A Peoples Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924
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This is 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. This is the kind of book from which I had to take several breaks. 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. Figes opens his narrative beautifully, with a Barbara Tuchman-like set-piece that describes the 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 pages to the workings of Russia under the Tsar Nicholas II. Thus, this first section seemed pretty straightforward and standard. I love that description because it fits him so well…at 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. 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 , 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 , 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.
Hey, maybe if we go to war, all the people will love me again! It didn't work that way. Instead, he takes a deep dive into the workings and failures of the Provisional Government, and the plotting and scheming of the Bolshevik takeover. In 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. 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 , his genitals were found to be so small and shriveled that the doctor wondered whether he was capable of the sexual act at all.
Once Nicholas II was off the stage, I was in the wilderness.
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. Figes is a generous enough writer to lead a relative novice through this thorny, complex, heavily peopled period relatively unscathed.
It covers too much ground at too high a level to say that. 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. View all 6 comments. According to Figes " Oct 08, David Gustafson rated it it was amazing. 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 dialectics.
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It has been almost 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 begin Recent memory, modern memory and then history - We are all living in recent memory. It is still too early for its pure history, but reliable narratives, unbound by predictable dialectics, are finally beginning to emerge.
Orlando 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 up until Bloody Sunday , Figes' Revolution of 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 conscience. This pitch black evil infected the souls of peasants and workers as well as generals, nobels, police and party apparatchiks. In 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-Quaker babble about the sanctity of human life.
The 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. A basic understanding of the twentieth century requires 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 today.
View 2 comments. May 10, Jerome rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorites. 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 onwards particularly during the Stalinist and Cold War Years and this book would be irreplaceable if only for stripping away so much that you 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. The mythmaking machine was going full tilt from 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 wrong.
Second, by starting the book in with a famine which revealed the incompetence of the Tsarist beaurocracy and ending with the death of Lenin in , Figes permits himself a sweep of events that makes what actually happened even more 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 more 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 happen. This 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 one.
The 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 Stalin. Figes 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 material. The 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 government.
I 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 more about how the nature of the revolution affected later developments, the abominable governance which followed is not Figes's topic. Sep 03, Hadrian rated it it was amazing Shelves: nonfiction , history , russia , politics-and-foreign-policy. An astonishing and grand overview of one of the most defining events of the 20th century - the Russian Revolution. A powerful and convincing portrait of the madness and decay of Imperialist Russia to the total bloodshed of WWI and beyond. Portraits of all of the major figures - the inept tsar and his fat toady ministers, the futile attempts of the fledgling Duma, the insatiable drive for power of the Bolsheviks, and the intense suffering undergone by the masses of peasants.
Aug 01, Jim rated it really liked it Shelves: history , russia. 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 following:  Orlando Figes has developed a reputation for controversy. First, he wrote reviews for Amazon. Com under an assumed name Birkbeck in which he excoriated competing writers on Russian history, blaming them at first on his w This is at one and the same time a very long book and a fascinating one.
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 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 balance.
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 All were convincing reasons, but they led to a loss of focus in this section.
A People's Tragedy
For some reason, the number one was shown as a capital "I. Also in the Italic font used, the letter "b" and the letter "h" were indistinguishable. Hence the word burzhooi , Russian for bourgeois, looks more like burzbooi whenever it appears. In the end, I think that Figes has done an admirable job compacting more than thirty years of turbulent history, broken into four epochs Tsarism, the February Revolution, the October Revolution, and the Civil War , into merely pages.
Also, I think his conclusions are by and large on the mark: But 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.
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 history. Ah, 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. View all 7 comments. Nov 14, Czarny Pies rated it it was amazing Recommends it for: Anyone interested in European history. Shelves: european-history. Orlando Figes' masterful "A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: " 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 Orlando Figes' masterful "A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: " 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. 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 era. In 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 acquire ownership of the land held by the nobility. When the Tsar's regime fell, the peasant communes spontaneously seized the noble lands. Subsequently 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 collectivization. Relying on the writings of other historians, Figes makes the additonal points: 1. 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. Consequently the Russian war effort was bungled in every aspect which brought down the Tsar's regime. 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 , the provisional government lasted less than a year before a second revolution brought the Bolcheviks to power. 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 Soviets.
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 required to read it through to the end. View 1 comment. Jan 26, Mikey B. This is a remarkable book on the Russian Revolution. 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.
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 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 possible. Throughout 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. The 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 starvation.
One 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. The long authoritarianism of the Tsarist rulers gave way to an even more 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 pages it is lengthy but well worth it. Aug 01, Luke rated it liked it Shelves: geo-europe , history , temp-modern-late , comprehensive-exams. 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 represented Russia's "liberal democratic" revolution, but it did not produce the reforms necessary to instill confidence in the Russian peopl 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. He finds that the period between 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 with truly high-minded, noble goals. Instead, Figes argues that the goals of revolutionary leaders were outright unattainable and were doomed to fail. Perhaps 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 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 more 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 power : Perhaps even more 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 inequalities produced by the growth of capitalism, and its xenophobic reject of the West, is itself adapted from the Bolshevik tradition.
The ghosts of have not been laid to rest. Today, 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 more about global patterns than something specifically Russian. Yet, there is nothing inevitable about this turn. I find it unequivocally bad, but it is, as we should be well aware, not intrinsic to the Russian people. A real brick of a book, heavy and difficult to hold for any kength of time without getting cramp.
Dense text which in places I had to read twice and more. I enjoyed reading this, it had a lot of detail and insight into a subject that fascinates me. It is good at getting over the sense of how close the Russian revolution was to failure, seemingly always on the brink of disaster yet held together somehow by the implacable will of Lenin and the discipline of his cadres.
Being able to lie with ease a A real brick of a book, heavy and difficult to hold for any kength of time without getting cramp. Being able to lie with ease and take down opponents one at a time helped with this of course. It also makes clear that the roots of Stalin's reign of terror and his countless murders lie with Lenin, and his callous indifference to the means as long as the objective is reached.
One thing I did not like was the teaser thrown in at the end, that Kirov was plotting against Stalin at the time of his assassination. It is clear that Stalin murdered Kirov, and this gives a reason - as if Stalin needed a reason to kill - but the plot idea is not explored. May 25, Mary rated it it was amazing Shelves: psychology , wwi , revolution , politics , cult , history , ussr , russia. 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.
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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. 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 it. Alexandra was not the ideal spouse. She pushed him to be even more recalcitrant. 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. Tsarist state turned many into revolutionaries after overreacting to any call for greater freedoms. They did not abide by government rules unless forced. Emancipation of serfs, landed nobles not getting up to speed, freed serfs getting screwed. 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 s The famine further radicalized people. OTOH, the literacy rate was growing rapidly which allowed people access to written propaganda. The Bolsheviks Mostly comprized of the urban intelligentsia who latched on to European ideas and dogmatized them, snuffing out debate. They simultainiously mythologized the peasants and were disgusted by them. The 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? The Bolsheviks were painfully aware of the fact that their regime lay at the mercy of a largely hostile peasantry. Self-hating peasants then turned on their own. A big part of collectivization was the get rid of these apolitical peasant fathers. Man cannot be transformed quite so easily: human nature moves more 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. He held workers and peasants in contempt. It was mostly about his needs. Russians seem to thrive on schadenfreude. New bureaucrats, military officers, etc, were untrained and uineducated.
You can still pick up on a crass rudeness in public Moscow today. Today I 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 more 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 hatred. Or after, God willing. Trump needed the white disaffected voters in the middle of this country so he told them what they wanted to hear.
Guilt 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.
I call BS on all of it. It goes hand in hand with victimhood. Also not a good motivator! 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's the plan here? 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. They were not the victims of the revolution but protagonists in its tragedy. The West is out to get us! Poor, innocent Russia! However, when dealing with the Russian Revolution, you're allowed to go on. It's just so complicated View all 4 comments. Exemplary mix of the political, the social and the personal In order to tell the story of the Russian Revolution, Figes begins three decades earlier, in , with the famine that could be seen as starting the journey towards revolution; and continues up to , the year that the first dictator, Lenin, died.
This is a huge work, massive in scope, meticulously researched and delivered with a level of clarity that makes it surprisingly easy to read and absorb, even for someone coming to the sub Exemplary mix of the political, the social and the personal This is a huge work, massive in scope, meticulously researched and delivered with a level of clarity that makes it surprisingly easy to read and absorb, even for someone coming to the subject with no previous knowledge.
It's divided into four sections that thoroughly cover each period, looking at all the different parts of society and how they were affected at each point. It's very well written, remains largely free of academic jargon and, to my joy, contains all the relevant information in the main body of the text, meaning no flicking backwards and forwards to notes. The notes at the back are mostly reserved simply to give information about the extensive sources Figes has used. The first part describes society as it was at the point where revolutionary ideas were still in their infancy. Figes describes the Romanov dynasty in some depth — Nicholas II's autocratic style of rule, the influence on him of Alexandra and, through her, Rasputin, and the methods of government that were in force, with all power still concentrated in the hands of a relatively small class of nobles.
He shows what life was like for the peasants, still nasty, brutish and short, but with some more liberal landowners making efforts to provide education for the young. He takes us into the new industrial centres, beginning to suck people in from the villages including those newly educated peasants — places which appalling working and living conditions made ripe for the revolutionary ideas beginning to circulate via the intelligentsia.
The church, which Figes suggests never had a solid grip even on the peasant classes, was weakened further as people moved to the cities where there weren't enough churches to serve the rapidly expanding population. The army, meanwhile, was becoming increasingly out of date — Nicholas loved to parade his cavalry and to see his officers in smart uniforms, but wasn't terribly interested in the less romantic motor vehicles and new weapons being incorporated into the armies of the bordering nations, west and east.
Part 2 covers the period from to just before the revolution proper began. Again Figes ranges widely, often using the stories of individuals to add a human face to the political history. The famine of , due largely to failures in policy, eventually forced the Tsar to appeal for voluntary groups to provide aid to the starving masses.
The liberal intelligentsia dived enthusiastically into this, and thus began some of the organisations which would become political protest movements. But still Nicholas rejected reforms, leading to increasing radicalisation of the disaffected. The war against Japan, which Nicholas expected to win easily, highlighted the weakness of the army, while the eventual loss was a national humiliation which further undermined the monarchy.
The revolution arose from all of these factors, further aggravated by the brutal force used to disperse protest marches. Although this revolution failed, Figes shows how it hardened attitudes and consolidated the various factions which would play major roles in the years to come. Figes explains these factions well, including their various policy aims, which is a great help in understanding the confusion of personalities and groups that feature in the events of And finally this section takes us up to the early years of WW1, showing the terrible losses and huge hardships suffered by soldiers and civilians.
The third section concentrates on the revolutionary year — from February to the signing of the peace of Brest-Litovsk in March This is basically the period covered in Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution which I recently read and reviewed, and while Trotsky's massive account is obviously more detailed, this one has the huge advantage for the reader that Figes has done the groundwork of explaining all the different groupings and factions.
So where Trotsky lost me a little in the mid-section, Figes manages to keep a level of clarity throughout the confusion of this year. It seems to me that Trotsky's history must have been one of Figes' major sources for this section, and the two accounts complement each other well, I found. In retrospect, I suspect it would have been better to read them the other way round though — this one first, then Trotsky.
Figes gives what feels like a less biased account, not unnaturally, dismissing the idea of the coup as 'bloodless' and showing some of the horrors that took place, along with an almost complete breakdown of any kind of social order. He also discusses the issues of Lenin's return on the 'sealed train' and German funding of the revolution, suggesting that the Germans did indeed provide gold but that Lenin and his comrades were not at any point acting as German agents.
Part 4 tells the complex tale of the Civil War that followed the revolution — the various factions within the Whites, all fighting for different aims, and thus never really consolidating as a unified force; the former Allies, primarily Britain, providing support for the Whites in an attempt to destroy the Bolsheviks; the growth of the Red Army under Trotsky's leadership to huge numbers of men, but without sufficient equipment to keep them supplied; the forced conscription, massive brutality and violent anti-Semitism inflicted by both sides.
Figes then goes on to describe Lenin's regime after the war, including the huge rise in bureaucracy that allowed the major players in the regime to begin to form their own fiefdoms and power bases. He also shows the country in a state of ruin, the cities depopulated, the villages racked by famine and starvation, until eventually Lenin was forced to turn back towards a form of capitalism, prompting accusations of betrayal by those who were still fanatical about the ideals of the revolution.
Figes concludes that the people brought about their own tragedy. The country's social and economic backwardness and lack of real belief in democracy meant that they opened the door for what was essentially a return to tsarism in a different form. And he warns, prophetically when you remember this book was first published in , that the fall of the USSR would not necessarily lead to an embracing of democracy in the former states, or in Russia itself.
The book is generously illustrated with over a hundred plates. Some are the usual portraits of the main players, but many show the ordinary people of the cities and villages and, often, the real horrors they endured. Some are indeed upsetting — the ones relating to torture or cannibalism for instance — and while I found those pictures, and Figes' vivid and unsparing descriptions of the events behind them, hard to take, I didn't feel either were gratuitous or sensationalised — they are an essential part of the historical record, and that's the way in which Figes presents them.
This is an exceptional book — one of the best broad scope histories I've read. It's brilliantly written and well laid out, making it easy to read and understand despite the immense complexity of the subject. It is an exemplary mix of the political, the social and the personal, so that I came away from it understanding not just the politics and timeline of events, but how it must have felt to have lived through them. Should you ever be struck with a sudden desire to read an page history of the Russian Revolution, then without a doubt this is the one to read.
My highest recommendation. NB This beautifully produced, special centenary edition of the book was provided for review by the publisher, Bodley Head. Feb 09, Palmyrah rated it it was amazing. This is probably the best single-volume work about the Russian Revolution ever printed in English. It was written after the Soviet archives were opened, making a vast mass of new material available to historians and significantly changing the story as it had been previously understood in the West. It is also the work of an author determined to present as full and true a picture as possible of what happened in Russia during those terrible years, a picture as free from bias and ideological distort This is probably the best single-volume work about the Russian Revolution ever printed in English.
It is also the work of an author determined to present as full and true a picture as possible of what happened in Russia during those terrible years, a picture as free from bias and ideological distortion as he can draw. Although the author has since covered himself with ignominy by committing certain unprofessional acts, the decline of his personal reputation should not affect our appreciation of his work. This is a great book, and I do mean great. I did not find it an easy book to read.
A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924
The real difficulty was neither its awkward size nor the great mass of facts and statistics it contains, but the distressing and depressing nature of the story it recounts. Every possible permutation of human injustice, callousness, venality, stupidity, viciousness, brutality and, to speak plainly, evil, occurs in it.
None of the democratic organisations established before October survived more than a few years of Bolshevik rule, at least not in their democratic form. By , 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 one. The 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 more 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.
Whole 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 consequences 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 blunt. Instead 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 degradation.
What 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 beginning. Although this was written twenty years ago, in some ways it's become more relevant than ever, and not just because next year marks the revolution's centenary.
So I have this interest in Russian history and a lifetime, so I sat down several times and got myself all the way through this book. This was heavy going but rewarding. Figes has a wonderful gift with a concise style that feels as readable as a historical fiction novel. I particularly liked that he followed the stories of several ordinary Russian people throughout the book.
This was brilliant because it really brought home the sheer impact of these events when I was reading about someone again and again as time went on. This is also what made my friend want to give this one a try, so well done!!! Five stars. So glad I committed the time to read this one carefully.
A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution by Orlando Figes | LibraryThing
I have advanced my education and also have a legitimate topic for conversation, in case I ever have the pleasure of meeting David Bowie in the great hereafter. I am sure he will be relieved that somebody has something to say other than, "I really liked your music. A powerful and convincing portrait of the madness and decay of Imperialist Russia to the total bloodshed of WWI and beyond.
Portraits of all of the major figures - the inept tsar and his fat toady ministers, the futile attempts of the fledgling Duma, the insatiable drive for power of the Bolsheviks, and the intense suffering undergone by the masses of peasants. It ostensibly starts with a famine that occurred in , although in reality it provides an overview of events and trends in Russia for two or three decades before that, and continues through Lenin's death in , again briefly mentioning the arc of Soviet history after that.
The author's view of the Russian Revolution is reflected in the book's title: conservative and critical. He considers the history of Russia in the early twentieth century to be a series of missed opportunities to prevent what eventually emerged, and he thinks the Russian people, and the world, would have been better off if it had been prevented. He might well be right.
In any case his narrative provides many interesting details and observations of this period. A People's Tragedy. Andrei Ivanovich Shingarev. Execution of the Romanov family. February Revolution. Mass killings under Communist regimes. Racism in the Soviet Union. Sergo Ordzhonikidze. Special Council on Food Supply.
Many consider the Russian Revolution to be the most significant event of the twentieth century. Distinguished scholar Orlando Figes presents a panorama of Russian society on the eve of that revolution, and then narrates the story of how these social forces were violently erased. Within the broad stokes of war and revolution are miniature histories of individuals, in which Figes follows the main players' fortunes as they saw their hopes die and their world crash into ruins. Unlike previous accounts that trace the origins of the revolution to overreaching political forces and ideals, Figes argues that the failure of democracy in was deeply rooted in Russian culture and social history and that what had started as a people's revolution contained the seeds of its degeneration into violence and dictatorship.
A People's Tragedy is a masterful and original synthesis by a mature scholar, presented in a compelling and accessibly human narrative. Non-Fiction Worth Reading David Bowie's Top Five star books All Things Russia David Bowie's List of Top Books No current Talk conversations about this book. Possibly my favourite history book. I have the late, great David Bowie to thank for bringing this one to my attention, because he included it on his list of Books To Read in a Lifetime.
KaterinaBead Mar 31, An astonishing and grand overview of one of the most defining events of the 20th century - the Russian Revolution. HadriantheBlind Mar 30, This is a fairly detailed narrative, with some interpretation, of the Russian Revolution and Civil War. You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data. Leon Trotsky. Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia.