on 5 May 2009
It is interesting that Orlando Figes' 'A Peoples Tragedy' has twenty two reviews on Amazon UK and yet Leon Trotsky's 'History of the Russian Revolution' only has two. Clearly people prefer the therapeutic message of Figes' that all popular movements end badly; better to accept your station in life and let your betters get on with the job! This work is however *the* masterpiece: an unrivaled and meticulous piece of historical documentation of the Russian Revolution that unpacks the power of that monumental event.
Trotsky's history intends from the start to tell the revolution as the first instance of the masses collectively determining their destiny; and this he accomplishes admirably. Whereas the trend nowadays is for telling the history of the revolution through biographies of key Bokshevik protagonists, Trotsky instead goes into meticulous detail on all the political groups and actors: soviets, Mensheviks, Kadets, the military etc. and webs an elaborate tapestry of the events, which makes a compelling case for the necessity and mass support for the Bolshevik October revolution when faced by clear counter-revolutionary movement.
This is an absolutely necessary read for anyone who wants to understand the birth of the 20th century's global, revolutionary movement and a classic repost to turncoat ex-Marxists and ex-Trotskyists who would prefer the masses never rise up and overturn monarchies and capitalism.
We live in deeply conservative societies nowadays; we need texts like Trotsky's to show the reason and power of communist thought in the 21st century.
on 20 January 2010
Isaac Deutscher, the renowned biographer of Trotsky, said of this work; "I certainly agree that this is perhaps the most remarkable European book of the twentieth century." To which I would additionally ask - where exists a more educative history book of the new century either? Trotsky displays his brilliant understanding of world history herein, for you are obliged to delve deeper into earlier history books to fully grasp the characters he cites in their analogical use throughout the three-volumed set. This is not just about Russia - oh no. You will meet Cromwell from the seventeenth century, Robespierre from the eighteenth, and a whole succession of notable movers and shapers interspersed to the very end. They are never used simply as literary embellishments either. This is the very thing that produces his-story of our story of mankind's procession. He provides an anatomical dissection of Russia's revolutionary body and soul and you are left concluding - how did he manage to satisfactorily condense all that detail amidst the sweeping waves of consecutive clarity and confusion? Aspiring writers will never find a better benchmark of literary construction in historical logic than that displayed here by Trotsky. Class-wise I loved the Bolsheviks success too - but our story (history) didn't stop there .... we go on.
on 5 December 2000
Leon Trotsky was a leading Russian revolutionary - this account of the events leading up to the October 1917 Revolution is important because it defends the revolution against those who would argue that it was nothing more than a Bolshevik coup, as well as providing a wealth of information on the day to day events. Trotsky's centralitity to the events, his knowledge of leading figures and his contact with the ordinary people who made the revolution make this a powerful Marxist account of one of the most important historical events of the last century. Magnificant.
on 27 September 2009
It's not common for a history book to be written by someone who had a central role in the events but Trotsky's History is remarkable not just for that but also because it is so clear and analytical. He doesn't skirt around the issues, or offer vague generalisations, but digs into the detail and pulls out real gems.
He analyses the role of the land-owners, the nobility, the workers in the factories, the peasant base of the army, the Social Revolutionaries, Kadets, Narodniks, Mensheviks, Bolsheviks, and all the other actors, from their class interests and shows how despite their pronouncements, those class interests predominated.
It's a massive work, three volumes combined into one, but reads easily. Trotsky is often vilified in the press and even amongst so-called socialists, because he threatens their confortable reformist illusions. But in this book, is spelled out clearly and precisely exactly where such reformist politics goes. Every supporter of New Labour, or even Old Labour should read this book and think very deeply about whose interests their party really represents.
Whilst reading it, I was struck by the image of the hapless Labour candidate standing on my doorstep explaining to me that they weren't allowed to call themselves socialist any more, even if they were. Oh I wish they had read this book and managed to find just that tiniest streak of political confidence.
on 27 November 2015
Tackling this marvellous but massive book is a challenge – but it is also very rewarding.
Marxism is often accused of being “deterministic”, that is, of focusing on historical forces and classes and of ignoring individuals. But this is an unfair criticism. After all, Marx himself said that it is people who make history, “but they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves...”
This dialectic of the interaction between objective circumstances and subjective human action is at the core of this book.
So in Chapter One we have Trotsky applying the law of uneven and combined development to Russia’s history; and throughout the book Trotsky shows how class forces underlie political activities and attitudes.
But we also see the crucial importance of the actions of individuals. One example of this is the vital role played by Lenin (and by Trotsky himself, of course). Another example is the worker who winked at one of the Cossacks sent to suppress a demonstration, thus helping to win over the Cossacks to sympathising with the revolutionary workers at a crucial moment.
Trotsky was in exile when he wrote this book. He had gone from being one of the key leaders of the revolution in 1917 to being a fierce critic of Stalin’s bureaucratic tyranny, arguing for a new revolution by Russia’s workers to overthrow Stalin’s dictatorship.
Unfortunately, Trotsky clung to the view that Russia under Stalin was a “degenerated workers’ state”. In fact I find much more convincing the theory that was first fully developed by Tony Cliff: that Stalinist Russia was a bureaucratic state capitalist society, as were the other so-called “communist” regimes that appeared later.
But despite this weakness, Trotsky did keep alive the fundamental Marxist idea that socialism must be based on internationalism and workers’ democracy. (The “dictatorship of the proletariat” was meant to mean the DEMOCRATIC control of society by the working class, not a small group ruling OVER the working class.)
Lenin and Trotsky saw the soviets (democratic workers’ councils) as being the form that working class rule would take, and in this book Trotsky gives us a wonderful description of the relationship between individuals, the Bolshevik Party, the soviets, and the masses.
on 21 April 2014
There have been many books written about revolution, not least that which took place in Russia, but none by anyone who played a defining role in such an historic event.
The exception is Leon Trotsky whose magisterial account of the Bolshevik revolution is unsurpassed for historical detail, political and psychological insights, passion and sheer drama.
This is a truly remarkable book - whatever your political persuasion. If you are interested in modern history or the way real politics operate on a global scale then this is an absolute 'must buy' for you.
on 20 May 2013
This is an extremely detailed, incisive look into the Revolution, its causes, its progress and its final form. Despite the occasionally slightly partisan view that the Bolsheviks had a "significant" role in the build to, and execution of the revolution - which objectively could be challenged - the reader must always remember the author and his credentials. There are sharp overviews of the monarchy and bourgoise and the conditions leading to the demise of both classes. Ths is a very comprehensive study of Russia from 1890 - 1920 and is highly recommended to anyone reading its history. The revolution was unique in so many ways and shaped not only the future of Russia, but the world to come. The author has a superb style of writing, which holds the attention of the reader.
on 1 April 2012
I remember when I first came accross Trotsky's History. I borrowed it from an a good friend who had been a teacher of mine. I was 16 at the time. I didn't begin to read it until was 18 when I was asked to lead a political discussion on the Russian Revolution at my Militant branch in Scotland that I had recently joined. This would be about 1976. I didn't have a clue and spent the next two weeks to try to read all 3 volumes in one go! Needless to say I didn't finish but but my talk went down ok and wasn't too traumatic. How lucky I was to have been forced to engage with this History. Since then I have always felt I needed to return to it for inspiration.
Even bourgeois historians are forced to pay homage to Trotsky's great acheivement. One can understand why this is such a brilliant History when its author was nicknamed 'the pen'. Trotsky, like Marx, had been an exceptionally talented journalist. His literary gifts were world renowned. He puts those gifts into dazzling effect in this most masterfull History.
Why is it a masterwork? Fundamentally because of the philosophy behind it and how it is applied in the historical art. Trotsky makes no bones about where he stands politically right in the introduction. He announces his commitment to Marxism and the materialst method of class analysis. He ridicules previous Historians who attempt to plead 'objectivity' in the face of world changing events. Which means being on the other side of the barricades in reality.
The narrative is gripping because you are taken along with the action. Nothing is left out however. This includes whole chapters devoted to particular aspects of the revolutionary process each more engrossing than the last.
It is impossible to do justce to this History in so short a review but this is an essential read for anyone who wants to understand the most importan event in human history.
What should not be missed is the appendix of which there are three. The one on 'Socialism in a Separate Country' is particularly important as it deals largely with the class role of the peasantry in the revolution.
on 22 January 2014
This book gives a unique insight into the "ten days that shook the world." Never before had the working class siezed power and held on to it. The ruling classes of the world were sent into a panic by the very idea that their inferiors might get ideas above their station. The book also shows that the Bolshevik party was a very different party from the monolithic Stalinist Parties which came to rule in Russia and China.
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
on 29 September 2015
This book has a strong claim to being the best history book ever written. Why? Well Trotsky was a genius and he could write brilliantly and engagingly and with humour. Combine that with the fact that it's a history of a major historical event written by one of the key participants in that event and the theoretical insights that Trotsky brings to his work and you have the makings of a classic work of history and of historiography.
The book is actually three volumes in one and was written by Trotksy in 1930 when in exile and confined to the Turkish island of Prinkipo, under threat from Stalin's spies, assassins and saboteurs - the house where Trotsky and his family were living was the subject of a fire which was probably the result of an arson attack. The first volume considers the February Revolution which overthrew the Tsar and brought into being the Dual Power of the Provisional Government and the Soviet. The second the period covering the July Days and the attempted coup by Kornilov. The third covers the October Revolution.
It is a work of genius. The prose flows - it's great literature and, as others have said, in a parallel universe somewhere there is a giant of 20C Russian literature called Lev Bronstein. The historiographical insights based upon Trotsky's analysis of Russian society hold true, particularly the concept of uneven and combined development which places Russian economic development into the context of a global system and are great historiographical insights that are universally applicable. Trotsky's breadth of reading from documents he had gathered in his personal archive taken with him into exile on Prinkipo is impressive. The insights into historical controversies that still cause debate today are fresh and informative.
It's a real shame that Trotsky did not providing notes to the text - a lot of the time Trotsky uses the voices of others to write the story and follow up reading would have been appreciated.