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Authors: Orlando Figes

A People's Tragedy

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A History of the Russian Revolution

Orlando Figes

Copyright © Orlando Figes, 1996

ISBN: 0670859168



Illustrations x Preface xv Glossary xix Notes on Dates xxi Maps xxiii

1 The Dynasty 3

i The Tsar and His People 3

ii The Miniaturist IS

iii The Heir 24

2 Unstable Pillars 35

i Bureaucrats and Dressing-Gowns 35

ii The Thin Veneer of Civilization 42

iii Remnants of a Feudal Army 55

iv Not-So-Holy Russia 61

v Prison of Peoples 69

3 Icons and Cockroaches 84

i A World Apart 84

ii The Quest to Banish the Past 102

4 Red Ink 122

i Inside the Fortress 122

ii Marx Comes to Russia 139


5 First Blood 157

i Patriots and Liberators 157

ii 'There is no Tsar' 173

iii A Parting of Ways 192

6 Last Hopes 213

i Parliaments and Peasants 213

ii The Statesman 221

iii The Wager on the Strong 232

iv For God, Tsar and Fatherland 241

7 A War on Three Fronts 253

i Metal Against Men 253

ii The Mad Chauffeur 270

iii From the Trenches to the Barricades 291

RUSSIA IN REVOLUTION (FEBRUARY I9I7-MARCH 1918) 8 Glorious February 307

i The Power of the Streets 307

ii Reluctant Revolutionaries 323

iii Nicholas the Last 339

9 The Freest Country in the World 354

i A Distant Liberal State 354

ii Expectations 361

iii Lenin's Rage 384

iv Gorky's Despair 398

10 The Agony of the Provisional Government 406

i The Illusion of a Nation 406

ii A Darker Shade of Red 421

iii The Man on a White Horse 438

iv Hamlets of Democratic Socialism 455

11 Lenin's Revolution 474

i The Art of Insurrection 474

ii The Smolny Autocrats 500

iii Looting the Looters 520

iv Socialism in One Country 536



12 Last Dreams of the Old World 555

i St Petersburg on the Steppe 555

ii The Ghost of the Constituent Assembly 575

13 The Revolution Goes to War 589

i Arming the Revolution 589

ii 'Kulaks', Bagmen and Cigarette Lighters 603

iii The Colour of Blood 627

14 The New Regime Triumphant 650

i Three Decisive Battles 650

ii Comrades and Commissars 682

iii A Socialist Fatherland 696

15 Defeat in Victory 721

i Short-Cuts to Communism 721

ii Engineers of die Human Soul 732

iii Bolshevism in Retreat 751

16 Deaths and Departures 773

i Orphans of the Revolution 773

ii The Unconquered Country 786

iii Lenin's Last Struggle 793

Conclusion 808

Notes 825

Bibliography 862

Index 895


Images of Autocracy: between pages 98 and 99

1 St Petersburg illuminated for the Romanov tercentenary in 1913

2 The procession of the imperial family during the tercentenary 3 Nicholas II rides in public
during the tercentenary 4 Nevsky Prospekt decorated for the tercentenary

5 Guards officers greet the imperial family during the tercentenary 6 Townspeople and peasants in Kostroma during the tercentenary 7 The court ball of 1903

8 The Temple of Christ s Resurrection

9 Trubetskoi s equestrian statue of Alexander III

10 Statue of Alexander III outside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour 11 The imperial family

Rasputin with his admirers

13 The Tsarevich Alexis with Derevenko

Everyday Life Under the Tsars: between pages 194 and 195

14 The city mayors of Russia

15 A group of volost elders

16 A newspaper kiosk in St Petersburg

17 A grocery store in St Petersburg

18 Dinner at a ball given by Countess Shuvalov

19 A soup kitchen for the unemployed in St Petersburg 20 Peasants of a northern Russian village

21 Peasant women threshing wheat

Peasant women hauling a barge

23 Twin brothers, former serfs, from Chernigov province 24 A typical Russian peasant household

25 A meeting of village elders

26 A religious procession in Smolensk province

27 The living space of four Moscow factory workers

28 Inside a Moscow engineering works

Dramatis Personae: between pages 290 and 291

29 General Brusilov

30 Maxim Gorky

31 Prince G. E. Lvov

32 Sergei Semenov

33 Dmitry Os'kin

34 Alexander Kerensky

35 Lenin

36 Trotsky

37 Alexandra Kollontai

Between Revolutions: between pages 386 and 387

38 Soldiers fire at the demonstrating workers on 'Bloody Sunday', 1905

39 Demonstrators confront mounted Cossacks during 1905

40 The opening of the State Duma in April 1906

41 The Tauride Palace

42 Petr Stolypin

43 Wartime volunteers pack parcels for the Front

44 A smart dinner party sees in the New Year of 1917

45 Troops pump out a trench on the Northern Front

46 Cossacks patrol the streets of Petrograd in February 1917

47 The arrest of a policeman during the February Days 48 Moscow workers playing with the stone head of Alexander II 49 A crowd burns tsarist emblems during the February Days 50 The crowd outside the Tauride Palace during the February Days 51 Soldiers receive news of the Tsar's abdication

Images of 1917: between pages 482 and 483

52 The First Provisional Government in the Marinsky Palace 53 The burial of victims of the February Revolution

54 A meeting of the Soviet of Soldiers' Deputies

55 Waiters and waitresses of Petrograd on strike

56 The AU-Russian Congress of Peasant Deputies

57 Fedor Linde leads an anti-war demonstration by the Finland Regiment during the April Crisis

58 Kerensky makes a speech to soldiers at the Front

59 Metropolitan Nikon blesses the Women's Battalion of Death 60 General Kornilov's triumphant arrival in Moscow during the State Conference 61 Members of the Women's Battalion of Death in the Winter Palace on 25 October 62 Some of Kerensky's last defenders in the Winter Palace on 25 October 63 The Smolny Institute

64 The Red Guard of the Vulkan Factory

The Civil War: between pages 578 and 579

65 General Alexeev

66 General Denikin

67 Admiral Kolchak

68 Baron Wrangel

69 Members of the Czech Legion in Vladivostok

70 A group of White officers during a military parade in Omsk 71 A strategic meeting of Red partisans

72 An armoured train

73 The Latvian Division passing through a village

74 Two Red Army soldiers take a break

75 Red Army soldiers reading propaganda leaflets

76 A Red Army mobile library in the village

77 Nestor Makhno

78 The execution of a peasant by the Whites

79 Jewish victims of a pogrom

80 Red Army soldiers torture a Polish officer

Everyday Life Under the Bolsheviks: between pages 674 and 675

81 Muscovites dismantle a house for firewood

82 A priest helps transport timber

83 Women of the 'former classes' sell their last possessions 84 A soldier buys a pair of shoes from a group of
85 Haggling over a fur scarf at the Smolensk market in Moscow 86 Traders at the Smolensk market

87 Two ex-tsarist officers are made to clear the streets 88 Cheka soldiers close down traders' stalls in Moscow 89 Requisitioning the peasants' grain

90 'Bagmen' on the railways

91 The I May
on Red Square in Moscow, 1920

92 An open-air cafeteria at the Kiev Station in Moscow 93 Delegates of the Ninth All-Russian Party Congress

94 The Agitation and Propaganda Department of the Commissariat for Supply and Distribution in the Northern Region

95 The Smolny Institute on the anniversary of the October coup
The Revolutionary Inheritance: between pages 770 and 771

96 Red Army troops assault the mutinous Kronstadt Naval Base 97 Peasant rebels attack a train of requisitioned grain 98 Bolshevik commissars inspect the harvest failure in the Volga region 99 Unburied corpses from the famine crisis

100 Cannibals with their victims

101 Street orphans in Saratov hunt for food in a rubbish tip 102 The Secretary of the Tula Komsomol

103 A juvenile unit of the Red Army in Turkestan

104 Red Army soldiers confiscate valuables from the Semenov Monastery 105 A propaganda meeting in Bukhara

106 Two Bolshevik commissars in the Far East

107 The dying Lenin in 1923

Photographic Credits

Bakhmeteff Archive, Columbia University: 58; California Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside: 20. Hoover Institution of War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford, California: 82-4;
Life on the Russian Country Estate. A Social and
Cultural history,
by Priscilla Roosevelt (Yale University Press, 1995): 26; Museum of the Revolution, Moscow: 7, 15, 36, 52, 61-2, 77-8, 90; Photo-khronika Tass, Moscow: 107; private collections: 10, 32, 97;
Russian in Original Photographs 1860—1920,
by Marvin Lyons (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1977): 25, 47;
Russie, 1904-1924: La
Revolution est Id,
(Baschet, Paris, 1978): 80;
Russian Century, The,
by Brian Moynahan (Chatto & Windus, London, 1994): 13, 28 (courtesy of Slava Katamidze Collection/Endeavour Group, London), 46 (Courtesy of the Endeavour Group, London); Russian State Archive of Film and Photographic Documents, Krasnogorsk: 18—19, 21—3, 35, 37—8, 40, 45, 48, 51, 59-60, 65-71, 73-6, 79, 81, 85-93, 98-106; Russian State Military History Archive, Moscow: 29; Saltykov-Shchedrin Library, St Petersburg: 12; State Archive of Film and Photographic Documents, St Petersburg: 1—

6, 8—9, II, 14, 16-17, 24, 27, 30-1, 34, 39, 41-4, 49-50, 53-7, 63-4, 72, 94-6; Tula District Museum: 33.


These days we call so many things a 'revolution' — a change in the government's policies on sport, a technological innovation, or even a new trend in marketing — that it may be hard for the reader of this book to take on board the vast scale of its subject at the start. The Russian Revolution was, at least in terms of its effects, one of the biggest events in the history of the world. Within a generation of the establishment of Soviet power, one-third of humanity was living under regimes modelled upon it. The revolution of 1917 has defined the shape of the contemporary world, and we are only now emerging from its shadow. It was not so much a single revolution — the compact eruption of 1917 so often depicted in the history books — as a whole complex of different
which exploded in the middle of the First World War and set off a chain reaction of more revolutions, civil, ethnic and national wars. By the time that it was over, it had blown apart — and then put back together — an empire covering one-sixth of the surface of the globe. At the risk of appearing callous, the easiest way to convey the revolution's scope is to list the ways in which it wasted human life: tens of thousands were killed by the bombs and bullets of the revolutionaries, and at least an equal number by the repressions of the tsarist regime, before 1917; thousands died in the street fighting of that year; hundreds of thousands from the Terror of the Reds —

and an equal number from the Terror of the Whites, if one counts the victims of their pogroms against Jews — during the years that followed; more than a million perished in the fighting of the civil war, including civilians in the rear; and yet more people died from hunger, cold and disease than from all these put together.

All of which, I suppose, is by way of an apology for the vast size of this book — the first attempt at a comprehensive history of the entire revolutionary period in a single volume. Its narrative begins in the 1890s, when the revolutionary crisis really started, and more specifically in 1891, when the public's reaction to the famine crisis set it for the first time on a collision course with the tsarist autocracy. And our story ends in 1924, with the death of Lenin, by which time the revolution had come full circle and the basic institutions, if not all the practices, of the Stalinist regime were in place. This is to give to the revolution a much longer lifespan than is customary. But it seems to me that, with one or two exceptions, previous histories of the revolution have been too narrowly focused on the events of 1917, and that this has made the range of its possible outcomes appear much more limited than they actually were. It was by no means inevitable that the revolution should have ended in the Bolshevik dictatorship, although looking only at that fateful year would lead one towards this conclusion. There were a number of decisive moments, both before and during 1917, when Russia might have followed a more democratic course. It is the aim of
A People's Tragedy,
by looking at the revolution in the
longue durée,
to explain why it did not at each of these in turn. As its title is intended to suggest, the book rests on the proposition that Russia's democratic failure was deeply rooted in its political culture and social history. Many of the themes of the four introductory chapters in Part One — the absence of a state-based counterbalance to the despotism of the Tsar; the isolation and fragility of liberal civil society; the backwardness and violence of the Russian village that drove so many peasants to go and seek a better life in the industrial towns; and the strange fanaticism of the Russian radical intelligentsia — will reappear as constant themes in the narrative of Parts Two, Three and Four.

BOOK: A People's Tragedy
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