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The Russian Revolution: When Workers Took Power

by Paul Vernadsky
Phoenix Press, 2017, ISBN: 978-1-909639-32-4, PB £12.

The title of this book, a publication of the Alliance for Worker’s Liberty, states its central theme. Vernadsky considers the Russian Revolution of 1917 to be ‘the greatest event in political history… It was the first occasion that working-class people took political power and held it for a significant period’.

The book, challenging both in its scope and its depth, is characterised by impressive research. After a consideration of the October Revolution, in which a helpful chronology is provided, Vernadsky discussed the development of Bolshevism from the crucible of intense debate prior to 1914 and then reflected on a number of salient themes : ‘Soviets, worker’s democracy and workers’ control’; ‘Permanent Revolution’; ‘War and the myth of defeatism’; ‘Consistent democracy and the national question’; ‘Women’s’ liberation and the Russian revolution’; ‘The Communist International’; ‘Stalin’s counter-revolution’ concluding with a discussion of the relevance of the Russian revolution today. His objective is to ‘uncover some of the lies, half-truths and myths about the revolution’s historical and contemporary detractors’. Each theme is ably supported by references and there is a very comprehensive ’Further Reading’ section.

Vernadsky acknowledges that the revolution ‘went off course’ . This was not in his view an intrinsic and inevitable outcome of Bolshevism. It was rather the result of the civil war in Russia and the failure of workers’ revolutions in other parts of Europe and a growing state bureaucracy in Russia. ’Where mistakes were made Lenin, Trotsky and others tried to rectify them, but alas too late. In a situation of isolation and scarcity Stalin and his bureaucratic cohorts were able opportunistically to use these conditions to organise a counter-revolution’. Readers who may not share Vernadsky’s interpretations cannot fault him for inadequate scholarship.

There are twelve illustrations including Tatlin’s famous ‘Monument to the Third International’ and an illustration of Rodchenenko’s ‘Design for a Workers’ Club’. A stimulating and doubtless controversial book, it’s important reading for socialist and non-socialists.

Eddie Little