The Russian Revolution is a massive chronicle of detailed analysis, forming the middle volume to Pipes trilogy that began with Russia Under The Old Regime and concluded with Russia Under The Bolshevik Regime. This is a thoroughly absorbing work that shows from 1905 every tangled aspect leading up to the murder of the imperial family in July 1918 and start of the Red Terror.
The swirling chaos brought about by the First World War and the Tsar's abdication, simultaneously created a situation of armed Russian troops that were waiting to be mobilised for the eastern front, now suddenly found themselves sitting on the edge of a power vacuum crater within Russia. Once the provisional government that stepped in to fill the void started to slide, many a contending, brutal faction rose to the boil with the odds definitely stacked against the Bolsheviks; a misleading term that means majority when in reality they were a violent minority.
After the Bolshevik coup d' etat, it was the Germans who continued to prop them up, particularly after Lenin and Trotsky had signed away with the treaty of Brest-Litovsk huge amounts of Russian territory as far west as Kiev, enabling Russia to renege on its commitments to the allies who . . . `suffered immense human and material losses. As a result of Russia's dropping out of the war' . . . (only to internationalise the Revolution) . . . `the Germans withdrew from the inactive Eastern Front enough divisions to increase their effectives in the west by nearly one-fourth (from 150 to 192 divisions). These reinforcements allowed them to mount a ferocious offensive' . . . the allies . . . `lost hundreds of thousands of men. This sacrifice finally brought Germany to her knees. And the defeat of Germany, to which it had made no contribution . . . enabled the Soviet Government to annul the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and recover most of the lands which it had been forced to give up'. . . No other ruler in Russian history conceded so much territory as Lenin had. This, along with heavier taxes than under Tsarist times and multiplying murders against so called `counter-revolutionaries' made the Bolsheviks immediately unpopular.
Here we have a constantly fascinating account teeming with every sort of personality and unpredictable event. We read about the fracturing succession of the Ukraine, Trans Caucasia (Georgia and Armenia) and (almost) Siberia into transient independent Republics with a startling sense of deja vu; it now seems the 1990's was a variation on a pre-existing theme. Whilst one of Pipes many themes, implicit in the titles Old Regime and Bolshevik Regime, claims that the all encompassing `patrimonial' system under Tsarist times precluded any sense of private property (everything physical and human belonged, within Russia, to the Tsar) and with the Bolshevik development of the one party state, `patrimonial' autocratic control continued; this has been keenly contradicted by several scholars but should not get in the way of an outstanding, breathtaking achievement by a single individual where so much has been given its proper perspective.
Pipes also argues most convincingly that the `antecedents' to Stalinism had been mapped out by Lenin. The sorcerers apprentice intensified what had already begun. The last word belongs to Pipes and is indicative of this great work in helping us understand the incomprehensible . . . `Once society disintegrated into an agglomeration of human atoms, each fearful of being noticed and concerned exclusively with physical survival, then it ceased to matter what society thought, for the government had the entire sphere of public activity to itself. Only under these conditions could a small minority subjugate millions.'