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Alexander Rabinowitch. The Bolsheviks Come to Power. Reviewed by Kevin J. Setting the Standard for the Study of the Russian Revolution. Contemporary politics always have figured prominently in framing the way historians approach the Russian Revolution. The social movements of the s inspired a generation of historians to study history "from below," in which they attempted to reconstruct the actions and aspirations of those previously written out of history.
In no area did this new social history produce a more thorough revision than in the contested field of Russian studies. Over a course of a decade, a small but extremely talented group of historians proved beyond doubt what many on the Left had long argued--that a massive popular uprising had ushered in the transfer of power to the soviets in To gain an appreciation of this seismic shift it is necessary to recall the extent to which the totalitarian school had dominated the field from its inception.
Russian studies had emerged in the United States as a stepchild of the Cold War and shared much in common with its Soviet state-sponsored counterpart. The OSS the precursor to the CIA helped set up the main academic research institutions, and historians moved easily between academic posts and government positions.
To construct a usable past scholars simply redeployed the totalitarian paradigm, which had been popularized in confrontation with the Nazi regime, against their former ally and new adversary, the Soviet Union. During the s, ideological conformity and fear dominated the profession. As the president of the AHA reminded historians, "Total war, whether it be hot or cold, enlists everyone and calls upon everyone to assume his part," and hundreds of dissident professors in many disciplines were purged from academia.
With renewed interest in the political history of , the republication of the single most important social history of the Russian Revolution offers a useful barometer to gauge how far the field has come. Rather than trivializing the influence of Bolshevism during , as had even much of the best social history of the Revolution, Alexander Rabinowitch's The Bolsheviks Come to Power seeks to explain their ascendancy in Petrograd meticulously. Popular aspirations closely corresponded to the Bolshevik program, while other major political parties were "widely discredited because of their failure to press hard enough for meaningful internal changes," including ending Russia's participation in the war pp.
Although Rabinowitch acknowledges Lenin's strategic brilliance and "the sometimes decisive role of an individual in historical events," p. Rabinowitch demonstrates that "within the Bolshevik Petrograd organization at all levels in there was continuing and lively discussion and debate over the most basic theoretical and tactical issues.
This assessment of Bolshevik democracy as the lifeblood for the party's integration with the mass movement certainly is at odds with the Cold War caricature.
Almost thirty years after the first publication of Rabinowitch's seminal work, most conservative and some liberal historians continue to assert that Bolshevik ascendancy was based on their manipulative and conspiratorial practices.
Rabinowitch's appraisal of popular power and Bolshevik practice can be read as a powerful critique of the later failures by both conservative and liberal historians of It shows how social history is so much more than merely weighing prevalent attitudes: crucially, Rabinowitch demonstrates, the radicalized mass movement set the parameters for various political solutions to the crisis.
For example, it was this mass radicalization that rendered it impossible for Kerensky to enact Kornilov's measures that some argue could have enabled the military leaders to wage total war by smashing the soviets, extending the death penalty in the rear, instituting martial law in war industries, and taking "resolute measures" against the Bolsheviks.
Similarly, Kornilov's repression solution failed precisely because the military forces loyal to the ruling classes were so much weaker than those of the militant workers, soldiers, and sailors chapter 8.
When Kerensky attempted to use the German military advances as an excuse to rid the capital of unruly elements, garrison troops responded "with predictable vehemence" and by early October, units "in unison" proclaimed their lack of confidence in the Provisional Government, demanding the transfer of power to the soviets pp.
While conservative historians have recognized the chasm between the left and right and end up siding with the latter , some liberal historians continue to try to patch up the mutual class hostility and blame the ostensibly intransigent Bolsheviks for failing to compromise with the moderates. In early September, Lenin proposed a peaceful transfer of power to the Soviets--if the moderate socialists were willing to draw the lessons of the previous six months and break with the discredited Kadets and other ruling class parties pp.
A few weeks later 25 October , the Second Congress of Soviets unanimously voted to form a coalition government of parties represented in the soviets. The minority moderates then immediately chose to ignore the resolution that they had just voted for, denounced the Bolsheviks for overthrowing the Provisional Government, and stormed out of Smolny pp.
Even in the days after the congress, when "the Bolshevik leadership was inclined toward compromise, the Mensheviks and SRs displayed little interest in coming to terms with the Bolshevik regime" by refusing to accept the general program of the soviets and a coalition government without representatives from the propertied classes pp.
Many historians are much closer to Rabinowitch's assessment of Bolshevik practice and their integration with the mass movement. For example, Rex Wade argues in his history of that Bolshevik "politics of sweeping change, of a revolutionary restructuring of society, aligned them with popular aspirations as the population turned toward more radical solutions to the mounting problems of Russia. But such diversity in summaries of should not mask a discernible shift to the right in new archival research on the Russian Revolution.
While Rabinowitch tactfully alludes to "current political considerations" p. Several studies have supported the "continuity thesis" by emphasizing the supposed natural progression from the early Soviet regime to later Stalinism. Rabinowitch has the confidence to integrate and assess all of his sources. If there is a weakness to The Bolsheviks Come to Power , however, it is that he occasionally fails to draw the larger interpretive conclusions from his own findings, choosing instead "to let the facts speak for themselves" p.
Convincingly documenting the escalating popular indignation against the ruling classes and the unelected Provisional Government, Rabinowitch avoids indulging in the mythology of a missed opportunity for a supraclass "democracy. But it was precisely such an anticapitalist "socialist government" that the Right SRs and Mensheviks feared most of all. The moderates' persistent pandering to the liberals and their steadfast refusal to support soviet power--which Rabinowitch describes so clearly but does not adequately analyze--were driven by their class collaborationist premise that the masses were unfit to rule.
In this sense, the study lacks the theoretical depth of Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution , a work which manages to situate the deep social crisis of late summer and early fall within the context of an epochal class confrontation, a standoff that could only have ended in the forceful rule by either the men of property or the soviets.
Nevertheless, the strength of Rabinowitch's work is his unparalleled tenacity in incorporating and explaining conflicting data, rather than parsing it out for polemical convenience.
Those who disagree with Rabinowitch's findings have yet to offer a frontal challenge to his work. Evidence of errors has not been provided, nor have new, conflicting data been introduced. Rather, the impressively detailed scholarship underpinning the arguments advanced in The Bolsheviks Come to Power simply has been ignored. This groundbreaking work has stood the test of time and will continue to set the standard for the study of the most important social movement in world history.
Richard Pipes blames Kerensky for not instituting these "resolute measures. For an example of the liberal interpretation, see Mark Steinberg's, Voices of Revolution, In Experiencing Russia's Civil War Princeton: Princeton University Press, , Donald Raleigh argues in favor of such a continuity perspective because "[m]any of the features of the Soviet system we associate with the Stalin era and afterward were already clearly adumbrated, practiced, and even embedded during the period" p.
Kenez takes Pipes to task for several wild assertions, including his absurd claim that the Red Terror was worse than the White Terror. Citation: Kevin J. H-Russia, H-Net Reviews. October, For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at hbooks mail.
Notes . On the new political history, see Kritika 5 no. Add a Comment. Michigan State University Department of History.
Prelude to Revolution : The Petrograd Bolsheviks and the July 1917 Uprising
No historian has done more than Professor Alexander Rabinowitch to demythologize the history of the Russian Revolution, one of the most important events of the 20th century. These books immediately received broad international acclaim and have been translated into multiple languages, including Russian. Indeed, his standing among Russian scholars is so high that The Bolsheviks Come to Power was the first Western study of the October Revolution to be published in Russian, and its initial print run, an astonishing , copies, sold out quickly. He is presently working on a fourth book in the series, which will extend the story to Apart from his seminal contributions to the historiography of the Russian Revolution, Rabinowitch also played a major role in shaping the field of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian studies through his teaching and service. At Indiana University, where he taught from until his retirement in , he introduced generations of undergraduate and graduate students to the study of Soviet history and society. His former graduate students, including 20 doctoral students, teach at a wide variety of universities and colleges throughout the United States or hold professional appointments in academia or international studies.
Myths of the October Revolution: An Interview with Alexander Rabinowitch
Alexander Rabinowitch born 30 August in London is an American historian. He is recognized internationally as a leading expert on the Bolsheviks , the Russian Revolution of , and the Russian civil war. Alexander Rabinowitch and his brother Victor were born in London in to Russian actress Anya Rabinowitch and her husband, the scientist and author Eugene Rabinowitch. Alexander received his B. Upon publication, his best-known book, The Bolsheviks Come to Power: The Revolution of in Petrograd , was widely acclaimed by Western scholars as a major breakthrough in study of the Russian revolution.
2015 Distinguished Contributions Award Recipient Alexander Rabinowitch
This is the transcript of an interview conducted on Nov. Alexander Rabinowitch. It was first published at Permanent Revolution. Alex Steinberg: In our next segment we go to an interview I conducted with Dr. Since Dr. Rabinowitch has been affiliated research scholar with the St. He is recognized internationally as the leading expert on the Russian revolution.