History of the Russian Revolution by Leon Trotsky

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Volume 1


  1. What is “the most indubitable feature of a revolution”? How does this differ from non-revolutionary periods?
  2. Trotsky states that “The dynamic of revolutionary events is directly determined by swift, intense and passionate changes in the psychology of classes.” Explain why and how such swift changes take place.
  3. How does Trotsky describe the relationship between the masses and the leading revolutionary party? How does the party determine its tactics?
  4. How does Trotsky view his role as author of HRR? What’s the difference between “impartiality” and “historic objectivity”?

Chapter I—Peculiarities of Russia’s Development

  1. Trotsky states that the fundamental feature of Russian history was the slow tempo of the country’s development and its resulting backwardness. How was this backwardness expressed economically? Socially? Culturally? Explain the “privilege of historic backwardness.”
  2. Explain why unevenness is “the most general law of the historic process.” How is this related to what Trotsky terms “the law of uneven and combined development”?
  3. How did uneven and combined development affect the formation of the major classes in 19th century Russia? How was it expressed in Russian industry?
  4. Why did the Russian bourgeoisie of pre-1917 lack capacity for political action?
  5. In looking at the tasks and character of the impending 1917 Revolution, in what way was it similar to bourgeois democratic revolutions of the past? How did it differ?

Chapter II—Tzarist Russia in the War

  1. Describe the role played by Russia in World War I.
  2. How did the condition of the Russian army reflect the social and economic conditions in Russia? How did the war affect the soldiers?
  3. Note the major features of the Russian bourgeoisie. Characterize their role in 1914-1916.

Chapter III—The Proletariat and the Peasantry

  1. Why were political strikes a key method of the revolutionary struggle?
  2. What was the immediate effect of World War I on revolutionary activity? What happened to the workers and to soldiers as the war continued into a second and third year? Describe the changes in the proletariat that had accumulated by February, 1917.
  3. Explain why the belatedness of land reform made the condition of the peasant and the agrarian crisis particularly sharp. Describe the social divisions that existed among the peasants.
  4. How did the war affect the peasants? Explain Trotsky’s conclusion to the Chapter: “In order to realize the Soviet state, there was required a drawing together and mutual penetration of two factors belonging to completely different historic species: a peasant war—that is, a movement characteristic of the dawn of bourgeois development—and a proletarian insurrection, the movement signalizing its decline.”

Chapter IV: The Tzar and Tzarina

  1. Characterize the tzar and tzarina.
  2. What was the nature of the royal couple’s relationship to Rasputin? Explain the quotation: “If there had been no Rasputin, it would have been necessary to invent one.”

Chapter V: The Idea of a Palace Revolution

  1. What did the possessing classes—the upper nobility, bureaucrats and bourgeoisie—want politically? What did they hope would be accomplished by a palace revolution? Why did a palace revolution never take place?
  2. What did the nobles want to accomplish by getting rid of Rasputin? What actually happened as a result of his murder?
  3. Trotsky states that “a revolution directed against an autocratic and half-feudal regime, and consequently against the nobility, meets in its first step an unsystematic and inconsistent, but nevertheless very real cooperation not only from the rank and file nobility, but also from its most privileged upper circles, including here members of the dynasty.” How is this consistent with the theory of class struggle?

Chapter VI: The Death Agony of the Monarchy

  1. How would you characterize and explain the tzar’s behavior during the last days of his rule?
  2. The chapter concludes with a comparison of the tzar and tzarina with the royal pair overthrown by the French Revolution. How does Trotsky explain the many similarities in their personalities?

Chapter VII: Five Days

  1. How did the February insurrection begin?
  2. Describe the development of the revolution over successive days. Why would a pause in its growth have been dangerous?
  3. Of what does Trotsky say the art of revolutionary leadership in its most critical moments primarily consists? Can you think of other examples that illustrate this?
  4. Describe the “molecular process” by which the support of the soldiers was won.
  5. What role did women play in the February Insurrection?

Chapter VIII: Who Led the February Insurrection?

  1. The February Insurrection was carried out in one city representing 1.3% of the population and presented to the rest of the country as a fait accompli. Is this a violation of democracy? Why or why not?
  2. How would you answer the argument that the February Insurrection proved that the masses can spontaneously make a revolution?

Chapter IX: The Paradox of the Revolution

  1. How did the February Insurrection differ from other revolutions that put the bourgeoisie in power?
  2. What was the attitude of the liberal bourgeoisie to the February Insurrection?
  3. In whose hands did the victorious masses of February place the power? What did they do with it? Why?
  4. Trotsky points out that the deputies elected to the soviet were more cautious and conservative that the workers and soldiers who made the revolution. The Executive Committee was even further to the right. Why?
  5. What is the meaning of “middle caste”? Explain how the democratic socialists at the head of the Executive Committee played this role. Think of some current example(s) of the middle caste and their role.

Chapter X: The New Power

  1. Politically characterize the key figures in the Provisional Government (Rodzianko, Miliukov, Guchov, Shingarev, Lvov and Kerensky).
  2. What was the relationship between the Executive Committee and the Provisional Government?
  3. Explain Trotsky’s conclusion to this chapter: “Being unable to overthrow and strangle the revolution, the bourgeoisie counted on starving it out.”

Chapter XI: Dual Power

  1. What are the key features of a dual power situation?
  2. What was unique about the dual power situation that emerged in February?
  3. The Marxist theory of the state holds that the government operates as the agent of the ruling class. Does the existence of dual power contradict this theory? Why or why not?

Chapter XII: The Executive Committee

  1. What were the key political forces on the Executive Committee?
  2. What does Trotsky identify as the causes for the “moderate and compromising character” of the Executive Committee and the Soviet?
  3. After the insurrection, workers continued to fight for the 8-hour day. What was the reaction to their struggle? What was the result?
  4. What are the positive attributes of the soviet as a form of revolutionary representation? What are its limitations?

Chapter XIII: The Army and the War

  1. Explain Trotsky’s comment that “an army is always a copy of the society it serves.” How do you think this applies today?
  2. What does Trotsky mean by saying “across the immeasurable chaos of the February revolution, the steely gleams of October were already visible”?

Chapter XIV: The Ruling Group and the War

  1. What was the policy of the liberal bourgeoisie on the war?
  2. Explain Trotsky’s characterization that, “these Compromisers were converting the February revolutionary into an instrument in the hands of real kings, landlords and bankers.”

Chapter XV: The Bolsheviks and Lenin

  1. How did the Bolsheviks conduct themselves in the first weeks of the revolution? What positions did they take on the Provisional Government? On the social content of the revolution? On the war? On relations with the Mensheviks?
  2. Explain Trotsky’s characterization of Kamenev that, “a revolutionary conception without a revolutionary will is like a watch with a broken spring.”
  3. What was Lenin’s reception when he arrived in Russia?
  4. What were the essential points of the April Theses? What was their purpose?

Chapter XVI: Rearming the Party

  1. How did Lenin’s position on “the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” change as a result of the experience of the February Revolution?
  2. How was Lenin able to convince the Bolshevik Party to completely change its orientation and policies in April?
  3. How do you think the revolution would have developed if Lenin had not arrived in April?

Chapter XVII: The “April Days”

  1. What precipitated the “April Days”? Who led the demonstrations?
  2. What role did the Executive Committee pay during this crisis?
  3. How had the role of the Bolsheviks changed since the rearming of the party? What mistake did they make in April?

Chapter XVIII: The First Coalition

  1. What was the “First Coalition”? Why did the Compromisers and liberals want the coalition?
  2. When Trotsky returned to Russia on May 4, what role did he take on the coalition?
  3. Did the formation of a Coalition Government mean that a dual power situation no longer existed? Why or why not?

Chapter XIX: The Offensive

  1. How was the dual power situation manifest in the army?
  2. Why did the Provision Government launch the June Offensive? What was its effect on the soldiers and workers?

Chapter XX: The Peasantry

  1. In what sense was the agrarian problem “the subsoil of the revolution”?
  2. What did the Provision Government do about the agrarian problem?
  3. How did the peasant movement develop during the spring months? What role was played by the Social Revolutionaries? What was the Bolshevik agrarian program?

Chapter XXI: Shifts in the Masses

  1. What did Lenin mean when he said: “The masses are a hundred times to the left of the Bolsheviks?
  2. How would you characterize the shifts in the masses from April through June?
  3. Trotsky says of the Social Revolutionaries, Kerensky, and other at the head of the elected bodies of the revolution that, “Having barely arrived, they were already stricken with the impotence of belatedness.” Explain this concept.

Chapter XXII: The Soviet Congress and the June Demonstration

  1. What were some of the factors that led to “the current running in the Bolshevik channel” in June?
  2. Why did the Bolsheviks cancel their June 10 demonstration? What was the outcome of the Soviet’s June 18 demonstration?
  3. Why did Tseretelli call for the Soviet Congress to disarm the Bolsheviks?

Chapter XXIII: Conclusion

  1. Explain Trotsky’s comment that the proletariat came to power “through a method of successive elimination.”
  2. How do the events of February through June exemplify the statement that, “The art of revolutionary leadership in it most critical moments consists nine-tenths in knowing how to sense the mood of the masses”?
  3. How does the history portrayed in Volume I show in life the workings of permanent revolution?
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