Sunday, September 2, 2018

Reading Notes, Revolutionary Edition

 So, if you read my blog you probably also read Tamara's blog and saw this post:
This was actually a Re-Tweet with commentary of a Tweet of mine:
which was in itself a reply to others being surprised that Twitter has gotten too hot for Will "Weaselly Crusher" Wheaton, who had up until very recently been one of the most reliable of knee-jerk leftist narrative followers.

(If the Tweets themselves do not show up, just text with funky formatting, you can click on the date of the tweet to see the things in their original glory.)
(Side note: I just noticed that I have 1776 Tweets..)

Part of the reason for this tweet was that I just finished reading Russia in Flames: War, Revolution, Civil War, 1914 - 1921: Laura Engelstein (Amazon link), which I borrowed from the King County Library.

Here's the synopsis from Amazon:
October 1917, heralded as the culmination of the Russian Revolution, remains a defining moment in world history. Even a hundred years after the events that led to the emergence of the world's first self-proclaimed socialist state, debate continues over whether, as historian E. H. Carr put it decades ago, these earth-shaking days were a "landmark in the emancipation of mankind from past oppression" or "a crime and a disaster." Some things are clear. After the implosion of the three-hundred-year-old Romanov dynasty as a result of the First World War, Russia was in crisis-one interim government replaced another in the vacuum left by imperial collapse.

In this monumental and sweeping new account, Laura Engelstein delves into the seven years of chaos surrounding 1917 --the war, the revolutionary upheaval, and the civil strife it provoked. These were years of breakdown and brutal violence on all sides, punctuated by the decisive turning points of February and October. As Engelstein proves definitively, the struggle for power engaged not only civil society and party leaders, but the broad masses of the population and every corner of the far-reaching empire, well beyond Moscow and Petrograd.

Yet in addition to the bloodshed they unleashed, the revolution and civil war revealed democratic yearnings, even if ideas of what constituted "democracy" differed dramatically. Into that vacuum left by the Romanov collapse rushed long-suppressed hopes and dreams about social justice and equality. But any possible experiment in self-rule was cut short by the October Revolution. Under the banner of true democracy, and against all odds, the Bolshevik triumph resulted in the ruthless repression of all opposition. The Bolsheviks managed to harness the social breakdown caused by the war and institutionalize violence as a method of state-building, creating a new society and a new form of power.

I think someone at Amazon couldn't bring themselves to make any observations about how the "Bolshevik Triumph" was due to the Bolshevik's being better at slaughtering anyone who didn't toe their party line better than any of their rivals. Also, that "true democracy" as espoused by the Bolsheviks was just a word to dupe the masses.

While this book is organized more-or-less chronologically, Engelstein covers the events of 1905-1921 geographically as well, examining events in all of the former Russian Empire, including those arts that managed to break off from it to become independent -- as well as in those that failed in their attempts to do so. (Growing up in Detroit, more often than not I heard Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia referred to as The Captive Nations"; they had a weekend Ethnic Festival all their own.)

The Reds did not so much defeat the Whites as the Whites defeated themselves: They were not an "Army" so much as being a chaotic shambles under a blanket descriptor. This process is well described, as is the way that Lenin and Trotsky, et alia,  blithely had thousands if not millions slaughtered for the crime of... existing.

As I noted in my tweet above (limited to 280 characters) not only was the process of the revolution devouring it's own not finished, but it was neither the first nor the last to do so. If you can find it, I highly recommend The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression: Jean-Louis Panné, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek, Jean-Louis Margolin, et al. to describe the manner in which various revolutions have betrayed those in whose names they were carried out. Note that it was written by an assemblage of European commies.

(From the Review: When it was first published in France in 1997, Le livre noir du Communisme touched off a storm of controversy that continues to rage today. Even some of his contributors shied away from chief editor Stéphane Courtois's conclusion that Communism, in all its many forms, was morally no better than Nazism; the two totalitarian systems, Courtois argued, were far better at killing than at governing, as the world learned to its sorrow.)

Now, I've tried to read Russian history before and gotten so bogged down in Russian names that I had to quit; I was simply unable to keep track of who was doing what to whom. (I suppose there's a Lenin joke in there somewhere...) Robert Conquest just, well, defeats me when it comes to it. (Maybe Daddy Bear can recommend something...) I managed with this one, so there's that.

This is another of those books which run 800 pages, 200+ of which are notes, index, and bibliography. At some point I extended the loan from the library, but I managed to finish it by the original due date. It probably wouldn't have been a challenge if my reading habits haven't been severely impacted by my work schedule, i.e., working graveyard shift, I do most of my reading on my weekends.

If you've ever wondered how Russia went from the Tsar to Kerensky to Lenin, and how Lenin hung on until his death, this book covers the period well. Recommended.


Arthur said...

Way, way back when, as a junior in college I took 2 semesters of Russian history, mostly because I needed electives to round out the engineering stuff, and it seemed if not interesting, complex enough that it might turn out to be interesting. In between I took an extremely basic 4 week Russian language course that was described as "not intended to teach you Russian but provide background to understand the etymology of Russian person and place names" and taught by a Russian teaching assistant and doctoral candidate in History. I confess that without that almost nothing covered in those 2 semesters would have been comprehensible.

The biggest thing I learned was history is, in many ways, the tale of formation, and evolution, of culture: what was the heritage, what changed, which forces, seen and unseen, drove changes, what did not change, because it cannot if the base culture is to continue.

Which brings me to the U.S. For the last 250+ years there has been an American culture, united for about 230 of those years under a Constitution. That unifying culture, however, is composed of regional cultures which are quite different; a Manhattanite would be quite uncomfortable in Birmingham, as would the reverse. Such a transplantation is not just survivable, but an opportunity for personal and financial prosperity, because of the overlaying shared culture of Americanism. There are myriad places in the world where that is not possible because tribal cultures, small, large, and national, outweigh everything else; look at Africa today, Russia over the last couple of hundred years, and the Middle East over millenia.

That unifying culture is what the Left is earnestly trying to destroy; I doubt we'll be better off as more segregated by cultural differences.

D.W. Drang said...

That was pretty much the sub-text that was going through my head as I read the book, and wrote this.

D.W. Drang said...

Also, thanks for providing the segue into my next "Reading Notes" post, which should be up in a couple of days. :-)

Old NFO said...

Thanks, I'll add it to the read list!