The Bolsheviks in Power

The Bolsheviks in Power

The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd
Alexander Rabinowitch
Distribution: World
Publication date: 10/12/2007
ISBN: 978-0-253-11684-0
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A major contribution to the historiography of the world in the 20th century, The Bolsheviks in Power focuses on the fateful first year of Soviet rule in Petrograd. It examines events that profoundly shaped the Soviet political system that endured through most of the 20th century. Drawing largely from previously inaccessible Soviet archives, it demolishes standard interpretations of the origins of Soviet authoritarianism by demonstrating that the Soviet system evolved ad hoc as the Bolsheviks struggled to retain political power amid spiraling political, social, economic, and military crises. The book covers issues such as the rapid fall of influential moderate Bolsheviks, the formation of the dreaded Cheka, the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, the Red Terror, the national government's flight to Moscow, and the subsequent rivalry between Russia's new and old capitals.

Author Bio

Alexander Rabinowitch is Emeritus Professor of History at Indiana University, Bloomington. He is author of Prelude to Revolution: The Petrograd Bolsheviks and the July 1917 Uprising (IUP, 1968) and The Bolsheviks Come to Power: The Revolution of 1917 in Petrograd. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana.


"This briskly written, often riveting study of the evolution of Bolshevik authoritarianism...provides a salutary corrective to the school of historiography that views Soviet Communism as totalitarian by nature." —The Atlantic , December, 2008

"Thirty-one years have passed since the author's
The Bolsheviks Come to Power . . . , the second volume in a projected trilogy on the Russian Revolution. The first two volumes documented Bolshevik success in the destruction of the Provisional Government in 1917. This third volume tells about the first year of Bolshevik power after the insurrection in October and the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly. . . . Rabinowitch display[s] broad control of sources . . . Recommended." —Choice

"Rabinowitch's . . . reconstruction of Bolshevik politics from the first to the second October under Soviet rule gives altogether familiar events an unfamiliar and far deeper resonance. . . . [His] fine-grained history gives to largely foretold events a texture and complexity absent before." —Foreign Affairs

"This is an important book. It describes in great detail the evolution of the Bolshevik regime over the first year of its existence." —Iain McKay, Black Flag Magazine , 2008

"A meticulous and fine-grained study of the first year of 'soviet rule' in Petrograd. . . .Rabinowitch maintains a dispassionate tone and is scrupulously measured in his judgments. . . . His book can justly be said to provide a definitive political history of the city during the first year of Bolshevik rule." —Steve Smith,
New Left Review , August 2008

"Rabinowitch has culled an astonishing amount of new information from long closed archives . . . a compelling narrative accessible to specialists and general readers alike." —Stephen F. Cohen, author of
Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia

"Rabinowitch demonstrates total mastery of the rich source material; a stunning command of politics during a time of crisis, turmoil, and shifting allegiances; confident, crystal-clear prose; originality; and profound appreciation of the circumstances in which his protagonists found themselves. . . . His new study addresses a central question of twentieth-century Russian history: what happened to the promises of 1917? Maintaining that his earlier efforts raised as many questions as they answered, he seeks to understand how the relatively democratic and decentralized Bolshevik party became transformed into 'one of the most highly centralized, authoritarian political organizations in modern history.'" —Donald J. Raleigh, University of North Carolina

"This masterful volume fills one of the most glaring holes in the historiography of the revolution and twentieth-century Russian history. The archival research is truly impressive and will lend solid weight to the story Rabinowitch tells and the important revisions, modifications, and clarifications he makes in establishing the history of this extremely important period." —Rex A. Wade, George Mason University

"What did Lenin's Bolsheviks do with the power they so boldly seized in October 1917? Alexander Rabinowitch is the first scholar to trace in detail, using newly available archives, the gripping story of the first year of Soviet rule in Russia. Concentrating on events in and around Petrograd, he explains why the Bolshevik government became more dictatorial, and even terroristic, as it struggled to control an increasingly impoverished and disaffected populace. . . . Written in an engaging style,
The Bolsheviks in Power is a 'must read' for anyone interested in revolutionary change." —John L. H. Keep, author of The Russian Revolution: A Study in Mass Mobilization

"Alexander Rabinowich's previous works on revolutionary Petrograd have long stood as benchmarks in the field. [The Bolsheviks in Power] will join its partner volumes on the shelf of classics . . . This painstakingly researched and beautifully written book will be required reading for all specialists of the period and makes a great contribution to our understandings of the course of revolution and civil war." —Sarah Badcock, University of Nottingham, Revolutionary Russia , December 2008

"This work is a model for the historian's craft, which modestly but implicity redefines how we conceptualize the fields of history." —
Against the Current , May/June 2009

"This book is essential reading for those wanting to understand how the Bolsheviks took control of the Soviet State." —
Chartist , July/August 2009

"This is a thorough study of the high politics of the first year of Soviet rule in Petrograd. The level of detail is one of its many admirable features." —
History , July 2009

"Alexander Rabinowitch’s account of the first year of Bolshevik politics is a work of outstanding merit that sets a standard rarely achieved in the genre of political history. . . . It is a history full of heroes, fools, and fanatics, yet recounted in a sober and nonjudgmental manner, a labor of love, over two decades in the making, the work of a skilled and devoted craftsman." —
Slavic Review , Spring 2010

"The period covered by
The Bolsheviks in Power is a crucial one, because 1918 was the make or break year for the Bolshevik regime . . . by far the best book on the revolutionary period in Russian history, and one which should be obligatory reading for every serious student of the subject." —J.D. White, Slavonic and East European Review , July 2010

"This masterful volume . . . fills a gaping hole in the historiography of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union . . . [How] the party's relatively open, decentralized, and democratic structure . . . [was] transformed into 'the highly centralized, ultra-authoritarian Bolshevik political system' of Soviet Russia . . . The details behind [Rabinowitch's] conclusive answer make up this rich, detailed, fascinating book." —Rex A. Wade,
American Historical Review

"The author of the most important academic study of the 1917 Russian Revolution has now written the most serious archival study of the early revolutionary regime . . . [The Bolsheviks in Power] is a book that deserves to be studied and not merely read." —Kevin Murphy, International Socialist Review - ISR , January-February 2008

"Without slighting ideology or Lenin's importance, and with one eye always on international events, Rabinowitch uses painstaking research in archival and other contemporary sources to root Bolshevik authoritarianism in the often mundane realities of the struggle for the survival of Soviet power . . . Like [his] previous volumes,
The Bolsheviks in Power will certainly be mandatory reading for any student or scholar of modern Russian history." —Michael Hickey, Slavonica , November 2009

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Table of Contents

Prologue: The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution in Petrograd
Part I: The Defeat of the Moderates

Chapter 1
Forming a Government

Chapter 2
Rebels into Rulers

Chapter 3
Gathering Forces

Chapter 4
The Fate of the Constituent Assembly

Part II: War or Peace
Chapter 5
Fighting Lenin

Chapter 6
"The Socialist Fatherland Is in Danger"

Chapter 7
An Obscene Peace

Part III: Soviet Power on the Brink

Chapter 8
A Turbulent Spring

Chapter 9
Continuing Crises

Chapter 10
The Northern Commune and the Bolshevik-Left SR Alliance

Chapter 11
The Suicide of the Left SRs

Part IV: Celebration amid Terror

Chapter 12
The Road to "Red Terror"

Chapter 13
The Red Terror in Petrograd

Chapter 14
Celebrating "the Greatest Event in the History of the World"

Chapter 15
Price of Survival

Chronology of Key Events