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Written in a narrative style that captures both the scope and detail of the Russian revolution Orlando Figes's history is certain to become one of the most important contemporary studies of Russia as it was at the beginning of the 20th century With an almost cinematic eye Figes captures the broad movements of war and revolution never losing sight of the individuals whose lives make up his subject He makes use of personal papers and personal histories to illustrate the effects the revolution wrought on a human scale while providing a convincing and detailed understanding of the role of workers peasants and soldiers in the revolution He moves deftly from topics such as the grand social forces and mass movements that made up the revolution to profiles of key personalities and representative characters Figes's themes of the Russian revolution as a tragedy for the Russian people as a whole and for the millions of individuals who lost their lives to the brutal forces it unleashed make sense of events for a new generation of students of Russian history Sympathy for the charismatic leaders and ideological theorizing regarding Hegelian dialectics and Marxist economics two hallmarks of much earlier writing on the Russian revolution are banished from these clear eyed fair minded pages of A People's Tragedy The author's sympathy is suarely with the Russian people That commitment together with the benefit of historical hindsight provides a standpoint Figes take full advantage of in this masterful history


10 thoughts on “A People's Tragedy The Russian Revolution 1891–1924

  1. says:

    While I was halfway through this an ‘inspirational uote’ from Lenin happened to come up on my reddit feed Something from one of those early speeches about euality for all I left a comment to suggest – I thought uite mildly – that it was perhaps ethically uestionable to be uoting with approbation someone responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people – only to be downvoted into oblivion by other users ‘You're probably thinking about Stalin’ said one ‘Fuck off’ clarified another ‘Lenin was actually very socially liberal and kept his word about democracy for the people’This would be the same Lenin who shut down Russia's constituent assembly who sidelined trade unions and had striking workers shot for desertion who turned the country into a police state built a chain of concentration camps and institutionalised terrorism as a matter of deliberate policy Painful to see him held up as a beacon of humanitarianism by people who apparently haven't even understood Animal Farm It's interesting though because even when I was growing up the far left was always uite cool in a way that the far right never was; its unelectability made it harmless and it gained a certain cachet from its opposition to a string of unpopular Tory governments and by association with various cult figures like Morrissey or Alexi Sayle It was always kind of a joke People referred to each other with smiles as ‘fellow travellers’ ‘old Trots’ – and still doThere was a feeling I had when I was reading this book; an uncomfortable itchy feeling which made me fidget while I was reading shift in my seat and scratch my nose or my neck every few minutes as I turned the pages Eventually I realised what this sensation was hatred I just loathed the people responsible for prosecuting this grotesue experiment Now I realise this is of course a pathetically inadeuate response but partly it came from a kind of surprise A feeling that they had somehow got away with it that their reputations are nowhere near as dismal as they should be At one point Orlando Figes offers in passing a suggestion as to why this might be soThe Bolshevik programme was based on the ideals of the Enlightenment – it stemmed from Kant as much as from Marx – which makes Western liberals even in this age of post modernism sympathise with it or at least obliges us to try and understand it even if we do not share its political goals; whereas the Nazi efforts to ‘improve mankind’ whether through eugenics or genocide spat in the face of the Enlightenment and can only fill us with revulsionAnd perhaps there's something in this inasmuch as reality has in Stephen Colbert's words a liberal bias; inasmuch as we are living historically speaking in a leftist world there is a sense in which the Communist experiment seems like something that went wrong not something that was wrong inherently But the enormities of Lenin's politics were built in ab initio; terror Figes writes was ‘implicit in the regime from the startthe resort to rule by terror was bound to follow from Lenin's violent seizure of power and his rejection of democracy’ And despite all the slogans of euality and democracy the turnaround was much faster than I had ever realisedNone of the democratic organisations established before October 1917 survived than a few years of Bolshevik rule at least not in their democratic form By 1921 if not earlier the revolution had come full circle and a new autocracy had been imposed on Russia which in many ways resembled the old oneThe thousand pages of Figes's history give plenty of scope for examining in detail what this meant for Russian citizens It isn't pretty but it is instructive There was the Civil War with widespread terror on both sides; famine exacerbated by shitty agricultural policy; and eventually the tightening grip of a one party state There are moments of acute revulsion and misery alongside a recurring sense of absurdity at one point currency depreciation becomes so severe that it costs to print the rouble than the rouble is actually worth; the post and telegraph service have to be made free because the state is losing money by printing and charging rouble notes for them ‘The situation was surreal – but then this was Russia’ Figes remarks showing a grasp of the irony which this story demandsWhole books have been written of course about the failure of the left outside Russia to accept the reality of what was happening there under Communism or to blame it on a perversion of noble principles What's so rewarding and upsetting and moving about this book is that it illustrates how naturally the conseuences followed from the initial conditions and how unimportant the political debate is compared with its effects on real people There as the title of the book suggests Figes's summary is bluntInstead of being a constructive cultural force the revolution had virtually destroyed the whole of Russian civilisation; instead of human liberation it had merely brought human enslavement; and instead of the spiritual improvement of humanity it had led to degradationWhat makes it worse is that this whole catalogue of misery is in some sense being positioned only as a prelude Looming up over the narrative is the lengthening shadow of the Georgian Ioseb Jughashvili alias Stalin and where this book ends his story is just beginningAlthough this was written twenty years ago in some ways it's become relevant than ever and not just because next year marks the revolution's centenary In an impassioned final chapter Figes calls for urgent reevaluation of the political capitalism of the West pointing out that extremist rhetoric of the sort that fuelled the Bolshevik party is periodically going to prove popular ‘as long as the mass of the ordinary people remain alienated from the political system and feel themselves excluded from the benefits of the emergent capitalism Perhaps even worrying’ he adds ‘authoritarian nationalism has begun to fill the void’ Is this sounding familiar to anybody?


  2. says:

    If you thought the Season 5 finale of Game of Thrones was brutal Orlando Figes wants to educate you You don’t pick up a book like A People’s Tragedy with the notion that it’s going to be filled with newborn puppies ice cream giveaways and people finding rolled up and forgotten twenty dollar bills in their pockets If you do have that notion – well you should really reread the title Even so the collection of misery in Figes massive history of the Russian Revolution is pretty overwhelming This is 824 pages of small font despair as the Russian people move from ruthless and ordered autocracy to ruthless and unordered Revolution before finally settling on a ruthless Soviet government as dictatorial and arbitrary as anything seen under the Tsars Contained between these two covers are all the things my wife tells me are not appropriate “small talk” for dinner parties War; war as waged by fools; the attendant slaughter of war as waged by fools; revolution; the attendant slaughter of revolution as waged by fanatics; famine; torture; capriciousness; shortsightedness; disloyalty; backstabbing and betrayal; execution and murder This is the kind of book from which I had to take several breaks I just couldn’t push all the way through The tragedy is so big The font is so small Helpfully the book is broken into manageable parts allowing me to dip in and out whenever I needed a dose of perspective Traffic is bad But at least my farm hasn’t been taken over by a Bolshevik stooge Figes opens his narrative beautifully with a Barbara Tuchman like set piece that describes the 300 year anniversary of Romanov rule over all the Russias He then circles back to give a brief overview of that spotted reign before devoting approximately the next 150 pages to the workings of Russia under the Tsar Nicholas II I read this book as part of my Two Person Russian Book Club which includes me and my friend Jamie As part of our elite; exclusive Book Club I’m the founder President treasurer and drunk; Jamie is the member Vice President and chief enabler we’ve already read a couple books on Nicholas Alexandra and their doomed family Thus this first section seemed pretty straightforward and standard You have Nicholas II who rose to power far too soon after his father’s early death inexpertly wielding his prerogatives without the faintest idea that the world had shifted off its axis Historian Margaret MacMillan is fond of describing Nicholas II as an ideal village postmaster I love that description because it fits him so wellat least to a point This is a guy of such strikingly limited abilities that I would hesitate to let him manage my slow pitch softball team Yet he led one of the great powers on Earth with almost no brakes on his powers Part of him never seemed to want the job He loved and doted on his family He filled his diary with the most insipid banalities He probably could have lived a long and immeasurably happier life if he’d just retired to a dacha somewhere and let someone anyone else rule in his place And yet at the same time he fiercely guarded his powers When his people wanted an inch he gave them a centimeter Eventually his people took a mile By the time he realized his destiny was to be an average man a good father a caring husband and a somnolent diarist it was far too late The second part of the book covering the years from 1891 1917 covers the gradual erosion of the Tsar A disastrous war against Japan a social revolution and many unforced Tsarist errors served to weaken the monarchy In 1914 Franz Ferdinand was assassinated and Russia suddenly found itself the linchpin of history their choice to mobilize or not to support Serbia or not is one of the biggest factors in the July Crisis tipping towards general European war Nicholas’s choice to go to war kind of feels like the choice of a troubled couple to have a kid or a second or third or fourth kid to paper over a bad marriage Hey maybe if we go to war all the people will love me again It didn't work that way The story of Tsar Nicholas’s abdication his imprisonment in Ekaterinburg’s House of Special Purpose and his and his family’s murder is a familiar story and Figes does not spend much time on this death pageant Instead he takes a deep dive into the workings and failures of the Provisional Government and the plotting and scheming of the Bolshevik takeoverIn telling this Figes takes pains to present many points of view There is the obvious focus on the big names – Lenin Trotsky Gorky – and rightfully so But he also finds peasants and workingmen – and peasants who became workingmen – to demonstrate how the Revolution began from the bottom up and where it got its support He makes an admirable attempt to follow certain people throughout the entire process tracing their personal fortunes along with the ebb and flow of the wider historical moments Unsurprisingly many of these people’s stories end dismally Figes also does not neglect to mention Rasputin’s penis Rasputin’s assassin and alleged homosexual lover Felix Yusupov claimed that his prowess was explained by a large wart strategically situated on his penis which was of exceptional size On the other hand there is evidence to suggest that Rasputin was in fact impotent and that while he lay naked with many women he had sex with very few of them In short he was a great lecher but not a great lover When Rasputin was medically examined after being stabbed in a failed murder attempt in 1914 his genitals were found to be so small and shriveled that the doctor wondered whether he was capable of the sexual act at all Rasputin himself had once boasted to the monk Iliodor that he could lie with women without feeling passion because “his penis did not function”History It’s in the detailsAt this point I should mention that I don’t know a ton about Russian history Once Nicholas II was off the stage I was in the wilderness I know I just made a big deal about my Two Person Russian Book Club But really we’re a lot of talk and some wine I’m not an expert I’m at the point in my life where I can still get Kerensky and Kornilov confused if I’m not paying close attention I also have little knowledge to draw on when it comes to the ideological underpinnings of the Bolsheviks or the Mensheviks or what it means to be a Marxist Fox News tell me it’s bad but this is not tremendously helpful That’s why it’s telling that I still enjoyed this book so much It is unbelievably dense and relatively long it’s tremendously long when compared to most books; only relatively long when compared to books by Russians or about Russia but still manageable Figes is a generous enough writer to lead a relative novice through this thorny complex heavily peopled period relatively unscathed On the other hand I don’t think this is an entry level volume It covers too much ground at too high a level to say that What kept me grounded – and reading – was Figes’s relentless attention to the human detail He doesn’t get lost in abstract political theorizing He focuses on Rasputin’s penis personalities and uirks and circumstances and tough choices This is an individual based telling of history where people’s decisions matter Tolstoy probably would have disapproved I on the other hand thought it was great This is a huge book befitting a huge subject and Figes gives it the treatment it deserves It is authored by that rare combination an expert who can also write It took some patience – and Yellow Tail breaks – to complete but it was well worth the effort


  3. says:

    ‭A people's tragedy The Russian Revolution 1891 1924 Orlando FigesA People's Tragedy The Russian Revolution 1891–1924 is an award winning book written by British historian Orlando Figes and published in 1996 According to Figes the whole of 1917 could be seen as a political battle between those who saw the revolution as a means of bringing the war to an end and those who saw the war as a means of bringing the revolution to an endتاریخ نخستین خوانش روز بیست و نهم ماه آوریل سال 2011 میلادیعنوان تراژدی مردم انقلاب روسیه از سال 1891 میلادی تا سال 1924 میلادی؛ نویسنده اورلاندو فایجس؛ مترجم احد علیقلیان؛ تهران، نشر نی، 1388؛ در 2 مجلد؛ شابک دوره 9789641850465؛ شابک جلد 1 9789641850441؛ جلد 2 9789641850458، موضوع تاریخ روسیه نیکلای دوم از سال 1891 میلادی تا سال 1924 میلادیمجموعه ی دو جلدی «تراژدی مردم»، روایت «اورلاندو فایجس»؛ استاد تاریخ دانشگاه «کمبریج»، از تحولات داخلی روسیه، در بین سالهای 1891 تا 1924 میلادی است از دیدگاه «فایجس»، انقلاب روسیه، دستکم از نظر تاثیراتش بر دنیای پیرامونی، یکی از بزرگترین رخدادهای تاریخ جهان به شمار میآید گستردگی و ژرفای این تاثیرگذاری، تا حدود دو دهه پیش نیز، مشاهده و احساس میشده است نگارنده، برای نشان دادن دامنه ی انقلاب، به شیوه هایی اشاره میکند، که انقلاب با آنها جان انسانها را گرفت دهها هزار نفر را، بمبها و گلوله های انقلابیون کشت، و دستکم همین تعداد پیش از سال 1917 میلادی، در سرکوب رژیم تزاری، جان باختند آن سالها هزاران نفر، در جنگهای خیابانی، جان خود را از دست دادند، صدها هزار نفر، در حکومت وحشت «سرخ»ها و طی سالهای پس از آن – اگر قربانیان قتل عام یهودیان را هم در نظر بگیریم – همین تعداد نیز، در حکومت وحشت «سفید»ها، به هلاکت رسیدند، بیش از یک میلیون تن، در جنگ داخلی کشته شدند، از جمله غیرنظامیان پشت جبهه، و با این همه، شمار مردمانیکه از گرسنگی، سرما و بیماری هلاک شدند نیز، از جمع اینها بیشتر بود «فایجس»، روایت خود را از «انقلاب» از سال 1891 میلادی، که واکنش خیابانی مردم، به حکومت تزار، نسبت به بحران قحطی رخ داد، آغاز میکند، و در سال 1924 میلادی، که «لنین»، از دنیا میرود، به نگارگری پایان میدهد یعنی زمانی که «انقلاب» به نقطه ی آغازین خود بازمیگردد، و نهادهای «استالینی» مستقر میشوند به نظر نگارنده، لحظه هایی تعیین کننده پیش از انقلاب سال 1917 میلادی، و در طی آن، در تاریخ «روسیه» وجود داشت، که میتوانست سبب شود، روسیه راه دمکراتیکتری را در پیش بگیرد، اما چنین نشد و هدف از نگارش «تراژدی مردم»، تبیین همین موضوع است، که چرا انقلاب در هیچیک از لحظه های خود آن مسیرها را طی نکرد از دیدگاه استاد دانشگاه «کمبریج»؛ برهان شکست دمکراسی روسیه را، باید در فرهنگ سیاسی، و تاریخ اجتماعی آن جستجو نمود نبود نیروهای متعادل کننده ی دولت، در برابر استبداد «تزار»، شکنندگی جامعه ی مدنی «لیبرال»، عقب ماندگی مردمان در روستاهای روسیه، و خشک اندیشی روشنفکران تندرو «روسیه»، از جمله مولفه های این فرهنگ هستند «فایجس»، در صدد بوده، تا نقش مردمان عادی را، به عنوان بازیگران اصلی نمایش انقلابی، برجسته سازد دهقانان، کارگران، سربازان، و اقلیتهای ملی، و قومی، در این کتاب، به عنوان قربانیان انقلاب، معرفی نشده اند، بلکه خود جزو بازیگران اصلی نمایش بوده اند نگارنده در تلاش برای تبیین تلویحی این نظریه، که مردمان، شایسته ی حاکمانی هستند، که بر آنان فرمان میرانند، نیست، بلکه از تایید نظریه های «کل به جزء»، که در آنها مردمان عادی، آلت دست بی اراده ی حکومتگران، شمرده می شوند، گریزان است ایشان با استفاده از آثار مکتوب غنی، و گسترده ای که در بایگانیهای دولتی، و شخصی موجود بوده، کوشیده، تا تصویری پیچیده تر، و باورپذیرتر از رابطه ی حزب با مردم، به خوانشگر خویش نشان دهند، و خیال «اصول کلی»، که بلشویکها اکثریتیها بر سرتاسر روسیه، تحمیل کرده اند را بزداید آنچه نام انقلابی مردمی به خود گرفت، سرانجامی جز سقوط، در بستر خشونت و دیکتاتوری با خود به همراه نداشت نگارنده در این کتاب، تنها به تحلیل عرصه ی عمومی نپرداخته، که هر جا نیاز دیده، پای درد دل زندگی خصوصی آسیب دیدگان از جنگ، و انقلاب نیز، نشسته است دفترچه های خاطرات، نامه ها و دیگر نوشته های افراد نیز، جملگی به یارس نگارنده، برای سازماندهی روایتش آمده است ایشان با دنبال کردن سرنوشت شخصیتها، خواسته است، تا آشوب آن سالها را، به تصویر بکشد، آشوبیکه با تراژدیهای ژرف انسانی همراه بود، و رژه ی نیروهای نظامی، و ایدئولوژیهای اجتماعی سیاسی، تنها نمایش لایه ی بیرونی آن بود نگارش کتاب، شش سال به درازا انجامید، و نگارنده آنرا در سال 1995 میلادی به پایان رسانید کتاب در چهار بخش، و شانزده فصل، به انجام رسیده است بخش نخست در برگیرنده ی تاریخ روسیه، در دوره ی رژیم کهن است بخش دوم بحران قدرت در فاصله ی سالهای 1891 تا 1917 میلادی را، مورد بررسی قرار میدهد بخش سوم روسیه در انقلاب، در فاصله ی ماه فوریه ی سال 1917 میلادی تا ماه مارس سال 1918 میلادی مبحث این بخش را تشکیل میدهد بخش چهارم جنگ داخلی و برپایی نظام شوروی، در فاصله ی سالهای 1918 میلادی تا سال 1924 میلادی در این بخش مورد بازنگری قرار گرفته است کتاب با رخدادهای دوره ی «لنین» و ماجرای درگذشت ایشان به پایان راه خویش میرسد نتیجه گیری، کتاب شناسی، نمایه و تصاویر تاریخی متعدد و دیدنی، ضمیمه ی مطالب اصلی کتاب است «تراژدی مردم» مجموعه ای خواندنی برای علاقمندان به تحولات انقلاب روسیه به شمار میرود ا شربیانی


  4. says:

    Recent memory modern memory and then history We are all living in recent memory The oldest generation is the eye witness to modern memory When it passes on we will begin to receive the history from the events and people of that generation without the influence of contemporary bias or dialecticsIt has been almost a hundred years since the Russian Revolution and Civil War It is still too early for its pure history but reliable narratives unbound by predictable dialectics are finally beginning to emergeOrlando Figes' version is not perfect but it is one of best summaries available to get the average reader up to a moderate speed on a very complex subject After presenting an unsparing portrayal of the various layers of Russian society from 1891 up until Bloody Sunday 1905 Figes' Revolution of 1914 becomes but the inevitable bloody result What comes as a surprise to the reader is the deep depravity of the Russian soul It is black evil and violent regardless of class or party affiliation Sparing neither women nor children it wantonly murders tortures rapes pillages and executes without a drop of conscienceThis pitch black evil infected the souls of peasants and workers as well as generals nobels police and party apparatchiks It consumed the Tsar and Tsarina as well as Lenin Totsky and StalinIn the midst of these psychopaths Figes follows a small handful of spectators such as Maxim Gorky and General Brusilov the only WWI tsarist hero who eventually supported the Reds because they were the peoples' choice Those two somehow manage to maintain their balance decency objectivity and humanity while witnessing this terror unfold When Comrade Stalin's emissary Mercado paid a visit to Leon Trotsky at his Mexico City home to plunge an ice pick into his skull one can only hope the Angel of Karma was singing a hymn in the exiled revolutionary's ear with Leon's very own words from the Revolution We must put an end once and for all to the papist uaker babble about the sanctity of human life During the Revolution and Civil War Trotsky Lenin and Stalin did the very best that they could to abide by that dictum millions literally of heartless times with their cold blooded signaturesThe Revolution and Civil War replaced a totalitarian monarchy with a totalitarian police state run by bureaucrats The classes that were terrorized oppressed and executed before are terrorized oppressed and executed once again on an even larger scale As one revolutionary bemoaned afterwards Lenin and the Bolsheviks did not establish a dictatorship to safeguard the revolution they made a revolution to safeguard a dictatorship Enter Comrade StalinA basic understanding of the twentieth century reuires a grasp of the Russian Revolution that left its immense footprints across World War II the Cold War as well as the intellectual dialectics of labor and capital that have defined the many shades of politics we experience todayA People's Tragedy is a very good start towards that understanding


  5. says:

    First Figes briskly deals with all those things you thought you knew about the Russian Revolution Lenin Stalin Trotsky Kerensky the liberals the Bolsheviks the Tsar Again and again I realized I had picked up myths either promoted by those who lost or those who consolidated the Revolution The mythmaking machine was going full tilt from 1917 onwards particularly during the Stalinist and Cold War Years and this book would be irreplaceable if only for stripping away so much that you thought you knew which was wrongSecond by starting the book in 1891 with a famine which revealed the incompetence of the Tsarist beaurocracy and ending with the death of Lenin in 1924 Figes permits himself a sweep of events that makes what actually happened even dramatic than it was Again and again you not only read about but hear from the survivors of mistakes errors misconceptions indolence arrogance foolishness well meaning idiocy in a way that as a human being is than heartbreaking Again and again the Revolution might never have happened a democracy might have developed steps taken could have been taken back but they weren't Instead one of the great mass tragedies of history occurred and you feel like a helpless bystander watching it happenThis is remarkable history and it is an extraordinary achievement It is bound to upset those with fixed ideologies on both the left and the right If you ever read only one book on the Russian Revolution make it this oneThe Communists are given heavy treatment in this text Not only do we see how they came to power we get huge doses of their philosophy Figes gives a detailed examination of the intellectual currents that gave rise to the Communist movement as well as their actions once they attained power What emerges is a bleak picture Communism is death to all it touches The Bolsheviks sought to not only rule by dictatorship but to change the very essence of man into an automaton subservient to the state Figes shows the reader the Red Terror and some of the other methods the Bolsheviks used to try and bring about this subservience It is a horrifying picture made worse of course under the rule of StalinFiges maintains a fairly neutral perspective throughout the book an apologist to neither the Tsar nor the Communists though harboring a noticeable preference and remorse for the incompetent Provisional Government When he does show some bias he is never overbearing and the few opinions that he expresses do not detract in any way from the materialThe Tsar is portrayed as an incompetent and stubborn fool which I have come away thinking is a fair assessment Figes gives ample evidence for his conclusions describing the failure of Nicholas to effectively rule over an inefficient and contradictory governmentI found the treatment of the Bolsheviks to be relatively sympathetic and the book does not suffer because of it They are depicted as a ruthless and especially fortunate revolutionary faction a group ready to use any means necessary to obtain power but in the end given a gift with the success of their unlikely coup Some readers may find this insufficiently damning but while I would have liked a little about how the nature of the revolution affected later developments the abominable governance which followed is not Figes's topic


  6. says:

    This is at one and the same time a very long book and a fascinating one As a exhaustive study of Russian history from the reign of Nicholas II to the death of Lenin it is epic in its sweep The only reasons I could not find it in me to give it five stars are the following1 Orlando Figes has developed a reputation for controversy First he wrote reviews for Com under an assumed name Birkbeck in which he excoriated competing writers on Russian history blaming them at first on his wife Secondly in his most recent work he has been assailed for misrepresentations and gross inaccuracies Both of these events came after the 1997 publication of A People's Tragedy A History of the Russian Revolution which seemed to this unsophisticated reader as a work displaying an admirable sense of balance2 The last third of the book about the Civil War showed some exhaustion in its composition There were so many parties over and above the Reds and the Whites including the Komuch the Don Cossacks Makhno's Ukrainian partisans Petliura's partisans to name just a few Also there were at least a dozen occasions when Figes would suddenly conclude that the main reason the Whites lost was A or B or C down to Z All were convincing reasons but they led to a loss of focus in this section3 This is not something I usually complain about and it has nothing to do with Figes at all but Viking the publisher For some reason the number one was shown as a capital I Hence monstrosities such as the year I9I9 Also in the Italic font used the letter b and the letter h were indistinguishable Hence the word burzhooi Russian for bourgeois looks like burzbooi whenever it appearsIn the end I think that Figes has done an admirable job compacting than thirty years of turbulent history broken into four epochs Tsarism the February Revolution the October Revolution and the Civil War into merely 824 pages Also I think his conclusions are by and large on the markBut Russia's prospects as a democratic nation depend to a large extent on how far the Russians are able to confront their own recent history; and this must entail the recognition that however much the people were oppressed by it the Soviet system grew up in Russian soil It was the weakness of Russia's democatic culture which enabled Bolshevism to take root This was the legacy of Russian history of centuries of serfdom and autocratic rule that had kept the common people powerless and passive 'And the people remained silent' was a Russian proverb and it describes much of Russian history To be sure this was a people's tragedy but it was a tragedy which they helped to make The Russian people were trapped by the tyranny of their own historyAh well I guess the book deserves four and a half stars It kept me on the edge of my toes for eleven long days of reading the book


  7. says:

    In this work Figes makes two arguments that are not fully apparent until the conclusion First the Russian people were not betrayed by the Revolution Instead the devolution of the Revolution was in Figes's view the result of the inability of the Russian people to come to terms with democratic institutions He finds that the period between 1905 1914 represented Russia's liberal democratic revolution but it did not produce the reforms necessary to instill confidence in the Russian people Indeed the Bolsheviks were a veritable product of the Russian messianic tradition Second it was not the leaders of the Revolution who were necessarily at fault Figes admits that Lenin Trotsky Stalin Kerensky and numerous others arrived in 1917 with truly high minded noble goals Instead Figes argues that the goals of revolutionary leaders were outright unattainable and were doomed to failPerhaps Figes is right but I disagree with him on both accounts To me the first argument reeks of Western chauvinism with the implication that we Westerners could properly democratize due to our democratic heritage ignoring Germany's failures with democracy before 1945 and utter success after the development of fascism and authoritarianism in Spain and Italy France's difficult relationship with liberal democracy etc On his second point no pathway was a fait accompli for the Revolution Instead there were numerous decisions made some of which would have led to greater democratization some to authoritarianism than we saw even in the Stalinist period Perhaps the ideals of the Revolution were too great to be implemented in reality but Revolutionaries could have adopted policies that brought the Russian state closer to their ideals without abandoning them outright I think that the Russian Revolution was necessary and that it was not innately bad but I think Figes downplays the decisions that were made in his conclusion The last paragraph of the book however seems almost prophetic being written even before Putin took powerPerhaps even worrying authoritarian nationalism has begun to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of Communism and in a way has reinvented it not just in the sense that today's nationalists are for the most part reformed Communists but also in the sense that their violent rhetoric with its calls for discipline and order its angry condemnation of the ineualities produced by the growth of capitalism and its xenophobic reject of the West is itself adapted from the Bolshevik tradition The ghosts of 1917 have not been laid to restToday as we are well aware nationalism is the guiding ideology of the modern Russian state and it is rather authoritarian This fits further in Figes's view that Russians have not learned to be good liberals but I think it says about global patterns than something specifically Russian Although former Soviet states held the vanguard of resurgent nationalism it is now a global phenomenon ranging from Poland's Law and Justice to Turkey's AKP and India's BJP Even the American GOP and British Conservative Party have in many ways turned to authoritarian nationalism Yet there is nothing inevitable about this turn I find it uneuivocally bad but it is as we should be well aware not intrinsic to the Russian people


  8. says:

    “The Russian Revolution launched a vast experiment in social engineering – perhaps the grandest in the history of mankind It was arguably an experiment which the human race was bound to make at some point in its evolution the logical conclusion of humanity’s historic striving for social justice and comradeship”Figes writes about the Russian Revolution as of a coup in both February and October the second time only Bolsheviks participated and it was even haphazard by ‘culturally isolated’ intelligentsia that really shouldn’t have worked out It was ultimately “successful” due to the incompetent backward thinking tsarist regime and Whites Reform was completely rejected yet essential to the future of the Romanovs In the beginning the Bolsheviks had scant support but they did have discipline ruthlessness and a cause Plus the peasants thought they could keep the land they took from the gentry under the Bolsheviks but would have to return it under the Whites Not a successful strategy in a hugely peasant country The Whites were all about revenge and turning back time They also wanted to restore the empire and tamp down on nationalist and local language movements The Bolsheviks paid lip service to these concerns and it ultimately worked for them A middle class barely existed Additionally Figes points out that in newly industrialized Russia the “workers” were really just peasants trying to make some money after harvest And “soldiers” were mostly peasants conscripted against their will So to rule Russia after Nicholas abdicated ya needed to improve or at the least convincingly promise to improve the lot of the peasants In the end we know how it worked out for the peasants Lenin needed them so he told them what they wanted to hear They were not at all political More like locally communal anarchists trying to escape the state in any form If you have time for only one book on the Russian Revolution this is itTsarist regime“The tsarist regime’s downfall was not inevitable; but its own stupidity made it so” “ the obstinate refusal of the tsarist regime to concede reforms turned what should have been a political problem into a revolutionary crisis” Alexander’s counter reforms his and Nicolas’s reactionary philosophy “To a large extent the workers’ revolutionary movement was created by the tsarist regime”Alexander II did not prep Nicolas to rule which reminded me of Peter and Catherine with their unfortunate heirs Alexandra was not the ideal spouse She pushed him to be even recalcitrant Combined with Rasputin Nicolas had the worst nepotistic advisors until today’s White House Nicolas had a astrong sense of duty He was not passive He just sucked at his job Had a narrow perspective focused on details The provinces were under governed “Romanovs became victim of their own propaganda”“Romanov regime fell under the weight of its own internal contradictions” In some ways a revolution started at the top like the one under GorbachevTsarist state turned many into revolutionaries after overreacting to any call for greater freedoms “In a way he probably found it easier to abdicate than to turn himself into a constitutional king That was Nicholas’s tragedy”PeasantsThe peasants did not feel part of a nation They did not abide by government rules unless forced“all started by the peasant revolution on the land” before 1917Emancipation of serfs landed nobles not getting up to speed freed serfs getting screwed“The emphatic rejection of the Whites by the peasantry and the non Russians determined the outcome of the civil war”MilitaryDisastrous war with Japan in the midst of a domestic social revolution Replay during WWI and the army got really fed up no food no uniforms poor training and lousy leadership As they began to realize they were cannon fodder they were revolutionized If the Tsar had signed a separate peace with Germany who knows? The soldiers may have showed him a some form of allegiance Once many in the army became revolutionized the Tsar was for all intents and purposes finished Famine 1890sThe famine further radicalized people “The conflict between the people and the regime had been set in motion”UrbanizationWas distabalizing in its rapidity in a “backward” unprepared country Poorly educated workers could not “progress beyond the simplest abstract ideas” Theirs was a black white world OTOH the literacy rate was growing rapidly which allowed people access to written propagandaThe BolsheviksMostly comprized of the urban intelligentsia who latched on to European ideas and dogmatized them snuffing out debate They had a “passion for big ideas” which gave us Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and also Lenin and Trotsky “Guilt was the psychological inspiration of the revolution” They witnessed huge horrifying gaps in standards of living They simultainiously mythologized the peasants and were disgusted by them Marxism which was never really practiced in Russia was treated as a “science” thus further enrapturing the areligious intelligentsiaThe inhumane viciousness of the Tsarist police led directly to the same in the Bolsheviks The tortured terrified and oppressed became the torturers terrorists and oppressors How novel is that? Waterboarding anyone?“ it is surely true that the Bolsheviks were psychologically prepared for a civil war in a way that could not be said of its opponents One might compare it to the Spanish Civil War Franco’s side was ready – and eager – for a civil war; the same could hardly be said of the Republicans”“There were times when the Bolsheviks acted like a local mafia than the ruling party of the largest country in the world”“The key to this Communist utopia was control of the food supply without that the government had no means of controlling the economy and society The Bolsheviks were painfully aware of the fact that their regime lay at the mercy of a largely hostile peasantry”“The Bolshevik fear of the peasant was the great unresolved tension of the 1920s – one that led inexorably towards the tragedy of collectivization” The recruitment of peasants into communism was mostly aimed at the resentful sons of peasants who were unsatisfied with and embarrassed by the peasant life Self hating peasants then turned on their own A big part of collectivization was the get rid of these apolitical peasant fathers” See Turganev“Bolshevism was a very Russian thing Its belief in militant action its insistence contrary to the tenets of Marx and Hegel that a revolution could ‘jump over’ the contingencies of history placed it firmly in the Russian messianic tradition”“One could argue that the command system was itself an inevitable outcome of the contradiction of October – a proletarian dictatorship in a peasant country”Imagining they could remake mankind the Bolsheviks “believed that human nature could be changed simply by altering the social environment in which people lived Man cannot be transformed uite so easily human nature moves slowly than ruling ideologies or society This is perhaps the one enduring moral lesson of the Russian Revolution – as it is indeed of the terrible history of this 21st century” AmenIntelligentsia“” the single greatest difference between Russia and the West was that in Western Eusrope citizens were generally free to do as they pleased so long as their activities had not been specifically prohibited by the state while the people of Russia were not free to do anything unless the state gave them specific permission to do it”The February Revolution was “ like a peasant riot” The men of February intoxicated by their own self image as the heirs of 1789 were deluded into believing that they could resolve problems of 1917 by importing Western constitutional practices and policies for which their were no real precedents nor the necessary cultural base in Russia” “Apart from the state itself there was nothing holding Russia together”“ the whole of the civilization of the gentry had never been than a thin veneer laid over the top of the brutal exlpoitation of the peasants from which the revolution had emerged”Lenin“The October seizure of power few historical events in the modern era better illustrate the decisive effect of an individual on the course of history Without Lenin’s intervention it would probably never have happened at all – and the history of the 20th century would have been very different” Lenin usurped power for power’s sake He held workers and peasants in contempt It was mostly about his needs He was ready to “ditch” the Soviets when he couldn’t use them The Masses“The tragedy of the Russian Revolution was that the people were too weak politically to determine its outcome”During WWI on the home front no food no provisions no heat etc“Historians have tended to neglect the connections between this plebian war on privilege and the origins of the Red Terror “it had a strange mass appeal” “Loot the looters” take from those who still have anything worthwhile” “ the whole of the social revolution had been largely driven by petty localism”Even if the revolution didn’t improve the lives of Russians at least it wrecked the aristocracy Russians seem to thrive on schadenfreude Zloradstvo?“This low cultural level of the Soviet bureaucracy was to be a permanent legacy of October which wouldn later come to haunt Bolshevik leaders” They destroyed the former leaders got rid of skilled workers massacred the aristocracy and drained what had been a tiny middle class New bureaucrats military officers etc were untrained and uineducated You can still pick up on a crass rudeness in public Moscow today TodayI wonder if Putin knows about this reoccurring Russian oversight of not grooming an heir inevitably leading to disaster Or maybe there will be another revolution Kids born since Yeltsin can easily compare their lot to the those of their Western peers Plus it must suck living in a society where the rule of law is meaningless Causes high anxiety and hatredTrump is certainly no Lenin for starters Lenin read books but this antisocial narcissistic personality disorder tool of the Kremlin is “running” my nation’s capitol like no one before him Or after God willing And you just know Trump hates the unwashed masses who voted for him just as Lenin hated the peasants and didn’t care much for the workers either Trump needed the white disaffected voters in the middle of this country so he told them what they wanted to hear Let’s see how it works out for themIn the passage above about the Bolsheviks operating as a mafia substitute “Bolshevik” with Trumpistas” and “largest” with most “powerful” and then have a shot of whiskeyGuilt is still a dangerous motivator much less dangerous when used as a dissuader Guilt is related to shame which has gotten the Middle East into a lot of trouble To me guilt implies belittlement What began as privileged guilt in Russia before the Revolution resulted in disaster White guilt is doing us no good Westerners who feel guilty for the difficulties many predominantly Muslim countries are experiencing with modernity and how the people of those countries are reacting seem to be looking down upon them Like they can’t be expected to play nice and improve their lot cuz they’re not white Christians I call BS on all of it It goes hand in hand with victimhood Also not a good motivator Sad Our continued involvement making war and social engineering in countries who don't want us and whom we do not understand is a never ending disaster We have now very overtly taken sides with the Sunnis against the Shia WHAT ARE WE THINKING??? What's the plan here?In the Southern US among former Confederacy states we are slowly dealing with “The Cult of the Lost Cause” by removing monuments honoring those who fought for the breakup of my beloved country This is the best speech of the year Hat off to Mr Landrieu Mayor of the great city of New Orleans More speeches like this please I think of this when I wonder if Russia can come to terms with its past Would be a very healthy thing to do “Their revolutionary tragedy lay in the legacies of their own cultural backwardness rather than the evil of some ‘alien’ Bolsheviks They were not the victims of the revolution but protagonists in its tragedy” Putin plays on this sickness of Russian victimhood today to help keep up his poll numbers The West is out to get us Poor innocent Russia “The ghosts of 1917 have not been laid to rest”The book was very long and sometimes repetitive However when dealing with the Russian Revolution you're allowed to go on It's just so complicated


  9. says:

    Orlando Figes' masterful A People's Tragedy The Russian Revolution 1891 1924 provides a rich and complex portrait that of Russian society at the time of the fall of the Romanov dynasty and the birth of the Communist state One does not read it for Figes' opinions but rather for the amount of detail that he is able to marshall and synthesize on the key social cultural and political trends of the revolutionary era The book is a great pleasure for anyone fascinated by the culture and history of Russia Even those who disagree with Figes' conclusions will agree that he has taught them a great deal about the eraIn terms of primary research Figes' specialty is Russian peasant society Not surprisingly then the greatest strength of the book is the analysis of the role of the peasantry during the revolutionary era Figes argues that very effectively that the overriding goal of the leaders of the peasant communes times was to acuire ownership of the land held by the nobility When the Tsar's regime fell the peasant communes spontaneously seized the noble lands Subseuently they supported the Communists who promised them that they could keep the land against the Whites who said that they would restore it to the nobles Once the Whites had been expelled from Russia the Communists proceeded to collectivized the land by taking advantage of a generational cleavage in the countryside The Communists recruited young peasants who had moved to the city to work in factories to act as bureaucrats in the agricultural communities and lead the fight against the oder communal leaders d In this way the Communists used one generation of peasant leaders to fight the Whites and a second generation of peasants to imposed collectivizationRelying on the writings of other historians Figes makes the additonal points1 Tsar Nicholas was the author of his own downfall He packed his government and his army with individuals who were loyal to his autocracy but totally lacking in ability Conseuently the Russian war effort was bungled in every aspect which brought down the Tsar's regime 2 It was also the Tsar's fault that liberal democracy failed in Russia For the previous 20 years Nicholas had resisted every effort to create a constitutional monarchy in Russia which prevented the development of a strong class of liberal democratic politicians Thus when the Romanov dynastry fell in February 1917 the provisional government lasted less than a year before a second revolution brought the Bolcheviks to power3 The Bolcheviks came to power not because they had the greatest support amongst the working class but because of Lenin's energy and uncommon sense of timing In Figes' view Lenin stole the revolution from the Soviets4 The notion that Stalin was the one who established terror and totalitarianism in communist Russia is a revisionist myth fabricated by Left wing historians It was in fact Lenin in fact that who established the practices and institutions of the communist dictatorship Orlando Figes' A People's Tragedy is a very dense book but one that is richly rewarding It will give a great deal of pleasure to anyone who has the energy reuired to read it through to the end


  10. says:

    This is a remarkable book on the Russian Revolution It’s coverage from 1891 thru 1924 is detailed but very readable We are presented with a wide panoply of characters; Tsar Nicholas II Lenin Prince Lvov Kerensky Gorky and many This gives a distinctive personal feeling where history is populated by real people and provides us with a ground view of the turbulent events of Russia It’s a brutal historySadly there were periods during the Tsar’s rule and the first months after the 1917 revolution where the country seemed to be edging towards a democratic and liberal constitution – but this was thwarted time and again and fell back to authoritarianism which to some extent seems ingrained in the Russian psyche The author vividly portrays these figures for what they truly were – Nicholas was weak kneed and never wanted anything to with democracy and liberalism – he hindered any attempts to proceed in that direction – falling back to a rigid domination was his rule of thumb Kerensky was the wrong man in the right place – in that small opening after the events of February 1917 there was a potential for parliamentarianism; but Kerensky was rudderless and a prima donna Lenin knew what he wanted Lenin was intolerant of any criticism and over time succeeded in establishing a strong centralist dictatorship It was Lenin that made the Stalinist regime possibleThroughout this period Russia was often in a state of virtual anarchy – particularly after the start of World War I where the country was not only combating external enemies but at war with itself After Lenin’s coup in October 1917 it was Lenin himself who precipitated these internal struggles against “enemies of the people” – war against the bourgeoisie war against the peasants for allegedly hoarding foodstuffs war against striking workers and of course the civil war the Reds and the Whites –where often groups uickly switched allegiancesThe author gives us excellent depictions of the miserable and backward existence of the peasantry – and also how the urban cities were in a constant state of flux – revolution on the street destitution and starvationOne does come away with a view that Marxist Leninist philosophy and dictums gave little credence to human rights and viewed the individual as subservient to the state After all one of its principal slogans “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” has always emphasized “Dictatorship” It hardly compares to the motto of the French revolution “Liberty Euality and Fraternity”The long authoritarianism of the Tsarist rulers gave way to an even vicious dictatorship under Communism – where the rights of man were crushed under a Central government that stopped at nothing to implement state policies If you wish to gain an insight into this key era of history this is definitely the book for you One also comes away with an understanding of Russia and its vast land mass today At over 800 pages it is lengthy but well worth it