Revolutionary Social Democracy: Working-Class Politics Across the Russian Empire (1882-1917)


This groundbreaking study rediscovers the socialists of Tsarist Russia’s imperial borderlands, upending conventional interpretations of working-class politics, the Russian Revolution, and Second International socialism. Based on archival research in eight languages, Revolutionary Social Democracy is the first comparative account of the numerous socialist parties that fought for democracy and workers’ power across the entire span of the Russian Empire, from the factories of Warsaw, to the oil fields of Baku, to the autonomous parliament of Finland. By demonstrating that the Russian Revolution was far less Russian than commonly assumed, Eric Blanc challenges long-held assumptions of historians, sociologists, and activists about the dynamics of revolutionary change under autocratic and democratic conditions.

Listen to Lay Led Unions' episode on Revolutionary Social Democracy: Working-Class Politics Across the Russian Empire (1882-1917) featuring Eric Blanc.

Also, listen to a panel discussion of Eric Blanc's groundbreaking new book , .

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Eric Blanc is a doctoral student in sociology at New York University and the author of Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics (Verso 2019).
Listen to Lay Led Unions' episode on Revolutionary Social Democracy: Working-Class Politics Across the Russian Empire (1882-1917) featuring Eric Blanc.

Also, listen to a panel discussion of Eric Blanc's groundbreaking new book, here.

"Eric Blanc's remarkable new book should revolutionize the way scholars and activists think about the Russian Revolution. By looking not just at Petrograd or Russia but at the entire Russian Empire—including Finland, Ukraine, and Poland—Blanc’s pathbreaking comparative analysis examines how and why revolutionary processes diverge under parliamentary and autocratic regimes. Drawing on far-flung sources in eight languages, Blanc breaks with the Russocentrism of earlier accounts and effectively deprovincializes the revolution. Among other things, he demonstrates that Lenin and the Bolsheviks were not nearly as exceptional as is often thought. This book is an extraordinary achievement."
— Jeff Goodwin, New York University

“Anyone interested in the Russian Revolution will need to read this outstanding contribution. Puncturing myths, cliches, and unsupported interpretations, Eric Blanc explores a forgotten historical reality — revolutionary social democracy — by vividly documenting the actual strategic outlooks and local practices of Second International Marxists across the Russian Empire, as well as Germany, the homeland of this political current. An impressively wide reading in sources from many languages allows Blanc to demonstrate the importance of borderland socialists in the revolutionary drama, bringing to life activists at all levels of party organizations throughout imperial Russia and challenging us to rethink long-held assumptions about major figures such as Lenin and Kautsky.”
— Lars T. Lih, McGill University

“Through impressive research and erudite argumentation, this monumental study of the broad array of ‘revolutionary social democratic’ parties that operated in the non-Russian borderlands of the Tsarist Empire in the decades leading to 1917 definitively shows why there was no ‘one-size-fits-all’ revolutionary practice and why there is no reason to overgeneralize the international relevance of the form taken by the October Revolution. A tour de force which provides strong historical foundations for all those today working to develop an anticapitalist, democratic socialist political strategy for renewed working-class formation and state transformation.”
— Leo Panitch, York University
List of Tables

 1 Bringing in the Borderlands
 2 Strategic Continuities and Ruptures
 3 Method, Structure, Sources

1 The Social Context
 1 The Workers’ Movement
 2 The Unique Impact of Orthodox Marxism
 3 Socialist Political Cultures

2 Revolutionary Social Democracy: An Overview
 1 The ABC s of Revolutionary Social Democracy
 2 Strategy and Tactics in Germany and Russia

3 Intellectuals and Workers
 1 Intellectuals and the Tensions of Class Formation
 2 Intellectuals and Workers (1905–17)

4 Organisation, Mass Action, and Electoral Work
 1 Socialist Organisation in Finland
 2 Illegal Organising in Tsarist Russia
 3 The Bolshevik-Menshevik Split
 4 The First Mass Strike Debates (1903–04)
 5 Mass Action and Organisation in 1905
 6 Party Organisation and Mass Action (1906–14)
 7 War and Revolution
 8 Mass Organisation and Action in Finland: 1917–18

5 Working-Class Hegemony
 1 Analysing Liberalism
 2 Tactics Towards Liberals
 3 The Bund versus Zionism (1897–1904)
 4 The PPS and the National Democrats Before 1905
 5 Class Independence in Finland
 6 Early Russian Marxism and Liberals
 7 Working-Class Hegemony (1905–16)
 8 Proletarian Hegemony and Liberals (1906–16)

6 Working-Class Unity
 1 United Front Practices Before 1905
 2 Workers’ Unity and the 1905 Revolution
 3 Implementing the United Front (1906–18)
 4 Disunity in Europe and Poland

7 The Party Question
 1 The German SPD Model
 2 Finland’s Social Democracy
 3 The Normalcy of Splits in Underground Russia
 4 The Split of Polish Socialism
 5 The Bolshevik-Menshevik Split

8 Democracy, the State, and the Finnish Revolution
 1 Critique of Bourgeois Democracy
 2 The Socialist Revolution
 3 The State and Revolution in Finland (1917–18)

9 The Autocratic State and Revolution: 1905
 1 State Power and Marxist Strategy in 1905
 2 The Practice of Revolutionary Government in 1905
 3 Socialist Transformation in Russia
 4 International Revolution

10 The State and Revolution in Russia, Ukraine, and Poland: 1917–19
 1 Moderate Socialists and Dual Power in 1917
 2 Moderates Join the Government
 3 Russian Moderate Socialists in the October Revolution
 4 Moderate Socialists in Ukraine: 1917–18
 5 Moderate Socialism in Poland: 1918–19
 6 Bolsheviks and State Power: February–March 1917
 7 Breaking with the Bourgeoisie: April–October

Epilogue: An International Revolution Defeated
 1 Civil War and Authoritarianism
 2 International Revolution
 3 Impasse in the Imperial Periphery

All interested in labour movements, comparative political sociology, the Russian Revolution, political parties, democratic socialism, imperial borderlands, working-class history, and Marxism.
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