The Russian Revolution of October 1917 opened up a new historical epoch and was greeted with enthusiasm by workers around the world. Never before had workers come close to winning power, though many participated in political life in the social democratic parties of Western Europe. Now, suddenly, in Russia, revolution was an actuality, not simply a hope or a threat, as a huge country broke from international capitalism. It is almost impossible to imagine today the intoxicating power of that moment: Victor Serge described it as one where “life is beginning anew, where conscious will, intelligence, and an inexorable love of mankind are in action.”1

Workers around the world greeted the Russian Revolution with jubilation because it represented their broadest aspirations, a new “democracy of free workers, such as had never before been seen.”2 In Russia’s frontline cities of...

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