Colin Turbett

Social History, Social Work, Bikes …. and Socialism

Books about the USSR

As a young person with socialist leanings from an early age growing up in the 1960s, the Soviet Union loomed large: even if you rejected much of its shape and form as "really existing socialism" you had to accept that it was the cradle of 20th Century communism.  That presence was around until the USSR's disintegration into narrow nationalism and gangster capitalism in the early 1990s.  I always meant to visit the USSR on a Sovscot Tour but that was for older people and I just never got around to it - foreign holidays in those days were exceptional. These were the years that shaped my own view of the world - against a background at home of Thatcher and the end of traditional British industry, manufacturing and the trade union power that ensured workers got something back - whether in real or social wages. The final collapse of socialism in the USSR was nothing to celebrate and now it seems that many of the generation that welcomed the "freedoms" that were actually little more than access to markets few could afford, now look back fondly on the security, pride and purpose that was part of being a Soviet citizen - something many of us did not fully recognise at the time.

Retirement from full time work in 2015 provided the time to follow interests up and turn to writing. The results can be seen below: 

Motorcycles and Motorcycling in the USSR from 1939 - A Social and Technical History (Veloce 2019) came about because there was nothing like it in the English language. I really wanted to create, not a technical or riding manual, but a book that captured the background and essence of the USSR's motorcycling industry and use at home, as well as exports to countries like the UK. Veloce made a fantastic job of putting together the words and images - many of which had never been published before. 

Apparently one of the 100 best motorcycle books of all time. I'm not really sure where this came from but I'll refuse nothing but blows!

Red Star At War - Victory At All Costs

Published by Pen & Sword in July 2020 and now available in UK and North America

Cover blurb:

Russia’s losses during the Second World War were beyond imagination and touched the lives of an entire population caught between a brutal and murderous invader and a ruthless leadership at home. Soviet victory over the Nazis, which effectively won the war, was the end result of effort and sacrifice by the ordinary millions who were totally committed to saving their ‘motherland’. The humanity of the ordinary Soviet citizen in uniform is often forgotten because of later Cold War narratives propagated East and West for differing ideological reasons. This book seeks to redress these imbalances. In its pages the tragedy of war and loss are captured in the faces of those who lived through some of the most momentous years in human history. Many of the pictures show the women who fought alongside men in the front line – a unique feature among the belligerent nations. Red Star at War is centered on photographs taken before, during and after the Second World War, which illustrate the human face of the immense Soviet war effort. These show soldiers, sailors, airmen (men and women) not in battle, but in photographs taken for their families and friends, and the messages that often went with these images. A number were taken in the knowledge that they might be the last image of a loved one as death was almost a certainty for many. Most have never been published before. The photographs and captions are backed up by text that provides both context and baseline – drawn from writings of the period as well as more recent historical accounts and research.

The Anglo-Soviet Alliance - Comrades and Allies During WW2

Published by Pen & Sword in March 2021.

Thanks to all who attended the Arctic Convoy themed book launch on May 6th. Thanks especially to the Glasgow Shipping Branch of the RMT trade union who hosted the event - and to the speakers, Igor Shchekotin of the Russian Federation Seafarers Union, Fred Potter of the RMT, and Sheila Gilmore and Natalia McAllister for poetry recitals in english, scots and russian. A recording of the main part of the event is on YouTube

Cover Blurb:

From the onset of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 until the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Britain enjoyed an ambiguous relationship with the USSR and its people. All inter-war governments were concerned about the communist ideals of the new state and the threat they presented to British interests at home and abroad, and this was inevitably reflected amongst the general population. However there was a well-established British Communist Party whose fortunes were tied to the Soviet Union’s successes and failures. The wartime alliance offered the Communists an opportunity to extend their influence and win electoral support. Or did it? There were influences at work stemming from both sides that sought to put the importance of allied victory above competing ideology, with agreement over the need for a strong and unconditional antiFascist alliance. Compromises were made and relationships formed that would have seemed strange indeed to the pre-war observer. There were however, tensions throughout the period of the war. By mid-1945, the alliance was threatened by differences that reflected original ideologies that had been glossed over for the duration of the conflict: these led to a Cold War for the next 45 years. This book, using both contemporary sources as well as post-war analyses, examines these matters alongside images that take us back to the period and help us understand its intricacies. It starts with a look at Britain’s opposition to the Bolshevik Revolution and the consolidation of the Soviet State under Lenin and then Stalin. The main body of the book goes on to give detail of the Wartime Alliance and the various forms through which it was expressed – from Government led Lend-Lease of equipment, to voluntary “Aid for Russia” . It ends with the War’s aftermath and the division of the world between the influences of capitalism on the one hand, and the “really existing socialism” of the Soviet Union and its satellites on the other. Tensions and expectations resulted, amongst other great social events, in the launch of the Welfare State, the demise of the British Empire, the nuclear arms race and, ultimately, the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Soviets in Space - The People of the USSR and the Race to the Moon

This heavily illustrated book follows the history of the 1950s and 60s glory years of the Soviet Space programme. Celebrating the successes of Korolev, Gagarin, Tereshkova and others, it examines the background of their achievements and how they fitted with the project to build communism in the USSR through achievement in space. A chapter also looks at the almost forgotten efforts to enthuse Soviet youth with participation in the building of socialism on earth - the Virgin Lands campaign of the 1950s and 1960s to open up undeveloped regions for agriculture, and the Baikal-Amur Railway construction project of the 1970s and 80s. Everything you might have known about these matters and lots you probably did not.

Publication (Pen & Sword Publishing) 30th November 2021

Introducing Valentina

Valentina Kudinova from Kharkov, Ukraine, has helped me enthusiastically with Red Star at War and the Anglo Soviet Alliance books - and is now doing much the same for the new writing project. Valentina has researched information, sourced material, and done lots of useful translation of written materials.  I owe much to her for all her assistance.

Valentina Kudinova


Latest book A People's History of the Cold War completed in draft and sent to the publisher. Expected publication date: February / March 2023

North Vietnam 1966