party leadership under Lenin, using the same tools it had forced to repress other parties, repressed dissent against the dissidents within the Bolshevik Party itself. There are individual chapters on several non-Bolshevik socialist parties.

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  • Service, Robert W. The Bolshevik Party in Revolution: A Study in Organisational Change, 1917–1923. London: Macmillan, 1979.

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    In this early revisionist monograph, Service argues that after October 1917, primarily as a result of the civil war, the Bolshevik Party underwent an “organizational metamorphosis” that turned it into bureaucratic elite. The party during the first year of the civil war was very different from the totalitarian party it later became under Stalin.

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  • Smith, Scott B. Captives of Revolution: The Socialist Revolutionaries and the Bolshevik Dictatorship, 1918–1923. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011.

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    This volume can be considered the authoritative work on the Socialist Revolutionary party during this period in its history. In addition to focusing on the reasons for the failure of the SRs to organize an effective opposition to the Bolsheviks after the latter seized power, the author discusses how the civil war became a formative experience for the development of the Bolshevik regime.

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Collections of Primary Sources and Essays

Ascher 1976 includes more than twenty documents from the revolutionary period in this volume on the Mensheviks. All of the documents in Avrich 1973, which number more than fifty, are from the revolutionary period. Haimson 1974 includes essays by Menshevik leaders living in exile.

  • Ascher, Abraham, ed. The Mensheviks in the Russian Revolution. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976.

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    Primary sources on Menshevik activity from 1903 to 1921, mainly individual articles and speeches but also declarations and resolutions. Twenty-two of the thirty-seven documents are from the 1917–1921 period. The editor’s lengthy introduction provides a good primer on the Menshevik Party. There are also short introductions to each of the six chapters.

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  • Avrich, Paul, ed. The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973.

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    A collection of speeches, proclamations, manifestos, and similar documents. The volume ends, appropriately, with an excerpt from Emma Goldman’s book My Disillusionment in Russia. The editor’s introduction is a highly sympathetic, but also helpful, primer on the Russian anarchist movement

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  • Haimson, Léopold H., ed. The Mensheviks: From the Revolution of 1917 to the Second World War. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1974.

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    All of the essays in this volume are by Menshevik leaders who lived in exile after the establishment of the Bolshevik dictatorship. Eight essays deal with the period from the February Revolution to the end of the civil war.

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Political Figures and Intellectuals

Burbank 1986 discusses intellectuals across the political spectrum. Fischer 1959 is a very useful guide to the Trotsky Archive at Harvard. Deutscher 2003 admiringly tells Trotsky’s story while Volkogonov 1996 redresses that imbalance with a critical account. Novikov 2004 is the most comprenhensive available introduction to the life of Chernov.

  • Burbank, Jane. Intelligentsia and Revolution: Russian Views of Bolshevism, 1917–1922. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

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    An excellent study of how and why Russian intellectuals from Mensheviks and SRs on the left to monarchists and other conservatives on the right––hamstrung by idealism, ideological inflexibility, and petty philosophic disputes––were incapable of offering effective political opposition to the Bolsheviks.

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  • Deutscher, Isaac. The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 1879–1921. London: Verso, 2003.

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    A magnificently written but also hagiographic volume, the first of Deutscher’s famous trilogy. About half of this five-hundred-page volume covers the period from November 1917 through 1921 when Trotsky, as Lenin’s right-hand man, was truly armed, and played a vital role in Bolshevik successes. Deutscher was the first scholar to gain access to the Trotsky Archive at Harvard University.

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  • Fischer, George. Guide to the Papers of Leon Trotsky and Related Collections in the Harvard College Library. 2d ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard College Library, 1959.

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    An essential tool for researchers who want to use the Trotsky papers held by Harvard University.

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  • Novikov, Alexsandr Pavlovich. V.M. Chernov: Chelovek I Politik. Materialy k Biographi. Saratov: Akvarius, 2004.

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    Chernov is probably the most important Russian revolutionary figure who has not been the subject of a full-scale biography. This volume, as the title indicates, is the author’s preparation to produce such a volume. It includes a substantial biographical essay, important primary source materials the author has gathered for his project, and a comprehensive bibliography of Chernov’s works. The volume can be ordered via interlibrary loan from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill library.

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  • Volkogonov, Dmitri. Trotsky: The Eternal Revolutionary. Edited and translated by Harold Shukman. New York: Free Press, 1996.

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    Volkogonov had unprecedented access to archives in Russia for this biography. Although not without its flaws, this political biography is the most authoritative assessment of Trotsky available in English. (The Russian version is 50 percent longer.) About a third of this volume is devoted to the 1917–1921 period, a section that includes new information on Trotsky’s role as commissar of war during the civil war.

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Workers, Peasants, and Soldiers

All of the works in this section can be considered social histories, but not necessarily revisionist histories. Those in the revisionist camp are Koenker 1981, which examines the workers of Moscow during 1917; Koenker and Rosenberg 1989, which looks at strikes in Russia as a whole during 1917; Smith 1983, which focuses on the St. Petersburg workers during 1917–1918; and Mandel 1983, which also focuses on the workers in St. Petersburg during 1917–1918. Those outside that camp are Keep 1976, which studies the peasant movement during 1917–1918, and, to a lesser extent, Wildman 1980, which has as its focus the Russian army and its ultimate collapse.

  • Keep, John L. H. The Russian Revolution: A Study in Mass Mobilization. New York: Norton, 1976.

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    A pioneering work of social history that examines how workers and soldiers in the cities and towns and peasants in the countryside formed organizations to advance and protect their interests from the February Revolution through the first half of 1918. Keep, however, differs fundamentally from revisionist social historians by arguing that the Bolsheviks––“or more precisely, the Leninist Bolsheviks”––were determined from the start to control these organizations to further their objective of establishing and legitimizing their one-party dictatorial rule and, in fact, succeeded in doing so.

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  • Koenker, Dianne. Moscow Workers and the 1917 Revolution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.

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    This revisionist monograph focuses on the condition and evolving attitudes of Moscow’s working class during 1917. The author traces the development of factory committees, trade unions and soviets, as well as the attitudes of workers to those organizations. She concludes that the Moscow workers who were the most urbanized and had the weakest ties to the countryside were the ones who most supported the October Revolution.

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  • Koenker, Dianne, and William G. Rosenberg. Strikes and Revolution in Russia, 1917. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.

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    Two leading revisionist historians make use of careful statistical analysis of more than one thousand strikes in order to analyze how strike activity was related to the revolutionary process. One conclusion that emerges is that the highly skilled workers in the metalworking industries were not the most frequent strikers after the spring of 1917. Groups of semiskilled workers became more active, and their strikes increasingly took on a political dimension.

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  • Mandel, David. The Petrograd Workers and the Fall of the Old Regime: From the February Revolution to the July Days, 1917. New York: St. Martin’s, 1983.

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    Continued in The Petrograd Workers and the Soviet Seizure of Power: From the July Days, 1917 to July 1918 (London: Macmillan, 1984). In these two volumes Mandel combines a narrative history and sociological analysis to examine the involvement of the Petrograd working class in the revolutionary process from the February Revolution to July 1918. He argues that the workers acted rationally rather than blindly. Mandel writes from a Marxist perspective.

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  • Smith, S. A. Red Petrograd: Revolution in the Factories, 1917–1918. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511562952Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Smith, a prominent revisionist historian, surveys the revolution from the perspective of factory workers in St. Petersburg. He points out that after the February Revolution the demand for workers’ control at the shop-floor level was not an anarchic phenomenon but rather related to the economic crisis at the time as manufacturers cut back production and laid off workers. In the wake of the October Revolution and deepening economic crisis, workers’ organizations found themselves in conflict with their constituents.

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  • Wildman, Allan K. The End of the Russian Imperial Army. Vol. 1, The Old Army and the Soldiers’ Revolt (March–April 1917). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400847716Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Continued in Volume 2, The Road to Soviet Power and Peace (1987). Volume 1 of this pioneering work examines the social cleavages between ordinary soldiers and their officers that led the former to reject the authority of the latter and form their own committees. Volume 2 traces rank and file’s surge to the left. Ordinary soldiers felt betrayed by the Provisional Government––the key issue for them was peace––although only after October did many frontline units move into the Bolshevik camp. Wildman finds that Bolsheviks needed the support of the Left SRs for a majority in frontline military committees, and most soldiers preferred an “all socialist” rather than a single-party (Bolshevik) regime.

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Non-Russian Nationalities

The non-Russian nationalities as a whole and Bolshevik policy toward them receive their most comprehensive treatment in the two monographs listed here. Pipes 1997 has long been considered the standard work on the 1917–1923 period. Smith 1999 has garnered considerable praise and has a more positive take on Bolshevik policy.

  • Pipes, Richard. The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism, 1917–1923. Rev. ed. Russian Research Center Studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

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    This monograph, the first comprehensive study of national movements in the main non-Russian regions of the defunct tsarist empire between 1917 and 1923, traces how the Bolsheviks under Lenin capitalized on the chaos in those areas, making tactical concessions when necessary, to build their power and eventually form the Soviet Union. Originally published in 1954.

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  • Smith, Jeremy. The Bolsheviks and the National Question, 1917–1923. New York: St. Martin’s, 1999.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230377370Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A meticulously researched study that argues Bolshevik nationalities policy, grounded in theories that often were inconsistent with each other, evolved in a haphazard fashion in response to changing circumstances. In contrast to Pipes 1997, Smith focuses on Bolshevik policies once Soviet power was in place rather than how it was established in the first place.

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The Cheka

There are two major volumes on the Cheka during the revolutionary period. Gerson 1976 surveys the Cheka’s growth and repressive activities and Lenin’s role in promoting both. Leggett 1981 expands on Lennard D. Gerson’s coverage. Jakobson 1993 focuses on a narrower subject (the forced labor camps) but on a broader time period (1917–1934).

  • Gerson, Lennard D. The Secret Police in Lenin’s Russia. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1976.

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    A well-researched monograph that details the institutional growth and evolution of the Cheka under Lenin. Gerson stresses Lenin’s role in the founding and growth of that organization. Lenin’s conviction that the revolution required the complete suppression of all opponents provided the key rationale for the establishment of the Cheka, and he vigorously supported its varied and violent policies of repression.

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  • Jakobson, Michael. Origins of the Gulag: The Soviet Prison Camp System, 1917–1934. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1993.

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    After providing a background chapter on the tsarist prison system, the author devotes about forty highly detailed pages to the 1917–1922 period.

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  • Leggett, George. The Cheka: Lenin’s Political Police—The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage (December 1917–February 1922). Oxford: Clarendon, 1981.

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    Leggett’s massive (five hundred pages) and comprehensive work notes Lenin’s central role in the formation of the Cheka and the outbreak of the Red Terror that contributed to its becoming a vital institutional part of the Bolshevik regime. He provides new detail on the Cheka’s military detachments, its wide range of activities during the civil war, its early leaders, and a great deal more.

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The Bolshevik State and Private Property

Kharchenko 2000 chronicles the overall story of Bolshevik confiscation of private property from the seizure of power through the civil war. McMeekin 2009 discusses how the Bolsheviks financed their regime, and especially their army, by looting the wealth of Russia’s upper classes, including the royal family.

  • Kharchenko, K. V. Vlast’––imuchestvo––chelovek: Peredel sobstvennosti v bol’shevistskoi Rossii, 1917–nachala 1921. Moscow: Russkii dvor, 2000.

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    Although this volume does not uncover anything spectacularly new, it provides depth and detail about the Bolshevik confiscation of industrial enterprises, land, housing, bank accounts, and other types of private property. The author argues that the main goal was to destroy capitalist tendencies among the people of Russia and prevent counterrevolution.

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  • McMeekin, Sean. History’s Greatest Heist: The Looting of Russia by the Bolsheviks. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2009.

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    A specialized but significant volume based on newly discovered materials from Russian and Western archives. Chronicles how the Bolsheviks financed their regime, in particular the Red Army, during and after the civil war by seizing tsarist gold bullion, looting the wealth of Russia’s upper classes, and confiscating property of the Russian Orthodox Church.

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The Comintern

Degras 1956 is a valuable collection of documents while McDermott and Agnew 1996 is a history of the Comintern.

  • Degras, Jane Tabrisky, ed. The Communist International 1919–1943 Documents. Vol. 1, 1919–1922. London: Oxford University Press, 1956.

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    This complete collection includes more than one hundred documents including programmatic and theoretical statements, statements on current events (such as the Treaty of Versailles), letters and resolutions on national Communist parties, and documents regarding the internal organization of the Comintern itself. Each document is accompanied by helpful editorial notes.

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  • McDermott, Kevin, and Jeremy Agnew. The Comintern: A History of International Communism from Lenin to Stalin. Houndmills, UK: Macmillan, 1996.

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    Intended primarily for undergraduates, this volume’s first chapter, “The Comintern in the Era of Lenin, 1919–1923,” provides a helpful overview for specialists as well.

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Lenin and Leninism

Leon Trotsky once wrote that without Lenin there would not have been a Bolshevik Revolution. And, indeed, without Lenin’s leadership it is impossible to conceive of the events of 1917–1921 turning out as they did. Lenin was the irreplaceable engine of the political machine he founded and led to power in October 1917 and through the civil war of 1918–1921. The volumes included in this section, albeit from divergent perspectives and with different emphases, deal with that essential subject.

Monographs and Biographies

The biographies listed here range from very sympathetic to Lenin to highly critical of him. Harding 1981 and Le Blanc 1990 admire Lenin as a revolutionary whose efforts were betrayed by Stalin. Meyer 1957 views Lenin as an ideologically doctrinaire and tactically flexible revolutionary whose efforts ultimately led to a dictatorial regime. Service 1985 and Service 2000 see Lenin as a complex thinker and revolutionary; in the end, however, his idealism notwithstanding, he was a ruthless authoritarian who bequeathed Russia a tyrannical regime. Shub 1966, Ulam 1988, and especially Volkogonov 1994 are deeply critical of Lenin as the founder of the dictatorial Bolshevik Party and totalitarian Soviet regime. Ryan 2012 provides an overview of Lenin’s theoretical approach to and actual use of violence from the 1890s to the 1920s.

  • Harding, Neil. Lenin’s Political Thought. Vol. 2, Theory and Practice of Socialist Revolution. New York: St. Martin’s, 1981.

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    This concluding volume of Harding’s two-volume work covers the period from 1914 to the end of Lenin’s life. Harding writes from a Leninist perspective and views his subject as a visionary and humane socialist. Still, if used with care this volume is a detailed, clearly written, and useful resource.

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  • Le Blanc, Paul. Lenin and the Revolutionary Party. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1990.

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    Although worshipful of Lenin from a Trotskyite perspective and devoted to proving that Lenin really was a revolutionary committed to socialism “from below” whose democratic vision was betrayed by Stalin, this volume nonetheless can be a useful guide to many of Lenin’s ideas.

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  • Meyer, Alfred G. Leninism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674186637Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An excellent scholarly introduction to the subject that has retained its value to undergraduates, graduate students, and specialists. It is extremely thorough and clear on a number of theoretical points that are often misunderstood.

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  • Ryan, James. Lenin’s Terror: The Ideological Origins of Early Soviet State Violence. London: Routledge, 2012.

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    Ryan provides a comprehensive overview of Lenin’s thinking on political violence from the 1890s through 1923 and a study of his practice of violence as the leader of the Soviet state after 1917. The author argues that Lenin was the first major Marxist thinker to give violence such a prominent role as a revolutionary instrument. While not glorifying violence, Lenin emphatically justified it in principle and used it as he felt circumstances required in the struggle to acquire power and then build socialism.

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  • Service, Robert W. Lenin: A Political Life. Vol. 1, The Strengths of Contradiction. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1985.

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    Continued in Volume 2, Worlds in Collision (Basingstoke, UK, 1991), and Volume 3, The Iron Ring (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1995). The most thorough overview of Lenin’s life and political career. Volume 1 covers from Lenin’s birth in 1879 to 1910, Volume 2 covers from 1910 to early 1918, and Volume 3 covers the rest of Lenin’s life.

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  • Service, Robert. Lenin: A Biography. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2000.

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    Although this volume takes advantage of documents that were not available before 1991, most of the new material concerns Lenin’s personal life rather than his political activities.

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  • Shub, David. Lenin: A Biography. Rev. ed. New York: Penguin, 1966.

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    Although somewhat out of date, this is still a valuable biography by a Menshevik who personally knew Lenin, as well as Plekhanov, Trotsky, Chernov, and others personally before settling in the United States after the 1905 revolution.

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  • Ulam, Adam B. The Bolsheviks: The Intellectual and Political History of the Triumph of Communism in Russia. New York: Collier, 1988.

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    A seminal work that remains one of the most highly regarded studies of Lenin and Bolshevism. Slightly less than 20 percent of the book (about 130 pages) deals with the period from February 1917 until the end of the civil war.

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  • Volkogonov, Dmitri. Lenin: A New Biography. Translated and edited by Harold Shukman. New York: Free Press, 1994.

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    One of the first biographies of Lenin to take advantage of archives that were closed to historians prior to 1991. About a third of this important, groundbreaking work (more than 140 pages) deals with the events of 1917 and the civil war, and reveals a Lenin more ruthless and brutal than portrayed by earlier biographers. The English translation is condensed from the two-volume Russian version, Lenin: Politicheskii Portret v dvukh knigakh Lenin: A Political Portrait in two volumes (Moscow: Novosti, 1994). Volkogonov was an army general before becoming a professional historian. After the fall of the Soviet Union he served as Boris Yeltsin’s military advisor.

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Essay and Documentary Collections

Page 1977, Schapiro and Reddaway 1967, and Silverman 1972 all include a variety of views on Lenin, although the overall consensus is decidedly negative. Pipes 1996 has collected documents from newly opened archives that testify to a ruthless fanatical Lenin. Tucker 1975 includes some of Lenin’s most important works in his anthology. Lenin’s Selected Works (Lenin 1970) runs to more than 2,000 pages, while his Collected Works (Lenin 1960–1970) is the most complete collection in English.

  • Lenin, V. I. Collected Works. 45 vols. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1960–1970.

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    Most of the materials for the period 1917–1921 are in Volumes 23–32 and 42–45. This collection, the most complete available, is attainable online at the Lenin Internet Archive. An index of Lenin’s works is also available online at the Lenin Internet Archive.

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  • Lenin, V. I. Selected Works in Three Volumes. 3 vols. Moscow: Progress, 1970.

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    Volume 1 covers from Lenin’s earliest years as a revolutionary until 1917, Volume 2 from just before the February Revolution to mid-1918, and Volume 3 from mid-1918 to the end of Lenin’s life. This collection is available online at the Lenin Internet Archive.

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  • Page, Stanley W., ed. Lenin: Dedicated Marxist or Revolutionary Pragmatist Problems in Civilization. St. Louis, MO: Forum Press, 1977.

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    Revolutionaries of various persuasions as well as noted scholars are included in this anthology. There are also two selections by Lenin.

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  • Pipes, Richard, ed. The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archive. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1996.

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    As the title indicates, this volume contains more than one hundred documents from Russian archives that were not available prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Most come from the period 1917–1922. These documents testify to a Lenin more militant, cynical, and ruthless, and more reliant on Stalin, than previously described even by many of his critics, points made in the editor’s introduction.

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  • Schapiro, Leonard, and Peter Reddaway, eds. Lenin: The Man, the Theorist, the Leader: A Reappraisal. New York: Praeger, 1967.

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    A collection of papers presented at a conference in 1967 at the London School of Economics to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Leonard Schapiro provides an overview, “Lenin after Fifty Years,” and scholars such as John Keep (“Lenin as Tactician”), Alec Nove (“Lenin as Economist”), and John Erickson (“Lenin as Civil War Leader”) discuss various aspects of Lenin’s life and career.

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  • Silverman, Saul N., ed. Lenin. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972.

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    This collection is divided into three chapters: “Lenin Looks at the World,” which includes eleven selections by Lenin; “Lenin Viewed by his Contemporaries,” which includes selections by people ranging from Lenin’s sister to Rosa Luxemburg to Trotsky; and “Lenin in History,” which includes four evaluations. The editor provides an introduction and afterword.

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  • Tucker, Robert Charles, ed. The Lenin Anthology. New York: Norton, 1975.

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    Contains more than twenty important documents from the 1917–1922 period as well as a helpful introduction, especially for undergraduates. Researchers seeking more complete collections of Lenin’s work should consult the two Lenin collections listed in this section (Lenin 1960–1970 and Lenin 1970), both published by the Soviet government.

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