6. Nero, Oreste, Stalin, Trotsky


June 16th, 2020

1 hr 11 mins 37 secs

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Spinoza is often thought of as the thinker who stated most strongly that might makes right. “By the right of Nature, then, I understand the laws or rules of Nature in accordance with which all things come to be; that is, the very power of Nature. So the natural right of Nature as a whole, and consequently the natural right of every individual, is coextensive with its power. Consequently, whatever each man does from the laws of his own nature, he does by the sovereign right of Nature, and he has as much right over Nature as his power extends” [Spinoza, Political Treatise, Collected Works p. 683). What the “might makes right” interpretation of Spinoza misses is that he doesn’t believe that we can know what exactly is possible in Nature, and that by our nature we seem to be constantly expanding that right. Spinoza doesn’t think that whatever human beings have done is right and shouldn’t be questioned. His point is rather that the action that the physical world presents us with, the arc of history, is something we only see a small part of, somewhere in the middle of it. Whatever a body can do consistent with its necessity is right, but we have no idea what all bodies can do or what is ultimately necessary for them. Whatever “the right” and “the good” are is still being striven for. Power and righteousness for Spinoza consist in humanity’s striving for a greater understanding of nature, that is for freedom. This freedom is the highest passion: it is the passion reason guides us to as we move towards a life we really want to live. The better we understand Nature, what is possible for us in it and how we want to act and exist, the closer our thinking is to the general historical act as it races on to completion in the thinking of god/nature. We’re really just repeating in a different language what we already covered in the previous discussion of Freedom, the problem of evil and WW1. What has been left out of that discussion up to now is what difference in our finite attitude or orientation is needed to progress towards that freedom. If whatever we try to do is finding its way to good, then how come it matters if we do one thing and not the other? Is just any kind of acting/living good because it's natural? Is there a good life, and a way to strive for it that is better than some other kind of living? We’re going to work towards an answer by returning to Spinoza’s discussion with Blyenburgh, and then we’re going to let this philosophical meditation on ‘the good’ inform a discussion of the Russian Revolution.

For Spinoza, redemption is a matter of desire. The bad action is contrary to nature only in the sense that it displeases us. If a person can manage by circumstance or education to perceive their best interest then even grave sins should cause no regret since they worked for the greater good, or helped the repentant to better understand the good. Regret he thinks is bad for us in that it is a meditation on our limitations, something that cannot lead to us being better able to do what we think is good. Some people may be crippled by circumstance, i.e. they may be so impacted by circumstances that the good becomes unattainable, for most of us Spinoza thinks it's possible to make honest mistakes and then learn from them. The act itself is less important than the desires it enflames and is the result of. When we find ourselves captured by a passion or belief that does not serve our deeper intentions, then Spinoza says we are finding a deeper passion, the passion to not be constrained, the passion to be free. Crucially, this requires connected more strongly to the needs of the community that supports us. Here’s a quote from the Ethics:

“If we can always have in readiness consideration of our true advantage and also of the good that follow from mutual friendship and social relations, and also remember that supreme contentment of spirit follows from the right way of life, and that men, like everything else, act from the necessity of their nature, then the wrong, or the hatred that is wont to arise from it, will occupy just a small part of our imagination and will easily be overcome… We ought, in the same way, to reflect on courage to banish fear; we should enumerate and often picture the everyday dangers of life, and how they can best be avoided and overcome by resourcefulness and strength of mind.” Spinoza, Ethics V, 10, Scholium p369
-Spinoza, Ethics, p363
So, when Spinoza says that might makes right, he is saying that our greatest freedom lies in building a community that lifts each of us up into being the best people we can be. Anyone who is thinking about Hobbes at this point can compare and contrast, because Hobbes on the contrary thought people were essentially animals and that a powerful state was needed to coral them.

Spinoza’s claim, and I think he’s right, is that a conscience, an awareness that there is a right and wrong though the specifics may be murky, is part of human nature, part of what it means to be a person among people. Blyenburg may not have been able to understand Spinoza, or he may have chosen not to read his letters carefully. Whatever the cause, Blyenburgh accuses Spinoza of claiming that all people are animals, and not in a nice way. In this quote coming up, Spinoza claims that worship of God makes us better people, and what he means by that is that working to understand our world and place in it makes us a better person. For Spinoza God is the natural world. Notice how Spinoza is calling Blyenburgh in, trying to bring the other man back into a relationship of cooperation even as he sets some rigid barriers. He is using the language of God because that is the language that Blyenburgh understands: “I owe you many and sincere thanks for having confided in me in time your method of philosophising, but I do not thank you for attributing to me the sort of opinions you want to read into my letter. What grounds did my letter give you for attributing to me these opinions: that men are like beasts, that men die and perish after the manner of beasts, that our works are displeasing to God, and so forth?... For my part, surely I have clearly stated that the good worship of God, and by their constancy in worship they become more perfect, and that they love God. Is this to liken them to beasts?” (Spinoza L21, p.823)... If you had read my letter with more care, it would have been obvious to you that our point of disagreement lies in this alone: are the perfections received by the good imparted to them [mankind] by God in his capacity as God, that is, by God taken absolutely without ascribing any human attributes to him -- this is the view I hold -- or by God in his capacity as judge? The latter is what you maintain.” (823). Spinoza is saying that people are better, are more good and closer to their Nature, when they choose the good because it is good, rather than because they don’t they will be punished. The desire to do good is true when the heart wishes for the good, and false when the heart wishes the good not for its own sake but so as to avoid punishment. People who do the right thing out of fear of punishment will stop doing the good thing as soon as the credible threat of punishment is removed. He goes on to talk about how we are free to the extent that we affirm our actions, to the degree that our actions are intentional. I’m sure we can all think about some things we have done or from time to time still do that are not who we really want to be. The example I always give is eating Ice Cream. Most of the time I want to lose weight more often than I want to eat Ice Cream, but every now and then I’d rather have Ice Cream. Somewhere in all that its easy for me to lose sight of what food is about, which is to help me live a healthy life. Again Blyenburgh doesn’t understand, but the way he poses the question leads Spinoza on a particularly interesting path. Blyenburgh: “Let us now take for granted that God, as God and not as judge, bestows on the godly and the ungodly such and so much essence of will as he wills that they should exercise. What reasons can there be why God does not desire the actions of the one in the same way as the actions of the other?” (Spinoza, L22, p.829). Spinoza’s response gives us a clue about how the same physical action, taken with one of two different motivations, can lead a person towards the good or towards self destruction. The avatars for each tendency will be the classical figures from ancient Greece: Nero and his brother Oreste.

It’s pretty typical of Spinoza in a case like this to try and engage his interlocutors' imagination. It’s as if Spinoza had to break up the tight limits in the other that constrained what was believable, what was possible. Beyond that limit is an encounter with the infinite, and that is where we find a greater freedom, though it means losing some idea we are safe with.

Oreste and Nero are brothers. Oreste has been away at war with their father Agamemmnon. Nero stayed behind and ruled under the mentorship of their mother Clytemnestra. But Nero chafes under her control. When Agamemnon returns from the war, Clytemnestra kills him. The brothers then conspire to kill their mother Clytemnestra. Oreste does this out of a sense of responsibility to avenge his father’s death, and to cleanse his household of the taint of her incestuous relations with Nero. Nero wants Clytemnestra dead so he doesn’t have to put up with her domineering ways. One sees in Nero through the whole episode a confusion about what is in his best interests, a rejection of the natural order. Look, ancient Greece was a complicated place, and Spinoza isn’t trying to affirm the rightness or not of the Greek worldview, of its patriarchal values much less of the institution of Greek slavery. He’s telling a story to make a point, the same way he used the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. He isn’t a fundamentalist, but he see that in these stories people were finding a proximate language for true experiences that were no doubt bigger than those stories. Nero could not find redemption in his actions, because those actions could never give him what he wanted, power over other people. People saw his motivation, lifting himself over them and rejecting however the community had chosen to live together. Oreste humbly accepts the terrible act his cursed family heritage has forced on him. Nero could neither be recognized by his community after his crime, nor make sense of it from anything in his experience. The tale is told that Nero took his own life. Orestes, having humbly accepted the task he was fated to accomplish, and by letting all in his community know of his act and its reasons, was restored to his father’s throne, having ended a cycle of disfunction that went back in his family several generations.

Quothe Spinoza: “I have sufficiently shown that that which constitutes the specific reality of evil, error and villainy does not consist in anything that expresses essences, and therefore it cannot be said that God is its cause. For example, Nero’s matricide, insofar as it contained something positive, was not a crime; for Orestes too performed the same outward act and had the same intention of killing his mother, and yet he is not blamed, or at least not as Nero. What then is Nero’s crime? Nothing else than that by that deed he showed that he was ungrateful, devoid of compassion and obedience… Finally, I should like it noted that although the actions of the pious (that is, those who have a clear idea of God in accordance with which all their actions and thoughts are determined) and of the impious (that is those who have no idea of God but only confused ideas of earthly things, in accordance with which all their actions and thoughts are determined), and , in short, the actions of everything that exists, follow necessarily from God’s eternal laws and decrees and constantly depend on God, they nevertheless differ from one another not only in degree but in essence. For although a mouse is as dependent on God as an angel, and sorrow as much as joy, yet a mouse cannot on that account be a kind of angel, nor sorrow a kind of joy.” (Spinoza, L23, p.833).

Now we are ready to discuss the Russian Revolution, a movement that like all revolutions sprang from a sea of contradictory impulses.

The Czar’s government at the end of the 19th century was the greatest champion of reactionary politics in all of Europe. They partitioned Poland, colonized central Asia and preserved feudalism. The idea of the nation, of an ethnically homogeneous body of people who work together for their common good but often at the expense of minorities, competed in the early Marxist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the more humanistic idea of a united working class. In early 1905 these two ideas lived side by side with each other in Russia. The peasant communalistic philosophy of the Narodnik movement dovetailed with the smaller but important organizations of the industrial working class. Russian workers toiled under a double burden, to make a profit for their Russian bosses meant first clearing the hurdle of the cost Russian bosses incurred from the fees associated with the financing they received from French and British banks. At the same time, the peasant craftsmen were not concentrated in the urban centers the way they had been in revolutionary France, and the nobility retained their traditional privileges. It was a mess. There’s an idea of history that it should follow a linear progression. The story seems to be that a country develops guilds, then a strong mercantile class, then steam power and gunpowder, then representative Democracy... yada yada… end of history. Russia got industrial production before it had strong guilds and mercantile interests that could challenge the Czar, and that situation upset the usual story of historical progress. That traditional story, as we have seen, was not Marx’s ultimate idea, but it was the story told by traditional Marxists. The necessity of passing through a capitalist phase, which was synonymous across Europe with liberal systems having a severely limited democratic form was a dogma, and it’s why before 1905 no one in the socialist movement imagined that Socialism could be achieved in Russia (Lowy, p. 43). The next revolution in Russia, so they figured would be bourgeois democratic, that is a strictly limited democracy at the service of the class of bourgeois investors.

From its very beginnings, the Russian Social Democratic Party [RSDRP] was committed to democracy. Hell, it’s right there in the name! To get there from a context of autocratic rule over a mixed economy meant appealing to the working class, yes, but also to the broader society, especially including the peasantry. We return to the excellent and scholarly Soma Marik: “Lenin put forward a complex view. On the one hand, he was arguing that the working class had to fight for democracy, and in the course of doing so, to win over a majority. The struggle for democracy was an essential part of the struggle for socialism, because thereby the proletariat could ensure a majority bloc in a country where it was by itself in a minority. This was an argument directed towards the socialist activists and advanced workers. At the same time, he emphasized the democratic content of the immediate program to win over the non-proletarian masses. In particular, even at this stage, Lenin was turning to the majority of the nation. He wrote that the struggle to achieve political freedom could not be waged in isolation by the working class. The workers’ party had to: ‘Inscribe in its banner support for the peasantry… insofar as the peasantry is capable of a revolutionary struggle against the survivals of serfdom in general and against the autocracy in particular.’...Marik continues… The orthodox position, in 1898, was stated unambiguously in the manifesto of the First Congress of the RSDRP, held in Minsk. The manifesto stated that the Russian bourgeoisie was weak and cowardly, and the working class had to take up the task of winning political freedom in order to pursue more energetically the struggle against capitalism.” (pp.274-275).

Lev Davidovich Bronstein, aka Leon Trotsky enters our story here. He was the son of a fairly well off farmer in the Ukraine. The family was Jewish. After spending some time in a small study group where he moved from Narodnik ideas to Marxism, in 1897 at the tender age of 18 Trotsky broke his teeth as an organizer reviving a union that had been outlawed in Nikolayev. His efforts resulted in organizing 200 of the 10,000 or so dock and factory workers there, most of whom were Eastern Orthodox. In early 1898 the leaders of the Union and the reading group were all imprisoned. Trotsky ended up in jail in Moscow where he benefited from meeting other revolutionaries, and where he first heard of Lenin. Then the Czar had Trotsky sent to Siberia from which he escaped in the Summer of 1902. By October he was in London to meet with V.I. Lenin.

In the years before the first World War there was split in the Russian Democratic Socialist movement that deserves some attention. It has been used unjustly to paint Lenin as an anti-Democratic authoritarian. The split came our of a meeting where the majority got behind Lenin. From that moment forward, supporters of Lenin were called majoritarians, or Bolsheviks. This is so despite the fact that the Bolsheviks were a minority in the larger party. The Russian Social Democratic Party in 1903 was an illegal party, but besides its membership it had a larger realm of fellow travellers. In 1903 they debated about whether to include this larger periphery into voting membership status within the party. Lenin opposed bringing in these peripheral groups because under the conditions they had to face, being an illegal party, he did not think they could function democratically with a sudden influx of new members. This is the old democratic problem of education. If the new members were uneducated, then how could they be expected to benefit from having a vote? Instead of rushing to form a political party, as Axelrod insisted they do, Lenin rightly perceived that a process of education was necessary so that workers could understand the very demanding organizational environment that they all struggled under before making decisions regarding the overall direction of the party. Viewed from this angle, the fact that this vote happened at the same moment and meeting when Axelrod and his group were trying to kick Lenin out of the editorial board of the party’s paper, and the Menshevik side is revealed as the less democratic. The Mensheviks wanted to flood the party with a lot of uneducated members who they could mold after themselves, pushing to the side Lenin and those who thought like him. Note Lenin in 1903, showing not only care for open debate in the Democratic Socialist Party, but also holding back the Mensheviks’ tendency to confuse the party for the class as a whole: “There can be no talk of throwing anyone overboard in the sense of preventing them from working, from taking part in the movement. On the contrary, the stronger our Party organisations, consisting of real Social-Democrats, the less wavering and instability there is within the Party, the broader, more varied, richer, and more fruitful will be the Party’s influence on the elements of the working-class masses surrounding it and guided by it. The Party, as the vanguard of the working class must not be confused, after all, with the entire class.” (Lenin, p.286). [quote from One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (the crisis in our party), 1904] I want to repeat that last bit, because it will be important later: Lenin opposed forming a mass party in the specific context of Russia because he rejected the idea that the party should imagine it speaks for the people, that its prerogatives and priorities are the same as society as a whole. The devotion to the radical democratic tradition meant not having a party full of low energy members, being committed to education in the form of a newspaper and participation in struggle, and encouraging the soviets in 1905 without trying to replace the soviets with the party. The Russians, more than any other party at this time in Europe, debated and labored over the question of party organization. The debate is well worth studying in detail, and a good place to start is Moira Donald’s Marxism and Revolution: Karl Kautsky and the Russian Marxists 1900-1924. No one on either side of the debate in 1903 thought that they were arguing deep ideological principles: they thought it was a disagreement about party policy. They were wrong, and the faultlines the argument revealed were important for what came next. There were efforts at reunification sporadically through the next decade, but they came to nothing. The two groups organized separately, occasionally working together. Trotsky was not at the Congress where the RSDP voted in favor of Lenin’s side, and though he agreed with Lenin he remained with the Mensheviks’ organization and consistently argued for reunification. He stood a little outside of both parties because unlike almost anyone else in the Socialist movement at the time at least after 1905 he thought a socialist revolution was possible in Russia: maybe he thought that because in 1905 he worked so closely in the soviets. Over the next decade, Lenin’s ideas would come closer to Trotsky’s, culminating in 1917 with the excellent State and Revolution. We’ll get to that, but first we have to talk about 1905.

In January of 1905 the workers of St. Petersburg organized a peaceful march on the Winter Palace, Russia’s White House. They were joined in the march by Father Gapon who had organized a right wing worker’s organization. Their politics were different, but their immediate goal was the same. So, they marched separately and struck together. They came to the Czar in a spirit of humility, asking for reform and bread. The Czar refused to hear their petition and ordered the army to fire upon them. The resulting wave of strikes and protests threw the Czar’s government into disarray. Soon a condition of general strike brought the Russian economy to a standstill. Trotsky arrived from Vienna in time to join the newly minted soviets.

Trotsky at this time wrote his famous essay “Results and Prospects,” which declared that in Russia because the bourgeoisie was not strong enough to produce a parliamentary democracy as the French had done, that the peasants and workers would provide the muscle to overthrow the government and then because of their importance in the movement, these classes would immediately set about socializing the economy and state. He was alone in thinking the Russian revolution could spill over into socialist tasks. Lenin and Luxembourg both thought in 1905 that the peasants would accomplish the revolution but then the bourgeoisie would end up forming a government that consolidated their class rule as had happened throughout Europe in 1848. We should forgive people for imagining the future will be like what they have experienced in the recent past, and sometimes it’s true that what happens next is like what happened before. That is not how things went down in 1905. In October the movement successfully convinced the Czar to guarantee freedom of the press in what was called the October Manifesto. By November it was clear that these were empty promises, and the movement rallied that month to the cause of Polish independence and that of several sailors from Kronstadt who were going to be court martialed for participating in the strikes. Again and again we find these early Marxists combining anti-imperialism with radical democracy and an insistence on the freedom of the press. We’re still firmly planted in the garden of Epicurus, under that sky of many opinions. By December, People had just about made up their mind to stage an insurrection and take over the government when on December 3 a small army of the Czar’s police, backed up by Cossacks, encircled the preparatory meeting of the Executive of the Soviets, presided over by Trotsky. The assembly merely continued through its agenda. In “The Prophet Armed” Isaac Deutscher describes the scene, and you can read that in the transcripts. Essentially, the arresting officer interrupts the meeting, and Trotsky acting as the moderator insists that the officer wait his turn on stack. The officer waits his turn and reads his arrest warrant. The meeting carries on as if he weren’t there, so he goes outside to get a bigger force of police. Trotsky used the time this won them to have their documents destroyed.

“A trade-union spokesman was just declaring his union’s readiness to join in the general strike, when a detachment of soldiers and police occupied the corridors. A police officer entered the room where the Executive was sitting and began to read a warrant of arrest. It was now only a question whether the Soviet would carry its own weakness and humiliation with dignity. Resistance was ruled out. But should they surrender meekly, gloomy-faced, without a sign of defiance? Trotsky’s pride and his sense of stage effect would not permit him to preside over so flat and disheartening a scene. But as he could not afford any serious act of defiance, he could relieve the gloom of the situation only with humour. And so he turned the last scene of this spectacle into a witty burlesque of a bold performance. As the police officer, facing the Executive, began to read the warrant of arrest, Trotsky sharply interrupted him: ‘Please do not interfere with the speaker if you wish to take the floor, you must give your name and I shall ask the meeting whether it wishes to listen to you.” The perplexed officer, not knowing whether he was being mocked at or whether he should expect armed resistance, waited for the trade-union delegate to end his speech. Then Trotsky gravely asked the Executive whether he should allow the officer to make a statement ‘for the sake of information.’ the officer read the warrant, and Trotsky proposed that the Executive should acknowledge it and take up the next item on its agenda. Another speaker rose. ‘Excuse me’, the police officer, disconcerted by this unheard of behaviour, stammered and turned towards Trotsky, as if for help. ‘Please do not interfere’, Trotsky sharply rebuked him. ‘You have had the floor; you have made your statement; we have acknowledged it. Does the meeting wish to have further dealings with the policeman?’ ‘No!’ ‘Then, please, leave the hall!’ The officer shuffled his feet, muttered a few words and left. Trotsky called upon the members of the Executive to destroy all documents and not to reveal their names to the police. From the hall below rose the clangour of broken revolver-locks -- the delegates were carrying out Trotsky’s order. The police officer re-entered, this time leading a platoon of soldiers. A member of the Executive rose to address the soldiers: ‘The Tsar,’ he said, was at this very moment breaking the promise of the October Manifesto; and they, the soldiers, were allowing themselves to be used as his tools against the people. The officer, afraid of the effect of the words, hurriedly led the soldiers out into the corridor and shut the door behind them. ‘Even through closed doors’, the speaker raised his voice, ‘the brotherly call of the workers will reach the soldiers.’ At length a strong detachment of police entered, and Trotsky declared ‘the meeting of the Executive closed.’ Thus after fifty days ended the epic of the first Soviet in history.” (pp. 118-119).]

They say the past is a foreign country, and this is doubly true of Russia in the early twentieth century. I cannot recommend highly enough Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution. It’s beautifully written by a scholarly eye-witness and participant to the events described, a classic of world literature. As you might expect, the very beginning of the 20th century in Russia saw an accelerating wave of strikes that peaks in 1905 and then recedes.

The revolution of 1905 failed, and its leaders ended up in jail or in exile. Trotsky would have to escape from Siberia a second time. But the revolution of 1905 saw the first formation of the soviets, and in 1917 those soviets would come back stronger as civil society stepped into the vacuum of governance that accompanied the collapse of the Czar’s regime. Writing in the 1920, Trotsky would have this to say about the period just after 1905: “The Russian proletariat learned its first steps in the political circumstances created by a despotic state. Strikes forbidden by law, underground circles, illegal proclamations, street demonstrations, encounters with the police and with troops -- such was the school created by the combination of a swiftly developing capitalism with an absolutism slowly surrendering its positions. The concentration of the workers in colossal enterprises, the intense character of governmental persecution, and finally the impulsiveness of a young and fresh proletariat, brought it about that the political strike, so rare in western Europe, became in Russia the fundamental method of struggle. The figures of strikes from the beginning of the present century are a most impressive index of the political history of Russia… Beaten in the December uprising of 1905, the proletariat during the next two years makes heroic efforts to defend a part of the conquered positions. These years, as our strike figures show, still belong directly to the revolution, but they are the years of ebb. The four following years (1908-11) emerge in our mirror of strike statistics as the years of victorious counterrevolution.” (Trotsky, pp. 26-27).

Lenin writes in 1905 that the party press should only publish authors who agree with the party line. This is often trotted out to paint him as opposed to free speech, but he never tried to stop party members from publishing criticisms of the party in nonparty press. Furthermore, he often insisted that minoritarian viewpoints be represented in the party press. From Soma Marik: “Lenin’s own pr-1917 practice show him to be more flexible than the article suggests. In 1910, when the Central Committee plenum decided to close down the factional papers, it also decided to issue a special discussion bulletin. Lenin took the position that articles defending the party line should be printed in the party press meant as the party’s mouth-piece, while articles questioning the party line would be published in the discussion bulletin. During the war years, when censorship tightened everywhere, a suggestion by Lenin showed that he did not actually rule out party activists writing in the non-party press. He only stressed that the official party press must reflect the party line.” (p. 288).

In February of 1917 a wave of strikes and protests occurred in Russia. The army was called out to massacre the protest movement. The army refused, and the Czar was deposed. The resulting provisional government, organized under the liberal Kerensky as executive and with a representative Duma, existed side by side with a network of soviets. The soviets represented workers in factories, but also various peasant communities. In other words, there were two forms of government: one cobbled together with remnants of the old regime and one that had crystallized within society over the course of the previous half century of struggle. The Bolsheviks and Mensheviks agreed that the resulting government would be a bourgeois, or in today’s parlance a limited or managed, democracy. And then German authorities smuggled Lenin into Russia where he set off an ideological bomb. When he descended the platform on April 3rd. Lenin pointed out that the conditions that had brought about the revolution of February were all still present: the war, famine, the claims of foreign bankers on the profit from Russian industry. He went further and said there would be yet another revolution led by workers and peasants. He went further, agreeing with Trotsky against the whole tradition of socialist thought, to claim that the state that resulted from these revolutions could be socialist. By October of the same year, events would prove him right. A few years later, the project would be hopelessly imperiled, and a decade later the revolution will have been buried by Stalin. But in 1917 Lenin’s party would champion the slogan all power to the soviets and mean it. The soviets would vote the Bolsheviks into power. The progress of Lenin’s party in 1917 is the rise of a democratic coalition ready to lead society.

For one thing, the party became a mass party, with membership increasing ten-fold in a matter of months, from 23,000 in February to 240,000 six months later (Marik, p.335). Lenin’s previous insistence that the party had to remain small to function democratically was adapted to the new conditions, that the party could now operate legally and openly. What Lenin didn’t adapt was his insistence that the party not consider its viewpoint to be the same as that of society at large. The slogan “All Power to the Soviets” dates from June of 1917: it was a sincere call for society to flood into these democratic bodies to create a government of the people. The democratic institutions would require defensive bodies, what Marx called the dictatorship of the proletariat, and that is why democratically run soviets were organized within the Czar’s army. The fact that revolutionaries were often punished by being drafted and sent to the front accelerated this tendency. The army, largely composed of peasants, then became a conduit for revolutionary messages to reach the peasants. Because the Bolsheviks had successfully organized within the army, they were able to lead the military operations that successfully resisted a rightwing coup led by General Kornilov in July. From a place of obscurity in February, by October the Bolshevik Party leading society. 20 million people were represented in the soviets, and even in the Duma, the Czar’s old Congress, the Bolsheviks had increased their votes from 75,000 to 198,000 in the context where support for other parties was plummeting (Trotsky, p.564). Following the July coup attempt, the Bolshevik campaign for all power to the soviets and a socialist government got majority approval in the Second Congress of the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies of Urals, in a Conference of Factory and Shop Committees in Kiev, in the Petrograd Soviet, in the Kiev Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, in a regional congress of Soviets in Finland, in the Saratov Soviet, in Kronstadt, in Reval, Dorpat, Wenden, Petrograd and Moscow (Marik, p.348). Though a vote for a Bolshevik takeover narrowly lost in the Donetsk region of the Ukrain in October, a Bolshevik takeover got majority support in [from Marik]“the Moscow regional Congress, the All-Siberian Congress, the regional Congresses at Minsk (ByeloRussia), the Northern Caucusus, provincial Congresses in Vladimir and Tver, etc. But the most important was the Congress of Northern Soviets. Represented in it were Soviets from Petrograd, Moscow, Archangel, Reval, Helsingfors, Kronstadt, Vyborg, Narva, Gatchina, Tsarskoe Selo, the Baltic Fleet, the Petrograd Soviet of Peasant Deputies, the Petrograd district Soviets, and the soldiers organizations of the Northern, Western, Southwestern, and Rumanian fronts.” (p. 349)

To summarize, the Czarist government had been so weakened by its constant imperialist wars that civil society was forced to organize soviets to perform the functions of government. Then the Czarist government was overthrown by its own army, which refused to massacre the population to force them back into slave like labor conditions. Then a democratic movement within these soviets demanded that the Bolshevik party overthrow the remnants of the Czarist government. That is the context in which the Bolsheviks stormed the winter palace on the 25th of October, or November 7th depending on which calendar you use. Their takeover of power was further ratified at an All Russian Peasant Congress that met in December (Marik, p.355).

Now, theoretically, because workers in society have a real material interest to end exploitation, a state composed of them is supposed to require less coercion over time. Meaning the withering away of the state is supposed to be driven forward by the empowering of exploited people in democratic institutions. This faith was betrayed by the Bolsheviks after they took power. It is important to understand why.

The immediate task of the newly formed Soviets was to end Russian participation in WW1 and to protect the new revolutionary government. That was a conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e. the armed defense of democratic gains, which they had inherited from Marx and now felt duty bound to uphold. And so they did. There was an immediate tension created by the fact of armed conflict to protect the new democratic forms. The extreme situation the soviets found themselves in, having inherited a cycle of famine, a communications and transportation system marred by world and civil war, and being invaded by all of the former Czar’s allies America, Britain, France in addition to the ongoing German assault, having to then fight peasant uprisings, all of these threats compounded until in the defense of the new state the Bolsheviks were gradually forced to extinguish democratic soviet rule, free speech and individual rights. According to Spinoza, doing the right thing is an ability, and sometimes circumstances cripple us so we lose that ability.

On 29th of October, 1917, a coup led by a far rightwing Colonel Poldovnikov caused the deaths of 200 people in all. At the same time, the Railway Union was threatening to strike unless the Bolshevik government stopped fighting, and the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionary parties were calling for a coalition government that would exclude the soviets and Lenin and Trotsky. From Marik: “On the 30th [of November], Krasnov’s Cossacks went into action, but were defeated by the Red forces at the battle of Pulkovo Heights. On November 2, Krasnov was arrested in Gatchina. So mild was Bolshevik rule at this stage that he was released on his word of honor, which he violated immediately, by going to the Don and becoming the leader of a Cossack anti-Bolshevik movement.” (p. 383). Immediately after the Bolsheviks led a democratic movement to seize state power, moderate socialists joined forces with the far right to overthrow that democratic government. Similarly, in Finland, a democratically elected socialist government was smashed by a right wing coup accompanied by a terror campaign wherein 23,000 people were massacred. The right wing, pro-Czar reaction to the first democratic government Russia had ever had, took the form of brutal mass murder.

Victor Serge was the son of emigree Russian revolutionaries who returned to Russia in 1918 to support the Soviets. Though an anarchist from his teenage years, Serge became a member of the Soviet Secret Police,and then later after resisting the Stalinist turn he became a victim of the Soviet Secret Police. He was sent by Stalin to the Gulag before being saved by a campaign of international pressure led by Andre Gide. If anyone is really interested in all the details of the first red terror, I highly recommend Soma Marik again, but also Serge’s excellent books Memoirs of a Revolutionary and Year One of the Russian Revolution. In the latter book he gives us this summary that from what I can tell is completely true and unbiased. He begins by invoking the way the generals of the capitalist world used capital punishment to make their men go on killing the enemy: “Remember above all the experience of these last ten years. The discipline of all the armies of the Great War, all of them so lavish in heroism, rested in the end on terror: does anyone know the number of those sent to the firing-squad by courts-martial? In central europe, in Finland, in Spain, in Italy, in the Balkans, capitalism when threatened has resorted to the White terror, which is elevated by fascist dictatorship into a permanent system. Besides, it is out of White terror that Red terror is born. The workers and peasants, little enough inclined to take to the sword, in view of their inexperience in power and the generous idealism of many revolutionaries, learnt their lesson from the defenders of Tsardom and of capitalism. It is even somewhat disconcerting to see the leniency of the victors towards the vanquished, both after the fall of the autocracy and after the October rising. After the Red October, the ultra-reactionary leader Purishkevich was quietly set at liberty. The Cossack ataman Krasnov, captured with arms in his hands, was released on parole. The Moscow Junkers who massacred the workers in the Kremlin arsenal were simply disarmed. It took ten months of bloodier and bloodier struggles, of plots, sabotage, famine, assassinations; it took foreign intervention, the White terror in Helsinki, Samara, Baku and the Ukraine, it took the blood of Lenin before the revolution decided finally to let the axe fall! This in a country where over a whole century the masses had been brought up by the autocracy in the school of persecutions, flogging, hangings and shootings!” (Serge, p. 351).

Nevertheless, in the fall of 1917 the Constituent Assembly created a consitution declaring the “Rights of the Toiling and Exploited People” that asserted the separation of church and state, freedom of speech and assembly and abolishing legal discrimination based on race or nationality (Marik, p. 395-397). The All-Russian Congress of Soviets was established with one delegate for every 25,000 voters. It would meet every six months to elect the Central Executive Committee which combined the functions of executive and legislative branches. Though these soviets met fairly irregularly due to the ongoing civil war, they actually met more often than required by the constitution, and their actual makeup in those first few years was majority non-communist party members. The famine conditions led to the Bolsheviks requisitioning grain, which led to peasant rebellions and worsening famine conditions. In Baku Bolsheviks relinquished power after losing an election, and then were massacred. The civil war strangled soviet democracy, but for a brief period that soviet democracy did exist. Where the Bolsheviks failed is in not understanding that the governing system has to have room for people who disagree, even who disagree fundamentally. If there’s unanimity in your meetings something is very wrong. Soma Marik comments: “In this early period, the Soviets did make a beginning in replacing bureaucracy by elected and accountable officials. If, within a year, 25 percent of them at the gubernia level, and 50 percent at the city and volost level were replaced, it shows that despite civil war, this function of training common people remained with the Soviets for quite some time, and was accepted in principle by the Bolsheviks. Thus when Lenin said that ‘the socialist character of Soviet, i.e., proletarian democracy… lies in the fact that… for the first time a start is made by the entire population in learning the art of administration,’ he was not exaggerating greatly. Soviets went on developing everywhere… However, this growth of Soviet power was soon halted. The most important factor was the isolation of the revolution. No Russian Marxist believed that socialism could be built in one country, least of all in backward, peasant-majority Russia. As early as 1906, Trotsky had predicted that the russian Revolution would have to seek help from the world revolution, or perish in the face of world counter-revolution. Lenin repeated this view in 1918. But the world revolution could not be hurried along… The October Revolution was followed by a counter-revolution, which received unstinted support from the imperialists. And almost all opposition parties drew close to the counter-revolution, and failed to demarcate clearly between opposition to the government on the one hand and armed rebellion against the Soviet power on the other. Consequently, the democratic forms decayed. In Petrograd the last fully free and democratic elections were held in June 18-24, 1918. The Bolsheviks obtained 48.5 percent of the delegates, the Left SRs 12.2 percent, the Right SRs 17.6 percent, the Mensheviks 11.1 percent and independent 10.7 percent… the decline of multiparty Soviet democracy was closely connected to the Civil War, which began in July 1918. The sudden collapse of multiparty democracy turned the Soviets into administrative organs rather than the combination of executive and legislative bodies that Lenin had sought. Working class participation, however, did rise, not only in the lower levels, but also at the top. In 1918, in twenty of the most important departments of the state economic administration, officials of proletarian origin and delegates from working-class organizations accounted for 43 percent of the total, as against 38 percent with a record in the former Tsarist bureaucracy. But as the Soviets collapsed due to the Civil War and the dispersal of the proletariat non-elected ‘revolutionary committees’ or expanded party committees, replaced them in many places. Thus, non-elected, unrepresentative bodies began to be set up. With the elected, militant workers being replaced, functionaries now became more important. By the end of 1920, there were 5,880,000 such functionaries, and less than 2 million industrial workers. In Vyatka, Stalin found that out of 4,766 members of the staff of the Soviet authorities, 4,467 were former Tsarist officials. It was not a Bolshevik drive for complete power that caused this process. On the contrary, the Bolsheviks registered this process with great unease as when Lenin said in 1919, at the Eighth Party Congress: ‘The Soviets, which by virtue of their programme are organs of government by the working people, are in fact organs of government for the working people by the advanced section of the proletariat.’... Victor Serge spelled out the change with precision and clarity: ‘With the disappearance of political debates between parties representing different social interests through the various shades of their opinion, Soviet institutions, beginning with the local Soviets and ending with the Vee-Tsik and the Council of People’s Commissars, manned solely by communists, now function in a Vacuum: since all the decisions are taken by the party all they can do is give them the official rubberstamp” (p. 399-401). So much for Epicurus. As popular participation in the state receded, control of the factories was more and more taken over by the state. This was all taking place in the context of a famine. The Bolsheviks were forced to requisition grain from the peasants, and they reserved their sharpest personel for the army and the government. Meaning the people they sent to take grain from the peasants were the talentless and opportunistic. In places like Smolensk where soviets were set up early, their tended to not be rebellion. In places like Tambov province soviet style government was set up after grain requisitioning began and peasants joined the anarchist-extreme-right-wing armies that fought against the Bolshevik led state. In Kronstadt it was this later movement that revolted. For anyone interested in the Russian Civil War I cannot recommend highly enough a collection of essays edited by Donald J. Raleigh entitled Provincial Landscapes: Local Dimensions of Soviet Power 1917-1953. Go read all the books. Truly perceiving enemies on all sides, the Bolsheviks began to consolidate power for people who were proven to be on their side. The result of this was that the economy as a whole became property of the state. Over the course of 1920-21 the Bolshevik party took control of the factories, the unions and the press. In 1921, after many failed coup attempts against the Bolscheviks and an assassination attempt against Lenin they ban other parties, thereby shutting down the presses of the Mensheviks, the Social Revolutionaries and the Anarchists. Though these actions were considered temporary stop-gaps needed to face the crisis, Stalin would exploit the growing material interest of the bureaucracy itself to make these measures permanent. Lenin’s death in 1924 opened the field for hostilities between Stalin and the growing opposition to him within the Bolshevik party and society.

Opposition to Stalin’s culture of patronage and corruption began with Lenin, who shortly before his death wrote against allowing Stalin to stay in government. Trotsky raised criticisms of Stalin’s course in the early 20s, and by the mid 20s was organizing a block within the party for democratic reform. There is a long period in the early twenties during which Trotsky argues for lifting the ban on other parties, but within the rules laid down previously by the Central Committee. This meant that beyond debating for reform within the Central Committee and discussing these matters with his friends he didn’t canvas, publish or otherwise try and organize people outside of the party. It’s important to understand that because Trotsky was not a part of the Bolshevik party until 1917, people inside that party thought of him as an outsider. Because he had been part of the Menshevik party between the years of 1905 and 1917 he was associated with the Menshevik party that in part was plotting to overthrow their government. Not just that, but Trotsky was constantly of a different opinion from everyone else in the Party. When the Party was ramping up grain requisitioning, Trotsky proposed selling the grain on an open market so the peasants would get paid for their product and would cooperate with its distribution and not hoard it. His ideas were voted down, and when the ongoing requisition policy inspired a revolt at Kronstadt, they sent Trotsky to put it down. Immediately after the revolt the Central Committee instituted the New Economic Policy (NEP) which allowed peasants to sell their grain on a market. No one listened when Trotsky called upon the Central Committee to open membership into the party for people willing to be educated. A year later, Stalin flooded the party with new people who were not educated by who depended on him for a paycheck. This was how Stalin guaranteed his power base, by building within the party and government a network of graft and corruption loyal to him. It wasn’t until the mid-1920, around 1925 that Trotsky and some others began to organize a resistance to Stalin among the public, against the laws the Bolshevik state had adopted. The government, which was by then in every factory, beat Trotsky and company to the workers, and in 1927 when the opposition attempted to hold a march in St. Petersburg the workers shunned them. There was a real social base to Stalinism.

Every now and then some smartass will suggest that Trotsky or someone else should have just shot Stalin early on. What this idea misses is that when you’re trying to be a legitimate government you don’t just shoot people you don’t like. You want to build institutions whose rules people respect and that are applied fairly. It was precisely because Trotsky followed the rules for so long, hoping that the workers would see through Stalin and that a democratic upsurge would sweep him out of power, that Trotsky finally lost. The rules were stacked against him. Lenin left a final testament urging people to remove Stalin from power, but Trotsky submitted to the rules of the Central Committee and didn’t publish it. In 1929 part of Lenin’s testament was leaked to the press, and had a limited effect. People involved in the communist movement had trouble believing that the thing was rotten at the top, and that it had to be resisted.
After 1991 lots of old soviet archives were opened up, and Pierre Broue, a historian and author of dozens of books about the Russian Revolution, was able to get at a trove of documents Stalin had suppressed referring to the left opposition. The result was a book published in 2003 called “Communistes contr Staline: Massacre d’une generation,” and if you can read French I highly recommend it. Much of what follows is drawn from those pages.
The organized opposition to Stalin, under Trotsky and Zinoviev, did not end with their deportation, though they were deported in 1927. Groups of activists that had worked with Trotsky began protesting forced deportations of opposition leaders from the very beginning, starting with a rally at the train station where Trotsky was sent away.

Adolph Abramovich Joffe had participated in the revolutionary movement in 1905 and the one in 1917. In fact, he had led the Bolshevik faction in the St. Petersburg Duma in 1917, and been a lead negotiator when the Soviets negotiated a peace treaty with Germany to end WW1. But Joffe had a medical condition that was very painful and difficult to treat. When the opposition was expelled from the Soviet Union, he knew that his health would make him a strain on the resources of the left opposition in exile, so he took his own life. His final letter to Trotsky is deeply moving. In it he blames Trotsky for not acting more forcefully sooner against Stalin. “Dear Leon Davidovich, we are bound together by ten years of work in common and, I hope, of personal friendship, and that gives me the right to tell you, at the moment of farewell, what seems to me to be a weakness in you… But you have often renounced your right position in favour of an agreement, a compromise, whose value you overestimated. That was wrong. I repeat: politically you have always been in the right, and now more than ever you are in the right. Someday the party will understand this, and history will be forced to recognise it.” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/joffe/1927/letter.htm). Joffe’s wife Maria was also politically active, and would survive being sent to Stalin’s camps for the Bolsheviks. In her memoir, One Long Night, she writes about how the Bolsheviks resisted Stalin to the end, many dying in hunger strikes, and many like her second husband being shot and buried in mass graves.

In the early 30s, when the left opposition in Russia was suppressed, workers in factories began organizing their own resistance. Stalin still wasn’t powerful enough to massacre them all, which would happen in the late 30s. When the second generation of opposition leaders were suppressed, workers struck spontaneously. Stalin appeased the masses and consolidated the security apparatus to hold them in check, using ethnic divisions and nationalist patriotism to straddle the heaving social body.

Though the opposition was broad, encompassing a left and a right within the communist movement, those who differed with Stalin on issues other than Democracy, who were willing to be silenced, eventually capitulated, as was the case with Radek, Zinoviev, Bukharin, Preobrajensky, Rhykov and so on. Their capitulations only meant their dishonor, since all of these old Bolsheviks were murdered essentially for having disagreed with Stalin. As with any political movement, the participants varied in their consciousness of their goal, but the one thing that lent moral clarity, what gave the opposition coherence, was the insistence on democracy and free speech. In June of 1929 Rakovsky urged his fellow oppositionists not to capitulate despite Stalin’s temporary left turn: “Above all, the total absence of a plan to restore democracy in the party means there is no guarantee that the gains of today will endure.” (Broue, p159). It is furthermore impossible to imagine that had the party been reformed that collectivization would have been pushed ahead so cruelly and stupidly as Stalin did starting in 1928 through 1932, causing the death of 6 million Ukrainian peasants. The Bolsheviks who disagree with Stalin were all murdered by him, some in gulags and others in show trials. From 1927 to 1929 Trotsky organizes the resistance from exile within the Soviet Union.

In 1929 Stalin banishes Trotsky to Turkey and cuts off licit correspondence between opposition members. Trotsky is defiant. If you didn’t know that the left opposition in the USSR had broad popular appeal, then the image of Trotsky tilting at windmills sets for you a bad example. This Trotsky fights when he knows he cannot win. “He felt nothing in common with those historic personalities of whom Hegel says that once they have accomplished their ‘mission in history’ they are exhausted and ‘fall like empty husks’. He would struggle to break out of the vacuum in which Stalin and events were enclosing him…” (Deutscher, TPO, p4). Deutscher here explains how Trotsky protested against his exile to Turkey by Stalin. “Even if at the moment it seemed vain to invoke history for justice, he could do nothing but invoke it.” What Deutsher gets wrong, and what Broue shows, is that Trotsky was appealing not just to posterity for symbolic justice, but to a vibrant resistance movement in the USSR for actual justice.
When Trotsky begins publishing in The New York Times in 1929 he is doubtless addressing himself to the opposition movement in the USSR and to the international socialist movement. He was addressing himself to textile workers who struck in Leningrad in May of 1928 (130). Soviet Society would offer its response with opposition movements that were led independently of Trotsky in 1931 when Lominadze and several other party officials are exposed trying to establish oppositionist peasant’s unions (213) and then spontaneously, without leadership when in April of 1932 2,500 workers struck in Ivanovo-Voznessensk (241).
Broue quotes Isabell Longuet:
“Stalin himself tells us, in a speech from November 19, how many there are. According to him 10,000 party members voted against the majority platform in the previous congress, and had therefore had their memberships revoked, but that 20,000 Trotsyists had not voted at all and ‘were not free from Trotskyist ideology.’” (133).
Deutscher seems to be aware of social unrest in the USSR of this time, but writes about it not as though it were an expression of people’s historical agency but as if it were simply another material condition: “amid the upheavals of collectivization and industrialization, he expected shifts in the nation to produce great shifts in the ruling party as well.”(Deutscher).
Trotsky wasn’t fighting the good fight against any and all odds: he was fighting with the knowledge that he could win. The subsequent activity of the Trotskyist left in the 20th century shows that this image of Trotsky as Don Quixote seriously damaged the left’s ability to attempt a politics engaged with real political possibilities, and what’s more it gets Trotsky completely wrong. Trotsky would be the opposite of Don Quixote, not someone who could not face the changes of a new world, but one who could see, though in a limited way, how the present world cannot remain as it is. That Trotsky is closer to the reality of what the man was, and a better example for all of us.
After murdering opposition to his tyranny within the party, Stalin moved on proactively to massacre people who might oppose him, beginning with Polish intellectuals and leaders in the communist movement, and after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact by massacring the leading figures in Poland itself.

The Polish purges targeted the most intelligent, educated and cultured groups because these were capable of free thinking, and because these stratum of Polish society were aware of Stalin’s intentional starving of the Ukraine. Having strangled those demanding free speech and democracy within his own movement, Stalin set about invading and dominating the countries all around him in an attempt to extinguish free thought itself. Those in the left opposition who capitulated in the early 30s did so because they did not see possibilities in historical progress but only necessities. “Capitulation is based on the perception of the current moment as permanent” (Broue, p217) declared the oppositionist Tsintsadze in 1931. If we think of Stalinism as inevitable, of these terrible moments of purge and show trial as exemplary of human nature when it tries for socialism, then we too are capitulating, becoming less Trotsky and more Don Quixote. What we have chosen to see in the Russian Revolution, a severe and distorted vision of human limitation, should instead be read as a measure of human resolve to resist. Like Robespierre, Stalin had to wage a war against society, and we should never imagine that he won a final victory. Society, after all, survives us all and can not indefinitely accept the yoke of servitude.

Lenin and his party went to extraordinary lengths to protect free speech and democracy. They gave up on these things only under the crushing weight of terrible circumstance. There are several reasons why this is important. The narrative that says the Russian revolution was led by authoritarians and that Stalinism was the necessary result is embraced by conservatives and Stalinists. The temptation to agree with the Stalinists on this point in the name of some kind of imagined realpolitik is ever present for the socialist left. That politics fails at every hurdle, because it does not understand that Stalin was vaulted into power by a democratic movement which he then strangled. The conservative mistake is the mirror image of the Stalinists: the conservative doesn’t see that socialism can be an expression of deep democratic values. For those of us who claim to be Democratic Socialists, a full accounting of the Russian Revolution is absolutely essential because of its successes and its failures. The false images of it survive in modern Stalinism and Maoism, calling to young radicals it syrren song leading them into political irrelevance and anti-Democratic values which are the same thing. There is a left that embraces the statist, top down socialism of Stalin. The difference between them and us is the difference between Nero and Oreste.

If, like Oreste, the socialist movement can stand before the community and make an honest accounting of this past, work together where we can and make the case for more, then we may find a place within the political community, a path to advocate our point of view. And because we are willing to model good behavior by working with those who cannot see as far as we can, we will win them over to a moment where society can dominate the state, or in other words we can win them over to a democratic way of life. On the other hand, if we decide that we cannot persuade those who oppose us, if we act as though war is our only path, as if we can impose socialism on people from above, then like Nero we will find every door closed to us. Roughly speaking, Stalin is Nero, and Trotsky is Oreste. They both killed the Czarist regime, Stalin for his own sake and Trotsky for the sake of revolution. The better we know that story, the better we know our own potential, and that potential is only as powerful as our politics is democratic. This is the natural corollary to the socialist root idea that we are better off cooperating with other people: that we are best lin ked in cooperation when everyone gets an equal say in what we do. Socialists have never won by imposing their ideas from above, and wherever they have tried to they have failed. In Russia we won by mobilizing democratic forces from every part of society, and then we lost when we were unable to continue that mobilization. If we consider for a moment just how dark and unjust the world was at the turn of the 20th century, we will no longer puzzle that the project of building a society based on mutual respect of all people had such a difficult time getting started and even had a couple false starts. In podcasts to come we will discuss the travails of socialists in Germany and Spain who struggled to relate to democratic values in the wake of the Russian Revolution’s stunning promise and betrayal.

Broué, Pierre. Communistes contre Staline. Fayard, 2003.

Deutscher, Isaac. The Prophet Outcast. Oxford University Press, 1963.

De Spinoza, Benedictus. The collected works of Spinoza. Vol. 2. Princeton University Press, 2016.

Lenin, Vladimir Ilich. VI Lenin. Selected works. Vol. I. Foreign Language Publishing House, Moscow, 1946.

Marik, Soma. Revolutionary Democracy: Emancipation in Classical Marxism. Haymarket Books, 2018.

Raleigh, Donald J. Provincial landscapes: local dimensions of Soviet power, 1917-1953. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.

Serge, Victor. Year one of the Russian Revolution. Haymarket Books, 2015.

Sgambato-Ledoux, Isabelle. Oreste et Néron. Spinoza, Freud et le mal. Classiques Garnier, 2017.

Trotsky, Leon. History of the Russian revolution. Haymarket Books, 2008.