[Alain Besançon on the Russian revolution]

Once you’ve mentioned the Civil War and Revolution, there’s no end in sight. I have dug up a quote from Alain Besançon (a French historian and former “Sovietologist”) that has struck me as a grotesque distortion every time I‘ve though of it (I have to translate from a Russian translation of the French original):

Generally speaking, [US historian Martin] Malia could have dwelled more on the disgusting aspects of the ideology that dominated in Russia on the eve of WWI. I find this ideology so monstrous that I nearly rejoice at the Bolshevik ascent to power, which put a limit to its dominance. Just imagine a Russia that has just won the world war, conquered half of Europe, gained complete possession — as her allies promised — of all Poland, the Balkans and Constantinople. As a result, we might have had to deal with the same mix of nihilism, extreme nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism that would later emerge in Nazi Germany — and all this nightmare on the scale of the whole continent, and sanctified by a religion at that!

Scary. But this monstrous ideology has only existed in the historian’s mind, into which it must have exuded its maddening monstrosity. In reality, a remote semblance of this weird mix only motivated a tiny fraction of the educated class, a small fraction of the nobility, and a larger one of the petty bourgeoisie. Most of the educated class — both the bureaucracy and the intelligentsia — was sceptical of the regime’s prospects. The peasantry didn’t care for ideology at all — 70%+ of Russia’s population did not care, that is.

If that poisonous ideology had indeed held so much sway over the Russian society, how come the Czarist regime fell in February 1917 without resistance and with much support from the public? Even when the Bolsheviks had taken to killing officers, professors, college students, etc. systematically, with their families — even in 1918, the white Volunteer Army numbered only a few thousand people.

I’m ready to concede this: had the Czar or the provisional government held on until November 1918, a nihilistic revolution in the augmented Russia would have come closer to spilling all over Europe. But in any case, Constantinople would not be Turkish now.

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