By |Published On: August 15th, 2020|Categories: Communism|

Richard Pipes’s A Concise History of the Russian Revolution, first published in 1995, irrevocably shifted what historians thought they knew about the Russian Revolutions. In this remarkable book, Richard Pipes—a Polish Jew and a scholar of Russian history at Harvard University for decades—challenged the conventional wisdom regarding the October Revolution. Notice just the title of the book: A Concise History of the Russian Revolution; singular, not plural. Pipes regarded the February Revolution as a real revolution, while the “October Revolution” was nothing more than a coup d’état.

In short, mainstream history books will more often than not claim that the revolution was brought about through the will of the masses, yet Pipes brilliantly showed why that couldn’t have been the case. Even prior to the Russian Revolutions, the Communist Party was by no means comprised of mainly Bolsheviks, or even Mensheviks for that matter:

Neither group had a mass following. At the height of their popularity in 1907, the Bolsheviks had 46,100 members enrolled and the Mensheviks 38,200—this is a country of 150 million inhabitants and some 2 million workers.[1]

Pipes continued:

In the calmer Stolypin era (1910), by Trotsky’s estimate, the two factions had between them 10,0000 or fewer adherents. The Bolsheviks had a predominantly Great Russian following, while the Mensheviks attracted more non-Russians, especially Georgians and Jews. At the Fifth Congress of the Party in 1907, 78.3 percent of the Bolsheviks were of the Great Russian origin, while their proportion among the Mensheviks was only 34 percent. Their directing organs, according to L. Martov, the leaders of the Mensheviks, were staffednot by workers, who had no leisure time for such activities, but by intellectuals.[2]

“In May and June 1917,” Pipes opined, “the Bolshevik Party still ran a poor third to the socialist parties: at the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets in early June, it had only 105 seats, compared with 285 for the SRs and 248 for the Mensheviks. At the First Peasant Congress, dominated by the SRs, it had a mere twenty delegates.”[3] In a footnote, Pipes refers to Z. V. Stepanov who noted that “Even so, few workers joined the Bolshevik Party. On the eve of the Bolshevik coup in the fall of 1917, only 5.3 percent of Russia’s industrial workers were members.”[4]

In fact, it wasn’t until after the Bolsheviks’ successful coup d’état that the Communist Party, which again only consisted of a small percent of Bolsheviks, began to grow rapidly:

The rolls of the party—renamed “Communist Party” in March 1918—grew exponentially: in February 1918, it had 23,600 members; in 1919, 250,000; in March 1921, 730,000 (including candidate members).[5]

Much more can be said about the intricacies of how these events played out, but why does this matter? That question can be answered as follows: Communist revolutions, wherever they have been attempted, were promulgated and carried out not by the will of the people (or of the working class for that matter), but through a small handful of opportunistic intellectuals who had managed to trick the most vulnerable people in society into carrying out their dirty work.



[1] Richard Pipes, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution (New York: First Vintage Books, 1996), 107.

[2] Ibid., 107; Italics for emphasis.

[3] Ibid., 120.

[4] Ibid., 121.

[5] Ibid., 152.

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