The Russian Revolution by Alan Moorehead

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The Russian Revolution by Alan Moorehead

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Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: First published in 1958, and reissued to mark the centenary, this is a succinct and largely political account of how the Bolsheviks toppled the Romanov empire and seized power. Although now a little dated by the discovery of more recent material, it still forms a valuable record of that turbulent period.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: October 2017
Publisher: Amberley
ISBN: 978-1445667324

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First published in 1958, Moorhead's account is regarded as one of the most succinct accounts of its subject, and now reprinted to mark the centenary of the revolution.

The author was writing from a slightly different stance from most other historians. Only a decade after the end of the Second World War, he was basing his account on the premise that the Nazis' rise to power in Germany was connected with the heritage that Lenin had left behind, and that without Stalin's assurances of support Hitler would never have dared to plunge the world into such a devastating global conflict. It was his belief that America's post-war commitments in Europe and the Far East, and other post-1945 developments, could also be traced back to the events of 1917. Much of his material came from German archives which were saved from destruction when the Third Reich was on the brink of collapse. These documents that the German government would have kept private had they won the war provided full detail on the attempts of their forebears to pave the way for chaos and revolution in their Asiatic neighbour.

Instead of beginning at the start of the First World War, this volume opens with the course of events from the last weeks of 1916. (Subsequent chapters examine the state of affairs in Russia from the accession of Nicholas II). At that time imperial Russia was still apparently intact. Nevertheless the war with Germany was going badly for the empire, the autocracy had been badly shaken by the the disaster of 'Bloody Sunday' in 1905 and the disgrace of defeat in the Russo-Japanese war that same year, while the revolutionary movement was underground but primed and making preparations to strike. The Germans were kept informed with a steady flow of information from their agents, about strikes in Petrograd, the condition of the Russian army, and the increasing hostility to the Tsar and Tsarina. They were torn between making a separate peace with Russia, and carefully encouraging the plans of Lenin and the revolutionaries to bring the Romanov empire crashing down.

The murder of Rasputin, the Tsarina's favourite, at the end of 1916 left the royal couple temporarily numb (and nearly all the rest of the family relieved), but it was not the catalyst for what was to happen three months later. The beginning of the end came in March 1917 with industrial unrest, demonstrations, and calls for a general strike. It was a situation that found the socialists ready, not least the return of Lenin from Switzerland, where he had been since the beginning of the war, in a sealed across Germany. The Tsar was prevailed upon to abdicate for himself and for his sickly son, and the moderate Provisional government under Kerensky took power. The stage was set for the struggle with the hardline communists, and it is interesting to be reminded that Lenin did not have matters all his own way at first. A speech in which he urged the establishment of a Republic of the Proletariat, state control of all production, fraternization by soldiers at the front with the Germans, and the way to be paved for revolution throughout the world, was denounced by one of the delegates present as 'the ravings of a madman'. Nevertheless Kerensky was not trusted either, and by October he had been overthrown.

This book is largely a political account. While there are references in passing to the fate of the Tsar and his family, Moorehead's main focus is on how the Bolsheviks seized power and signed a peace treaty with Germany in March 1918. A very brief postscript refers to the death of Lenin in 1924, but this is not the place for even an outline of the civil was which was to erupt between the Bolsheviks and the 'Whites'.

Moorehead has traced the course of events well and concisely. The book now being fifty years old, it may seem a little dated by the discovery of new material since then, but it is still a valuable record of that turbulent period.

For further relevant reading on the subject, we can also recommend The Murder of the Romanovs by Andrew Cook. To put the Russian revolution into the wider picture of the European conflict, The Great War by Peter Hart is worth attention, as is Russia: A 1,000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East by Martin Sixsmith, a fuller history of the country.

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Buy The Russian Revolution by Alan Moorehead at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Russian Revolution by Alan Moorehead at


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