The article that needs no introduction! Following up on her previous pieces on World War One, including the spark that caused World War One to break out here, Rebecca Fachner tells us the 10 reasons why we are still fascinated by the Russian Revolution.
1. It is Bogo (Buy One Get One).
The Russian Revolution is the ultimate historical bargain; you get 2 for the price of 1. There were actually 2 revolutions inside of a year, the February/March revolution, which deposed the Tsar, and the October revolution that toppled the Provisional Government and brought the Bolsheviks to power.
2. It was so much larger than life.
The Russian Revolution is all about contrast, which is what makes it so fascinating and unbelievable. The extreme opulence of the upper class and the Tsarist court, the wretched poverty of everyone else. There was such a huge gap between the “haves” and the “have not’s” that its actually staggering. Of course there was royalty and wealth in other countries, but the Russians cornered the market on royalty, excess and flamboyance. And the poor were just so overworked, starving and helpless. Poor is poor everywhere, but the poor in pre-Revolutionary Russia seem so much worse off than elsewhere.
4. How did the Tsar and his government not see what was going on?
The Tsar himself represents another fascinating aspect to this entire historical episode. Has there ever been a man less suited to his position in life than Nicholas II? He was not a ruler; he was indecisive, small minded, family oriented and lacked any forcefulness. His wife was similarly poorly placed in history, being unstable, hysterical and incredibly stubborn. Both were hugely lacking in self-awareness, which is the only explanation for how both Nicholas and his wife managed to completely ignore the unrest and unhappiness of their population. It takes a special kind of blindness not to see how the Tsarist government was teetering. In the ultimate historical irony, Nicholas would have been a perfect constitutional monarch, like his cousin George V in England, had he not been so dogmatically opposed to any constitution of any kind.
5. There is something for everyone.
The Russian Revolution is an incredibly accessible historical event, easy to understand and yet dense and scholarly all at the same time. It has fascinated popular historians, Hollywood and serious scholars because there are so many layers and so much going on. Movies have been made about the revolution (even cartoons), scholars have devoted entire careers to studying the Russian Revolution, and books of all types: popular history, memoir, even historical fiction have been written en masse about the Russian Revolution.
6. Those poor, beautiful, doomed kids.
Everyone has seen one of the photos of the Tsar and his family, with the four beautiful daughters in their long white dresses and pearls, standing almost protectively around their parents and their little brother. There are so many pictures of the family, and as the girls get older they seem to look increasingly tragic and haunted. Maybe it is because we know what is coming for them, and we just can’t help but look at those pictures with a sense of foreboding. The revolution cost many lives, not to mention those killed in the first years of the Soviet government, but these four girls seem to represent the passing of an age and the lost potential not only of their young lives, but their parents entire reign.
7. How did the Provisional government make the same mistakes their predecessors did?
The Provisional government took power in the chaotic and incredibly confused first days after the Tsar was deposed, and had the unenviable task of trying to form a new government under the absolute worst conditions: in the middle of a war, with almost no experience, and a population that was starving, sick and desperate for change. Many of the members of the new government had been in the Duma before the revolution, the very limited elected body that the Tsar had reluctantly allowed ten years earlier. Even those who had not been in the Duma were familiar with the problems of the Tsarist government, so how is it that the Provisional government proceeded to immediately make the exact same mistakes as the Tsar had? The new government continued Russia’s involvement in World War One, and spent their entire tenure fighting among themselves, rather than addressing the problems that had put them there in the first place. It is telling that the Provisional government was only in power for about six months before Lenin and the Bolsheviks took over with their promises of peace and bread. Russia wanted peace, and it is a mystery how the Provisional government failed to heed this.
8. What other revolution ends with a street gang taking over an entire country?
The Bolsheviks were essentially a street gang, when you come right down to it. Both before the Tsar was toppled and after there were larger, far more prominent revolutionary groups in Russia, on every end of the political spectrum. The Bolsheviks were a relatively small-scale operation, until they suddenly took over St. Petersburg and then the rest of the country. How did they actually do that? How did a gang of criminals and street thugs take over a country and then consolidate their power so quickly?
9. We all know what comes next.
Part of the reason the Russian Revolution is so interesting, even now, is that we all know what comes next: Lenin, Stalin, the Bolsheviks and 70 plus years of Soviet rule. The revolutionary moment is so interesting because it is one of the great pivots of the twentieth century, and perhaps the greatest what-if. Think about how different everything might have been if the Tsar could have saved his reign, or if the Provisional government could have transitioned smoothly into a more permanent democratic government. Had things happened even slightly differently, the twentieth century could have been a totally changed place.
10. If it were fiction, no one would read it.
The Russian Revolution proves the adage that truth is stranger than fiction. There are so many bizarre circumstances surrounding the Russian Revolution, the story is on such a grand scale and so completely unbelievable, that it has to be true. No fiction writer would ever invent a story this grandiose and farfetched, and if they did, no one would buy a book this preposterous. It HAS to be a true story.
Now, you can find out more about Rasputin here.