Review: "The Russian Revolution" by Sheila Fitzpatrick
Throughout historian Sheila Fitzpatrick's book, The Russian Revolution, the author provides a concise but informative overview of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Throughout her analysis, Fitzpatrick discusses the origins, evolution, and effects of the revolution from 1917 to 1937. Whereas many historians suggest that revolutionary change in Russia ended in 1924 with the death of Lenin, Fitzpatrick challenges this interpretation, and illustrates the fallacy of marking the end of the Revolution at this particular point in time. Instead, she posits that the Russian Revolution did not end until after 1937 with the conclusion of Joseph Stalin’s purges. Fitzpatrick argues that Stalin continued to carry out Lenin’s aspirations and goals well into the 1930s. Only through the purging of society was a complete transformation of Russian society achieved, thus, ending the revolutionary process first began by Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
Unlike other historians, Fitzpatrick also connects the Russian Revolution to other revolutions as well – in particular, the French Revolution. Fitzpatrick argues that both began with noble goals (basic civil rights for all, liberty, and better quality of life), but describes in detail how both ended with death and destruction on a scale not foreseen. The anticipated steps towards progress and reform, she argues, led to an unexpected step backwards in that both the Russian and French people were eventually subjected to dictatorial regimes, as well as repression and terror.
Fitzpatrick's work is both well-written and informative with its facts and figures that are presented. Fitzpatrick incorporates a large deal of primary and secondary sources into her work, and synthesizes are large degree of information into a narrative-driven, easy-to-read format. This feat is impressive as it makes her work accessible to a wide array of audiences, including both scholars and non-academics.
Fitzpatrick is known as an authority on Russian history, and her book clearly demonstrates her impressive array of knowledge and insight. One clear downside to the work, however, is its overall length. For such a diverse and complex period of time, it is clear that a lot more could have been said in this work. As such, more details pertaining to particular individuals and events of the Revolution would have been a welcome addition to this particular work. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as Fitzpatrick's analysis and key points offer critical insight into the Russian Revolution that many prior historians have missed in years past.
All in all, I give Fitzpatrick's book 5/5 Stars and highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in early Soviet and Imperial Russian history. The lessons that can be learned from the Russian Revolution are still beneficial in modern society, and should not be dismissed or ignored. Definitely check it out if you get the opportunity, as you won't find a better book on this particular subject.
Questions to Facilitate Group Discussion:
1.) Did you agree with Fitzpatrick's thesis and argument(s) pertaining to the length of the Russian Revolution? Does she rely on faulty assumptions, or does Fitzpatrick base her points on solid facts and figures? Why or why not?
2.) What type of primary and secondary source materials does the author rely upon in this work? Does this help or hinder Fitzpatrick's overall argument(s)? Why or why not?
3.) What were some of the strengths and weaknesses of this book? In what ways could the author have improved upon this book?
4.) Did Fitzpatrick organize her book in a logical and convincing manner? Could particular chapters and sections have been organized more clearly or differently?
5.) Were you surprised by any of the facts and figures presented by the author? If so, what surprised you the most?
6.) Who was Fitzpatrick's intended audience for this piece? Can both scholars and non-academics, alike, benefit from the contents of this work? Or is her work geared towards a particular group?
7.) Would you be willing to recommend this book to a friend or family member? Why or why not?
8.) How does Fitzpatrick's work connect with current scholarship on the Russian Revolution? Does her work add substantially to these works? How does her work fit into modern historiography?
9.) Why is it important to understand and reflect upon events such as the Russian Revolution? Do these events have any relevance to modern social and political issues? What can we learn from past events?
Suggestions for Further Reading:
Figes, Orlando. A People’s Tragedy: A History of the Russian Revolution (New York: Penguin, 1996).
Figes, Orlando. Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014.
Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Lieven, Dominic. The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I & Revolutions. New York: Viking, 2015.
Pipes, Richard. Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1993.
Pipes, Richard. The Russian Revolution. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.
Radzinsky, Edvard. The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II. New York: Anchor Books, 1993.
Smith, Douglas. Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012.
Ulam, Adam B. The Bolsheviks: The Intellectual, Personal and Political History of the Triumph of Communism in Russia. New York: Collier Books, 1965.
About the Author
Sheila Fitzpatrick was born 4 June 1941 and is a historian of modern Russian history. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1961 at the University of Melbourne, and later received her PhD from St. Antony's College at Oxford (1964). She once served as a research fellow at the London School of Slavonic and East European Studies (1968-1972), and also served as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Fitzpatrick has also taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Sydney. To this day, she is recognized as a leading historian on the Russian Revolution and early Soviet history.
Is it important to learn about events such as the Russian Revolution?
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Russian Revolution of 1917." Encyclopædia Britannica. March 21, 2018. Accessed June 13, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/event/Russian-Revolution-of-1917.
Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Larry Slawson