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The "Revisionists"


A Western revisionist view has arisen in the mid-twentieth century as a reaction to Western liberal scholarship. The ‘revisionist’ historians were no longer satisfied with the liberal school’s analysis of the Revolution ‘from above’, focused mainly on the actions of leading personalities and activities of major political groupings. They stressed the importance of undertaking a proper analysis of what the ordinary people of Russia - factory workers, land-hungry peasants, conscript soldiers, radicalized sailors, women in bread-queues - were thinking and doing in 1917. 

October. By B. Ugarov

This new generation of western historians has conducted an impressive amount of research in which the Revolution has been investigated using a combination of traditional historiography, economic analysis, sociological enquiry and the methodology of political science. The result has been a meticulously documented view of the Revolution ‘from below’, with the focus of attention not on the political ‘leadership’ - but on the activities, aspirations and motives of ‘ordinary’ Russian workers, peasants, soldiers and sailors, not only in the capital, but also in the regions. Much of this research demonstrates that after the collapse of autocracy Russian society became increasingly polarized along class lines, with the workers, peasants and conscript soldiers becoming more and more alienated from the Provisional Government - a government of self-appointed middle- and upper-class conservative politicians that continued to defend the interests of the propertied classes. Lenin’s slogan of ‘All Power to the Soviets’ simply articulated the feeling of the ordinary people that a government of the Soviets - the elected representatives of the plebeian masses - was the preferred alternative. Ronald Suny, a U.S. historian, has expressed this view as follows: 


The Bolsheviks came to power not because they were superior manipulators or cynical opportunists but because their policies, as formulated by Lenin in April and shaped by the events of the following months, placed them at the head of a genuinely popular movement.


Revisionists’ conclusions to some extent corroborate the classical Marxist view that masses and classes are central to the revolutionary process. They also partially echo the view of another, comparatively neglected school of thought usually described as ‘libertarian’.

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