"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Endless Russian Revolutions

I have heard it said since at least 2001 that revolutionary, ideological, and imperial ambitions in Russia are never dead. The Revolution may have been nearly a century ago, and the collapse of the poisoned fruit of that revolution nearly a quarter-century ago now, but the hopes of re-founding an empire are eternal. If anyone doubts this, simply look at the annexation of Crimea, the gratuitous and aggressive war against Ukraine, and the other recent machinations of the Putin regime.

A recent history also advances this theme. Written by the colorful and sometimes controversial Orlando Figes (whose book The Crimean War: A History, as I noted several years ago, is just splendid), Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History (Metropolitan Books, 2014, 336pp.) is, as the publisher tells us:

an original reading of the Russian Revolution, examining it not as a single event but as a hundred-year cycle of violence in pursuit of utopian dreams
In this elegant and incisive account, Orlando Figes offers an illuminating new perspective on the Russian Revolution. While other historians have focused their examinations on the cataclysmic years immediately before and after 1917, Figes shows how the revolution, while it changed in form and character, nevertheless retained the same idealistic goals throughout, from its origins in the famine crisis of 1891 until its end with the collapse of the Soviet regime in 1991.

Figes traces three generational phases: Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who set the pattern of destruction and renewal until their demise in the terror of the 1930s; the Stalinist generation, promoted from the lower classes, who created the lasting structures of the Soviet regime and consolidated its legitimacy through victory in war; and the generation of 1956, shaped by the revelations of Stalin’s crimes and committed to “making the Revolution work” to remedy economic decline and mass disaffection. Until the very end of the Soviet system, its leaders believed they were carrying out the revolution Lenin had begun.
With the authority and distinctive style that have marked his magisterial histories, Figes delivers an accessible and paradigm-shifting reconsideration of one of the defining events of the twentieth century.

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