"No matter what one thinks of Bolshevism, it is undeniable that the Russian Revolution is one of the greatest events in human history, and the rule of the Bolsheviki a phenomenon of worldwide importance." John Reed, 1st January 1919. (J. Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World)
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution. From a Marxist point of view, the Bolshevik Revolution was the greatest single event in world history. For the first time, if we exclude the heroic but tragic episode of the Paris Commune, the masses overthrew the old regime and began the great task of the socialist transformation of society.
Like the French Revolution of the 18th century and the English Revolution in the 17th century, the Russian Revolution had to pass through a series of stages before it reached its culmination. This was a learning process in which masses looked to a number of different options, parties and leaders, discarding one after another before they were able to take power into their own hands.
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The decisive factor was undoubtedly the presence of a Marxist Party – the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. Such a party did not drop from heaven. Neither could it be improvised on the spur of the moment. It was built with great difficulty over a period of twenty years, mostly in the harsh conditions of underground work.
The growth of the Bolshevik Party in 1917 must represent the most spectacular transformation in the entire history of political parties. In February the Party represented a very small number – probably no more than 8,000, in a huge country with a population in the region of 150 million. Yet by October the Bolsheviks were strong enough to lead millions of workers and peasants to the seizure of power.
The apologists of capitalism and their obedient lackeys in right wing Labour claim that the collapse of the USSR signified the demise of socialism. But what failed in Russia was not socialism but a caricature of socialism. Contrary to the oft-repeated slanders, the Stalinist regime was the antithesis of the democratic regime established by the Bolsheviks in 1917. The October revolution was neither a coup nor a conspiracy, but the organised expression of the will of the overwhelming majority which had striven for nine months to find a solution to its problems through Soviet power.
It is important that all those who were fighting for a better world today should make a serious study of the lessons of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. In order to aid this task we have decided to produce a reading list of those titles that seemed to us to be of greatest use to the student of Bolshevism and the Russian Revolution.
The anniversary of the revolution will inevitably be a signal for an intensification of the campaign of the litigation directed against the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik Party by the enemies of socialism. The works we have recommended will serve as a useful antidote to this poisonous tirade, providing a comprehensive answer to the calumnies of the counterrevolutionaries. We recommend it to you with every possible enthusiasm.
London 10th January 2017
THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION: THE MEANING OF OCTOBER by Alan Woods
- This article gives an excellent overview over the revolution and the main lessons to draw from it.
HISTORY OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION TO BREST LITOVSK by Leon Trotsky
- This short history written in 1918 at Brest-Litovsk during the negotiations between the new Soviet government lead by Lenin and Trotsky and the Kaiser’s army provides an excellent introduction to the Russian Revolution.
10 DAYS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD by John Reed
- This classic account of the Bolshevik revolution requires no introduction. It provides a vivid blow by blow account of the Russian revolution, which Lenin praised highly for its truthfulness. An excellent antidote to the lies and slander is of the bourgeois critics of October.
IN DEFENCE OF OCTOBER by Leon Trotsky
- The famous speech delivered in Copenhagen, Denmark in November 1932.
Key theoretical works
THE HISTORY OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION by Leon Trotsky
- This is the outstanding Marxist work on the Russian revolution. Written in 1930 on the island of Prinkipo in Turkey where Trotsky had been exiled by Stalin, it provides a complete account in three volumes of the revolution through all its stages and a profound Marxist analysis of these great events in which Trotsky played a leading role.
THE STATE AND REVOLUTION by V.I Lenin
- This Marxist classic on the state was written when Lenin was in hiding in Finland following the defeat of the proletariat in the July Days.
THE PERMANENT REVOLUTION AND RESULTS AND PROSPECTS by Leon Trotsky
- In this work Trotsky explains his theory of the permanent revolution, first worked out in 1904 -5 in which he predicted that the Russian working class could come to power before the rest of Europe. This theory was completely vindicated by the October revolution.
BOLSHEVISM – THE ROAD TO REVOLUTION by Alan Woods
- The history of the Bolshevik party from the early days of the party until the end of 1917. This book is a key work for those who wish to understand the 30 years of political development which prepared for the Bolsheviks to assume power in October 1917.
Lenin and Trotsky
LENIN AND TROTSKY – WHAT THEY REALLY STOOD FOR by Alan Woods and Ted Grant
- In this important work Alan Woods and Ted Grant give a detailed explanation of the key positions of Lenin and Trotsky and the real relationship between the ideas of two.
Ideally one should read all the articles, pamphlets and speeches that Lenin wrote in the course of 1917. We limit ourselves here to the most essential Writings but would encourage you to read all the rest.
- This collection of letters written by Lenin in Switzerland immediately following the overthrow of the tsar in February 1917 are the kind of manifesto written for the Bolshevik leaders in Russia in which he demands a decisive break with the Mensheviks and liberals and advocates but the workers take the road to power.
OUR REVOLUTION by Leon Trotsky
- Written on March 18th, 1917, when the first news of unrest in Petrograd had reached New York, this collection of articles shows how Trotsky arrived independently at similar conclusions to Lenin.
- The positions advocated in letters from afar are here given a completely rounded and worked out expression. This was the basis on which Lenin conducted a struggle at the April conference against the opportunist line taken by Stalin and Kamenev.
THE IMPENDING CATASTROPHE AND HOW TO COMBAT IT by V.I. Lenin
- Another Marxist classic, this shows how Lenin used transitional demands to raise the level of the workers struggle from immediate questions to the level of consciousness needed to assume state power.
- The above three articles were written in the period when Lenin was demanding that the workers must take power or suffered defeat.
Works by other revolutionaries
ON THE EVE OF 1917 by Alexander Shlyapnikov
- Shlyapnikov was a Bolshevik organizer during the war years. Based in Scandinavia, he acted as a link between Lenin in Switzerland) and the fragmented and the Bolsheviks in Russia. These memoirs deal with the period from 1914 to 1917.
REVOLUTIONARY SILHOUETTES by Anatoly Lunacharsky
- Anatoly Lunacharsky was a veteran Russian Marxist who became the first Commissar of Education under the Bolshevik government. First published in 1919, his book Revolutionary Silhouettes is a collection of pen portraits of the Russian revolutionary leaders, including Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Martov and others, although Stalin is not among them.
KRONSTADT AND PETROGRAD IN 1917 by Fyodor Raskolnikov
- Raskolnikov, then 25 years of age, was a sailor in the Russian Navy base in Kronstadt, close to revolutionary Petrograd. He was one of the leaders of the red sailors who played a key role in the revolution and his experiences are graphically described in this book.
LENIN’S MOSCOW by Alfred Rosmer
Albert Rosmer was a veteran of the French revolution of the workers movement who began life as an anarcho-syndicalist but later became a communist and a supporter of Leon Trotsky. This book covers the period from 1922 to the death of Lenin in 1924, drawing on his personal experience of the Russian Revolution and the communist movement in Russia and in France.
YEAR ONE OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION by Victor Serge
- A valuable account by the veteran French revolutionary of his first-hand experience of the first year of the Bolshevik revolution. Victor Serge started as an anarchist but later joined the Bolshevik Party.
THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION OF 1917, A PERSONAL MEMOIR by Nikolai Nikolaevich Sukhanov
- Nikolai Nikolaevich Sukhanov was a Russian Menshevik Internationalist. He wrote a seven-volume memoir of the Russian Revolution of 1917 it was first published under that title in 1922 in the Soviet Union. Towards the end of his life Lenin read this work with interest. His memoirs constitute an valuable eyewitness account of events, although clearly written from a Menshevik standpoint (Lenin described it as the Revolution scene from the standpoint of our petty bourgeoisie).
LENINISM UNDER LENIN by Marcel Liebman
- A detailed study of the rise of Bolshevism and its triumph, including many important quotes, facts and details. It includes two final chapters on Leninism outside Russia and the commonest international.
SIX MONTHS IN RUSSIA by Louise Bryant
- This is a fascinating eyewitness account by a female American left-wing activist. Particularly interesting are interviews with women revolutionaries, but it contains many vivid pictures of life in revolutionary Russia at that time.
IN REVOLUTIONARY RUSSIA by Arthur Ransome
- A sympathetic eyewitness account written by a famous English writer, the author of Swallows and Amazons who visited Russia in 1920.
THE BOLSHEVIKS COME TO POWER by Alexander Rabinowitch
- An interesting book that covers the period from the July days to the seizure of power. New York 1976.
MEMOIRS OF A BRITISH AGENT by Bruce Lockhart
- As the title of his book suggests, Bruce Lockhart served as a British agent in Russia from 1912 until after the Russian Revolution. Although clearly not a sympathiser with Bolshevism (in 1918 he was accused of implication in a plot to assassinate Lenin and imprisoned but was later exchanged for Maxim Litvinov) Lockhart, a political liberal who sympathised with Kerensky, was a keen observer of the revolution and its participants and his book is a valuable historical document in its own right.
THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION by EH Carr
- EH Carr, a former editor of the Times newspaper, is unusual among bourgeois historians in that he attempts to write objectively about the Bolshevik revolution. In spite of the fact that his class background and psychology prevented him from really understanding the nature or the ideology of Bolshevism, his work stands head and shoulders above the kind of rubbish produced by most modern bourgeois historians. It is thoroughly researched and contains much interesting material. The Bolshevik revolution is in three substantial volumes, but is only the first part of a far more ambitious project in which Carr intended to write a history of the Soviet Union. The fourth volume (The Interregnum) deals with the period of the rise of Stalin after Lenin’s death.