There has been so much written about the Russian Revolution that one might question what this new publication could possibly have to offer. Surprisingly there’s lots! What is especially impressive is that Revolutionary Russia not only covers the 25 years prior to the 1917 rebellion, WW I, the dethroning of the Tsar, civil war, and redistribution of power … but all the years thereafter until the Soviet Union finally collapsed.
Reading the entire history of the Soviet Union brings clarity to the tragic events that took place during those 100 years … year after year of strikes, violence, revolts, disease and starvation, poor education, inflation and low wages, a bad economy, suppression, chaos… and terror. Living conditions were often worse than living under the Imperial Crown of the Tsar. And terror beyond belief, complete with purges, the Gulag, and executions. Speaking of the 1930s Figes writes, ” The pattern of arrests was so random that nobody was safe. It seemed that anyone could be arrested for almost anything – a loose word, a joke, a mistake in the past, a relative with the wrong occupation or social origins.” (Pg. 200). “At the height of the Great Terror, between August 1937 and November 1938, on average 1,500 people were shot each day. The population of the Gulag labour camps grew from 1.2 to 1.9 million.” (Pg. 191)
And then when WW II began, the peasant army was expected to fight to the death to help Stalin expand the borders to protect their home country … a nation where they were no better off than slaves living under harsh conditions of isolation, censorship, and Stalin’s unending reign of terror.
Revolutionary Russia reveals details about Russia’s economy and culture, with an overview of historical events: the Cuban missile crisis, Chernobyl disaster, Russia’s war with Afghanistan, and the Cold War. The last fifty pages cover the collapse of the Soviet Union including how and why it collapsed.
But one question always remains unanswered. How could a society tolerate 100 years of this chaos – waiting for the Utopia that Marx espoused? That is the mystery that keeps readers intrigued – the reason Revolutionary Russia is a worthy read. It is impossible to say who was more evil: Mao Zedong, Adolph Hitler, or Joseph Stalin, but one thing is sure – there is always a lesson to be learned from studying history. And despite the catastrophic events under the lethal red flag, a survey conducted in Russia just a few years ago indicated that ” 42% of the Russian population would like the return of a leader like Stalin.” (Pg. 295)
Orlando Figes is a professor of history and has written numerous other great books about Russia. The nice thing about this one is it covers the Soviet Union in its entirety – from Lenin to Gorbachev – and ends in a time when there was hope for a better life for millions of people throughout Eastern Europe.
Rated 4.5 Stars.
I use a rating scale of 1 to 5. Books rated 1, I seldom finish. Books rated 2, I usually finish but would never recommend to anyone. 5 is the highest rating.