"The year 1917 was an epic, a concatenation of adventures, hopes, betrayals, unlikely coincidences, war and intrigue; of bravery and cowardice and foolishness, farce, derring-do, tragedy; of epochal ambitions and change, of glaring lights, steel, shadows; of tracks and trains...
This was Russia’s revolution, certainly, but it belonged and belongs to others, too. It could be ours. If its sentences are still unfinished, it is up to us to finish them." — China Miéville
One hundred years on from the Russian Revolution we look back at the events that turned the world upside down and how they resonate today with new books from China Miéville and Tariq Ali, and classic texts from the Verso archive, made newly available for the centenary.
All the books on this reading list are 50% off until May 28 at midnight UTC. Click here to activate your discount.
Throughout May, our Weekend Reads series will feature selections from books about or related to the Russian Revolution.
Delegates at the 8th Congress of the Russian Communist Party, 1919.
Published in 1985, Marxism, Wars & Revolutions collects essays written by Isaac Deutscher over a period of more than thirty years. "From them," Perry Anderson writes in his preface to the book, "we can see Deutscher as he was, a much more complex and multi-dimensional figure than the terms by which he became best-known in his lifetime would suggest: not simply a scholar, but a thinker, of the Left; and not only a commentator on events, but a participant in them."
The text below, an assessment of the yet unfinished Russian revolutionary epoch, was written for Political Quarterly in 1944, five years before the publication of Stalin: A Political Biography, while Deutscher was working as a journalist for The Economist and The Observer.
Isaac Deutscher's Marxism, Wars & Revolutions and The Prophet are available for 50% off until May 28 as part of our Russian Revolution reading. See all the books on the reading list, here.
History and Revolution: Refuting Revisionism, edited by Mike Haynes and Jim Wolfreys and published by Verso in 2007, collects essays on the English, French, and Russian Revolutions and the body of revisionist historiography — developed or publicized by historians like François Furet, Simon Schama, Orlando Figes, and Conrad Russell — that dominated public conception of them during the high years of "the end of history."
"Revisionism generally shares a view of revolutions," the editors write, "as, to paraphrase George Taylor, political acts with social consequences rather than social acts with political consequences."
The lasting achievement of revisionist historiography of the French Revolution has been to discredit the idea that the event brought about a change in France's social order. Against the "determinism" of social explanations of historical change, which focus on class antagonisms, revisionists emphasize the primacy of the political. Their tendency to see revolutions as narrow political events rather than broader social transformations means that extraordinary circumstances — war, famine, counter-revolution — figure little in explanations of why protagonists sometimes act in ways which would otherwise be considered extreme or intolerable. The focus on elite activity and the attempt to establish a causal link between ideas and events leaves little room for the active role played by groups who do not form part of the elite. Popular insurgencies, violence and insurrection are no longer integral to revolutionary change but an unnecessary distraction, or worse, a reactionary brake on modernization and peaceful reform.
In the book's final chapter, reprinted below, Daniel Bensaïd takes on some of the broader themes of the revisionist literature, picking up Marx's figure of the old mole to trace the persistence of revolution during even the most apparently static of times.