For all sides of the political divide, the Russian Revolution of October 1917 remains a crucial event of 20th century history. The hopes and expectations raised by the first socialist revolution were immense: the revolution promised that a new world and new ways of living were possible, that the inequality and cruelty of capitalism could be destroyed and replaced by something better – socialism. In the decade that followed, these hopes and promises were not fulfilled and, for some, the dream turned to nightmare. For the contributors to Revolution! Writings from Russia, 1917 the decade was a matter of life or death. They write about dining with Rasputin, storming the Winter Palace, burning books to keep warm, being given a champagne allowance to spy for Britain against the Soviets, intervening on behalf of the Kronstadt rebels, shaving Karl Marx’s beard, riding with the Cossacks, and living with dead souls. These accounts, written at the time, convey reactions of exhilaration and despair as the writers struggled to understand a political whirlwind.
‘Pete Ayrton has put together a magnificent collection of writings on the Russian Revolution by its ardent supporters, sceptical and disillusioned friends, and appalled opponents. The writings, which range from the darkly comic to the balefully documentary, capture the exhilaration, the idealism, the radical hope, the cruelty, suffering, and arbitrariness of the early years of Soviet rule, as the Bolsheviks struggled to recast economic, social and political relationships on a hitherto unimaginable scale. Some of the writings are well-known, others not at all: all testify to breadth of Ayrton’s research and imagination.’ – S A Smith, author of Russia in Revolution: An Empire in Crisis 1890-1928
Pete Ayrton was born in London in 1943. After studying and briefly teaching philosophy, a period of left-wing tourism in France and Italy led to work as a translator from French and Italian. In the 1970s, he was an editor at Pluto Press and, in 1986, founded Serpent’s Tail, one of the first independent publishers with a fine record in publishing translations. He retired from Serpent’s Tail in 2015. In 2014, he edited and introduced No Man’s Land: Writings from a World at War and in 2016 No Pasarán: Writings from the Spanish Civil War.