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 as their political goals. 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, the SR leaders became the first fellow socialists to be condemned by the Bolsheviks as “counter-revolutionaries” 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 subsequent Soviet history. Once the SRs decided to openly fight the Bolsheviks in 1918, they faced a series of nearly impossible political dilemmas. At the same time, the Bolsheviks fatally undermined the revolutionary credentials of the SRs by successfully appropriating the rhetoric of class struggle, 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 left-wing alternative to Bolshevik dictatorship. In this narrative, 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.
In this groundbreaking study, 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 formative experience of the Bolshevik party and the Soviet state.
A convincing new account of the Russian Civil War, placing the Socialist Revolutionaries at the center of political and military developments, and effectively conveying the complexity of the dilemmas they faced in trying to defend the revolution from Bolshevik usurpation. In this perceptive historical analysis, Smith reveals the idealistic but doomed efforts of the Socialist Revolutionaries to expose the fantastic fictions at the heart of Bolshevik revolutionary discourse.
A really informative study in all sorts of ways and must be read by those interested in the history of the Russian Civil War.
An extremely valuable and dispassionate analysis . . . essential reading for historians of the civil war period.
Lucid and persuasive, Captives of Revolution explains brilliantly the weakness of the anti-Bolshevik opposition and the resultant Bolshevik victory in the Civil War.
Smith guides the reader skillfully through the tortuous politics of the Eastern Front, with its unlikely and shifting coalitions of SRs, liberals, Czechoslovak troops, Cossacks, officers, national minorities, and Siberian regionalists. . . . An impressive and persuasive work. Smith's insights on discourse are intriguing and highly suggestive, but, most importantly, they rest on a solid foundation of top-quality historical research and exposition.
The research is exhaustive and persuasive . . . serious students of early Soviet history will find it essential.
Well-written, organized, and thought out and will immediately occupy a prominent place in the historiography of the SRs and of the earliest revolutionary era.
Scott B. Smith is associate professor of history at Linfield College.learn more