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Revolution and socialism from below.,
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This review is from: Red Petrograd: Revolution in the Factories, 1917-1918 (Cambridge Russian, Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies) (Paperback)
This is an excellent `history from below'. Essentially, it is a biography of the Petrograd working class, especially that in the factories in 1917-18.
Smith examines the organisations, the levels of skill, pay depending on industry and also relating to age, gender or how close particular workers were to their previous peasant existence.
From the February Revolution onward, Smith chronicles the increasing democratisation in the factories as we see the growth of factory committees and trade unions. Smith is clear in showing how anarchist influence was minimal. Initially, SR and Menshevik influences were more pronounced, but as 1917 wore on militancy grew, democratisation and workers self-activity increased and the appeal of the Bolsheviks rose. We see the workers turn to Bolshevism as Bolshevism best articulated the demands of the working class and provided the solutions which made sense. The picture painted is of workers self activity and direct democracy driving the Bolshevik Party towards October as opposed to the opposite narrative that is all too prevalent in accounts of the Russian Revolution of the Bolsheviks cynically manipulating the working class.
After October, Smith documents and analyses the debates around the role of factory committees, workers control, workers management and how these were often driven by economic crisis and by employers seeking to close factories. We see the move towards the nationalisation of factories and of industry generally as, again, something which happens from below rather than from above, with workers and their organisations demanding nationalisation. We also see the idea that the drive to central planning and control by a workers state was something which also came from below instead of the autonomy of each factory or enterprise. We also see the initial germs of the growth of bureaucracy as industry collapses and the competing and sometimes conflicting roles of factory committees and trade unions is thrashed out in debate in the early months of civil war.
In short, Steve Smith has given us a classic argument against the notion of the Russian Revolution and the Bolsheviks in particular being an episode of high politics and conspiracy as it appears in many mainstream accounts. Smith's introduction is a little odd in that he maintains an orthodox, yet completely mistaken, account of the nature of the workers vanguard party as supposedly espoused by Lenin, one where Lenin discounts the possibility of workers spontaneously developing socialist ideas, and proceeds to demolish this portrait, seemingly without realising it, as the Petrograd working class flows into the Bolshevik Party and pushes it along. The conclusion looks hurried and is unconvincing as Smith looks briefly at Bolshevik concern about production and sees the seeds of the degeneration of the revolution there but the analysis is too brief and too lacking in any adequate depth, for instance the international situation isn't considered at all when it was considered vital by the Bolsheviks, to be convincing.
Really good book. Essential for serious study of the Russian Revolution.