Fitzpatrick, Sheila. 2008. The Russian Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press is a book exploring the Russian Revolution: 1917 – 1932. I have chosen this book for analysis in order to improve my knowledge of that historic period and get better understanding of the essence, causes and aims of the Revolution.
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The second reason for my choice was that I wanted to examine new approaches to the issue and develop my critical thinking as this book provides a new perspective and new aspects of the historical events.
It is a sort of reading for those who are critical about history and want to develop personal opinion independent from a generally accepted point of view. In addition, the book is not very long, but rich in content and provides not only general information, but details of that historical period. What is more, the book is easy to read.
The topic of the book is Russian Revolution, its aims, purposes, causes, consequences and flow. There are different approaches to the time period that can be considered revolutionary. The author of this book defines the following frames:
“The timespan of the Russian Revolution runs from February 1917 to the Great Purge of 1937-8. The different stages – the February and October Revolutions of 1917, the Civil War, the interlude of NEP, Stalin’s “revolution from above”, its aftermath and the Great Purges – are treated as district episodes in a twenty-year process of revolution” (Fitzpatrick 2008, 4).
The book consists of chapters which contain comprehensive and critical analysis of each period supported by various historiographical references. Three major themes of the Russian Revolution are discussed in each chapter. The first theme is the Bolsheviks’ vision of the revolution as a mean of modernization of the society.
Fitzpatrick defines the goal of Bolsheviks as “revolution as a means of escaping backwardness.” (Fitzpatrick 2008, 4). The second major theme is the class theme: revolution as the “mission of proletariat” to create a new working class. The third team discloses the problem of violence and terror that took place in the country.
The author provides the information on how Revolution “dealt with its enemies” (that often were innocent people), what meaning it had for the government and why the government was so afraid of those “enemies”. The author presents the Revolution as a set of agitations and recurrences. She describes the results of the Revolution as positive to a certain extent.
The Stalin’s Revolution extended the direct state over the economy and greatly improved the economic state of the country. Fitzpatrick states that Russian peasants were more progressive than in the rest of the Western Europe, as a consequence, they formed a new class of workers. The Stalin’s Revolution provided new and productive ways of exploiting peasant agriculture.
The state was strong and “disciplined”. However, the author emphasizes the price of that power: “The persecution of “class enemies” in collectivization and the Cultural Revolution had left a complex legacy of bitterness, fear, and suspicion, as well as encouraging such practices as denunciation, purging, and “self-criticism” (Fitzpatrick 2008, 148).
We can consider this book a highly reliable source of information, as its author, Sheila Fitzpatrick, is a renowned specialist in the field of the Soviet History. She made a great contribution to the study of Soviet History, as well as modern Russian history.
Among her recent publications are Everyday Stalinism (2000), Tear of the Mask! Identity and Imposture in Twentieth-Century Russia (2005). Her works primarily focus on the social and cultural history of Russia of the Stalin period. Her biography is rich in awards, among which is a Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award. She is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Her works are not a mere description of events and personalities. She provides her vision of the problem or historical event which is based on archive materials and researches by other Western authors.
The book is also very interesting to read as the author has a particular approach to the subject discussed. First of all, the author provides the idea that Russian society was not ready for revolution and that Russian Revolution of 1917 was a “contradiction” to the idea of Marx’s revolution. The citizens were the rural peasants who were industrial workers and they were more willing for a revolt than Marx expected them to be.
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Another Fitzpatrick’s idea that generally contradicts a commonly accepted point of view that October Revolution contributed strength and discipline to the organization of the state. The author argues this point of view. She states that Provisional Government decided to “intransigent radicalism on the extreme left of the political spectrum” (Fitzpatrick 2008, 48) and could be seen by people as the only not corrupted part.
The capture of power by Bolsheviks was just the first step of the Revolution. The next step was a Civil War that had a great influence on the flow of it and on the establishment of the Soviet power.
However, the author does not try to persuade the reader in her point of view, she only presents facts and provides her assumptions. The task of the reader is to develop personal vision of the historical events and it not necessary should coincide with the author’s.
The author assumes that:
“For Russians and other former soviet citizens, the collapse of the Soviet Union meant a fundamental reappraisal of the meaning of the Revolution, previously hailed as the foundational event of the “world’s first social state” and now seen by many as a wrong turning that took Russia off course for seventy-four years” (Fitzpatrick 2008, 4).
The author generally accepts this vision and analyzes the most important changes from the historical perspective. As the author used new document that became available after 1991, her vision of the Revolution has changed in some aspects. Outlining some positive sides of it, the author emphasizes the mistakes that were done. She supports her point of view with convincing evidences and analysis of works by other authors.
Having read this book, I developed a bit different vision on the Russian Revolution. I can come to a conclusion that people were not ready for it and the actions that government undertook were contradictory to those suggested by Marx as people did not understand the essence of Revolution.
As a result, the idea of revolution “to put power into hand of the working class” failed and all people got was just another government which tried to build new society subordinate to new rules. However, in general the book does not present different information, it just adds new details and evidences to what have already been studied. It is a good book for those who want a critique vision of the history.
Fitzpatrick, Sheila. 2008. The Russian Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press.