Revolutionary Russia, 1825-1938

This course explores the impetus and depth of revolutionary change through a survey of Russian history from the Decembrist Revolt of 1825 through to the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s. We discuss the various approaches to social change suggested by the radical intelligentsia during the nineteenth century and then follow the Bolsheviks through the revolutions of 1917 to the resulting civil war. The course examines the cultural and social changes taking place in the everyday lives of Russian citizens during the 1920s and 1930s before returning to politics with the onset of the Second World War. Students will be expected to draw their own conclusions about what makes a revolution, how widespread support for the Soviet regime was, and what role violence plays in effecting social and political change.


Required Readings

Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station (New York: New York Review Books, 2003).

Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

John Scott, Behind the Urals (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989).

Lydia Chukovskaya, Sofia Petrovna (Northwestern University Press, 1994).


Additional Readings

Robert Owen, Observations on the Effect of the Manufacturing System (1817)

Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1848)

Ferdinand Lassalle, “What is Capital?” (1864)

Mikhail Bakunin, “Where I Stand” (1862) and “What is Authority?” (1871)

Nicolai Berdiaev, The Origin of Russian Communism (1937)

Ivan Kireevski, On the Nature of European Culture (1852)

Vissarion Belinskii, Letter to N. V. Gogol (1847)

Isaiah Berlin, “Vissarion Belinsky” in Russian Thinkers (1948)

Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (1862)

Nicolai Chernyshevskii, What is to be Done? (1863)

Georgi Plekhanov, Preface to Engels, Socialism (1902)

Vladimir Illich Lenin, What is to be Done? (1902)

The Fundamental Law of Land Socialization (1918)

The Constitution of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (1918)

William Chase, “Voluntarism, Mobilization and Coercion: Subbotniki 1919-1921,” Soviet Studies, 41/1 (1989): 111-128.

Anatole Kopp, Town and Revolution: Soviet Architecture And City Planning, 1917-1935. Thames and Hudson, 1970.

Alexandra Kollontai, “Communism and the Family” (1920)

Bruce Lincoln, “Soviet Realism,” in Between Heaven and Hell: The Story of a Thousand Years of Artistic Life in Russia. Viking Press, 1998.

Aleksandr Blok, “Twelve” (1918)

Maria Tsvetaeva, “To Mayakovksy”

Vladimir Mayakovsky, “Conversation with Comrade Lenin” (1929)

Jochen Hellbeck, Revolution on my Mind: Writing a Diary Under Stalin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Masha Scott, Talk About Russia (1945)

Natalya Baranskaya, “A Week Like any Other” (1969)

Terry Martin, “The  Origins of Soviet Ethnic Cleansing,” The Journal of Modern History, 70/4 (1998): 813-861.

V. M. Lazarev, “1937: An Eyewitness Account”



Introduction – what is a revolution?

French Revolution of 1789

Utopian Socialism

Marx and Engels

International Socialism and Lassalle

Anarchism and Bakhunin

Russian history to 1825

Slavophiles and Westernizers – Rimsky-Korsakov, The Snow Maiden

Radicals of the 1840s

Radicals of the 1860s

From Populism to Marxism

Lenin and Trotsky

Everyday life in nineteenth century Russia

1905 revolution

Film: Eisenstein, The Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Dumas & World War 1

February revolution 1917

Summer 1917

October revolution 1917

Film: Eisenstein, October (1927)

Civil war

War Communism

New Economic Policy

Workers and Society

Soviet Architecture

Communism and the Family

Film, literature, and the arts

Soviet Selves

Rise of Stalin




The Five Year Plans

Everyday Life

Managing the Empire



The Second World War

The End of the Revolution?


Assessment Tasks

Essay One

Leninism was the logical end product of classical Marxism and of the nineteenth century Russian intelligentsia tradition. Discuss.


Essay Two

Choose ONE of the following essay topics to write about:

  1. How effectively did the Russian revolution deal with the problems faced by the working poor in imperial Russia?
  2. The Russian revolution effectively ended in November 1917. Discuss.
  3. Communism was forced on the majority of Russians by a handful of fanatical Bolsheviks. Discuss.
  4. Revolutions just change the political system of a society. Discuss.

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