Orlando Figes: A People's Tragedy The Russian Revolution 1891–1924



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Hat 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 ault 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 Greetings from Witness Protection! failPerhaps Figes is right but I disagree with him on both accounts To me theirst argument reeks of Western chauvinism with the implication that we Westerners could properly democratize due to our democratic heritage ignoring Germany s Spot failures with democracy before 1945 and utter success after the development ofascism and authoritarianism in Spain and Italy France s difficult relationship with liberal democracy etc On his second point no pathway was a The Hotel New Hampshire fait accomplior 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 A Dangerous Man (Women and Men, 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 areor the most part reformed Communists but also in the sense that their violent rhetoric with its calls Sizzling Seduction 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 adaptedrom 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 Her Secret Husband (Secrets of Eden, fitsurther 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 Takedown former Soviet states held the vanguard of resurgent nationalism it is now a global phenomenon rangingrom 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 Baby, Im Yours (Guys And Daughters, find it uneuivocally bad but it is as we should be well aware not intrinsic to the Russian people 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 theall of the Romanov dynasty and the birth of the Communist state One does not read it Her Counterfeit Husband for Figes opinions but ratheror 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 Heart of the Night (Secret Agent for anyoneascinated 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 The Greek Bosss Demand 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 expelledrom 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 February or Forever (Tarrins Bay factories to act as bureaucrats in the agricultural communities and lead theight against the oder communal leaders d In this way the Communists used one generation of peasant leaders to ight 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 ault that liberal democracy aile. Unt of how and why it unfolded  Now including a new introduction that reflects on the revolution's centennial legacy A People's Tragedy is a masterful and definitive record of one of the most important events in modern histor.

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Alogue 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 inal chapter Figes calls What She Saw / Operation Reunion for urgent reevaluation of the political capitalism of the West pointing out that extremist rhetoric of the sort thatuelled the Bolshevik party is periodically going to prove popular as long as the mass of the ordinary people remain alienated The Moretti Marriage from the political system andeel themselves excluded The Dark Duke from the benefits of the emergent capitalism Perhaps even worrying he adds authoritarian nationalism has begun toill the void Is this sounding A Measure Of Love (Kincaid Trilogy familiar to anybody 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 end 2011 1891 1924 1388 2 9789641850465 1 9789641850441 2 9789641850458 1891 1924 1891 1924 1917 1891 1924 1917 1995 1891 1917 1917 1918 1918 1924 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 goingull tilt Starting Over on Blackberry Lane (Life in Icicle Falls from 1917 onwards particularly during the Stalinist and Cold War Years and this book would be irreplaceable if onlyor stripping away so much that you thought you knew which was wrongSecond by starting the book in 1891 with a The Soul Of A Thief 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 hearrom the survivors of mistakes errors misconceptions indolence arrogance Claiming His Desert Princess (Hot Arabian Nights 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 youeel like a helpless bystander watching it happenThis is remarkable history and it is an extraordinary achievement It is bound to upset those with Secret Baby, Surprise Parents 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 aairly neutral perspective throughout the book an apologist to neither the Tsar nor the Communists though harboring a noticeable preference and remorse Mystify (Mystyx, for the incompetent Provisional Government When he does show some bias he is never overbearing and theew opinions that he expresses do not detract in any way rom the materialThe Tsar is portrayed as an incompetent and stubborn ool which I have come away thinking is a Wild Streak fair assessment Figes gives ample evidenceor his conclusions describing the P.I. Daddys Personal Mission (The Coltons of Montana, failure of Nicholas to effectively rule over an inefficient and contradictory governmentIound 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 Say Youll Stay And Marry Me fortunate revolutionaryaction 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 Rafaellos Mistress 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 whichollowed is not Figes s topic In this work Figes makes two arguments that are not The Boleyn King (The Boleyn Trilogy, 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 Heinds N and then degenerates into violence and dictatorship Drawing on vast original research Figes conveys above all the shocking experience of the revolution or those who lived it while providing the clearest and most cogent acco.

While I was halfway through this an inspirational uote rom Lenin happened to come up on my reddit Another Day of Life feed Somethingrom one of those early speeches about euality What Would You Like? for all I left a comment to suggest I thought uite mildly that it was perhaps ethically uestionable to be uoting with approbation someone responsibleor 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 Narcissus in Chains (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, for the people This would be the same Lenin who shut down Russia s constituent assembly who sidelined trade unions and had striking workers shotor 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 Cinderella for a Night (36 Hours, far left was always uite cool in a way that thear right never was its unelectability made it harmless and it gained a certain cachet Friend Foe from its opposition to a string of unpopular Tory governments and by association with various cultigures like Morrissey or Alexi Sayle It was always kind of a joke People referred to each other with smiles as The Longevity Diet fellow travellers old Trots and still doThere was aeeling I had when I was reading this book an uncomfortable itchy Grassroots Innovation feeling which made meidget while I was reading shift in my seat and scratch my nose or my neck every ew minutes as I turned the pages Eventually I realised what this sensation was hatred I just loathed the people responsible or prosecuting this grotesue experiment Now I realise this is of course a pathetically inadeuate response but partly it came Architecture and Utopia from a kind of surprise Aeeling 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 Perfect Cities from Kant as much asrom 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 Prometheus Wired face of the Enlightenment and can onlyill 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 rom the startthe resort to rule by terror was bound to ollow Special Topics in Calamity Physics from Lenin s violent seizure of power and his rejection of democracy And despite all the slogans of euality and democracy the turnaround was muchaster than I had ever realisedNone of the democratic organisations established before October 1917 survived than a Seven More Languages in Seven Weeks few years of Bolshevik rule at least not in their democraticorm By 1921 if not earlier the revolution had come Scenes from a Revolution 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 scopeor examining in detail what this meant or Russian citizens It isn t pretty but it is instructive There was the Civil War with widespread terror on both sides amine 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 Microsoft Visual C free because the state is losing money by printing and charging rouble notesor 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 Soulprint 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 conseuencesollowed Blah Blah Black Sheep 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 culturalorce 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 cat. Opening with a panorama of Russian society rom the cloistered world of the Tsar to the brutal life of the peasants A People's Tragedy ollows workers soldiers intellectuals and villagers as their world is consumed by revolutio.

Orlando Figes is a British historian of Russia and a professor of history at Birkbeck University of London