Once in 1905 and twice in 1917 revolutions swept Russia, major acts in a drama that finally brought Lenin's Bolsheviks to power. Veteran Russia observer Harrison Salisbury tackles a rarely attempted comprehensive history of the period, beginning with the 1882 execution of Lenin's older brother Aleksander for participation in a revolutionary plot, and ending with the 1918 murders of the Tsar and his family. The title comes from Aleksander Blok's allegorical poem about twelve Red Guards tramping through the Russian night--to Salisbury ""ignorant, lice-ridden casual murderers and consorts of whores,"" the ""dark people"" whose inbred violence haunts Russian history. Salisbury's ruthless, manic depressive Lenin is repeatedly contraposed to the pathetically incompetent Tsar Nicholas II. The Tsar, though well intentioned, is indecisive and often swayed by the advice of charlatans and poseurs. One point is critical: although in 1905 and February 1917 Lenin is found to be almost disastrously out of touch with Russian events, Salisbury sees him as forcing the successful October 1917 coup ""almost singlehanded."" Salisbury's version of Lenin's role in the coup and his vision of the ""dark people"" will be debated by those who argue that the coup resulted from a series of accidental, unforeseen incidents, as well as those who oppose generalizations about national character. An appealing feature is the chorus of footnotes citing Roy A. Medvedev, dissident chronicler of Stalin's crimes, which satisfies readers' curiosity about the fates of Lenin's coplotters. A historically sound and engrossing account of a singularly important period of Russian history.