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A PEOPLE'S TRAGEDY by Orlando Figes

A PEOPLE'S TRAGEDY

The Russian Revolution 1891-1924

By Orlando Figes

Pub Date: March 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-670-85916-8
Publisher: Viking

 A brilliant history of the Russian Revolution from the onset of the revolutionary crisis to the period when the basic institutions of the Stalinist regime were in place. Figes (History/Trinity College, Cambridge, England) provides an extraordinary and comprehensive explanation not only of why the revolution occurred, but why it turned out the way it did. His greatest contribution is to capture something of the sheer magnitude of the revolutionary impulse. Seventeen thousand people were killed or wounded by terrorists in the last 20 years of tsarist rule. In six months during the revolutionary period 19056 the regime arrested and executed 15,000 people, shot or wounded a further 20,000, and exiled 45,000. Figes breaks sharply from the view that a constitutional monarchy was evolving prior to the First World War. Such a development was consistently frustrated by Nicholas II, who viewed every change as infringing upon his personal rule and his mystical union with the Russian people. Figes believes that the Bolsheviks won because, in their hatred of the gentry and the bourgeoisie, as well as in their willingness to make peace with the Germans, they expressed the deepest yearnings of the Russian people. Nonetheless, Figes makes it clear that the Bolsheviks came to power only by coup d'Çtat and that they retained power only by centralizing it and using terror ruthlessly to wipe out opposition parties. Such was their fanaticism, however, that they very nearly lost power again. Only the political ineptitude of the Whites enabled them to hold on. Finally, he argues that through his ruthlessness and cruelty, it was Lenin, not his successors, who created the country's Stalinist framework. In the detail that he gives to this vast canvas, in his insight into the Russian people, in the strength of his narrative, and in the human dimension that he gives to the story, with the lives of significant characters traced over lengthy periods of time, Figes has written an incomparable book. It is a masterpiece.