The Narodniks in the Russian Revolution. Russia's Socialist-Revolutionaries in 1917-A Documentary History

Article excerpt

Francis King, transl. and compiler. The Narodniks in the Russian Revolution. Russia's Socialist-Revolutionaries in 1917-A Documentary History. Socialist History Occasional Papers Series, No. 25. London: Socialist History Society, 2007. 111 pp. £5.00, paper.

This is a collection of almost 50 documents, or excerpts from documents produced by various factions of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party between February 1917 and the brief meeting of the Constituent Assembly in January 1918. They include appeals from party committees, leaflets, speeches and reports to the Petrograd Soviet or the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets after the Bolshevik coup, or to the Constituent Assembly or SR party conferences and congresses, party resolutions or motions, stenographs and reports of party and Soviet meetings, articles, telegrams, protocols or minutes of party meetings. Most were published contemporaneously, either individually or in various party papers. The author's intention is to mark the 80th anniversary of the Revolution by presenting the perspectives of the different SR groupings during 1917, to rescue the SRs from the "dustbin of history," not as alternative leaders, but as part of the history of 1917 and a general socialist heritage. The documents have been selected from recent Russian publications of documents relating to the revolution.

There is a brief introduction to the Narodniks and their debates with the Marxists in the late nineteenth century and a useful history of the SR party from its foundation at the very beginning of the twentieth century up to 1917. Francis King provides a chronological narrative covering political developments in 1917 into which the documents are inserted. Although the documents are addressed to various groups such as soldiers and workers, they are in reality mainly addressed to other members of the SR party. Like most commentators on the SRs, King sees their heterogeneity as the deeper cause of their downfall, beyond the personalities of Aleksandr Kerenskii or Viktor Chernov and the vicissitudes of 1917 itself, although he shows with some neat examples how these factors played out. The "fracturing" of the party creates the structure of the book and the selection of documents. So documents from all wings of the SR party are presented, from the Union of SR Maximalists (Soyuz Eserov-Maximalistov) to the People's Socialists (Narodnie sotsialisty) and no effort is made to evaluate which had more right to the title "Narodnik." Some of the documents of the "extremes" could have been left out, such as the People's Socialists; as King's text and they themselves recognized, they had miniscule support in 1917 and no desire to reunite with the main SR party, with whom they had long split. Space instead could have been given to regional SRs, either in the areas where the party had been traditionally strong, such as the Volga, or where they were to remain influential for a few brief years after 1917, for example Siberia. …