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N a human scale while providing a convincing and detailed understanding of the role of workers peasants and soldiers in the revolution He moves deftly from topics such as the grand social forces and mass movements that made up the revolution to profiles of key personalities and representative characters Figes's themes of the Russian revolution as a tragedy for the Russian people as a whole and for the millions of individuals who lost their lives to the brutal forces it unleashed make sense of events 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 1917 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 wrongSecond by starting the book in 1891 with a 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 hear from the survivors of mistakes errors misconceptions indolence arrogance 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 you feel like a helpless bystander watching it happenThis 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 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 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 materialThe 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 governmentI 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 about how the nature of the revolution affected later developments the abominable governance which followed is not Figes s topic

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A People's Tragedy The Russian Revolution 1891–1924

For a new generation of students of Russian history Sympathy for the charismatic leaders and ideological theorizing regarding Hegelian dialectics and Marxist economics two hallmarks of much earlier writing on the Russian revolution are banished from these clear eyed fair minded pages of A People's Tragedy The author's sympathy is suarely with the Russian people That commitment together with the benefit of historical hindsight provides a standpoint Figes take full advantage of in this masterful histor 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 1917 the provisional government lasted less than a year before a second revolution brought the Bolcheviks to power3 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 Soviets4 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 reuired to read it through to the end

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Written in a narrative style that captures both the scope and detail of the Russian revolution Orlando Figes's history is certain to become one of the most important contemporary studies of Russia as it was at the beginning of the 20th century With an almost cinematic eye Figes captures the broad movements of war and revolution never losing sight of the individuals whose lives make up his subject He makes use of personal papers and personal histories to illustrate the effects the revolution wrought o If you thought the Season 5 finale of Game of Thrones was brutal Orlando Figes wants to educate you You don t pick up a book like A People s Tragedy with the notion that it s going to be filled with newborn puppies ice cream giveaways and people finding rolled up and forgotten twenty dollar bills in their pockets If you do have that notion well you should really reread the title Even so the collection of misery in Figes massive history of the Russian Revolution is pretty overwhelming This is 824 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 Contained between these two covers are all the things my wife tells me are not appropriate small talk for dinner parties War war as waged by fools the attendant slaughter of war as waged by fools revolution the attendant slaughter of revolution as waged by fanatics famine torture capriciousness shortsightedness disloyalty backstabbing and betrayal execution and murder This is the kind of book from which I had to take several breaks I just couldn t push all the way through 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 Traffic is bad But at least my farm hasn t been taken over by a Bolshevik stooge Figes opens his narrative beautifully with a Barbara Tuchman like set piece that describes the 300 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 150 pages to the workings of Russia under the Tsar Nicholas II I read this book as part of my Two Person Russian Book Club which includes me and my friend Jamie As part of our elite exclusive Book Club I m the founder President treasurer and drunk Jamie is the member Vice President and chief enabler we ve already read a couple books on Nicholas Alexandra and their doomed family Thus this first section seemed pretty straightforward and standard You have Nicholas II who rose to power far too soon after his father s early death inexpertly wielding his prerogatives without the faintest idea that the world had shifted off its axis Historian Margaret MacMillan is fond of describing Nicholas II as an ideal village postmaster I love that description because it fits him so wellat 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 He probably could have lived a long and immeasurably happier life if he d just retired to a dacha somewhere and let someone anyone else rule in his place 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 1891 1917 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 1914 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 Nicholas s choice to go to war kind of feels like the choice of a troubled couple to have a kid or a second or third or fourth kid to paper over a bad marriage Hey maybe if we go to war all the people will love me again It didn t work that way The story of Tsar Nicholas s abdication his imprisonment in Ekaterinburg s House of Special Purpose and his and his family s murder is a familiar story and Figes does not spend much time on this death pageant Instead he takes a deep dive into the workings and failures of the Provisional Government and the plotting and scheming of the Bolshevik takeoverIn 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 Unsurprisingly many of these people s stories end dismally Figes also does not neglect to mention Rasputin s penis Rasputin s assassin and alleged homosexual lover Felix Yusupov claimed that his prowess was explained by a large wart strategically situated on his penis which was of exceptional size 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 1914 his genitals were found to be so small and shriveled that the doctor wondered whether he was capable of the sexual act at all Rasputin himself had once boasted to the monk Iliodor that he could lie with women without feeling passion because his penis did not function History It s in the detailsAt this point I should mention that I don t know a ton about Russian history Once Nicholas II was off the stage I was in the wilderness I know I just made a big deal about my Two Person Russian Book Club But really we re a lot of talk and some wine I m not an expert I m at the point in my life where I can still get Kerensky and Kornilov confused if I m not paying close attention 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 Fox News tell me it s bad but this is not tremendously helpful That s why it s telling that I still enjoyed this book so much It is unbelievably dense and relatively long it s tremendously long when compared to most books only relatively long when compared to books by Russians or about Russia but still manageable Figes is a generous enough writer to lead a relative novice through this thorny complex heavily peopled period relatively unscathed On the other hand I don t think this is an entry level volume It covers too much ground at too high a level to say that What kept me grounded and reading was Figes s relentless attention to the human detail He doesn t get lost in abstract political theorizing He focuses on Rasputin s penis personalities and uirks and circumstances and tough choices This is an individual based telling of history where people s decisions matter 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


10 thoughts on “A People's Tragedy The Russian Revolution 1891–1924

  1. says:

    While I was halfway through this an ‘inspirational uote’ from Lenin happened to come up on my reddit feed Something from one of those early speeches about euality for all I left a comment to suggest – I thought uite mildly – that it was perhaps ethically uestionable to be uoting with approbation someone responsible for the

  2. says:

    If you thought the Season 5 finale of Game of Thrones was brutal Orlando Figes wants to educate you You don’t pick up a book like A People’s Tragedy with the notion that it’s going to be filled with newborn puppies ice cream giveaways and people finding rolled up and forgotten twenty dollar bills in their pockets If you do hav

  3. says:

    ‭A people's tragedy The Russian Revolution 1891 1924 Orlando FigesA People's Tragedy The Russian Revolution 1891–1924 is an award

  4. says:

    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 dialecticsIt has been almost a hundred years since the R

  5. says:

    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 1917 onwards particularly during the Stalinist and Cold War Years and this book would

  6. says:

    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 following1 Orlando Figes has developed a reputation for controversy First he wrote reviews for Com under an assumed name Birkbeck in which he excoria

  7. says:

    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 1905 1914 represented Russia's liberal democratic revolution but it did not produce the reforms necessary

  8. says:

    “The Russian Revolution launched a vast experiment in social engineering – perhaps the grandest in the history of mankind It was arguably

  9. says:

    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 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 ab

  10. says:

    This is a remarkable book on the Russian Revolution It’s coverage from 1891 thru 1924 is detailed but very rea

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