From International Socialism, No.68, April 1974, p.30.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Russian Revolution of February 1917
Routledge and Kegan Paul, £4.95.
PROBABLY MORE has been written about the Russian Revolution than any other event this century. Yet the amount of information available at least to the English reader on what the workers and peasants who made the revolution actually thought and did in 1917 is minimal. Even Trotsky’s History, brilliant as it is, leaves a whole range of questions unanswered. How were the Soviets really organised? What was their relationship with the factory committees? Which workers were the most militant and why? How did the women organise? And so on.
If such questions are to be answered then historians must cease to loiter endlessly in the executive committee of the Petrograd Soviet or Kerensky’s front room. Instead they should step out into the working-class quarters of Vyberg, cross over to the naval garrison of Kronstadt and journey out to the villages and the provincial towns. Only in this way can the real history of 1917 be written.
Despite considerable difficulties (lack of access to archives, unreliability of sources, decades of Stalinist distortion, etc.) there are now signs of historians in the west moving in these directions. Ferro’s book was first published in 1967 in France. Somewhat misleadingly entitled The Russian Revolution of 1917 it is in fact an account of the relationship between the main organs of political power in Petrograd, the Provisional Government and the Soviet, and the developing consciousness of the Russian masses.
In attempting to do this Ferro has undoubtedly dug fairly deep into the archives. Yet the amount of new information he comes up with is remarkably little. This I think stems mainly because he sets his target far too high. Rather than try to find out what every Russian worker thought in 1917 or how every nationality within the country viewed the events it would have been better at this stage to take a single city or a single nationality and study it in more detail. Only when many such studies have been undertaken can the task that Ferro sets himself really be accomplished satisfactorily.
Nevertheless the book is quite a useful introduction to its subject. And it does contain some extremely interesting documentary material as an appendix. Unfortunately M. Ferro has been very badly served by his English publisher. Not only does the translation leave much to be desired, but the system of footnoting is the most confusing and bizarre of any book I have ever come across.
Last updated on 6.3.2008