The Triumph of Bolshevism: Revolution or Reaction

by Stuart Ramsay Tompkins
University of Oklahoma Press, 331 pp., $5.95

Russia, Bolshevism and the Versailles Peace

by John M. Thompson
Princeton, 429 pp., $11.50

Lenin and the Russian Revolution

by Harold Shukman
Putnam, 224 pp., $5.95

Russia in Revolution 1890-1918

by Lionel Kochan
New American Library, 352 pp., $6.95

Lenin; drawing by David Levine

Revolutions seldom happen unexpectedly. Usually, they are preceded by unmistakable warning signs: the grand peur in 1789, the universal expectation of a revolution years before 1848. There had been ominous signs in Russia for a century before 1917. Herzen wrote in 1853 that any day Russia might be drawn into a terrible revolution. Generations of Russian revolutionaries had talked and dreamed revolution, yet when it actually happened in 1905, and again in 1917, it was without a plan or central leadership; Proudhon’s comment on Paris in 1848 applies equally to Petersburg in March 1917: “Le 24 fèvrier a été fait sans idée.” The extreme Left was no exception. Sukhanov, the Boswell of the Russian Revolution, noted in his diary that not one party was prepared. Lenin, lecturing in his Swiss exile on the lessons of 1905, ended on a resigned note: “We of the older generation may not see the decisive battle of the coming revolution.” Trotsky wrote that it had been a spontaneous uprising spurred by universal indignation; the Bolsheviks were at the time a headless organization with a scattered staff and weak illegal groups.

Dr. Katkov, in a new book on the February Revolution, does not accept the theory of the spontaneous nature of the February Revolution, which he finds “wholly gratuitous”: “The theory of spontaneity only serves to cover up our ignorance.” He is a firm believer in the thèse de complot, rejecting the thèse des circonstances, to use the terms that emerged from the discussions of the character of the French Revolution.

The reader will look in vain in Russia 1917 for a discussion of the political, social, and economic background, the repercussions of the War on the home front, the politics of the Bolshevik party and of the other revolutionary groups. The book is mainly devoted to the description and analysis of a series of plots which, the author thinks, caused the February revolution—particularly the German plot. Through Parvus, a Russian émigré and a person of some consequence in the revolutionary movement, the German foreign ministry had passed on money to the Bolsheviks and tried to foment strikes. There was the masonic plot: the impatient liberals with their campaign of slander and vilification against that saintly character, Nikolai II; the baneful influence of the voluntary organization and their many connections with the army command. There were the Jews who had reason to hate the Tsarist autocracy which had cruelly mistreated them. There were the personal intrigues of ambitious and unscrupulous politicians like Guchkov. It is only fair to say that Dr. Katkov also devotes several chapters to downgrading conspiracies that have traditionally been over-rated: the Rasputin affair, he thinks, was grossly exaggerated, the pro-German camarilla at court was without much influence, and he also shows that Myasoedov, an officer executed in 1915, was not a traitor but the victim of an intrigue.

THIS KIND of book is not…

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