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Why and how did the October 1917 revolution occur in Russia? Often overlooked as a crucial factor in the Bolsheviks' victory was the role of the peasantry. Here is an enthralling portrait of this poor but sizable population on the eve of the uprising; of the breakdown of state power in the countryside; and, most important, of the relationship between the serfs and the Bols Why and how did the October 1917 revolution occur in Russia? Often overlooked as a crucial factor in the Bolsheviks' victory was the role of the peasantry. Here is an enthralling portrait of this poor but sizable population on the eve of the uprising; of the breakdown of state power in the countryside; and, most important, of the relationship between the serfs and the Bolsheviks during the civil war. An enlightening approach, illustrated with disturbing contemporary images.


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Why and how did the October 1917 revolution occur in Russia? Often overlooked as a crucial factor in the Bolsheviks' victory was the role of the peasantry. Here is an enthralling portrait of this poor but sizable population on the eve of the uprising; of the breakdown of state power in the countryside; and, most important, of the relationship between the serfs and the Bols Why and how did the October 1917 revolution occur in Russia? Often overlooked as a crucial factor in the Bolsheviks' victory was the role of the peasantry. Here is an enthralling portrait of this poor but sizable population on the eve of the uprising; of the breakdown of state power in the countryside; and, most important, of the relationship between the serfs and the Bolsheviks during the civil war. An enlightening approach, illustrated with disturbing contemporary images.

50 review for Peasant Russia, Civil War: The Volga Countryside in Revolution 1917-21

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I really picked through this one! Hmm...let me see what I can recall. First off, it is very, very good, very new, and Figes is a very young scholar. This book is a great accomplishment for him and a great addition to the field. Figes takes the Volga region and even focuses on distinctions throughout the region that have geopolitical significance. He chooses the Volga for many reasons, one (or one in the same) being that it is the "breadbasket" of Russia, and grain would stand to have a tremendou I really picked through this one! Hmm...let me see what I can recall. First off, it is very, very good, very new, and Figes is a very young scholar. This book is a great accomplishment for him and a great addition to the field. Figes takes the Volga region and even focuses on distinctions throughout the region that have geopolitical significance. He chooses the Volga for many reasons, one (or one in the same) being that it is the "breadbasket" of Russia, and grain would stand to have a tremendous outcome in who won the civil war depending on who controlled it. This region compared with others tended to be red rather than white. Since Figes had access to documents in the post-Soviet era, this book contains statistics and accounts that are quite unique. Many other scholars have minimized the impact of the Russian peasantry during this time. In fact, many scholars merely mention the peasantry without examining their mindset, values, politics, and religion. Figes is writing a book to answer such questions. Was the Russian peasant a political animal? Was he not as many have claimed? Figes at times seems to contradict himself when dicussing this matter, but overall, he seems to prove and believe himself that the peasantry were political and politically organized as all men are. But did they possess the knowledge of the world or of Russia itself to pose a real political threat? Could their non-worldly political techniques threaten Red or White? Figes offers us amazing examples of calculated peasant resistance that had devestating effects militarily and politically. Most interesting is how Figes shows us the push and pull - the necessary compromise between the Reds and the peasantry. Without the peasantry, the Reds would not have won the civil war. The peasantry were perhaps the most important force to defeat, win over, or both. Figes conclusion has been greatly criticised both for its breviy and seeming contradiction. I think his conclusion is all but three pages! Throughout, Figes lacks judgement for any "side." He shows how the civil war demoralized all sides without naming a perpetrator. And he concludes in part that the peasantry benefited from the Russian Revolution - for awhile at least.

  2. 4 out of 5

    GWC

    This book masterfully explains how a party of the urban proletariat gained control of a rural peasant nation.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Griffiths

    Given the hundred year anniversary of the Russian revolution which is being marked this year, I suppose it is an apt point in time to pick up another of Figes' books on the topic. On the whole, I'd have to say that I enjoyed this less than "A People's Tragedy" but then any book I've read since reading that has frankly struggled to live up to the same standards such a work set. That I compare the two is perhaps quite the injustice as I feel they set out to do very different things, whereas APT is Given the hundred year anniversary of the Russian revolution which is being marked this year, I suppose it is an apt point in time to pick up another of Figes' books on the topic. On the whole, I'd have to say that I enjoyed this less than "A People's Tragedy" but then any book I've read since reading that has frankly struggled to live up to the same standards such a work set. That I compare the two is perhaps quite the injustice as I feel they set out to do very different things, whereas APT is about the whole grand and bloody sweep of the revolution this drills down into the nitty gritty in a much more academic fashion. This work looks specifically at the revolutionary period as it was experienced in a region which is emblematic of the difficulties historically faced by Russian peasants of the time. The book does a good job of showing how much of the initial change that took place in the countryside was lead by the peasantry and evolved very much independently of efforts by the Bolsheviks to control affairs. Figes also portrays an interesting and highly nuanced relationship throughout the period covered between the peasants and the Government - demonstrating the ways in which the peasantry rebelled and retained some of its autonomy before the process of collectivisation ever began.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    Peasant Russia', Civil War: The Volga Countryside in Revolution 1917-1921 is an absoutely brilliant book based on archival research that established Orlando Figes as a major historian. Beware!! Unlike Natasha's Dance or A People's Tragedy it has essentially no charms for the general reader. To enjoy, this works requires that one love the highly esoteric genre of academic history. The second major defect of this book is that the author omits to mention that 5 million died in the Volga Famine of 1 Peasant Russia', Civil War: The Volga Countryside in Revolution 1917-1921 is an absoutely brilliant book based on archival research that established Orlando Figes as a major historian. Beware!! Unlike Natasha's Dance or A People's Tragedy it has essentially no charms for the general reader. To enjoy, this works requires that one love the highly esoteric genre of academic history. The second major defect of this book is that the author omits to mention that 5 million died in the Volga Famine of 1921 and refuses to attribute blame. In Peasant Russia', Civil War Figes presents the following thesis. The Communists won the Civil War against the Whites because they had a moderate level of support among the peasants who were thoroughly hostile to the whites. The reason for the moderate support of the Red Army was that the peasant communes could not count on retaining the land that they had seized from the nobility (Figes uses the term gentry) unless the communists defeated the Reds. Thus the peasants would serve in the Russian Army as long as it operated in their locality where its presence was needed to prevent the Whites from returning and recovering the lands seized from the nobles. The peasants would also cooperate with the food requisitions of the Red Army as long as they believed that they were being left with enough food to survive and enough seed for the next planting. In contrast, the peasants almost never enrolled in the White Army and also tried to avoid providing it with food. Figes demolishes the myth that began with Lenin and allegedly continues to this day with contemporary Russian historians that a class of Kulaks existed in the peasant that was highly committed to private ownership of the land and which incited the peasants to rebel against the Communist Regime. In fact no such class existed. No society of freeholders developed in Russia after the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. On the eve of WWI, 67% of the land in Russia was in Peasant Communes and less than 3% was privately held by Peasants. (Nobles and rich merchants held the remaining 30%.) In the communes, the peasants were allocated land to cultivate according to the number of agricultural workers (a.k.a. "eaters") in the household. The peasants simply did not believe in private ownership. They believed that the peasant should be allotted enough land to feed his family. Figes argues that the peasant uprisings that occurred in the period of 1917-1921 were not caused by the desire for private ownership. Rather the peasants rebelled when they felt that the requisitions of food and animals would cause them to starve to death. In fact many did. Figes does not feel that there was a concerted effort to starve the the peasants to death as many historians including Robert Conquest argued happened in the 1930s. The excessive requisitions that occurred from 1919 to 1921 were the result of war conditions, incompetence and unreliable statistics. Horses taken by the army could be used for agricultural tasks. Similarly the men in the army could not work the fields. Moreover the ignorance of the bureaucrats was great. They did not know how much the farms could produce nor how much grain was required for seed. They simply dispatched requisition brigades to get what the army needed. Figes refuses to blame the communists for the famine. The Whites also had an army in the field and were requisitioning food in the area during the period in question. Figes does however , draw attention to the errors made by the communists in their management of the food supply. Similarly Figes no effort to quantify the loss of life which Wikipedia puts at 5 million but he does include gruesome photographs of starving peasants and the mutilated bodies of people that had been eaten by cannibals. The best part of the book maybe the way in which Figes explains how the Communist government skilfully assume control of the peasant communes. The Communist party began by setting up rural soviets in parallel with the peasant communes and appointed the traditional commune leaders to the positions of authority. Then gradually they replaced them with younger leaders. The communists recruited peasants who had left the farm to work in factories and then served in the Red Army. Unlike the village elders, the young recruits were literate, had worked outside of their home localities and had been properly indoctrinated with marxist theory. They had the two great qualities of belonging to the rural communities and being committed to communism. It was this young generation of rural soviet leaders that collectivized Russian agriculture in the 1930s. Figes feels that collectivization succeeded for two reasons. First the communist developed a strong group of leaders in the rural soviets. S was more consistent with the peasant's cultural values that was private ownership for which there had never been a strong tradition in the Russian countryside.

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