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Red Petrograd: revolution in the factories 1917-1918 – S.A. Smith

This book explores the impact of the 1917 Revolution on factory life
in the Russian capital. It traces the attempts of workers to take
control of their working lives from the February Revolution through
to June 1918, when the Bolsheviks nationalised industry. Although
not primarily concerned with the political developments of the
Revolution, the book demonstrates that the sphere of industrial
production was a crucial arena of political as well as economic

Having discussed the structure and composition of the factory
workforce in Petrograd prior to 1917 and the wages and conditions
of workers under the old regime, Dr Smith shows how workers saw
the overthrow of the autocracy as a signal to democratise factory life
and to improve their lot. After examining the creation and activities
of the factory committees, he analyses the relationship of different
groups of workers to the new labour movement, and assesses the
extent to which it functioned democratically.

The central theme of the book is the factory committees’
implementation of workers’ control of production. Dr Smith rejects
the standard Western interpretation of this movement as
‘syndicalist’, showing that its ideological perspectives were close to,
but not identical with, those of the official Bolshevik party.
Essentially, workers’ control was a practical attempt to maintain
production and to preserve jobs in a situation of deepening economic
chaos. On coining to power in October, the Bolsheviks envisaged an
expansion of workers’ control, and the committees pressed for
nationalisation and workers’ management. The collapse of industry
and the reluctance of employers to continue their operations,
however, convinced the Bolshevik leadership that workers’ control
was inadequate as a means of restoring order in the economy, and
they subordinated the committees to the trade unions in 1918.
Dr Smith assesses the extent to which the Bolsheviks’ capacity to
carry out a genuinely revolutionary programme was limited by their
own ideology or by the economic and social conditions in which the
revolution was born. Throughout, he places the struggle in the
factories in the context of an international and comparative
perspective. The book will thus appeal not only to historians of
Russia and the Russian Revolution, but also to students of labour
history and of revolutionary theory.

S.A. SMITH is Senior Lecturer at the University of Essex. He
studied at the Universities of Oxford, Birmingham, Moscow and

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