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The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions
on 12 March 2013
Whoever reads this account of the Russian revolution will surely feel that after the tercentenary celebrations of Romanov rule in 1913 there was nothing actually carved in stone on the wall of fate. It is with hindsight that we can mouth the still prevailing Marxist perception of history where feudalism had to make way for capitalism with imperial aspirations which in turn must bow out when the workers of the world unite. In actual fact in 1913 we have a scenario where "the side" that makes the least mistakes is the side that must eventually prevail. Time and again it is shown that there were opportunities missed that could have changed the course of history.
Orlando Figes admits it took him six years to write his physically unwieldy 900 page tome which covers the social history of the period 1891-1924 as much as the political events that shaped it. It might have benefitted being conceived as two volumes, but either way it must be granted that Figes is not dry or dull and where he occasionally gives way to a narrative account his book becomes highly entertaining. For non-historians it is possible to get a bit confused after the October Revolution with all the balooning buraucratic changes that the Bolsheviks bring about in order to consolidate the Leninist position : apart from the trades unions and the Soviets where the grass-roots of the Party lay, there were the staff of the Central Committee, with nine departments, together with a Party Secretariat and a special organization bureau (Orgburo), the Cheka - or secret police - often somewhat independent of the Party itself, and Sovnarkom, the Council of the People's Commissars.
If only Tsar Nicholas had had a more flexible attitude vis à vis his status and divine right to rule absolutely; if only the German born Tsarina had not alienated many liberals by her interference in affairs of state and her blind faith in Rasputin; if only the World War where the Tsar felt obliged to commit Russia's participation had not weakened so terribly the Imperial regime; and later .... if only the Whites engaged in the civil war had been less reactionary in their views concerning the need to overthrow the land reforms in full and without compromise. If only !!! And the Bolsheviks who eventually took power could reflect on their mistakes which at times had alienated them from their very own supporters - the peasants, industrial workers and the soldiers - yet by the time Lenin died Stalin had all but taken control of the Party and he was not someone known for showing remorse !
This is a great study in the origins and perpetuation of tyranny and shows how the Russian people liberated themselves from one regime only to be enslaved by another - ironically carrying out their programmes in the name of the people they subjugated.