Books and articles on the Russian revolution

The best read that I have found on the Russian Revolution is An Illustrated History of the Russian Revolution published by Martin Lawrence in 1928 in two volumes. It takes the reader from before the 1905 revolution to the end of the Civil War. It is comprehensive with articles by participants like Lenin, Rykov, Stalin and Bukharin but also by some antagonistic to the Bolsheviks like Kerensky.

John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World, Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution and Louise Bryant’s Six Red Months in Russia are well known and easy to get hold of and are very good reads. Surprisingly I found Robin Page Arnot’s A Short History of the Russian Revolution disappointing. It was simply too short. Published in 1937 presumably to commemorate the twentieth anniversary its shortness was possibly a matter of discretion.

To capture the flavour of what was going on I recommend these two books Albert Rhys Williams’ Through the Russian Revolution and Morgan Phillips Price’s Dispatches from the Revolution Russia 1916 – 1918. these are excellent eye witness accounts from sympathetic observers. Williams was lucky to escape with his life when caught by the Whites. His story of the intervention by foreign armies in Vladivostok is particularly poignant. Also worth looking at is Leon Trotsky’s Between Red and White published by our party in the early 1920s. It tells of the civil as it affected Georgia.

You could also read Louis Aragon’s History of the USSR from Lenin to Kruschev which has chapters dealing with both the revolution and the Civil War.

Submitted by Gerry Sables

CARLOS MARTINEZ recommends an informative account of the global shift from capitalism to socialism following the Russian Revolution

Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism

by Samir Amin
(Monthly Review Press, £17.99)

IN THIS short book, renowned Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin presents an overview of the world’s first large-scale experiment of building socialism in the Soviet Union and contextualises it within what he describes as the “long transition” — the extended and overlapping processes of capitalism’s death and socialism’s birth.

The idea of the long transition is essentially a response to the end-of-history narrative prevailing in mainstream politics that socialism has failed and that capitalist liberal democracy is permanently established as the pinnacle of social and economic organisation.

“In the same way that capitalism first developed within feudalism before breaking out of it,” Amin writes, “the long transition of world capitalism to world socialism is defined by the internal conflict of all the societies in the system between the trends and forces of the reproduction of capitalist relations and the (anti-systemic) trends and forces, whose logic has other aspirations — those, precisely, that can be defined as socialism.”

In this framework, the retreats suffered by the socialist world, particularly the collapse of the European socialist states between 1989 and 1991, should not be considered as the death of the socialist project but rather as part of the inevitable ebb and flow of a complex historical trajectory that could take hundreds of years but which nonetheless has an inexorable tide.

If we accept the idea of an ongoing global struggle between capitalism and socialism, then we must also consider the need to create conditions in which socialist ideas can take root and to create a geopolitical space in which socialism could conceivably succeed.

Thus Amin’s idea of “building up a multipolar world that makes possible the maximum development of anti-systemic forces” assumes critical importance in the struggle for socialism. A unipolar world in which the US is the uncontested economic, military and cultural leader — and in which the Project for a New American Century has succeeded — would be a disastrous situation for the masses of every region.

The great promise of multipolarity is that it frees countries and regional blocs to experiment with economic and political forms that suit them, rather than having to submit to the diktat of what Amin refers to as the triad — US, European and Japanese imperialism.

One example of multipolarity in action is the emergence over the last 16 years of a wave of progressive states in Latin America. Although defeats have recently been suffered in Brazil and Argentina, there are still more or less socialist-oriented governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, El Salvador and Chile.

Without the existence of powerful allies — most importantly China, but also Russia and Iran — this situation would have been unthinkable and it would have been impossible to break the grip of US neoliberal domination.

Another pertinent example is the imminent defeat by Syria of the imperialist-co-ordinated regime change operation being pursued against it — a victory which would have been much more difficult without the support of a Russia that has, in the Putin era, shaken off its assigned role at the fringes of US global hegemony.

This underpins Amin’s important thesis that multipolarity is a key component of the ongoing global struggle for socialism.

The writer reiterates his longstanding critique of the Soviet Union and puts forward a vision for an alternative socialism that is less autocratic, more democratic, less bureaucratic and more egalitarian.

This critique — which Amin has put forward for the best part of half a century and which owes a little too much to the Chinese Communist Party’s cultural revolution-era evaluation of the Soviet Union — should be taken with a pinch of salt.

But the book’s flaws shouldn’t detract from its overall valuable contribution, and its urgency, in a situation where the capitalist ruling classes are increasingly turning to far-right political forces in the face of a profound economic crisis.

As Amin writes:“In an age such as ours — when there are enough weapons to destroy the whole Earth, when the media can tame the crowds with frightening efficiency, when short-term egoism or anti-humanist individualism is a fundamental value threatening Earth’s ecological survival — barbarism may be fatal.

“More than ever, the choice we face is not capitalism or socialism but socialism or barbarism.”

An important book.

This review appeared in The Morning Star, 4/1/2017

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