One hundred years ago, Russian workers sparked the revolution that led to the creation of the Soviet Union. Now, as stories about Russo-American relations top the news, publishers are marking the centennial of the Russian Revolution with titles that look back on the events that set the course of the world as we know it today.
Self-described radical publisher Verso Books has branded and reissued roughly a dozen backlist titles for the anniversary in the last year, but a new book turned out to be the publisher’s surprise success. October, by science fiction author and academic China Miéville, has sold almost 6,000 print copies since it pubbed in May, per NPD BookScan.
In addition to mining its backlist and bringing out new titles, Verso has hosted online contests and seized on the anniversary as an opportunity to ask readers to share their suggestions of notable revolutionary voices. The response has guided Verso editors to writers previously unpublished in the U.S, whose work they plan to print in the coming years. All of this, says Anne Rumberger, Verso marketing manager, is part of the publisher’s effort “to be deeply grounded in history but also with this lens of, ‘What relevance does the Russian Revolution have for us today?’ ”
Pulitzer Prize–finalist Arthur Herman (Gandhi and Churchill, 2008) speaks to that question in 1917 (Harper, Nov.), a study of Woodrow Wilson and Vladimir Lenin’s views of statecraft and war in the context of revolution. Herman proposes that the two leaders established a new kind of imperialism that has dominated global affairs for the past hundred years. Eric Nelson, executive editor at Harper, cautions against looking to history books to divine the future, but says that the relevance of the revolution today is clear in some of Herman’s conclusions, one of which is that “we’re at a moment where the major world powers are pulling back from that vision [from 1917] of trying to remake other countries in their image.”
Histories, commentaries, memoirs, and ideas from the present day join newly discovered accounts from a hundred years ago, all of them lining up to mark the revolution’s anniversary this fall. Here’s a look at what’s in store.
Edited by friends of Aron Baron. AK Press, Oct.
Dedicated to Baron, a Russian anarchist who was executed by Stalin in 1937, Bloodstained is a leftist rebuke of Lenin and the Russian Revolution, which the publisher describes as a “murderous dictatorship” and a “criminal enterprise.” New and vintage essays by Mark Leier, Emma Goldman, and others challenge what the publisher calls “the darker echoes” of the revolution.
The House of Government
Yuri Slezkine. Princeton Univ., Aug.
Slezkine voyages through a Moscow apartment building, telling detailed stories of its residents in the years after the revolution. The book follows senior Bolshevik leaders, tracing the ways their lives change as they careen from positions of power to total loss at the hands of Josef Stalin.
V.I. Lenin and Slavoj Žižek. Verso, Sept.
Philosopher Žižek turns to Lenin’s obscure later works, arguing that they’re essential for understanding the revolutionary leader’s views on the successes and failures of the revolution. Lenin’s writings are reproduced with commentary by Žižek, who contends that one of the Soviet leader’s most notable intellectual achievements was his ability to remain hopeful while acknowledging that the revolution had not delivered on many of its promises.
No Less Than Mystic
John Medhurst. Repeater, Aug.
Chronicling the 1903–1921 period, Medhurst devotes his attention to Russian leftist groups that were essential to the rise of socialism there but whose stories are often overlooked. The author expresses disdain for Leninism in an analysis intended to provide, in the words of his publisher, “a way forward for a nonauthoritarian left.”
Overtaken by the Night
Richard G. Robbins Jr. Univ. of Pittsburgh, Nov.
Using archival documents and memoirs, Robbins introduces Vladimir Dzhunkovsky, a largely forgotten but highly influential member of Czar Nicholas II’s court, a governor of Moscow, and a head of the czar’s political police. After being shunned for turning against Rasputin, Dzhunkovsky fought in World War I and was spared by Communist revolutionaries but was executed by Stalin in 1938.
Red at Heart
Elizabeth McGuire. Oxford Univ., Nov.
The story of the rise of Communism is recast in this volume that looks at the lives of Chinese revolutionaries studying in Soviet Russia. McGuire explores connections between China and Russia through these individuals, including a son of Chang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong’s third wife.
S.A. Smith. Haymarket, Nov.
Originally published in 1983 by Cambridge University Press, Smith’s study of factory councils—which were influential worker-run labor committees—provides insight into the lives of workers, their strategies for organizing during the revolution, and their visions for a communist state.
Edited by Pete Ayrton. Pegasus, Sept.
H.G. Wells, Somerset Maugham, Louise Bryant, and Langston Hughes were among the writers who flocked to Russia during and after the revolution and documented their experiences. Ayrton anthologizes these travelers’ accounts alongside those of their Russian counterparts, sharing the daily challenges they encountered and the ideological battles they witnessed as the foundation of the Soviet state was established.
Russia in Flames
Laura Engelstein. Oxford Univ., Oct.
Russia scholar Engelstein delivers an extensive history of Russia’s involvement in World War I, the October Revolution, and the subsequent civil war. Through the stories of individuals, events, and institutions, Engelstein details the continuous violence of 1914–1921, beginning with czarist rule and progressing through the establishment of the Soviet Union.
Edited by Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia. British Library, Aug.
Published in concert with an exhibition at the British Library, this visual history uses reproductions of posters, newspapers, photographs, maps, and postcards to illuminate the revolution.
What You Did Not Tell
Mark Mazower. Other Press, Oct.
After discovering his grandfather’s work as an agent for the Jewish socialist Bund, Mazower, a Columbia University historian, explored the efforts people later took to hide their involvement in the revolution. Through the story of his grandfather, Mazower reconstructs the history of this largely forgotten Jewish socialist group that, he writes, was instrumental to the revolution’s success.