A fresh history of the revolution “as a concrete historical event—controversial and significant in its lasting impact on world politics, but also worth understanding on its own terms, unmediated by our current prejudices.”
McMeekin (History/Bard Coll.; The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, 1908-1923, 2015, etc.) refreshingly doesn’t muddy the waters with too many characters, but he is thorough in his treatment, which is that much more interesting due to the wealth of information released following the downfall of the Soviet Union. “Fortunately for historians of the revolution,” he writes, “the years since 1991 have seen an explosion of research into Russia’s military performance in World War I from 1914 to 1917.” Of course, Lenin springs to mind as the great leader of the revolution, but when he finally appeared, he had been out of the country for years. However, he knew that the country needed an enemy to unite against, and Germany wouldn’t provide it; troops were bored and ripe for infiltration by the Bolsheviks. The author also explores the explosive Order No. 1, effectively telling troops to disarm officers, as well as Lenin’s abilities to control the armed forces, one of the keys to Bolshevik success. His goal was not revolution but civil war, and he got it: “Lenin’s imperative was to transform the ‘imperialist war’ into a civil war.” However, the author points out how easily things might have gone the other way. Peter Stolypin’s 1906 agriculture reforms pleased nearly everyone, and the army was well taken care of. Czar Nicholas II does not escape McMeekin’s scrutiny, either. His ineffectiveness and reliance on Rasputin turned the people away, even though it was Rasputin who warned him about the war.
McMeekin effectively shows how easily one man could undermine the foundations of a nation, and he makes the revolution comprehensible as he exposes the deviousness of its leader.