CRITICAL COMPANION TO THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION, 1914-1921 by Edward Acton

CRITICAL COMPANION TO THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION, 1914-1921

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 One of the most comprehensive surveys of the new information becoming available about the Russian Revolution and of the new interpretations of the revolutionary period. The conventional interpretations have tended to be sharply divergent; the Soviet emphasis on the valiant party of the workers versus the Western emphasis on the role of the Bolsheviks in snuffing out democracy and establishing a one-party state. This survey hardly exposes the ``glaring inadequacies'' of the ``traditional Western view,'' as Acton (History/Univ. of East Anglia) argues. Indeed, there is much here that thoroughly supports that view (including Orlando Figes's research on the peasant revolts against the Bolsheviks). But more important, the collection supplies an abundance of evidence that enriches our understanding of the period: the differences of opinion within the Bolshevik Party, of which even Lenin had to take account, the pressures on Nicholas II (Dominic Lieven notes that by 1917 the tsar was showing signs of physical and mental collapse--not surprising, he argues, when ``even tough professional Western politicians seldom survive in top office above a decade''). Perhaps the biggest single divergence with the Western view is the growing belief among historians that the Bolsheviks won because they articulated the yearnings of the mass of the Russian population better than anyone else, rather than because they were better organized. That close relationship did not last long, and the Bolsheviks abandoned their promises as soon as they could, but, when combined with their ruthless cruelty, it was enough to entrench them in power. No book of essays is an easy read, and there are inevitably some weak spots, including contributors who have nothing new to say, but this is a wide-ranging assessment of an area of historiography in the process of being reborn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-253-33333-4
Page count: 800pp
Publisher: Indiana Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1997




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