Author Topic: Books on the Russian Civil War WWI and other wars  (Read 41447 times)

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Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: Books on the Russian Civil War WWI and other wars
« Reply #90 on: August 16, 2018, 03:41:07 PM »

History as conservative agitprop. McMeekin is out to demonstrate that the Bolsheviks came to power because of a small, organized coup d'etat that had little to no popular support. They were helped by Imperial Germany's support (d'uh, although McMeekin assigns a far greater role to the Kaiser in World War I than Wilhelm's generals and governments did; McMeekin keeps having the emperor making decisions that impact policy. Surely not by 1916?), the general ineptness of Kerensky and Rodzianko, and the lack of commitment by the Allies to overthrowing the regime during 1919-1920. All of this makes sense, and he tells the story briskly. Where he lost me was the description of Russia in February, 1917. The military was confident that the army was going to overwhelm the Central Powers on every front, the soldiers were not disaffected after three years of horrendous losses, military supplies were plentiful, there were no real food shortages in Petrograd, all, in fact, was going well when the Tsar was toppled by Rodzianko. McMeekin begins the story with Rasputin's murder and the semi-hysteria about the staretz that gripped the Russian aristocracy, who blamed him and the Tsarina for the "inevitable" collapse of the autocracy. Once Rasputin is safely tucked under the ice in the Neva, events cascade, and before you know it, Nicholas II is forced to abdicate. McMeekin finds this ironic, as Rasputin had famously advised Nicholas not to take the empire into World War I.

A lot of this flies in the face of what we know about Nicholas and Alexandra. They were wilfully stupid people, and that is putting it mildly. Nicholas wound up undercutting every competent minister he ever had, zestfully aided in this by his wife and her faith healer. During the war he went to Stavka and assumed "command" of the army. In practice, this meant he was blamed for every defeat the Russians suffered. Meanwhile, Alexandra wrote reams everyday to him demanding appointments for hacks because Rasputin recommended them. No autocracy could survive this level of executive incompetence. I had the impression that because what followed Nicholas II was so much worse than the imperial system for the vast majority of Russians that McMeekin turns Romanov rule into a false positive. The fact is that imperial autocracy collapsed extremely quickly. And while it is interesting speculation about the capabilities of Russia's armies in 1917, they did not, in fact, want to continue fighting. The moment a central government in Petrograd loosened its hold on the General Staff, the war against Germany and Austria-Hungary virtually ended.

McMeekin is entitled to be bitter about the Allied response to Nicholas' overthrow. The Russian Empire had bought the West precious time against the Central Powers by sacrificing millions of soldiers. And yet the Entente was always embarrassed by the alliance with an absolute autocracy, and prematurely rejoiced after the February Revolution.

McMeekin cherry picks his facts in support of his thesis, which is simplistic (he draws a straight line from Bolshevism to Bernie Sanders) and fails to account for the undeniable support communism picked up from Russians after the October overthrow (which really was a small coup, he is dead right) and subsequent chaos. There were a number of interesting nuggets of information in the book: the Okhrana, or Tsarist secret police, was infinitely smaller than the Bolshevik equivalent, theCHEKA. Lenin had a taste for luxury, negotiating an extreme sum with Rolls Royce for parts for the limousine he used, commandeered from Grand Duke Michael. The level of invective directed at the government by the Duma was unbelievably open during late 1916/early 1917. No one, not even Lenin, was in complete control of anything. Indeed, it was left to Stalin to consolidate the Revolution for what it was --- a naked power grab. But much like the French Revolution, the Russian spiraled out of control until it ended once again . . . in autocracy.
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Offline JamesAPrattIII

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Re: Books on the Russian Civil War WWI and other wars
« Reply #91 on: September 29, 2018, 10:04:31 PM »
Here are three historical presentations:

Fortress: The Dawn of Total war in East-central Europe 1914-1915

Russia's Women Soldiers by Laurie Stoff who wrote the book "They Fought for the Motherland" on this topic this is a supplement for another

Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappenport