It's generally a tedious business to string together more than a century's worth of revolutionaries and then show what they...

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RUSSIA'S FAILED REVOLUTIONS: From the Decembrists to the Dissidents

It's generally a tedious business to string together more than a century's worth of revolutionaries and then show what they have in common, especially when the terrain is as well plowed as the Russian landscape. So Ulam's uninspiring main thread--that Russian (i.e., pre- and post-Soviet) revolutionaries have always been nationalists seeking to release the Russian spirit--comes as no surprise. Neither does the sub-theme that these nationalists have opposed Western-style democracy and favored a strong state (because Russian conditions called for it). Anyone familiar with Franco Venturi's wonderful Roots of Revolution has been to the well of 19th-century precursors of the Bolsheviks before. As for the post-Bolshevik era, Ulam runs through the familiar idea of Stalin-as-Tsar (though depicting him as a Tsar on the pre-Petrine model would seem to complicate the categorization of Soviet dissidents, like Solzhenitsyn); he caps it off with a handful of pages on such nationalists as Medvedev--and Solzhenitsyn. The whole effort is predictable by now, and is saved (when it is) only by Ulam's genuine knowledge of the Decembrists (chiefly nobles in the army who botched a revolt in 1825) and of the mid-and late-19th-century radicals: Herzen, Chernashevsky, the Populists. But once Ulam's hostility to Bolshevism takes hold, the account becomes less reliable. And, in the end, Ulam's indictment of nationalism doesn't mesh with his fondness for Solzhenitsyn, which leaves hanging the question of Ulam's real target.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 1980

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1980