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Captives of Revolution

The Socialist Revolutionaries and the Bolshevik Dictatorship, 1918–1923

Scott B. Smith

Publication Year: 2011

The Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) were the largest political party in Russia in the crucial revolutionary year of 1917. Heirs to the legacy of the People’s Will movement, the SRs were unabashed proponents of peasant rebellion and revolutionary terror, emphasizing the socialist transformation of the countryside and a democratic system of government. They offered a compelling, but still socialist, alternative to the Bolsheviks, yet by the early 1920s their party was shattered and its members were branded as enemies of the revolution. In 1922, SR leaders became the first fellow socialists to be condemned by the Bolsheviks as “counterrevolutionaries” in the prototypical Soviet show trial. In Captives of the Revolution, Scott B. Smith presents both a convincing account of the defeat of the SRs and a deeper analysis of the significance of the political dynamics of the civil war for Soviet history. Once the SRs decided to fight the Bolsheviks in 1918, they faced a series of nearly impossible political dilemmas. At the same time, the Bolsheviks undermined the SRs by appropriating the rhetoric of class struggle and painting a simplistic picture of Reds versus Whites in the civil war, a rhetorical dominance that they converted into victory over the SRs and any alternative to Bolshevik dictatorship. The SRs became a bona fide threat to national security and enemies of the people—a characterization that proved so successful that it became an archetype to be used repeatedly by the Soviet leadership against any political opponents, even those from within the Bolshevik party itself. Smith reveals a more complex and nuanced picture of the postrevolutionary struggle for power in Russia than we have ever seen before and demonstrates that the civil war—and in particular the struggle with the SRs—was the key formative experience of the Bolshevik party and the Soviet state.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Front Cover

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pp. xi-xix

In March 1938, at the last of the great Moscow show trials organized by the triumphant Stalinist leadership of the Soviet state, Joseph Stalin’s disgraced rival Nikolai Bukharin confessed: “I admit I am guilty of treason to the socialist fatherland, the most heinous of possible crimes, of the organization of kulak uprisings, of preparations for terrorist acts, and of belonging to an underground ...

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Chapter 1. Dilemmas of Civil War

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pp. 1-42

The first months of 1918 may seem in retrospect an interlude of relative calm and pluralism in Soviet Russia, but contemporaries understood that civil war was upon them. The nonpartisan daily Petrogradskoe Ekho began to carry regular updates under the rubric “Civil War.” The newspaper’s reports focused on the disintegration of the Russian empire and the fighting that ensued ...

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Chapter 2. The Shape of Dictatorship

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pp. 43-88

In May 1918 the Central Committee dispatched leading Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) to the Volga and Urals to organize the uprising approved at the Eighth Party Council. Dmitrii Donskoi traveled to Saratov to serve as chief organizer, and other Central Committee members dispersed to take over the leadership of local party organizations in the provincial capitals of the Volga, ...

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Chapter 3. Komuch

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pp. 89-122

The city of Samara, the seat of the Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly, spreads along the left bank of a great bend in the Volga, where the river snakes east around the Zhiguli ridge before resuming its flow south to the Caspian Sea. There in the summer and early fall of 1918 the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) secured their principal opportunity during the ...

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Chapter 4. The Politics of the Eastern Front

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pp. 123-176

In the vast spaces behind the Eastern front, the Czechoslovak rebellion and the overthrow of Bolshevik rule opened a protracted struggle for power. While Komuch struggled to secure itself on the Volga, the Provisional Siberian Government in Omsk emerged as the principal power in Siberia over the course of summer, and a host of other governments established themselves ...

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Chapter 5. Between Red and White

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pp. 181-214

As 1918 drew to a close, the stark choice between the Bolsheviks and the Kolchak government returned the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) to the dilemmas they had faced in the first months of the year. No less than in early 1918, the SRs believed that Bolshevik rule spelled doom for the revolution, whose salvation depended on the reconvocation of the Constituent Assembly. ...

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Chapter 6. The End of the Party of Socialist Revolutionaries

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pp. 215-238

“The terrifying thing about the modern dictatorships,” George Orwell remarked in 1939, “is that they are something entirely unprecedented. Their end cannot be foreseen.”1 The extraordinary difficulty of imagining an end to the dictatorship indeed aptly sums up the predicament of the anti-Bolshevik parties as the Whites passed from the scene and the Soviet victory became increasingly ...

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Chapter 7. “Renegades of Socialism” and the Making of Bolshevik Political Culture

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pp. 239-278

In an influential essay of 1985, the historian Sheila Fitzpatrick persuasively argued that the civil war was the formative experience of the Bolshevik party.1 She directed her argument primarily at an interpretive tradition that sought the origins of Stalinist mentalities and institutions in Lenin’s prerevolutionary writings, and her work formed part of a larger historiographical shift away from ...


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pp. 279-348


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pp. 349-370


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pp. 371-380

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Back Cover

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pp. 403-404

E-ISBN-13: 9780822977797
E-ISBN-10: 0822977796
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822944034
Print-ISBN-10: 0822944030

Page Count: 400
Illustrations: 12 b&w illustrations
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 794925537
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Captives of Revolution

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Subject Headings

  • Socialists -- Soviet Union -- History.
  • Revolutionaries -- Soviet Union -- History.
  • Political culture -- Soviet Union -- History
  • Dictatorship -- Soviet Union -- History.
  • Soviet Union -- Politics and government -- 1917-1936.
  • Partīi͡a sot͡sīalistov-revoli͡ut͡sīonerov -- History.
  • Soviet Union -- History -- Revolution, 1917-1921.
  • Communism -- Soviet Union -- History.
  • Socialism -- Soviet Union -- History.
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