Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885–1937

Life of an Old Bolshevik


Author: Barbara Allen
In Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik, Barbara Allen recounts the political formation and positions of Russian Communist and trade unionist, Alexander Shlyapnikov. As leader of the Workers’ Opposition (1919–21), Shlyapnikov called for trade unions to realise workers’ mastery over the economy. Despite defeat, he continued to advocate distinct views on the Soviet socialist project that provide a counterpoint to Stalin’s vision. Arrested during the Great Terror, he refused to confess to charges he thought illogical and unsupported by evidence. Unlike the standard historical and literary depiction of the Old Bolshevik, Shlyapnikov contested Stalin's and the NKVD's construct of the ideal party member. Allen conducted extensive research in archives of the Soviet Communist party and secret police.

Listen to SRB Podcast's episode on Alexander Shlyapnikov: An Old Working Class Bolshevik featuring Barbara Allen.

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Barbara C. Allen, Ph.D. (2001), Indiana University Bloomington, is Associate Professor of History at La Salle University in Philadelphia, USA. She has published articles in Cahiers du Monde Russe, Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, and Revolutionary Russia.
Listen to SRB Podcast's episode on Alexander Shlyapnikov: An Old Working Class Bolshevik featuring Barbara Allen.

"Shlyapnikov’s life journey, as narrated in this well-written, well-balanced, and superbly researched monograph, enriches our understanding of Russian and, especially, Soviet political culture. Barbara C. Allen has met the challenge of transforming a rather tragic story into a beautiful book – an example of life-writing at its best!"
— J.-Guy Lalande (St. Francis Xavier University), Labour / Le Travail, Issue 80, Fall 2017, pp. 356-358

"Drawing on a vast body of previously untapped archival sources, including top secret FSB files, Barbara Allen presents a nuanced, insightful, and compelling portrait of the leading worker-Bolshevik, Alexander Shlyapnikov, and of the time in which he lived. Her highly readable study is vital for all those seriously interested in the Russian revolution and the fate of the Russian labor movement under Lenin and Stalin.”
— Alexander Rabinowitch, The Bolsheviks Come to Power

"This biography of a Bolshevik worker–intellectual provides a vivid alternative to the common focus on the party’s best-known leaders, and insight into Bolshevik political culture, internal debates and all."
—China Miéville, October

"Barbara Allen has given us a fascinating perspective on the Russian Revolution, showing its strengths and weaknesses through the remarkable but ultimately tragic story of a Bolshevik worker-intellectual."
—Ian Birchall, Revolutionary Socialism For the 21st Century

"Drawing on material from seven archives, five in Russia and two in the United States, as well as extensive conversations with the Shlyapnikov family, Barbara Allen has provided the definitive biography of Alexander Shlyapnikov and made a lasting contribution to Soviet history in its first two decades. [...] a must for scholars in the field and is highly recommended for graduate students who will find the chapter introductions and conclusions an excellent guide to a complex and thorough work."
— Alexis E. Pogorelskin, University of Minnesota-Duluth, forthcoming in the journal Canadian Slavonic Papers (2016)

"Die Biographie ist eine exemplarische Studie über den Aufstieg und Fall einer Personengruppe, die gemeinhin unter dem Begriff „Altbolschewiki“ subsumiert wird. Schljapnikow steht stellvertretend für eine Generation von russischen Revolutionären, die im späten Zarenreich aufwuchsen und sozialisiert wurden, während der Revolution von 1917 an die Macht gelangten und im Bürgerkrieg obsiegten, nur um nach Lenins Tod allmählich ins Abseits gedrängt und später von Stalin vernichtet zu werden. Schljapnikows Lebensweg besitzt ein Veranschaulichungs- und Erklärungspotential, das zum besseren Verständnis überindividueller historischer Prozesse und Phänomene beitragen kann.
Barbara Allen hat den biographischen Ansatz vorbildlich angewendet. Ihr durchweg gut lesbares Buch sollte Osteuropahistorikerinnen und -historikern als Ermutigung dienen, der Biographie mehr Aufmerksamkeit zu schenken."
— Andreas Oberender, H-Soz-Kult, 12.11.2015
List of illustrations
List of Abbreviations and Acronyms

1. From the Old Belief to Socialism
2. Emigration and the Revolutionary Underground
3. Organising Workers in the Revolutionary Year 1917
4. Labour Commissar
5. Defending Soviet Power and Unions in Civil War
6. The Workers’ Opposition and the Trade-Union Debate
7. Early NEP and the Trade Unions
8. Appeal of the 22 to the Communist International
9. Factional Politics in the NEP Era
10. Late NEP, Industrialisation and Renewed Repression
11. Purged from the Party
12. Exile, Arrest and Prison

All interested in Russian and Soviet history, Modern European history, Labour history, Marxism, and Labour studies. Academic libraries, large public libraries, academic specialists and labour organisers.