Reading list

5 classics to read on the Russian Revolution

In 1917, two revolutions transformed Russia, and set in motion one of the biggest social and political upheavals of the twentieth century.

The February Revolution began when growing civil unrest and chronic food shortages triggered rioting and strikes in Petrograd (now St Petersburg). The subsequent abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and collapse of interim coalition governments prompted a second revolution in October, led by the Bolshevik party leader, Vladimir Lenin.

From first-hand accounts written by its leading figures to explorations of the human cost of revolution, here are five books that unpick and understand the significance of these seismic events.

Ten Days That Shook the World

John Reed

Ten Days That Shook the World is John Reed’s eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution. A contemporary journalist writing in the first flush of revolutionary enthusiasm, he gives a gripping record of the events in Petrograd in November 1917, when Lenin and the Bolsheviks finally seized power.

Containing verbatim reports of speeches by leaders as well as the chance comments of bystanders, set against an idealised backdrop that depicts the proletariat, soldiers, sailors, and peasants uniting to throw off oppression, Reed’s account is the product of passionate involvement, and remains an unsurpassed classic.

 

History of the Russian Revolution

Leon Trotsky

"The history of a revolution is for us first of all, the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of their own destiny."

Regarded by many as among the most powerful works of history ever written, Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution offers an unparalleled account of one of the most pivotal and hotly debated events in world history. It reveals, from the perspective of one of its central actors, the Revolution's profoundly democratic, emancipatory character.

Originally published in three parts, Trotsky's masterpiece is collected here in a single volume, and serves as the most vital and inspiring record of the Russian Revolution to date.

 

And Quiet Flows the Don

Mikhail Sholokov

"The air was laden with the scent of the thawing black earth and the blood of imminent battles."

An epic Russian masterpiece by Nobel Laureate Mikhail Sholokov, And Quiet Flows the Don follows the turbulent fortunes of the Cossack people during the First World War, the Russian Revolution and the Civil War – among them the story of proud and rebellious Gregor Melekhov, fighting to be with the woman he loves as his country is torn apart.

A riveting portrait of an era, And Quiet Flows the Don explores what it means to live through a revolution, and the complicated choices faced by ordinary citizens.

 

The State and Revolution

Vladimir Lenin

"The replacement of the bourgeois state by the proletarian state is impossible without a violent revolution."

In July 1917, when the Provisional Government issued a warrant for his arrest, Lenin fled from Petrograd. Later that year, the October Revolution swept him to supreme power. In the short intervening period he went to Finland, where he wrote his impassioned, incomplete masterwork.

It was in this book that Lenin justified his personal interpretation of Marxism, set out his trenchant views on class conflict, and considered the lessons of earlier revolutions and the dismantling of the bourgeois state. Both a historical document and political statement, The State and Revolution is an essential read for anyone interested in Leninist politics.

 

Red Cavalry and Other Stories

Issac Babel

Throughout his life Isaac Babel was torn by opposing forces - the desire both to remain faithful to his Jewish roots, and the struggle to break free of them. This duality of vision infuses his work with a powerful energy, from early tales drawing on his Russian-Jewish childhood, such as Old Shloyme and Childhood, to his Red Cavalry collection of stories, in which the influence of Jewish culture is almost indiscernible.

Red Cavalry is Babel's masterpiece; the most dramatic expression of his simultaneous acceptance and rejection of his heritage prefigures the work of great American-Jewish writers such as Henry Roth, Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.

 

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