The Russian Revolution in Retreat 1920-1924: the Soviet workers and the new Communist elite
By Simon Pirani, Routledge (London) 2008
No. 45 in Routledge’s series of Russian and European studies.
In November 2008, Brian Pearce died, aged 93, at his north London home.1 This won’t mean much to most Variant readers. But Pearce’s life – largely unsung beyond a substantial circle of friends, intellectual and political contacts, and aficionados of the art of scholarly translation2 – deserves to be studied by everyone who thinks the lessons of the political tragedies of the 20th century must inform the making of the 21st. One of Pearce’s last articles was a review for Variant of Simon Pirani’s heroically researched The Russian Revolution in Retreat 1920-1924. The subject was of close personal interest to the reviewer as he reflected on his own life and the history he had lived through. The review follows, but first some context.
Born in 1915, Pearce’s life coincided with, and outlasted the long working-out of, the Russian Revolution of October 1917 – for many the defining political event of the 20th century. He joined the Communist Party of Great Britain as a London history student in the mid-1930s. He considered fighting with the International Brigades in Spain and later felt guilty about not having gone.3 After war service that took him to the working-class north of England, Northern Ireland and the Far East,4 he was for some years an important member of the now-famous Communist Party Historians’ Group.5 After a short post-war spell in the civil service, he became a professional Communist – first on the Daily Worker, then with the Anglo-Soviet Friendship Society,6 then as a teacher of English in the Soviet and Eastern European embassies in London.