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Modern History and Revolution

 

RUSSIA, CHINA, THIRD WORLD


Leon Trotsky, 1905  [1909]
      Still one of the best histories of the 1905 Russian revolution, in which Trotsky (during his more radical pre-Bolshevik period) played an important role.


Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution  [1933]
      A monumental account of the 1917 revolution from the Bolshevik standpoint. Here and elsewhere Trotsky made some pertinent critiques of Stalinism, but he was himself too implicated in the Bolshevik roots of Stalinism for those critiques to amount to a credible analysis.


Voline, The Unknown Revolution
 [1947]
      An anarchist history of the Russian revolution, focusing on the 1917 popular movement that took place without Bolshevik leadership and on the subsequent radical struggles that the Bolsheviks repressed: the anarcho-communist Makhnovist peasant movement in the Ukraine (1918-1920) and the councilist revolt of the Kronstadt sailors (1921).
      For more detailed acounts of the latter struggles, see Peter Arshinov’s History of the Makhnovist Movement, Ida Mett’s The Kronstadt Commune, Paul Avrich’s Kronstadt, 1921, and Israel Getzler’s Kronstadt 1917-1921: The Fate of a Soviet Democracy.


Maurice Brinton,
The Bolsheviks and Workers Control: 1917-1921  
[1970]
     
Excellent chronological documentation of the Bolsheviks’ brutal authoritarian practices under Lenin and Trotsky, well before Stalin had taken power. It is also included in the recent collection of Brinton’s works entitled For Workers’ Power.
      For a more personal account of the same period, see Emma Goldman’s My Disillusionment in Russia.


Ante Ciliga, The Russian Enigma
 [1938]
      A powerful autobiographical account of the Bolshevik regime’s devolution into Stalinism. Ciliga saw it all happen from the inside, first as a Yugoslavian representative of the Comintern, then as a Left Oppositionist, then in a Siberian prison camp. He and Victor Serge were among the few who managed to get out just before the Moscow Trials eliminated virtually all of the old-guard revolutionaries.


Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary
 [1941]
      Another excellent account of the same period. Serge was a French anarchist who rallied to the Bolsheviks during the revolution, then joined the Left Opposition and was interned in one of Stalin’s prison camps.
      Get the new complete edition published by the New York Review of Books (the previous editions were significantly abridged). Note that Serge also wrote several novels drawing on his experiences, including one about the Moscow Trials (The Case of Comrade Tulayev) that compares favorably with Koestler’s more well known Darkness at Noon.
      [Rexroth article on Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary]


Boris Souvarine, Stalin: A Critical Survey of Bolshevism
 [1939]
      Yet another revolutionary author who experienced the development of Stalinism as it happened.
      Several other interesting writings by Souvarine are available only in French.

 

* * *


Harold Isaacs,
The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution
 [1938]
      Superb account of the Chinese revolution of 1925-1927 and its betrayal by the Stalinist Comintern.


Lucien Bianco, Origins of the Chinese Revolution, 1915-1949
 [1967]
      A good general overview.


Simon Leys, The Chairman’s New Clothes: Mao and the Cultural Revolution
 [1971]
      By far the best book about the so-called “Cultural Revolution.”
      Leys has written several other books on China. All are good. Some are translated, some are available only in French.
      [Situationist article on the Chinese Cultural Revolution]


70s (ed.), The Revolution Is Dead, Long Live the Revolution!
 [1976]
      A collection of articles about the Cultural Revolution from diverse radical viewpoints, edited by a Hong Kong anarchist group. See A Radical Group in Hong Kong for critiques of some of the articles.

 

* * *


Most of the books I’ve read on Third World struggles were marred by the Maoist or Guevarist types of Stalinist nationalism that were prevalent until recent years. The following are among the few exceptions.


C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins
 [1938]
      A comprehensive history of the only slave rebellion in history that succeeded — that of the Haitian blacks during the French Revolution.
      Many of James’s other early works are also of interest, but in his later years his tendentiousness became increasingly lame as he struggled to maintain the illusion of a “pan-African revolt” and to defend Third World dictators such as Nkrumah.


John Womack, Zapata and the Mexican Revolution
 [1968]
      On the peasant anarchist leader and the revolution of 1910-1920.


Louis Fischer (ed.), The Essential Gandhi  [1962]
     
Selections from the autobiography and other writings of this important figure, whose ideas and actions ranged from the admirable to the ludicrous.
      If you prefer a briefer overview, see George Woodcock’s Mohandas Gandhi.


Ngo Van, In the Crossfire: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary
 [2010]
      Although the Vietnam War is still well known, few people are aware of the decades of struggles against the French colonial regime that preceded it, many of which had no connection with the Stalinists (Ho Chi Minh’s Communist Party). The Stalinists were ultimately victorious, but only after they systematically destroyed all the other oppositional currents. Ngo Van’s book is the story of these other movements and revolts, caught in the crossfire between the French and the Stalinists, told by one of the few survivors.
      Constantly harassed by the French colonial police in Saigon and risking assassination by the Stalinists if he ventured into the countryside, Ngo Van emigrated to France in 1948, where he became a factory worker, an artist and a historical scholar. His later years were largely devoted to researching and writing his monumental two-volume political chronicle: Vietnam 1920-1945: révolution et contre-révolution sous la domination coloniale and Le joueur de flûte et L’Oncle Hô: Vietnam 1945-2005.
      In the Crossfire
is a translation of his memoirs of his years in Vietnam, Au pays de la Cloche fêlée, along with excerpts from his reminiscences of his years in France, Au pays d’Héloïse (unfinished when he died in 2005 at the age of 92). I’m proud to be one of the translators.
      [Online excerpts from Ngo Van’s book]
      [Situationist article on the Vietnam and Arab-Israel wars]


Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
 [1961]
      Fanon’s political conclusions are dubious, but his work provides some penetrating psychological insights into the rage and violence of Third World struggles against colonialism.
      [Situationist article on Third World struggles]


Ian Clegg, Workers’ Self-Management in Algeria
 [1971]
      Examination of workers’ self-management efforts during the period between the liberation from France (1962) and Boumédienne’s coup d’État (1965).
      [Situationist article on Algeria]

 

 


 
Section from Gateway to the Vast Realms: Recommended Readings from Literature to Revolution, by Ken Knabb (2004).

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