A People’s Tragedy
The Russian Revolution took most people by surprise, including the revolutionaries. In that way it bears some resemblance to the events of 1989, which even spooked the spooks. But would foreknowledge have changed anything in 1917? The Russian nobility, as always with elites, were intent on holding on to their own position of privilege even at the risk of their total destruction. This was the same way the French Revolution played out, and all of the chief actors in the Russian Revolution had that earlier example not just in the back of their minds but staring them in the face. They knew where this was going. Orlando Figes’s history provides an excellent narrative overview of the key personalities and events, emphasizing how much of the disaster, including its cruelty and the terror, originated from below. The peasants were their own worst enemies. But that is the case with most revolutions; they don’t often lead to desired outcomes. The great tragedy of the Russian Revolution is that it took such a very long time to play out. Indeed, its consequences are still being felt.