geoffrey-swain

Geoffrey Swain

The Neil Edmunds Memorial Lecture: Was October 1917 a Revolution After All?

Festival of Ideas/
Mon 03 April 2017

Geoffrey Swain

The Neil Edmunds Memorial Lecture: Was October 1917 a Revolution After All?

geoffrey-swain
Mon 03 April 2017,

In the days of the Soviet Union, communists claimed that the overthrow of the Tsar in February 1917 was followed by the Great October Socialist Revolution which brought the Bolsheviks to power. On the 75th anniversary of the events, the eminent historian Richard Pipes dismissed the notion of a revolution and asserted that what really brought the Bolsheviks to power was a classic coup, pure and simple. The coup version of history found favour in post-Soviet Russia, especially under Vladimir Putin who sees all revolutions, especially the ones in Ukraine and Georgia, as the work of plotters supported by American money.

In this year’s Neil Edmunds Memorial Lecture, Geoffrey Swain seeks to recover the revolutionary aspects of the events of autumn 1917. There was far more to October than the quarrelsome scheming of the Bolshevik leadership. Peasants were seizing land, workers were occupying factories and the Bolsheviks followed as much as inspired such acts. At the same time, the left wing of the Socialist Revolutionary party, the party of the peasants, was equally determined to establish a Soviet government which would deliver the promise of a radical new future for Russia, a future which the overthrow of the Tsar had seemed to usher in.

Yet the coup story is not completely wrong, Swain believes. The Bolsheviks were never sure whether the Left Socialist Revolutionaries were their allies or their rivals, and by the summer of 1918 had used the most questionable of methods to turn the Soviet government into a single party dictatorship.

In association with The Neil Edmunds Fund and UWE.

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