St. Petersburg: Grzhebin, 1919. Item #1448
100,  pp. In original illustrated publisher’s wrappers. Small tears of spine and edges, bottom fragment of spine lost, otherwise very good and clean.
Scarce. First edition. Apparently, the first book printed as a part of a series Letopis revoluistii [i.e. Chronicle of the Revolution] by the publishing company of Zinovii Grzhebin (1877-1929). After moving to Berlin in 1921, the publisher continued issuing the series, which included works by counter-revolutionaries. As a result Lenin prohibited the import of Russian books from abroad thus causing Grzhebin’s bankruptcy.
An extremely interesting book of memoirs written by the first Bolshevik Soviet People’s Commissar Anatoly Lunacharsky (1875-1933).Printed at the height of the Russian Civil War, the edition focuses on Vladimir Lenin, Julius Martov, Leon Trotsky, Grigoriy Zinoviev, and Lev Kamenev, who the author christens as the heroes of the October Revolution. The book is particularly important as during Stalin’s rule all of the aforementioned politicians except for Lenin were viewed as the enemies of the Soviet state and either assassinated or executed by the decision of the court (excluding Martov, who died from health problems in 1923). In the following years, the Communist regime launched a massive anti-campaign directed against the ‘heroes turned enemies’ and ordered destroying any type of printed material that mentioned their names. The book represents a mysterious survival of the time for a number of reasons: first, for praising the ‘traitors’ and second, for omitting Stalin’s name from the list of the heroes of the revolution.
This story of the participant and eyewitness of the October Revolution consists of six sections: My past in the party, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Lev Davidovich Trotsky, Grigoriy Ovseevich Zinoviev (Radomyslski), Lev Borisovich Kamenev (Rozenfeld), and Julius Osipovich Martov (Tsederbaum). Interestingly, the author provides the born names of the last three party activists but chooses to refer to Lenin (Ulyanov) and Trotsky (Bronstein) by their pseudonyms. Lunacharsky offers an overview of his revolutionary past from the early years and traces the Russian revolutions through his memoirs about the prominent party members. The reminiscences are replete with the author’s personal impressions and experiences with the protagonists, which make the narrative particularly engaging and draw the image of the heroes as seen through the eyes of their comrade. For example, while comparing Lenin with Trotsky, Lunacharsky states: ‘There are sides in which Trotsky undoubtedly surpasses him (Lenin): he is more impressive, he is brighter, he is more active’. It is also important to note that the author was considered one of the leading biographers of Lenin, and this book features Lunacharsky’s first-ever essay on the founding head of the Soviet Russia.
The book was initially conceived as a four-volume work; however, Lunacharsky managed to write only an introductory chapter entitled and characteristics of several of the most prominent leaders of the revolution. Due to the unknown reasons, the edition never saw the continuation.
The book gained widespread success and took its place among the most talented testimonies of contemporaries about the October Revolution, its organizers, and leaders. Reviewers of that time noted the richness of the book with facts taken ‘not from literature, but from life itself’, as well as ‘the experienced hand of the artist and the sharp gaze of the keen observer’ (Kniga i revolyutsiya [i.e. Book and Revolution] 1920, no. 3-4, p. 25).
The edition was printed in the publishing house founded by the Russian publisher Zinovii Grzhebin in 1919 and headed by Maxim Gorky. Lunacharsky’s ‘The Great Upheaval’ is one of the first books printed in the publishing house. In 1921, Grzhebin emigrated to Berlin, where he published books under contract to the Soviet government, despite allegations of cheating. After publishing a series called Letopis revoluistii, which included works by counter-revolutionaries Julius Martov, Viktor Chernov, and Nikolay Sukhanov, Lenin prohibited the import of Russian books published abroad thus signing the professional death of Grzhebin. Zinovii was also the founder of the satirical magazine Zhupel’ [i.e.Bugbear] (1905-1906) and the publishing house Shipovnik [i.e. Rosehip] (1906-1922).
Overall, a mysterious survival of the time.
Worldcat shows copies of the edition at the Ohio State University, Duke University Libraries, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.