The Russian Revolution 1917-1921

In This Review

The Russian Revolution 1917-1921

By William Henry Chamberlin
Macmillan, 1935
21,067 pp.
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An immense and long-forgotten literature on the Bolsheviks and their first years in power boiled forth in the 1920s and 1930s. Chamberlin's massive two-volume history of the revolution and the subsequent civil war towered over contemporary competitors, enduring well into the present. The revolutionary John Reed's firsthand Ten Days that Shook the World (1919) achieved greater fame, but Chamberlin's detailed historical account first led an English-reading audience through the maze of revolutionary events and the mayhem and savagery of the civil war, the subject of the entire second volume. (It was last republished in 1987.) Chamberlin was a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor who arrived in Soviet Russia in 1922, but only after many years of reporting from Moscow did he in 1933-34 break from his work to write this history. By then Lenin had been dead a decade, Stalin was ascendant, and the great terror was just beginning. During the Cold War Chamberlin would be faulted for failing to see in the 1917-21 period the seeds of Stalin's super-tyranny. Indeed, he did take the triumph of Lenin and his party to be a logical, albeit not inevitable, outcome of powerful historical trends in Russia. He also regarded Lenin as a "genius of revolution," as he entitled one chapter. But he in no way idealized the revolution and those who made it, nor did he underestimate their capacity for cold calculation and ruthlessness.