to syllabus

Study Questions on R. G. Suny, The Structure of Soviet History:  Essays and Documents (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2003).  Week IV, pp. 6-22, 45-47, 62-77.

pp. 6-22.  R. Suny, "Toward a Social History of the October Revolution" 

This essay was first published in 1983. As you know, there have been some great changes in the world since then (such as the collapse of the USSR).  And since 1983, there has been a great deal of research done on 1917--much of which is reflected in the Wade volume we have read for this class....

According to Suny, why did the introduction of social history techniques into the study of the 1917 Revolution come relatively late? 

Does Suny (in this essay) see pre-World War One Russian society as stable?  Explain.

According to Suny, why did workers approve of the Soviet's position on power in Spring 1917?  What does Suny consider the main irony of the February Revolution?

According to Suny, what "stark choice" was created for workers and soldiers by the creation of a coalition government in June 1917? 

Suny presents a critique of several historians' explanations of how the Bolsheviks ended up in power.  Based on his summary, what is the major argument of the "conservative-accidentalist school"  (e.g., Melgunov and Daniels)?  Did Melgunov and Daniels make exactly the same arguments?  Explain.

Why does Suny consider Rabinowitch's work a "corrective" of the conservative-accidentalist thesis?  What does Suny think needed to be corrected?  And what does Rabinowitch argue the "corrects" this?

Based upon Suny's summary, what was the main argument of John Keep's book on the Russian Revolution?  How dies Keep explain popular radicalism?  The moderate socialists' contribution to setting the stage for the Bolsheviks?  The reasons that the moderate socialists "lost" in 1917?  And the reasons that the Bolsheviks "won"?

So for Suny, what important question do neither the "accidentalists" or Keep answer?

Does Suny think that workers' actions in 1917 were chaotic or irrational? Explain.

Does Suny think that workers in Petrograd were an exceptional case, different from workers elsewhere in Russia in 1917?  Explain.

Does Suny think that Russian workers become radical (and radically class conscious) instantly and "all at once" in 1917?  Explain.

Does Suny think that workers alone were responsible for social polarization in 1917?  Explain.

Suny says that in Summer 1917 there were four potential paths that Russia could take (four solutions to the problem--who will rule?);  what were these?

If Suny identifies the greatest weakness of histories by  Keep, etc., as their failure to explain why workers were politically radicalized and how this shaped the political outcomes of 1918, then what is Suny's answer to that question?  (What is his thesis?)


pp. 45-47, Lenin's 24 October letter to the Bolshevik Central Committee.

How does Lenin justify the decision to seize power?

Does Lenin's position demonstrate that he believed a majority vote at the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets was necessary to legitimate "Soviet" power?  Explain.

This letter brings us back to the role of Lenin in the revolution--do you see this document as supporting or contradicting Wade's arguments about Lenin's role (discussed in Wade, chapters 8 and 9)?  Explain your position.


pp. 62-77.

pp. 63-64, Lenin's Decree on Peace, 26 October 1917.

Lenin's peace decree has been described as the first example of his "dual diplomacy"--diplomacy that aimed on the one hand at instigating a European Revolution, and on the other hand at establishing "normal" diplomatic relations with other countries.  What about this document would support such an interpretation?

In what ways is this document a critique of the Provisional government's foreign policy?

One comment interpretation of Lenin's first decrees is that they were designed to solidify popular support for his new government, the legitimacy of which was highly questionable; what in this document might be seen as a play to the aspirations of workers, soldiers, and peasants?  And would you agree with the interpretation outlined in the previous sentence?  Explain why or why not.


pp. 64-65, Lenin's Decree on Land, 26 October 1917.

From what you have read, does this decree follow in line with the positions that the Bolsheviks had been taking on the land question in 1917?  Explain.

Many historians have pointed out that Lenin simply appropriated the Left SR position on the Land Question, as a way of winning support from peasants (this was certainly the Left SR's interpretation of matters!); what about Lenin's decrees would have appealed to peasant communities, and why?

Did this decree abolish private property in Russia?  Explain.


pp. 65-66, Decree on the Suppression of Hostile Newspapers, 27 October 1917.

How did Lenin's government (the Sovnarkom--Council of People's Commissars) justify press censorship? 

Under what circumstances did this decree allow from the suppression of a newspaper?  And was this explained as a permanent measure?


pp. 66-67, Declaration of Rights of the Peoples of Russia, 2 November 1917

How did the Sovnarkom describe Tsarist policy towards national minorities (the "peoples of Russia")?  How does it describe the policies of the Provisional government?

According to this decree, how did the Sovnarkom "solve" the nationalities question?


pp.  67-72, The Dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, Discussed in the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviet, 6 Jan. 1918

Were the Bolsheviks all supportive of the use of force against demonstrators supporting the Constituent Assembly?  What about the Left SRs?  Explain.

How did Lenin justify the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly?

What reasons did the Mensheviks give in protesting against the dissolution of the assembly? 

Did all Left SRs and Bolsheviks agree with Lenin's argument?  Explain.


pp. 73-77, I. N. Shteinberg, "The Cheka is Cheated"

Please note that this is from Shteinberg's memoirs, the first draft of which were written in 1923 while he was in exile in Berlin.

How does Shteinberg describe the popular (crowd) position on the use of terror and repression in late 1917 and early 1918? 

According to Shteinberg, were the Left SR leaders enthusiastic about the use of terror?

What point is Shteinberg making in his recounting of his confrontation with Dzerzhinsky (the head of the Cheka)?  How is he contrasting Lenin's view of state terror from that of the Left SRs?