As well as completely changing the political and geographical structure of Europe, the demise of the Soviet Union has significantly altered the approach of historical scholarship about the Russian Revolution.
In Three Whys of the Russian Revolution, the eminent scholar of Russian history, Richard Pipes, confronts the challenge of assessing the causes and course of the Russian Revolutions from a post-Cold War perspective.
Pipes explains that for 70 years prior to the 1990's, historians in the West adopted a "revisionist" perspective of the Russian Revolutions that was largely influenced by Communist scholarship. The events of 1917, these Communist scholars concluded, were nothing but revolutionary activity.
Western scholarship's acceptance of this conclusion stems, Pipes explains, from a lack of source material, much of which was deemed classified by the Soviet regime.
But access to this information is now open, and Pipes, among others, has utilized this opportunity in an attempt to re-evaluate the Revolutions, with the product being two extensive works (on which these essays are based). Not surprisingly, his understanding of the events of 1917 has changed somewhat, and thus the three essays in the book are a continued attempt to debunk much of the "revisionist" perspective with less radical conclusions.
Among the notions that Pipes challenges is the very insistence by the "revisionists" that the Revolutions were in fact revolutions.
As the author clearly outlines, the events of 1917 were actually the work of a small group of intellectuals headed by the idealist Lenin. His overthrow of the Czarist regime is argued by Pipes as being a coup d'etat which involved the people as a whole in only a small degree.
This brings Pipes to his second major argument. Were the people ready, willing, or even a part of the coup d'etat process? It has often been a marvel to historians that the agrarian based nation of Russia was the one nation to take heed of Marx's dialectical writings. But, as Pipes explains, the people (that is, peasantry) indeed had little reason or precedent to desire a change in the ruling regime, and the radical writings of Lenin and his cohorts had little impact on them, since it offered little in the way of a betterment of lifestyle.
Lastly Pipes addresses the post-coup d'etat events surrounding the ascension of Stalin as the next leader of the Soviet Regime. Several years after the events of 1917, Lenin's failing health allowed Stalin to enter the scene, a man who Lenin recognized as having an unstable personality, one unviable for effectively continuing the Communist programmes as Lenin had planned.
This opposition to Stalin was glossed over by Communist scholars to maintain a healthy image of the leadership, and thus was subsequently adopted by Western scholars.
It is easily said, then, that there is much of value in Three Whys of the Russian Revolution to history students and others interested in the events of 1917. Pipes' three essays present sound, articulate, and compelling arguments as to the causes and course of the Revolutions, and is thus an important asset for future scholarship on the subject.