YEAR ONE OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION by Victor Serge
Present At The Creation
I have read several books on subjects related to the Russian Revolution by Victor Serge and find that he is a well-informed insider on this subject although the novel rather than history writing is his stronger form of expressing his views. See his The Case of Comrade Tulayev. This book can be profitably read in conjunction with other better written left-wing interpretations of this period. Sukhanov's Notes on the Russian Revolution (for the February period), Leon Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution and John Reed's Ten Days that Shook the World come to mind.
The task Serge sets himself here is to look at the dramatic and eventually fateful events of first year of the Russian Revolution. Those included the Bolshevik seizure of power, the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly and the struggle by the Bolsheviks against other left-wing tendencies in defining Soviet state policy, the fight to end Russian participation in World War I culminating in the humiliating Brest-Litovsk treaty with Germany and, most importantly, the beginnings of Civil War against the Whites. In short, he investigates all the issues that will ultimately undermine and cause the degeneration of what was the first successful socialist seizure of state power in history.
Serge's history is partisan history in the best sense of the word. It is rather silly at this late date to argue that historians must be detached from the subject of their investigations. All one asks is that a historian gets the facts for his or her analysis straight. And then stay out of the way. Serge passes this test. Serge worked under the assumption that the strategic theory of the Bolshevik leaders Lenin and Trotsky was valid. That premise stated that Russia as the weakest link in the international capitalist system could act as the catalyst for revolution in the West and therefore shorten its own road to socialism. The failure of that Western revolution, the subsequent hostile encirclement by the Western powers and the inevitable degeneration implicit in a revolution in an economically undeveloped country left to its own resources underlies the structure of his argument.
The Russian revolution of October 1917 was the defining event for the international labor movement during most of the 20th century. Serious militants and left -wing organizations took their stand based on their position on the so-called Russian Question. At that time the level of political class-consciousness in the international labor movement was quite high. Such consciousness does not exist today where the socialist program is seen as, at best, utopian. However, notwithstanding the demise of the Soviet state in 1991-92 and the essential elimination of the Russian Question as a factor in world politics on a day to day basis anyone who wants learn some lessons from the heroic period of the Russian Revolution will find this book an informative place to start.
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