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(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL Octobre - Bibliography: To discover the Russian Revolution (fr, it, pt) [machine translation]
Sun, 5 Nov 2017 10:27:51 +0200
The subject is immense, labyrinthine issues, events alternately grandiose and desolate. A
selection of books to learn. ---- Orlando Figes, The Russian Revolution (1996). This epic
fresco, beginning with the catastrophic famine of 1891 and ending with the death of Lenin
in 1924, sweeps the political, military, economic and cultural aspects of the revolution.
The author interweaves his narrative with eloquent points of view, such as those of the
socialist intellectual Gorky, the Bolshevik worker Kanachikov or the progressive peasant
Semenov. Despite a sarcastic and sometimes unpleasant tone, this historian who seems to
have sympathy for Lev Kamenev's moderate Bolshevism paints a vivid picture of what was
then Russian society, so difficult to imagine a century later.
2 volumes, 1600 pages, Gallimard, 2009.
Marc Ferro, The Revolution of 1917 (1975). The French historiography on the Russian
Revolution is far below its Anglo-Saxon counterpart, but Marc Ferro has raised the level
considerably with this study unequaled for more than forty years. Less good storyteller,
but better analyst than Figs, Ferro enriches his book of thematic studies on the democracy
of the soviets, workers' control and self-management, bureaucratisation, the role of women
and national minorities. His small collection of commented texts, From soviets to
bureaucratic communism (Gallimard, 1980), is less successful.
1,102 pages, Albin Michel, 1997.
Alexander Rabinovich, Prelude to Revolution (1968). Never translated into French, this
founding study, focused on the July Days, broke the myth of a monolithic and disciplined
Bolshevik Party in 1917. It shows the divergences and hesitations - logical in a context
of revolution - but also the porosity to external influences - especially that of
anarchists on its working base. Despite this, his effort to maintain organizational
cohesion will have made the difference with his competitors. Rabinovich extended his study
to October in The Bolsheviks take power (La Fabrique, 2016), where we take the measure of
the role played by Lenin. There is little case in history where the will of a man will
have weighed so much on the course of events.
304 pages, First Midland Book Edition, 1991.
Paul Avrich, The Russian Anarchists (1967). In a rather scholastic style, it is in spite
of everything the most complete book on the subject, centered on the two phases of the
libertarian activity in Russia: 1905-1908, then 1917-1921. Avrich details the singularity
of Russian anarchism in its first wave, fascinated by bezmotiv violence (" without motive
") - for no other purpose than to kill rich to awaken the people. In parallel was
invented in Ukraine " anarcho-syndicalism " twenty-five or thirty years before the
formula is formalized in Spain and France. The study of the second wave is more
disappointing. The debates and action of anarchists at the key moments of 1917-1918 are
only flown over; the characters barely sketched. The book by Alexander Skirda, The Russian
Anarchists, the Soviets and the 1917 Revolution (Editions de Paris, 2000) takes up more or
less the same information as Avrich, adding testimonies and documents in the appendix.
400 pages, Nada, 2017.
Voline, The Unknown Revolution (1947). This is the reference libertarian testimony,
bringing a lot of information first hand. Nevertheless, he remains very evasive about
anarchist organizations, their debates, their differences and their actors, as if Voline
had not wanted to get angry with anyone. Even the splitting of his own newspaper, Golos
Truda, in 1918, is modestly ignored. On the other hand, the Memoirs and writings of Makhno
(Ivrea, 2010) tell the revolutionary action of the years 1906-1918 - before the
Makhnovshchina, therefore - with a luxury of details, but remain confined to Ukraine. We
will complete with the excellent biography Nestor Makhno, the libertarian Cossack, by
Alexandre Skirda (Editions de Paris, 2005).
720 pages, Worldworld, 2010.
Stephen A. Smith, Red Petrograd. The revolution in factories (1983). With its strong
sociological component, it holds a leading book to understand the working class in the
capital of the tsars. The typical proletarian was young, concentrated in a giant
metallurgical factory, single without children, relatively educated and hungry: in short,
dynamite. Smith explores the labor institutions spontaneously created in 1917 - popular
militia, Red Guard, factory committees - and discusses their role ... before the working
class evaporates in 1918-1919. The collapse of the industry will then force her to return
to the fields or enlist in the Red Army ... except for the fraction that will, in the
meantime, become an official in the soviets.
450 pages, The Red Nights, 2017.
Leonard Schapiro, The Bolsheviks and the Opposition (1955). A precise and richly
documented book that illuminates the trajectory of the " losers " of the revolution:
Mensheviks and socialist-revolutionaries mainly - the anarchists are only flown over, the
Bund is ignored. Hence it appears that several key moments - the II th Congress of
Soviets, the negotiations for a pluralist socialist government, the dissolution of the
Constituent Assembly, the beginnings of the civil war ... - these parties have squandered
their chance to weigh on the course of events.
560 pages, The Red Nights, 2007.
Oskar Anweiler, The Soviets in Russia (1972). The soviets were above all organs of
administration, but also - palliating the absence of unions - workers' representation and
coordination of struggles. And, potentially only, of popular power. The author details the
architecture they adopted to structure themselves at the national level, and depicts their
existence and their faults in a more concrete way than most of the history books of the
384 pages, Gallimard, 1972.
Jacques Baynac, The Social Revolutionaries (1979). This was the main socialist current in
Russia from 1880 to 1917, before being locked in the caricature of Soviet historians, and
erased memories. Baynac brought down many prejudices on this heterodox Marxist party, a
member of the II th International, well established in the working class, without serious
competitor within the peasant left rather unparliamentary and leading the armed struggle
against tsarism. Only Volume 1, devoted to the pre-1917, has been published.
394 pages, Robert Laffont, 1979.
René Berthier, October 1917: the Thermidor of the Russian Revolution (1999). Besides the
action of the anarchists, René Berthier gives a lengthy examination of the
responsibilities of Bolshevism in the bureaucratisation of the revolution, establishing
comparisons with Spanish anarcho-syndicalism in 1936. The many edifying quotations of
Lenin and Trotsky ( fascinated by Taylorism, resolved to use terror against the workers to
straighten out production) form an implacable plea against any dictatorship, whether "
enlightened " or " revolutionary ".
288 pages, CNT-RP Publishing, 2003.
On the side of testimonials
We will read the Memoirs of a Revolutionary Victor (Lux, 2010), whose humanistic breath
compensates for the shadows; The Bolshevik myth of Alexander Berkman, and his relevant
observations on the degeneration of the revolution in 1920-1921 (Klincksieck, 2017); the
memoirs of a Jewish anarchist Samuel Schwartzbard (Syllepse, 2010), which gets tangled a
bit in the timeline, but the memories of resistance to pogroms in Ukraine, about the
trials of the first Red Guards or the profiteers disorder will usefully reflect the adepts
of spontaneity and non-organization.
William Davranche (AL Montreuil)
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