The Russian Revolution is something that has fascinated people for a century now. So much so, in fact, that it has been the subject of most of Orlando Figes‘ writings. It can be difficult to really get a perspective on what this revolution was about and how it was made possible, not in the least because Russia is quite a closed country. Figes, however has attempted to shed some light on it.

The Russian Revolution

Before the revolution, Russia was ruled by a Tsar. More and more, however, Tsars started to destroy the things that they believed were against them. This led to the serfs becoming more vocal, which resulted in the Tsar “giving” them land, only for them to then find they had to pay it back. Each subsequent Tsar had other cruelties, such as forcing people to become Russian Orthodox and to only speak in accepted Russian. Match this with low wages, and it is no surprise that there was a revolt. Workers in Russia started by marching to the St. Petersburg Tsar’s palace, but he massacred them all. This went down in history as “Bloody Sunday”. This is what really kicked off the revolution and even the promise of the Tsar to provide people with freedom and appointing the DUMA fell on deaf ears. While some moderate reforms happened, it wasn’t enough and the Tsar returned to his old ways, banning the DUMA. Intellectuals and average citizens alike felt more was needed.

Eventually, tensions burst and the Tsar was overthrown, himself and his family murdered. Soviets were rising to power at that time, and Lenin, who led the Bolshevik revolution, returned to the country to become its leader. Having studied the theories of Karl Marx, he started to implement communism in Russia. Not everybody agreed, but those who didn’t agree couldn’t agree with each other either, creating 18 different opposition factions instead. Lenin though these under his “War-Communism” directive, having set up the Red Army. Opposition was silenced, people were censored, and people were once again afraid. Eventually, they gave in and communism ruled the land.

There is still a lot of disagreement on whether Lenin was a savior or a dictator. He believed that society should be classless and equal. To achieve this, he improved industry and overall quality of life. He ensured that the Orthodox Church no longer had absolute power. When he died, many people felt they had lost a hero, and this continues to this day. He was to be replaced by either Trotsky or Stalin, with Stalin eventually being victorious in this. He implemented the “reign of terror”, executing millions of people. While most agree that Stalin was absolutely a dictator, he, too, brought about positive changes, including social welfare and free education for all.

Russia is a complex country and it is no surprise, therefore, that people like Orlando Figes have been able to write such fascinating stories and essays about it. They are definitely worth a read.