The Russian Revolution: A Verso Books Reading List

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The year 1917 was an epic, a concatenation of adventures, hopes, betrayals, unlikely coincidences, war and intrigue; of bravery and cowardice and foolishness, farce, derring-do, tragedy; of epochal ambitions and change, of glaring lights, steel, shadows; of tracks and trains…

This was Russia’s revolution, certainly, but it belonged and belongs to others, too. It could be ours. If its sentences are still unfinished, it is up to us to finish them.” — China Miéville

One hundred years on from the Russian Revolution Verso loos back at the events that turned the world upside down and how they resonate today with new books from China Miéville and Tariq Ali, and classic texts from the Verso archive, made newly available for the centenary:

October: The Story of the Russian Revolution by China Miéville

Award-winning writer China Miéville has long been inspired by the ideals of the Russian Revolution and here, on the centenary of the revolution, he provides his own distinctive take on its history.

In a panoramic sweep, stretching from St Petersburg and Moscow to the remotest villages of a sprawling empire, Miéville uncovers the catastrophes, intrigues and inspirations of 1917, in all their passion, drama and strangeness. Intervening in long-standing historical debates, but told with the reader new to the topic especially in mind, here is a breathtaking story of humanity at its greatest and most desperate; of a turning point for civilisation that still resonates loudly today.

The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism, War, Empire, Love, Revolution by Tariq Ali

“Without Lenin there would have been no socialist revolution in 1917. Of this much we can be certain.”

On the centenary of the Russian Revolution, Tariq Ali explores the two major influences on Lenin’s thought—the turbulent history of Tsarist Russia and the birth of the international labour movement—and explains how Lenin confronted dilemmas that still cast a shadow over the present. Is terrorism ever a viable strategy? Is support for imperial wars ever justified? Can politics be made without a party? Was the seizure of power in 1917 morally justified?

The Communist Manifesto / The April Theses by Frederick Engels, V. I. Lenin, and Karl Marx

It was the 1917 Russian Revolution that transformed the scale of the Communist Manifesto, making it the key text for socialists everywhere. On the centenary of this upheaval, this volume pairs Marx and Engels’s most famous work with Lenin’s own revolutionary manifesto, “The April Theses,”which lifts politics from the level of everyday banalities to become an art-form.

Women, Resistance and Revolution: A History of Women and Revolution in the Modern World by Sheila Rowbotham

This classic book provides a historical overview of feminist strands among the modern revolutionary movements of Russia, China and the Third World. Sheila Rowbotham shows how women rose against the dual challenges of an unjust state system and social-sexual prejudice. Women, Resistance and Revolution is an invaluable historical study, as well as a trove of anecdote and example fit to inspire today’s generation of feminist thinkers and activists.

Women in Russia Before and After the Revolution by Sheila Rowbotham
Read an extract from this book on the Verso blog.

Revolution at the Gates: Zizek on Lenin: The 1917 Writings by V. I. Lenin Edited by Slavoj Žižek

In Revolution at the Gates, Slavoj Žižek locates the 1917 writings in their historical context, while his afterword tackles the key question of whether Lenin can be reinvented in our era of “cultural capitalism.” Žižek is convinced that, whatever the discussion—the forthcoming crisis of capitalism, the possibility of a redemptive violence, the falsity of liberal tolerance—Lenin’s time has come again.

The Soviet Century by Moshe Lewin

One hundred years after the Russian Revolution the Soviet Union remains the most extraordinary, yet tragic, attempt to create a society beyond capitalism. Yet its history was one that for a long time proved impossible to write.

In The Soviet Century, Moshe Lewin follows this history in all its complexity, guiding us through the inner workings of a system which is still barely understood. In the process he overturns widely held beliefs about the USSR’s leaders, the State-Party system and the powerful Soviet bureaucracy.

Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism by Alain Brossat and Sylvia Klingberg

Jewish radicals manned the barricades on the avenues of Petrograd and the alleys of the Warsaw ghetto; they were in the vanguard of those resisting Franco and the Nazis. They originated in Yiddishland, a vast expanse of Eastern Europe that, before the Holocaust, ran from the Baltic Sea to the western edge of Russia and incorporated hundreds of Jewish communities with a combined population of some 11 million people. This book traces the struggles of these militants, their singular trajectories, their oscillation between great hope and doubt, their lost illusions—a red and Jewish gaze on the history of the twentieth century.

Terrorism and Communism by Leon Trotsky and Slavoj Žižek

Written in the white heat of revolutionary Russia’s Civil War, Trotsky’s Terrorism and Communism is one of the most potent defenses of revolutionary dictatorship. In his provocative commentary to this new edition the philosopher Slavoj Žižek argues that Trotsky’s attack on the illusions of liberal democracy has a vital relevance today.

Fear of Mirrors: A Fall-of-Communism Novel by Tariq Ali

Thoughtful and intimate, Fear of Mirrors unfolds an expansive plot that touches on the greatest political upheavals of the twentieth century. Its protagonist captures the hopes once roused by the Bolshevik Revolution and the hard realities that followed; Vlady Meyer is a mirror reflecting impeccably the intellectual milieu of an incomparable period.

The Prophet: The Life of Leon Trotsky by Isaac Deutscher

Few political figures of the twentieth century have aroused such intensities of fierce admiration and reactionary fear as Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. His extraordinary life and extensive writings have left an indelible mark on the revolutionary consciousness. Yet there was once a danger that his life and influence would be relegated to the footnotes of history.

Published over the course of ten years, beginning in 1954, Deutscher’s magisterial three-volume biography turned back the tide of Stalin’s propaganda, and has since been praised by everyone from Tony Blair to Graham Greene. In this definitive work, now reissued in a single volume, Trotsky’s true stature emerges as the most heroic, and ultimately tragic, character of the Russian Revolution.

War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century by Domenico Losurdo

In this vigorous riposte to revivionist historians who would denigrate the history of emancipatory struggle, Losurdo captivates the reader with a tour de force account of modern revolt, providing a new perspective on the English, American, French and Russian revolutions.

Trotsky as Alternative by Ernest Mandel

Ranging across Trotsky’s struggles against Stalin’s bureaucracy, his formulation of an alternative economic strategy, his theories relating to the Third World, fascism and the national question, his extensive literary criticism, and concluding with a moving assessment of an extraordinary life, this book is a fitting testimony to a man who, in Mandel’s words, “will be judged by history as the most important strategist for the socialist movement.”

History and Revolution: Refuting Revisionism edited by Mike Haynes and Jim Wolfreys

In History and Revolution, a group of respected historians confronts the conservative, revisionist trends in historical enquiry that have been dominant in the last twenty years. Ranging from an exploration of the English, French, and Russian revolutions and their treatment by revisionist historiography, to the debates and themes arising from attempts to downplay revolution’s role in history, History and Revolution also engages with several prominent revisionist historians, including Orlando Figes, Conrad Russell and Simon Schama.

With contributions by Daniel Bensaïd, Geoff Eley, Marc Ferro, Florence Gauthier, Mike Haynes, Geoff Kennedy, Lars T. Lih, Enzo Traverso, and Jim Wolfreys.

Crowds and Party by Jodi Dean

How do mass protests become an organized activist collective?

Crowds and Party channels the energies of the riotous crowds who took to the streets in the past five years into an argument for the political party. Rejecting the emphasis on individuals and multitudes, Jodi Dean argues that we need to rethink the collective subject of politics.

The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg by Norman Geras

During the first decades of the twentieth century, Rosa Luxemburg was the leader of the workers’ movement in Poland and Germany. She made a remarkable contribution to socialist theory and practice, yet her legacy remains in dispute. In this book Geras brings new light to bear on one of the most misrepresented figures in radical history, illustrating her inspiring lack of complacency and her commitment to questioning those in authority on both the Right and the Left.

Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg by Kate Evans

A giant of the political left, Rosa Luxemburg is one of the foremost minds in the canon of revolutionary socialist thought. But she was much more than just a thinker.

In this beautifully drawn work of graphic biography, writer and artist Kate Evans has opened up her subject’s intellectual world to a new audience, grounding Luxemburg’s ideas in the realities of an inspirational and deeply affecting life.

On the Dictatorship of the Proletariat by Etienne Balibar, afterword by Louis Althusser

No-one and nothing, not even the Congress of a Communist Party, can abolish the dictatorship of the proletariat. That is the most important conclusion of this book by Etienne Balibar.Balibar spells out his reasoning against the background of the 22nd Congress of the French Communist Party, which decided to ‘drop’ the aim of the dictatorship of the proletariat and to substitute the objective of a ‘democratic’ road to socialism. His concrete references are therefore usually to arguments put forward within the French Party. But it is quite obvious that the significance of this book is much wider, not least because, in spite of the important political and economic differences separating the nations of western Europe, many of their Communist Parties are evolving in an apparently similar ideological direction, and indeed appear to be borrowing arguments from one another in support of their new positions.

Armed Insurrection by A Neuberg

This book was produced in 1928 as a practical insurrectionary manual for communists. It discusses the role of armed insurrection in the Marxist-Leninist theory of revolution, analyses a number of insurrections—both successful and unsuccessful—with the aim of determining the conditions for victory, and gives detailed information on the tactics of street fighting—ranging from the respective advantages of offensive or defensive action to the best method of building a barricade. Written in Moscow under Comintern auspices, it is a classic Third Period document. Its republication will contribute to the recovery and appraisal of the early years of Soviet and Comintern history which is so essential an ingredient in the forging of all revolutionary theory and practice today.

Published under the pseudonym of ‘A. Neuberg’, the work was in fact written by a group of leading Comintern political and military experts.

Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Revolution 1880-1938 by Massimo Salvadori

This first modern study provides an original and balanced perspective of a theorist whom Lenin referred to as both ‘master of Marxism’ and ‘renegade’. Examining Kautsky’s political thought over a period stretching from the Paris Commune to the Second World War, the author argues for the consistency with which Kautsky developed his positions on socialism, democracy, political parties and the role of the proletariat. While Salvadori’s analysis is grounded in the debates within the Communist International and the German labour movement, Kautsky emerges as a distinctly modern thinker who produced a Marxist theory of the state, and originated critique of the USSR as a ‘state capitalist’ system. At this level, it provides a serious and measured exposition of the terms on which arguments for socialist strategy currently move.

Marxism, Wars & Revolutions: Essays from Four Decades by Isaac Deutscher

This collection of essays, hitherto unpublished or out of print, provides a clear idea of the range and force of Deutscher’s literary activity over a period of more than thirty years. It also demonstrates his essential consistency of purpose: from his sharp denunciation of the first Moscow Trial in 1936, through his resistance to the Cold War tides of the fifties, to his sober analysis of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in 1966. His fidelity to the Marxist method and firm grasp of socialist history allowed him to penetrate to the core of events without ever falling into the blind apologetics or feverish disavowals that blighted so many left-wing intellectuals of his generation.

Lenin: A Study on the Unity of His Thought by Georg Lukács

Out of the chaos following Lenin’s death and the mounting fury against Lukács and his freshly penned History and Class Consciousness (1923), this book bears an assessment of Lenin as “the only theoretical equal to Marx.” Lukács shows, with unprecedented clarity, how Lenin’s historical interventions — from his vanguard politics and repurposing of the state to his detection of a new, imperialist stage of capitalism — advanced the conjunction of theory and practice, class consciousness and class struggle. A postscript from 1967 reflects on how this picture of Lenin, which both shattered failed Marxism and preserved certain prejudices of its day, became even more inspirational after the oppressions of Stalin. Lukács’s study remains indispensable to an understanding of the contemporary significance of Lenin’s life and work.

Tactics and Ethics: 1919 – 1929 by Georg Lukacs

A manifesto by Lenin’s contemporary and sometime adversary, Georg Lukacs, Tactics and Ethics contains a famous essay ‘The Question of Parliamentarism’, which provoked Lenin to write of Lukacs’ work: ‘Its Marxism is purely verbal; its distinction between “defensive” and “offensive” tactics is artificial; it gives no concrete analysis of precise and definite historical situations; it takes no account of what is most essential (the need to take over, and learn to take over, all fields of work and all institutions in which the bourgeoisie exercises its influence over the masses, etc.)’

In Defense of Lost Causes by Slavoj Zizek

Slavoj Zizek looks for the kernel of truth in the totalitarian politics of the past. Divided into three parts, Zizek takes the title of Lenin’s ‘What is to be done?’ for his final section, which calls for collective revolutionary action on the scale of Lenin’s Bolsheviks, to animate the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The Verso Book of Dissent: Revolutionary Words from Three Millennia of Rebellion and Resistance Edited by Andrew Hsiao and Audrea Lim

This anthology, global in scope, presents voices of dissent from every era of human history: speeches and pamphlets, poems and songs, plays and manifestos. Every age has its iconoclasts, and yet the greatest among them build on the words and actions of their forerunners. The Verso Book of Dissent should be in the arsenal of every rebel who understands that words and ideas are the ultimate weapons.

Trotsky: A Study in the Dynamic of His Thought by Ernest Mandel

Ernest Mandel’s book provides the first ever synthetic account of the development of Trotsky’s Marxism in its successive encounters with the key problems and crises of the epoch. The Russian revolution and the theme of uneven development, the construction of revolutionary parties, the struggle against fascism and imperialism at large, the nature of Stalinism and the prospect of a full socialist democracy, are all discussed in a compact study that makes a fitting and long overdue counterpart to Lukács’s historic study of fifty years ago.

A History of Vodka by William Pokhlebkin

Finally, raise a toast to the bearded one: a history of Vodka!.