The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution
by Yuri Slezkine
Yuri Slezkine’s monumental new study, The House of Government, situates the Russian Revolution within a much larger drama, placing the Bolsheviks among ancient Zoroastrians and Israelites, early Christians and Muslims, Calvinists, Anabaptists, Puritans, Old Believers, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Rastafarians, and other millenarian sects. As sworn enemies of religion, the Bolsheviks would have hated this casting decision and demanded to be put in a different play, preferably with Jacobins, Saint-Simonians, Marxists, and Communards in supporting roles. Slezkine, however, has claimed these groups for his story as well, insisting that underneath their secular costumes they too dreamed of hastening the apocalypse and building the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. The Bolsheviks, it seems, were condemned to repeat history—a history driven not by class struggle, as they thought, but by theology.
Over a few weeks in March, more than 13 million Russians watched an unusual video online. Posted on March 2, the film documented, with stunning drone footage and scathing narration by the anticorruption activist Alexei Navalny, Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev’s collection of marble-floored mansions, sprawling estates, luxurious yachts, and carefully …