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Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937
Life of an Old Bolshevik
Based on extensive research in the archives of the Soviet Communist Party, and the Russian secret police, Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik stirringly recounts the political life of Alexander Shlyapnikov. Though purged from Soviet history books, Shlyapnikov was a leading member of the Workers’ Opposition (1919-21), and the most prominent of their ranks to call for the trade unions—as distinct from the Communist Party—to play a direct role in realizing workers’ control over the economy. Despite the defeat of this position, Shlyapnikov continued to advocate views on the Soviet socialist project that provided a counterpoint to Stalin’s vision. Arrested during the Great Terror, Shlyapnikov refused to confess to his alleged crimes against the party, openly declaring the charges illogical and unsubstantiated.

What emerges from Allen’s political portrait is an Old Bolshevik who stands in striking contrast to Stalin’s and the NKVD’s image of the ideal party member.
  • "Drawing on a vast body of previously untapped archival sources, including top secret FSB files, Barbara Allen presents a nuanced, insightful, and compelling portrait of the leading worker-Bolshevik, Alexander Shlyapnikov, and of the time in which he lived. Her highly readable study is vital for all those seriously interested in the Russian revolution and the fate of the Russian labor movement under Lenin and Stalin."
    —Alexander Rabinowitch, The Bolsheviks Come to Power

    "This biography of a Bolshevik worker-intellectual provides a vivid alternative to the common focus on the party's best-known leaders, and insight into Bolshevik political culture, internal debates and all."
    —China Miéville, October

    "Barbara Allen has given us a fascinating perspective on the Russian Revolution, showing its strengths and weaknesses through the remarkable but ultimately tragic story of a Bolshevik worker-intellectual...Allen deserves our gratitude for telling the story of an honest and clear-sighted revolutionary who pursued his own course through the revolution with courage and integrity."
    —Ian Birchall, Revolutionary Socialism For the 21st Century.

    "The biography is an exemplary study of the rise and fall of a group of people commonly subsumed under the term "Old Bolsheviks". ... Shlyapnikov's life journey possesses illustrative and explanatory potential and it can contribute to a better understanding of historical processes and phenomena which go beyond the individual…While endeavouring to understand Shlyapnikov, Allen constantly retains the required critical distance towards her protagonist.…Barbara Allen has applied the biographical approach in exemplary fashion. Her book, which reads well throughout, should serve as encouragement to historians of Eastern Europe to pay more attention to the biographical form"
    —Andreas Oberender, H-Soz-u-Kult (translated by Ben Lewis).

    "Drawing on material from seven archives, five in Russia and two in the United States, as well as extensive conversations with the Shlyapnikov family, Barbara Allen has provided the definitive biography of Alexander Shlyapnikov and made a lasting contribution to Soviet history in its first two decades"
    —Alexis E. Pogorelskin, Canadian Slavonic Papers

    "This superb biography of the Old Bolshevik Alexander Shlyapnikov is a thoroughly researched, engaging study of the extraordinary Russian worker whose political life was torn between his commitment to Bolshevik discipline and the ideal of workers' management of industry…In addition to the stenographic record of Party and trade-union congresses and conferences, Allen gained access to an impressive array of Party and state archival materials, including those of the political police, supplemented by Shlyapnikov's correspondence and prison memoir of his childhood, and conversations with surviving members of his family, who also provided many photos."
    —Charters Wynn, Canadian-American Slavic Studies

    "In her rich biography of Alexander Shliapnikov, Barbara C. Allen makes excellent use of her rare access to typically closed files of the FSB archives as well as Shliapnikov's remarkable personal correspondence. What emerges is a valuable and detailed picture not only of the individual but also the world he inhabited: from his early years in a community of Old Believers; to the revolutionary struggles with, and then among, his comrades; his arrests and interrogations, through which he consistently argues his innocence; and finally his execution in Moscow in September 1937."

    —Tracy McDonald in A Companion to the Russian Revolution, edited by Daniel Orlovsky, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2020.