Can you help me?

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Can you help me?

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Mar 8, 2007, 6:10am

This might seem a strange request, but it's worth a try . . .

I'd like to write an alternative history, based on the idea of more European nations going and staying communist in the period from 1917 to the early 1920s. Later, I'd like to for some of those nations have very different types of communism to the Leninism that developed in the USSR. Later still, I'd like the world to develop in a more utopian way, with an end to third-world poverty and inequality between men and women. Can anyone recommend any good books?

Good ideas for things to include in this alternative history would be welcome too!

Mar 8, 2007, 4:00pm

It sounds like it could be interesting. To look at communist alternatives to Leninism, I'd recommend Israel Getzler's Kronstadt 1917-1921: the fate of a Soviet democracy and books by or about Rosa Luxemberg and other active socialists reasonably independent of Lenin. Unfortunately, I haven't read any specific books that come to mind, but I'm sure there is an extensive literature.

Mar 15, 2007, 3:11am

H, would suggest that you study the alternative routes that Germany could have taken. It had the longest history of a social democratic party and was within a industrial country. Its failure to deal with the outbreak of the 1st world war led to the events of the communist dictatorship and Stalin. What would be interesting to explore is a counter-factual history of European History of Germany having a successful mass based revolution leading to a Union of Socialist States in the EU core(France, England etc) but these would be surrounded by the reactionary but weak Russian, Austria-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. How would the non European colonies have then reacted? Being part of the glorious Socialist Republic of Europe would not have figured large in their plans! How would America have reacted as it isolationist policy was only finally broken by 2 world wars.

Mar 18, 2007, 4:09pm

I'll second daschaich's advice that you look at Luxemberg as the major anti-Leninist communist of the period, at least among those who get remembered nowadays. There's also Piotr Kropotkin, who was an anarcho-communist. A good introduction to his thought is in the 11th edition of Britannica, where he wrote the entry on anarchism.

Apr 9, 2007, 4:21pm

Interesting! I'd read autobiographies of the time to get a flavor for the writing and the details. Also you might try Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) for world-building in terms of politics.

Apr 13, 2007, 1:14am

You might also look at Platformism, which attempts to integrate the vanguard into anarchism to create organizations better equipped to act politically against capitalist states. It's a later development, though, if I remember rightly.

I'll third daschaich on Luxemburg.

How about Daniel De Leon?

Modificato: Giu 21, 2007, 5:49pm

I don't know if this is still useful to Akiyama, but I just came across this list of speculative fiction on working-class themes. It's at

(I found this through a very useful site of working-class literature that people in this group may find useful or interesting, if they haven't already seen it:

Modificato: Giu 22, 2007, 2:42pm

Oh, that's fantastic jacr, thankyou! I have read a few of those, but there are also some there I haven't heard of.

I am currently reading A People's Tragedy, a history of the Russian Revolution, which is one of the most enjoyable books I've read this year Enjoyable because it's so well written; the subject matter is very depressing. It seems every time Russian history had a choice of paths, it took the one that would cause the most suffering. Just got to the bit where Lenin is shot by Fanny Kaplan, an anarchist who accused Lenin of betraying the
revolution (September 1918). Lenin lost a lot of blood, some of which entered his lungs, but unfortunately survived. Miss Kaplan was tortured and denounced as a counter-revolutionary before being executed.

EDIT: I haven't got very far on my alternative history. It's something of a hobby of mine, but I've never written a really good one yet, because I keep running up against the limits of my ignorance and I always get distracted by other ideas. It's still there on my mental "to do" list, though. I haven't read up on Rosa Luxembourg yet, but I will do at some point. After I finish A People's Tragedy I want to read something on the Russo-Polish war of 1919.

Mar 23, 2008, 11:41pm

I just read a book of the sort you propose, The Resurrections by Simon Louvish (originally published as Resurrections from the Dustbin of History). It's set in a world where Luxemburg and Liebknecht were able to evade the Freikorps and eventually lead a successful revolution in Germany, which then led Trotsky to come out on top in Russia.

The actual story begins with Trotsky's death in 1967, and focuses on student rebellions bursting out in London and Italy, as Mussolini follows Trotsky to the grave and the colonial empires of the west continue their decay. Meanwhile, Joseph Gable (nee Goebbels) weaves conspiracies from his exile in America, where his band of emigre Germans has hooked up with Wallace and the Klan to produce a political movement determined to take power by any means necessary.

Unfortunately, I found this backstory more interesting than the tale told by the book itself, in part because I didn't care for the style of the writing, which mainly tossed together a bunch of disjointed stream-of-consciousness musings from a dozen different figures, each chapter generally only a couple of pages long.

Mar 25, 2008, 7:43pm

Another alternate history series I've been reading and can recommend is by Jo Walton, including Farthing and the sequel Ha'Penny; a third book is due to come out.

The books take place just after WW2. Timelines diverged shortly after Germany & England went to war, when they made peace, freeing Hitler to war on Europe & Russia, and persecute Europe's Jewry.

Ago 15, 2008, 1:04pm

If you can find a copy check out Black Night, White Snow by Harrison Salisbury. It's an excellent history of the Russian Revolutions, 05 and 17. Very detailed and it keeps you interested, it isn't dry at all. It would be a good resource for seeing other possible directions Russia could have gone in during their revolutions.

Set 24, 2008, 3:49am

The problem that an alternative history as originally proposed ought to face is this: what reason is there to believe that socialism in Germany, achieved by Luxemburg and Liebknecht, would work any better than it did when achieved by the Leninist/Stalinist route? (By "working better" I mean in the sense of economic efficiency.) To be plausible, an alternative history would at least have to address this problem. In other words, it would have to put forward an answer to the "socialist calculation problem".

Another alternative history, which would not have to try to square the circle, would be this: suppose Lenin had not returned from Switzerland in 1917. Then, no Bolshevik Revolution. What then? We can imagine both optimistic and pessimistic variants, both tied up with the development of Nazi-ism in Germany (although some argue that the development of communism in Russia was critical to the triumph of the Nazis, it is at least plausible to assume that they could have come to power without this).

Apr 14, 2009, 10:31am

"what reason is there to believe that socialism in Germany, achieved by Luxemburg and Liebknecht, would work any better than it did when achieved by the Leninist/Stalinist route? (By "working better" I mean in the sense of economic efficiency.)"

German socialism have would "worked better" simply because Germany had one of the largest, most technically advanced economies in the world; Russia obviously did not.

Giu 5, 2009, 12:55pm

Feigr: Of course you are right. Poland was more advanced than Russia, and communism in Poland worked better than it did in Russia. East Germany was more advanced still, and it worked even "better" there. (I had a Soviet friend who joked -- when it became safe to do so -- that "those damned Germans are so efficient, that they can even make socialism work".)

A Trabant was probably better-built than a Lada. But neither was a patch on the automobiles we produced under capitalism.

So my question should have been: why should we think that a German communist revolution would have resulted in anything else than a gigantic DDR?

Modificato: Lug 2, 2009, 10:24am

To answer the question why a revolution would work better in germany than Russia. I think because Karl marx said that the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class. He also enviasaged that a socialist revolution would be born in either England or Germany because of the size of the working class due to the massive industry in those countries. The collective way workers work in industry and organise in unions and that the produce all the wealth, he saw that capitalism creates its own grave digger. The Socialism that would be created would be that of a workers democracy.

The size of the working class in Russia was small in 1917. a lot of the workers were enlisted in the army fighting Germany. During the revolution workers councils were created in all of the industrial areas of Russia but as the Civil war with the whites endured and Lenin feeling that he had to concentratrate the power centrally This put an end to workers democracy in Russia and when there seemed to be little chance of a revolution in Germany after the defeat of the Sparticus league that really became the final nail in the coffin. Workers Democracy had died and what took its place was State Capitalism. The State had became all powerfull and resulted with the Red Army destrory the last post of Workers democracy at Kronstadt leaving thousands dead.

Lug 14, 2009, 6:33pm

The question we are debating comes down to this: if, in advanced country, the state -- any state, including ones built on "workers' councils" -- takes over all the means of production, so that we all become government employees; and if all production is carried out according to a centralized plan, with no market; can we have both prosperity and liberty?

If you think so, then you probably think that the experience of socialism so far -- poverty and tyranny rather than prosperity and liberty -- has been due to historic accidents, rather than demonstrating a certain reality about human nature.

In the absence of a socialist experiment in an advanced country -- or all the advanced countries -- we cannot have definitive proof.

As a small bit of evidence, though, I offer this observation: I don't know of any revolutionary Marxist organization that believes in freedom of speech for its political opponents. And I suspect that this is "prefiguring the revolution" and post-revolutionary society.

It's also interesting that most -- not all -- Marxist organizations are themselves not democratic, but are dominated by a charismatic, powerful alpha male, and that from time to time dissidents are purged. This gives us a taste of what these groups would be like if they had state power.