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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant alternative to the distorted mainstream view., 29 Sep 2008
Victor Serge's `Year One of the Russian Revolution' was written in the late 1920's and first published in 1930. It is not only one of the best books available on the revolution but is one of the great history books.

Serge represented the real Marxist, anti-Stalinist tradition that was being marginalised and crushed during the 1920's and would be killed in the 1930's. His history of `Year One' was written in the atmosphere of the rise of Stalinism and is reflected by that in that the chapters are short and punchy, designed to be stand-alone articles that were taken singly out of Russia to avoid the gathering censorship. This, coupled with Serge's style, makes for an extremely readable book.

There are two sets of people who won't like this book. The first are the Stalinists. Stalin himself barely features in the revolution or in the vital first year. Stalin's later picture of himself as the man who stood at Lenin's right hand in the revolution does not appear, precisely because he never existed. In Serge's account there are two individuals who count in the revolution, whom both the revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries regard as vital personalities - Lenin and Trotsky.

The Stalinists will also not like the fact that the revolution and the Bolshevik Party are portrayed as being vibrant, active, popular, democratic. This latter point will also displease mainstream historians who have spent the last six decades trying to convince the world that the opposite was true. The revolution appears, not as the result of a dark conspiracy, but as a popular movement at the head of which stands the Bolshevik Party.

Serge does not neglect the international context as many mainstream historians do. He is quite clear, and backs it up with numerous quotations, that the Bolsheviks knew that the revolution in Russia could only survive if there was a revolution abroad.

The same treatment is given to the start of the Red Terror and the civil war. Serge is quite clear and, again, provides numerous examples to illustrate the point, that the Reds started by being magnanimous whereas the Whites started by being violent and terroristic. Many mainstream accounts either portray these events in reverse or even omit any reference at all to the White Terror. The role of foreign powers is also shown in their arming, financing and conspiring with the White forces.

So, Serge's account is one where the narrative and analysis are interwoven in the best tradition of historical writing. Serge also provides short pen-portraits of some of the characters in the drama.

A word should also be said about the footnotes which the modern editors added. These are excellent. They frequently back up Serge's writing with more more modern academic research showing that although Serge was a pioneer historian of the revolution he was, in the vast majority of cases, a very accurate comentator.

Serge left the USSR in 1936. Shortly before he left the GPU (the forerunner of the KGB) stole his manuscripts. Somewhere in the KGB archives should be the manuscript of `Year Two of the Russian Revolution'. A gem awaiting discovery.

Read `Year One' for a better understanding of what the Russian Revolution was actually about.
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Year One of the Russian Revolution
Year One of the Russian Revolution by Victor Serge (Hardcover - 29 Aug 1972)
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