* Simon Pirani, The Russian Revolution in Retreat, 1920-24: Soviet Workers and the New Communist Elite (London/New York: Routledge, 2008), 289 pages. $160.
* Soma Marik, Reinterrogating the Classical Marxist Discourses of Revolutionary Democracy (Delhi: Aakar Books, 2008), 537 pages. $55.
[Note: In India, Marik's book is avaiable at Rs. 425 from Aakar Books -- Administrator, Radical Socialist]
Given the complexities and crises of our time, we may see increasing numbers of thoughtful people and rising layers of young activists once again asking, “What is socialism and how can it be achieved?” Impacting on the answers to this question are the questions wrestled with in the books under review, which give attention to the fact that, as Simon Pirani puts it, “the Russian revolution of 1917 was a defining event, maybe the defining event, of the twentieth century,” and that “the retreat from, or failure of, the revolution’s aims . . . have, no less than its achievements, been a central problem for all those concerned with progressive social change.” 
Back in 1917, when the workers and peasants upsurge in Russia culminated in the triumph of the revolutionary-democratic councils known as soviets, Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik party (soon renamed “Communist Party”) at the head of the upsurge, declared: “Comrades, workers, soldiers, peasants and all working people! Take all power into the hands of your soviets. … Gradually, with the consent and approval of the majority of the peasants, in keeping with their practical experience and that of the workers, we shall go forward firmly and unswervingly to the victory of socialism – a victory that will be sealed by the advanced workers of the many civilized countries, bring the peoples lasting peace and liberate them from all oppression and exploitation.” As John Reed reported in his eyewitness account Ten Days That Shook the World(corroborated by much serious scholarship since then), “the only reason for Bolshevik success lay in their accomplishing the vast and simple desires of the most profound strata of the people, calling them to the work of tearing down and destroying the old, and afterward, in smoke of the falling ruins, cooperating with them to erect the framework of the new.” 
Yet within a decade the bureaucratic and murderous dictatorship under Joseph Stalin was – in the name of Lenin and Bolshevism – consolidating its hold over the Soviet Republic. In fact, as Pirani argues, “within months of the October  uprising, the revolution was in retreat from the aims of social liberation it had proclaimed. It was confounded by circumstances, and pushed back by the state.” 
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