I Wanna Be Literated #158

I Wanna Be Literated #158

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Thursday, 13 July 2017
COLUMN

The Russian Revolution 1917: A Personal Record by N.N. Sukhanov
by Nikolai Nikolaevich Sukhanov, Joel Carmichael

It’s incredible to believe that it’s been 100 years since the Russian Revolution: the Ten Days that Shook the World as Jack Reid called them. It begun one of the greatest social experiments in humanity and now, 100 years later, having “failed,” it’s still subject to in depth analysis, what it accomplished, where it fell short, and what we can learn from it.

Probably the most in-depth account of the Russian Revolution can be found in Leon Trotsky’s book of the same name. Although it’s incredibly thorough and in-depth, it’s fair to say we’re not going to get an impartial account from Trotsky. After all, this was a man who was incapable of criticizing the party while he was part of it but found everything wrong with it the moment he was exiled. Trotsky’s contemporaries either died, were not big writers, or their writings of the revolution simply didn’t survive. The closest thing we’re going to get of a more critical first-hand account would be this: Sukhanov’s The Russian Revolution: 1977 A Personal Account.

Being a journalist, writer, historian, Menshevik, and member of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, Sukhanov was right where the action was during those crucial months in 1917 (though he was absent at the onset in February). Throughout this extensive yet abridged book (600+ pages), Sukhanov provides interesting, in-depth analysis and commentary on the daily occurrences leading up to the October revolution, and we accompany him on his daily activities as he moves to and from work, going to meetings, attending protests, and witnessing the events unfold. His writing style is comical, self-deprecating, honest, and apprehensive of the direction in which things are going. Being in his position, Sukhanov of course had access to all the big players and he retells his meetings with them. Never trusting the Bolsheviks or the Provisional Government, Sukhanov was quite critical of the decisions being made by both sides. He is unimpressed with the ideas of both Lenin and Trotsky and underlines that their power lay in speeches and persuasion, he insists that due to Kerensky’s ego he truly thought he was the only one who could save the country, and he considers Martov one of the most brilliant minds of his time, yet unable to function as a revolutionary. He even mentions Stalin a couple times, which is a couple more times than Trotsky did in his book. Sukhanov even insists that, as can be suspected, most of the Bolshevik party couldn’t make heads or tails out of Lenin and his ideas. His unpredictable policies and his move to the left were considered confusing to everyone and downright anarchist and his unconditional support for the Soviet was just a tool to gain power. In the end the Bolsheviks were not a party, it was Lenin who was the party, and Trotsky himself kept mutating until he became one with him.

One hundred years later, Sukhanov’s book proves to be an invaluable supplement to the events of the Russian Revolution and a must-read for scholars and fans of the subject. It’s a perfect counterpoint to Trotsky’s book, and its importance is almost unmatched.

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