Week 24

“Few historical events have been more profoundly distorted by myth than those of 25 October 1917. The popular image of the Bolshevik insurrection, as a bloody struggle by the tens of thousands with several thousand fallen heroes, owes more to October—Eisenstein’s brilliant but largely fictional propaganda film to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the event—than to historical fact. The Great October Socialist Revolution, as it came to be called in Soviet mythology, was in reality such a small-scale event, being in effect no more than a military coup, that it passed unnoticed by the vast majority of the inhabitants of Petrograd. Theaters, restaurants and tram cars functioned much as normal while the Bolsheviks came to power. The whole insurrection could have been completed in six hours, had it not been for the ludicrous incompetence of the insurgents themselves, which made it take an extra fifteen.”
—Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924

"Of all the Great Powers that went to war in 1914, Russia was the most backward and autocratic: here the gap between government and society was larger than it was anywhere else. The Tsar, Nicholas II, was committed to the principle of personal rule, keeping power at court, distrusting his own bureaucracy as a sort of “wall” between himself and his people. He preferred Moscow to St. Petersburg, a “Byzantine” and Eastern tradition of autocratic rule to the Westernizing tradition that descended from Peter the Great. It was Russia’s tragedy, Orlando Figes has suggested, that just as the country was entering the twentieth century its ruler was nostalgic for the seventeenth! He was not content to reign: he wanted to rule. Instead of delegating authority or making genuine concessions to liberal reformers and representative institutions he indulged in a fantasy of absolute power. There was no parliament in Russia until 1906, and by delaying so long in establishing one the regime split the conservative and liberal intelligentsia whose united support was essential for the monarchy’s survival. His empire covered nearly a sixth of the earth’s surface, but he had little of the practical knowledge necessary to govern it, and he distrusted those who did. Given his limitations of intelligence and experience, the Tsar could only play at the part of an autocrat, meddling in government without offering any real leadership. The Tsar’s own chief advisor, Pobedonostev, lamented: “He only understands the significance of some isolated fact, without connection with the rest, without appreciating the interrelation of all other pertinent facts, events, trends, occurrences. He sticks to his insignificant, petty point of view.” The agencies of government were never properly systematized, because it was in the Tsar’s best interest to keep them weak and dependent on his favor and patronage. And it did not help matters that his wife, Alexandra, combined the obstinacy of her grandmother, Britain’s Queen Victoria, with a mystical faith in the mad monk Rasputin, “a peasant visionary given to gargantuan excesses,” as one historian describes him. (She believed that this unsavory character was the only person who could help her son, who had been born with hemophilia.) Her meddling in political affairs—particularly when her husband was at the front during the war—further alienated the regime from its traditional bases of support in the court, the bureaucracy, the Church, and the army. "
Professor Bruce Thompson

RECOMMENDED READING

Richard Pipes,

The Russian Revolution,

Vintage Publishing,

ISBN 0679736603

"A monumental study...of absorbing interest [by] the distinguished historian of modern Russia.... Lucidly written, unsurpassed in detail and comprehensiveness." —Wall Street Journal

"Mr. Pipes writes trenchantly, and at times superbly.... No single volume known to me even begins to cater so adequately to those who want to discover what really happened to Russia." —The New York Times Book Review

Richard Edgar Pipes (July 11, 1923 – May 17, 2018) was an American academic who specialized in Russian and Soviet history. He published several books critical of communist regimes throughout his career. In 1976, he headed Team B, a team of analysts organized by the Central Intelligence Agency who analyzed the strategic capacities and goals of the Soviet military and political leadership. Pipes was the father of American historian Daniel Pipes. Pipes was born to a Jewish family in Cieszyn, Poland, which fled the country as refugees after it was invaded by Nazi Germany. Settling in the United States in 1940, he became a naturalized citizen in 1943 while serving in the United States Army Air Corps. From 1958 to 1996, Pipes worked at Harvard University. The book we recommend to you above is the best most balanced look at the Russian Revolution. There are hundreds of such books available, but we think Pipes does a good job of telling the story as truthfully as possible.

Robert Massie,

Nicholas and Alexandra: The Classic Account of the Fall of the Romanov Dynasty,

Random House Trade Paperbacks,

ISBN 0345438310

Institute Library Call Number: 947.08 Mas NIC