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The Russian Revolution as Continuum and Context and Yes,—as Revolution

Reflections on Recent Anglophone Scholarship of the Russian Revolution
La révolution russe, continuum et contexte, certes, mais révolution aussi : réflexions sur les recherches anglophones récentes sur la révolution russe
Peter Holquist
p. 79-94


The author reviews recent English‑language works on the Russian Revolution, with particular attention to those works emphasizing the roles of war and violence. The review essay highlights the recent trends to present the Revolution as a part of a larger continuum, and to contextualize the period of war and revolution as compared to other societies. The recent focus on: 1) the role of the First World War; and, 2) on the role of empire in Imperial Russia’s deluge, is a very welcome development. Yet, the essay argues, we should not lose sight of the dynamics examined in an earlier literature on the Revolution, such as labor and agrarian unrest in European Russia.

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First lines

There has been an important shift in the last two decades in how Anglophone literature has presented the Russian Revolution. A recent literature has placed the Revolution within a broader chronology (a continuum of war and revolution) and within a broader context (empire). For many years, the Revolution—in no small part due to an attempt to wrestle with the Soviet state’s presentation of it—debated it in terms of its legitimacy and turning points. The fundamental work in English was William Henry Chamberlin’s two‑volume The Russian Revolution, 1917‑1921. A very fine overview of the dynamics of the revolutionary process, it is also notable for defining the Revolution as an event that extended through the Civil War to the Bolshevik triumph (his second volume, on 1918‑1921).

In these debates over the perceived legitimacy of Revolution—coup or zakonomernost´?—a key question was whether imperial Russia on the eve of war faced prospects of development toward a constitutional order (a posi...

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Electronic reference

Peter Holquist, « The Russian Revolution as Continuum and Context and Yes,—as Revolution », Cahiers du monde russe [Online], 58/1-2 | 2017, Online since 01 January 2019, Connection on 23 February 2018. URL :

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Peter Holquist

University of Pennyslvania,

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