Tobias Grill: For “Red October”, against the Bolsheviks: Isaac Steinbergʼs struggle for a socialism with a human face


In: Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismusforschung 2018. Berlin: Metropol Verlag, pp. 1–21.

Shortly after the October Revolution, the Left Social Revolutionary, Isaac Steinberg (1888–1957), a leading member of his party, held the post of Peoples’ Commissar of Justice in a coalition government with the Bolsheviks; he did so in order to set up a council system in Russia with them. Approximately three months later, this unequal coalition broke up following the ‘separate peace’ of Brest-Litovsk. Subsequently, Steinberg became a bitter opponent of the Bolsheviks. As a representative of ethical socialism, the construction of a socialist society by means of violence and terror, fundamentally contradicted his political self-understanding.

With his ruthless criticism of Bolshevik terrorism in the 1920s and 1930s, Steinberg deliberately distinguished himself from Western intellectuals whose solidarity with the Soviet Union, in his opinion, trivialized the crimes of the Bolsheviks and thus challenged not only the fundamental commitment of socialism to humanity, but ultimately threatened the existence of the socialist movement. Steinbergʼs significance lies in the fact that he was one of the few socialists in the 1930s to interprete Stalinism and National Socialism as equally totalitarian and, thus, he urged the German and British public to take up an uncompromising fight against both regimes. At the same time, however, he never abandoned the goal of social revolution and the realization of the ideals of Red October.

Based on Steinbergʼs political and journalistic work, the present contribution focuses on the existence of a ‘third way’ between Bolshevism and social democracy, especially in the 1920s and 1930s. The fact that the October Revolution could well have taken a different course is illustrated by the examination of Steinbergʼs alternative path, which promoted ethical, anti-statist and revolutionary socialism.

Über den Autor

Tobias Grill, Dr. phil. 1992 bis 1998 Studium der Slawischen Philologie, Ost- und Südosteuropäischen sowie Neueren und Neuesten Geschichte, 2009 Promotion am Lehrstuhl für jüdische Geschichte und Kultur der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, seit 2006 wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter bzw. Postdoc an verschiedenen Lehrstühlen und Forschungsinstitutionen der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München und der Universität der Bundeswehr München. 2015 Junior Researcher in Residence am Center for Advanced Studies der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. Veröffentlichungen u. a.: Israel. Geschichte, Politik, Gesellschaft, Wirtschaft, Opladen u. a. 2016 (mit Michael Wolffsohn); »Kampf für Sozialismus und Judentum auf vier Kontinenten: Isaac Nachman Steinbergs rooted cosmopolitanism«, in: BIOS – Zeitschrift für Biographieforschung, Oral History und Lebensverlaufsanalysen 28 (2015), H. 1–2, S. 41–65; Der Westen im Osten. Deutsches Judentum und jüdische Bildungsreform in Osteuropa (1783–1939), Göttingen 2013.