- Hardcover: 992 pages
- Publisher: Haymarket Books; 100th ed. edition (15 August 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1608467953
- ISBN-13: 978-1608467952
- Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 5.7 x 24.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 3 Kg
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 275,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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History of the Russian Revolution Hardcover – 15 Aug 2017
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"The greatest history of an event that I know."
--C. L. R. James "Justly celebrated as a towering, vivid, historically vital work."
--China Miéville, October "The History is his crowning work, both in scale and power and as the fullest expression of his ideas on revolution. As an account of a revolution, given by one of its chief actors, it stands unique in world literature."
--Isaac Deutscher "I would routinely smuggle copies of Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution into the USSR--so our colleagues could know a little about their own political beginnings."
"This passionate, partisan and beautifully written account by a major participant in the revolution, written during his exile on the isle of Prinkipo in Turkey, remains one of the best accounts of 1917. No counter-revolutionary, conservative or liberal, has been able to compete with this telling."
About the Author
Max Eastman (1883-1969) was a poet, journalist, founding editor of The Masses, and one of Leon Trotsky's earliest American collaborators.
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The book is not impartial. Although middle class in origin (as was Lenin) Trotsky dedicated himself to the struggle of the working class, to the liberation of the poor from poverty and oppression.
And Trotsky's work did not end with the Russian Revolution either. The Death Agony of Capitalism shows the same Leon Trotsky fighting out the working class fight in 1938. In addition to the capitalists he also had to fight against the Stalinists who had derailed the Russian Revolution too. And his followers are to be found today in the Committee for a Workers' International.
The Death Agony of Capitalism
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Russia, however, was still an hereditary monarchy, headed by Tsar Nicholas II. The Tsar was oblivious to his army's mounting losses and indifferent to the privations suffered by most Russian citizens. He was insular, oddly detached, inexplicably cheerful, and easily led by the Tsarina, who was under the pernicious influence of Rasputin, a semi-literate monk who ostensibly possessed preternatural foresight and wisdom.
In February, with conditions throughout the country insufferably deteriorating and the army becoming more disorganized, ineffective, and badly bloodied, the Tsar was forced to abdicate. His most likely heirs had no interest in succeeding him, preferring lives of untroubled leisure. Mainstream political parties, including the Mensheviks and mis-named Social Revolutionaries, were indifferent to taking power, recognizing that Russia might prove to be simply ungovernable. On the left, the Bolsheviks were regarded by many as ideologically and programatically ill-suited to fostering the best interests of a state that was shedding the ill-fitting cloak of monarchy in favor a liberal-bourgeois regime.
However, the liberal-bourgeois coalition that came to power in July proved as ill-suited to governing as its immediate predecessor. Yes, a revolution had occurred. Russia struggled into the 20th Century having divested itself of the most obvious and outmoded institutions peculiar to a monarchy. But the coalition-based liberal-bourgeois state that succeeded the rule of Nicholas II was equally ineffectual and even more unstable.
All the while, the Bolsheviks, champions of the proletariat, the small peasants, and the front-line,trench-bound soldiers were anticipating and planning for an insurrection that would open the way for creation of a genuinely socialist state. As the popularity of the once-discounted Bolsheviks grew and conditions within Russia and at the front became increasingly intolerable, occurrence of an insurrection followed by a full-blown revolution became more likely. In late October the insurrection erupted, and the Bolsheviks were ready.
This historical sketch does not begin to do justice to the astonishing mastery of detail and profound interpretative power that Trotsky brings to bear in his history of the Russian Revolution. The reader can only imagine that Trotsky had to be a man who never slept and never stopped thinking, observing, and reading, a revolutionary intellectual in the most powerful sense.
At the same time, and recognizing that this book was originally published in three volumes, it's not difficult to find ways in which judicious editing could have made Trotsky's History shorter while losing nothing of importance. The book is interesting throughout, but there is so much material that it's hard not to lose the connections between various parts, from start to finish, of Trotsky's magnificent story. Trotsky, no doubt, would have had effective arguments for leaving the book just as it is.
In view of the book's subject and length, I was surprised to find so few references to Marx as providing material useful in guiding the work of the Bolsheviks. Trotsky, unquestionably, benefited from reading Marx, but Marx seems clearly to have been but one source among many that Trotsky used in thinking about the development and destruction of social systems.
Given the time and the place, even more surprising is the near-total physical absence of Lenin. Trotsky repeatedly, perhaps even gushingly, pays homage to Lenin as the wellspring of revolutionary wisdom. Perhaps so. In Trotsky's history, however, Lenin is almost always out of the country, in deep hiding, or incapacitated by illness. For one who held that being close to the people and sharing their struggles was essential to understanding the class-based nature of a society and its development, this seems a debilitating handicap. Perhaps Trotsky underestimates his own contribution and overvalues that of Lenin.
Trotsky acknowledges that the work of any historian is open to charges of incidental subjectivity, tendentious selectivity, and self-interested interpretation. He holds, however, that his adherence to the materialist method provides safeguards against such sources of error. In making this claim, he uses the term "method" not as referring to a set of procedures and techniques, but a perspective, much as, say, Gadamer uses hermeneutics in Truth and Method. In my view, claims such as this are impossible to evaluate, and it would be remarkable, indeed, if Trotsky's History were not influenced by his own peculiar perspective. In that regard he is like the rest of us: his and our flights of fancy are constrained by the knowledge that others are studying the same thing. Trotsky fairly often refers to the work of other historians of the Revolution, including those on the right, especially Milulov, with whom he agrees more often than he disagrees. In Trotsky's case, however, it seems reasonable to argue that his actual method was his brilliance.
Making a revolution is one thing, but building a socialist society is quite another. Trotsky understood this perfectly well. However, governing by giving "all power to the soviets," while it may have a stirring populist appeal, is not self-explanatory. How Trotsky, Lenin, and others expected this to work is not evident; perhaps it was something that had to develop historically.
Finally, both Trotsky and Lenin were convinced that "socialism in one country" would not last. Surrounded by capitalist nations, an isolated socialist state would soon be overwhelmed by bourgeois interests that governed the context in which it was located. Acknowledging the need to foment socialist revolution as, ultimately, a world-wide phenomenon is all well and good, but how does one transform the entire planet.
Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution is a demanding book, one that merits careful study. Given its length and complexity, however, it's difficult not to give up on it. Nevertheless, sticking it out until the end proves worth the effort.