Chris Read

April 27 2017

The Social History of the Revolutionary Period

The actions of the “ordinary” people of Russia, of “the masses”, have become much better known in recent studies of the revolution – but its overall role has also been questioned. The concept of “the masses” is often considered to be meaningless. The talk will re-assert their importance and discuss how, although the question of the state is also fundamental, the inter-relationship between the masses and the “centre” is at the heart of the revolutionary process in 1917 and beyond.


Chris Read | Warwick University

Professor Chris Read’s work on the social history of the Russian revolution led to the publication in 1996 of From Tsar to Soviets: the Russian People and their Revolution. Here he put the argument that the struggle between the Bolsheviks and the self-generating popular revolution of peasants, workers and, above all, soldiers and sailors in 1917 and after has been overlooked, and was more decisive in shaping the institutions and attitudes of the Soviet government than the more widely-studied struggle against the remnants of the former élite gathered in and around the White armies. This interpretation balances the power of the popular movement against the strongly prescriptive assumptions of the Bolsheviks, arguing that the tragedy of the Russian Revolution arose from the fact that the Bolsheviks were driven above all by their “culture”, especially ideology, into destroying the “real” revolution conducted by the population. From this arose many of the characteristics of “Stalinism” which finally brought the system down seventy years later.

Chris has also written on the intellectual history of the Russian intelligentsia between 1900 and 1925. His books on this include Religion, Revolution and The Russian Intelligentsia (Macmillan, 1979) and Culture and Power in Revolutionary Russia (Macmillan, 1990).

In recent years Chris’s research has focused on the the Eastern Front and the revolutionary period in preparation for the rolling centenaries of the start of the First World War, the Revolution of 1917, the Civil War and the founding of the Soviet Union. He is a senior editor of the Russia’s Great War and Revolution publishing and research project, which has almost 300 contributors taking part and 15 books of state-of-the-art research that started to be published from 2014. Chris’s most recent books are Lenin: A Revolutionary Life (Routledge 2005); War and Revolution in Russia 1914-22 (Palgrave 2013) and Stalin: From the Caucasus to the Kremlin (Routledge 2017).

Marc Chagall: Peace to the huts – death to the palaces