A Short History of the Russian Revolution

Book review

John A. Hargreaves, last updated: 22nd September 2017

A Short History of the Russian Revolution, Geoffrey Swain, I.B. Tauris, 2017, hardback, 232 pp., £10.99, ISBN 9781780767932

This new interpretation of the events of 1917 by Geoffrey Swain, Honorary Professor Emeritus and former Alec Nove Chair in Russian and East European Studies at the University of Glasgow, has been published to coincide with the centenary of the outbreak of the revolution that shook the world, ‘a pivotal historical event that continues to have a lasting impact on humanity'. The book's compact format and focused approach will appeal to the large numbers of students who encounter this topic in their courses whether for examination or course work investigations.

In 1917 revolutionary fervour sweeping through Russia ended centuries of Tsarist imperial rule and instigated changes that would lead to the formation of the Soviet Union, the world’s first communist state, which notwithstanding the ending of the Cold War remains a leading influence in international politics.

By looking with fresh perspectives on the causes of the revolution, as well as the international response, Swain provides a new interpretation of the events of 1917. He concludes that if in October 1905 the Tsar had responded to the popular unrest he encountered by offering a genuine constitution, ‘the fate of Russia might have been very different’. The Tsar's response of a half-constitution conceding ‘the bare minimum to retain his authority and excluding the great mass of workers and peasants from genuine representation in the affairs of state, meant that a second revolution in 1917 was inevitable’.

There are illustrations of mainly key protagonists scattered throughout the text and an appended differentiated bibliography, which will provide students with a platform for further research.