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Distributed for Athabasca University Press

Romancing the Revolution

The Myth of Soviet Democracy and the British Left

In the years immediately following the First World War and the 1917 Russian Revolution, many of those on the British Left were tempted, to a greater or lesser degree, by what Ian Bullock calls the “myth” of soviet democracy: the belief that Russia had embarked on a brave experiment in a form of popular government more advanced even than British parliamentarism. In Romancing the Revolution, Bullock examines the reaction of a broad spectrum of the British Left to this idealized concept of soviet democracy. At conferences and congresses, and above all in the contemporary left-wing press, debates raged over how best to lay the groundwork for a soviet system in Britain, over how soviets should be organized, over the virtues (if any) of the parliamentary system, over the true meaning of the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” over whether British communists should affiliate to the Third International, and over a host of other issues—including the puzzling question of what was actually going on in Russia. As Bullock demonstrates, even in the face of mounting evidence that the Bolshevik revolution had produced something closer to genuine dictatorship than genuine democracy, many of those on the Left were slow to abandon the hope that revolutionary transformations were indeed in store for Britain—that the soviet system would at long last allow the country to achieve real social equality and economic justice.

438 pages

Table of Contents


List of Abbreviations

Timeline: May 1916 to January 1925



1.    Well-Prepared Ground: The British Left on the Eve of the Russian Revolution

2.     Initial Responses to the Russian Revolution: The British Left in 1917 and the Leeds “Soviet” Convention

3.    The Bolsheviks and the British Left: The October Revolution and the Suppression of the Constituent Assembly

4.    The Myth Established: The Positive View of Soviet Democracy

5.    Polarized Social-Democrats: Denunciation and Debate

6.    Equivocal Reformists: The Independent Labour Party, the Guild Socialists, and the Reaction to Kautsky

7.  The Dictatorship of the Proletariat

8. The Independent Labour Party and the Third International: A Crucial Test for Belief in Soviet Democracy

9. “An Infantile Disorder”: Communist Unity and the Brief Life of the Communist Party (British Section of the Third International)

10.    British Bolsheviks? The Socialist Labour Party

11. Pankhurst’s Dreadnought and the (Original) Fourth International: “Left Communism” and Soviet Democracy

12. The Early British Communist Party: Soviet Democracy Deferred and Redefined

13. Endings and Conclusions




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