Article

Russian Revolutions and Civil War, 1917-1921

Michael Kort

in International Relations

ISBN: 9780199743292
Published online May 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0088
Russian Revolutions and Civil War, 1917-1921

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The Russian Revolution has not permitted Western historians the comfort of neutrality. It led to the establishment of a regime, the Soviet Union, that on the basis of Marxist ideology claimed to be building the world’s first nonexploitative and egalitarian society. As such, the Soviet regime further claimed to represent humanity’s future and therefore the right to spread its communist revolution worldwide. These pretentions, however dubiously realized in practice, won the Soviet Union millions of loyalists over the world. At the same time, because these pretentions also threatened any society organized according to different principles, including those of liberal democracy and free enterprise, they made the Soviet regime the object of intense fear and opposition. This reaction was reinforced as the Soviet Union quickly became a brutal dictatorship and, after World War II, emerged as one of the world’s two nuclear superpowers. For these reasons Western scholarship on the Russian Revolution has had an element of contentiousness not often seen in other fields. That in turn is why any serious student of the Russian Revolution must be familiar with its historiography, and why this bibliography not only contains a major section on historiography but also includes historiographic commentary in many of the individual entries. The term Russian Revolution itself refers to two upheavals that took place in 1917: the February Revolution and the October, or Bolshevik, Revolution. The former was a spontaneous uprising that began in Russia’s capital in late February 1917 and led to the collapse of the tsarist monarchy and the establishment of the Provisional Government, a regime based on the premise that Russia should have a parliamentary government and free-enterprise economic system. The latter took place in late October and was the seizure of power by a militant Marxist political party determined to rule alone, turn Russia into a communist society, and spark a worldwide revolution. (These dates are according to the outdated Julian calendar in use in Russia at the time, which trailed the Gregorian calendar used in the West by thirteen days. According to the Gregorian calendar, the two revolutions took place in March and November, respectively.) Because the Bolsheviks did not consolidate their power until their victory in a three-year civil war, many histories ostensibly about the “Russian Revolution” include not only the events of 1917 but also their immediate aftermath in early 1918, and then the civil war, which began in mid-1918 and lasted until 1921. That framework has been adopted for this article as well. Matters of evidence and documentation have additionally complicated this subject. In this case the key date is 1991, as that is when the collapse of the Soviet Union finally made many important Russian archives available to scholars for the first time. This significant development is covered in the Published Documentary Collections section of this article.

Article.  15149 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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