The story of the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917 has been told a thousand times and usually the focus is on Russian events to the exclusion of the global situation. There is nothing wrong with examining ‘October’ and its consequences in such a fashion. But this book is an attempt to see things in a different light. The early years of Bolshevik rule were marked by dynamic interaction between Russia and the West. These were years of civil war in Russia, years when the West strove to understand the new communist regime while also seeking to undermine it; and all through that period the Bolsheviks tried to spread their revolution across Europe without ceasing to pursue trade agreements that might revive their collapsing economy. Looking at this interaction in detail reveals that revolutionary Russia –and its dealings with the world outside – was shaped not only by Lenin and Trotsky, but by an extraordinary miscellany of people: spies and commissars certainly, but also diplomats, reporters and unofficial intermediaries, as well as intellectuals, opportunistic businessmen and casual travelers. This is their story as much as it is the story of ‘October’.
From Spies and Commissars: The Early Years of the Russian Revolution by Robert Service. On sale this week.