What We Didn’t Learn About the Russian Revolution in School

 

The History of the Russian Revolution

By Leon Trotsky (1930)

Free link: https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1930/hrr/

Book Review

In Peoples History of the Russian Revolution, author Neil Faulkner strongly recommends readers also read Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution (on which Peoples History is based). In this epic volume, Trotsky painstakingly assembles meeting notes (by friends and enemies of the Bolshevik Party) of the Petrograd Soviet, the Russian Duma and the Bolshevik Central Committee, which he intersperses with historical footnotes and political analyses.

The resulting narrative reveals how the Bolshevik Party systematically used the period of Dual Government (between February and October 1917*) to build Bolshevik majorities in the soviets and workers and soldiers committee throughout Russia. At the time of the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks didn’t enjoy a majority in the peasant committees or soviets. However they advocated a similar land reform agenda as the Social Revolutionary Party that controlled rural Russia, and Lenin made initial concessions by allowing peasants to redistribute the landowner estates they seized as individual private plots (instead of collectivizing them).

Trotsky’s overview of this period differs greatly from what we are taught in US schools and universities. Some of the surprising facts I gleaned from this book are

  1. Owing to Bolshevik/Left Social Revolutionary majorities, Russian workers won the right legislatively to establish a worker-run state but were blocked by reactionary monarchists, landowners, militarists and their political puppets from implementing this reform. Workers would eventually be forced to arm themselves and forcibly seize Petrograd’s factories, utilities and instruments of state to make this happen.
  2. The Bolshevik Party didn’t have sufficient strength to forcibly seize all the factories and farms on behalf of the workers. The principal effect of the October Revolution was to give workers and peasants permission to seize factories and transform them into worker-run cooperatives. By October 1917, workers and peasants had already seized multiple factories and estates all across Russia. The creation of a formal worker-run state merely gave permission for all Russian workers and peasants to do so.
  3. The grassroots worker and peasant committees were far more militant than any of the soviets, just as grassroots members were far more militant than the Bolshevik Central Committee.
  4. Unlike the February Revolution, which looked like a typical insurrection with thousands of workers launching a general strike and taking to the street, the October Revolution was virtually invisible to the majority of Petrograd** residents. Except for 25,000-30,0000 workers and renegade soldiers and sailors who made up the Red Guard, Petrograd workers went to their factories and shopkeepers opened for business. Most government troops who weren’t at the front had either mutinied or deserted. Thus when armed Red Guards showed up at the post office, telegraph office, telephone exchange, power station, state bank, etc. the bureaucrats in charge quietly surrendered control of these institutions.
  5. The October Revolution was virtually bloodless, except for the seizure of the Winter Palace. Trotsky blames the loss of life on both sides on a botched military operation and unstrategic delay that gave government ministers the opportunity to send to the front for military reinforcement.

For people who aren’t inclined to read the entire book, I strongly recommend Chapter 43 The Art of Insurrection and Chapter 44 The Conquest of the Capital The Conquest of the Capitol


*See Peoples History of the Russian Revolution for an explanation of dual power.

**In 2017 Petrograd was the capitol of Russian and the seat of power.

A Cuban Novel About Trotsky’s Assassination

the man who loved dogs

The Man Who Loved Dogs

By Leonardo Padura

Translated by Anna Kushner (2013)

Book Review

The Man Who Loved Dogs is a fictional account of the Stalinist Conspiracy to assassinate Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940. Havana author Leonardo Padura uses three distinct perspectives to relate his story: that of Trotsky and his family, that of his assassin Roman Mercader and that of a failed Cuban writer who accidentally encounters Mercader on a Cuban beach in the 1970s as he’s on the verge of death.

The conspiracy is vaguely reminiscent of the JFK assassination conspiracy, in that it was meticulously planned and took three years to set in motion. Mercader was a Spanish Communist recruited by Stalin’s agents and brought to the USSR for specialized intelligence training. Posing as a Belgian journalist, he cultivated an American Trotskyite girlfriend to facilitate his entry into the high security compound where Trotsky’s family lived in Coyoacan Mexico.

The early part of the book contains long sections about the Spanish Civil War. These focus on Stalin’s brutal efforts to undermine the Spanish Revolution by assassinating anarchist and Trotskyite rivals, including members of the International Brigades. He then proceeded to abandon Spain’s Republican government to Franco’s fascists to improve his negotiating position with Hitler.

The History of Trotsky’s Exile

The narrative from Trotsky’s perspective begins with his forced exile to Turkey in 1929. He’s eventually offered asylum in France and Norway, both of which expel him (under pressure from local communists) after a few months. These sections also focus on Trotsky’s dismay regarding Stalin’s decade of show trials and executions, which systematically eliminated the primary Bolshevik luminaries responsible for the 1917 revolution, as well as one-third of the leadership of the Soviet Army.

Prior to 1990 Books About Trotsky Banned in Cuba

The narrative based on the fictional Cuban writer focuses on the intellectual and artistic repression that characterized the early Castro regime and the severe hardship (literal starvation in many cases) that began when the USSR collapsed in 1989 and Cuba ceased to have access to cheap soviet oil essential to their system of industrial agriculture.

Prior to the 1990s, books by or about Trotsky were banned in Cuba, as they were in the USSR. As Padura reminds us in his acknowledgements, Cubans of his generation grew up totally unaware that Trotsky or Trotskyism even existed. From this perspective, one can’t help but marvel at his extensive research into Trotsky’s personal and political history, as well as the Spanish Civil War and Stalin’s show trials.