The Story of Russia by Orlando Figes is one of the greatest history books I’ve ever read

TLDR – five stars, one of the best history books I’ve ever read. Go read it.

The Story of Russia by Orlando Figes is the history of Russia I’ve been looking for all these years. Figes’ writing is very good prose, concise, very well sourced and actually answers the questions like “how is it possible that {XXX} happened” to a greater degree than any book I’ve come across.

It starts at the very beginning where what we now call Russia formed (coalesced might be a better word) Unlike most histories of Russia it’s not just a listing of Czars and their internal political dramas but covers a lot of other life in Russia, i.e. peasants, workers, etc.

Figes makes the point again and again (the emphasis is correct) that there is, and has never been, that while family life is very strong, and the central government is strong, everything in between is weak. There are not, and have never been strong unions, minority political parties, non orthodox churches, non-state affiliated business, etc, etc. There were not any strong nobles, or regional powers. Essentially there is no middleware, which renders what we in the West think of as democracy impossible.

I think in every other country the monarch bubbled out of the nobility, in Russia it was the reverse.

One thing Figes did not highlight is how Russia land policies encouraged population growth in the pre-revolutionary times, in sort of a way that the pre-civil war American south favored the accumulation of slaves. “Human capital” became a very literal term. In the American south, the limiting factors were land and slaves to work the land. In Russia land was reallocated periodically according to the number of “eaters” which encouraged extremely high population growth, apparently higher than anywhere else. This meant very, very, weak property rights and consequently limited physical capital accumulation.

It seems that a lot of Russia has always lived under some form of village level proto-communism. It would be approximately Socialism 3.5 by this definition, but at the peasant village level.

I feel like reading it again just to let everything sink in. Figes wrote the most information dense book I’ve read in years.

Addendum – I now get much more of the Russian rhetoric regarding Ukraine, as well as references to “The Russias” instead of just Russia – the Anglosphere is sort of a comparison.

Things I highlighted in the book.

The only written account that we have , the Tale of Bygone Years , known as the Primary Chronicle , was compiled by the monk Nestor and other monks in Kiev during the 1110s .

in 862 , the warring Slavic tribes of north – west Russia agreed jointly to invite the Rus , a branch of the Vikings , to rule over them : ‘ Our land is vast and abundant , but there is no order in it . Come and reign as princes and have authority over us ! ‘

The timescale of the chronicle is biblical . It charts the history of the Rus from Noah in the Book of Genesis , claiming them to be the descendants of his son Japheth , so that Kievan Rus is understood to have been created as part of the divine plan . 4

Russia grew on the forest lands and steppes between Europe and Asia . There are no natural boundaries , neither seas nor mountain ranges , to define its territory , which throughout its history has been colonised by peoples from both continents . The Ural mountains , said to be the frontier dividing ‘ European Russia ‘ from Siberia , offered no protection to the Russian settlers against the nomadic tribes from the Asiatic steppe . They are a series of high ranges broken up by broad passes . In many places they are more like hills . It is significant that the word in Russian for a ‘ hill ‘ or ‘ mountain ‘ is the same ( gora ) . This is a country on one horizontal plain .

Pine forests give way to mixed woodlands and open wooded steppelands to the south of Moscow , where the rich black soil is in places up to several metres deep .

As their power grew , the Rus warriors attacked the Khazar tribute – paying lands between the Volga and Dnieper . In 882 they captured Kiev , which became the capital of Kievan Rus .

To grow the population and tax base of the new state the grand prince Vladimir forcibly transported entire Slav communities from the northern forests to the regions around Kiev . It was the start of a long tradition of mass population movements enforced by the Russian state .

Instead of the act of self – determination celebrated by the modern Russian and Ukrainian states , Vladimir’s conversion to the Eastern Church may have been a declaration of his kingdom’s subjugation to the Byzantine Empire .

Later it would be replaced by a high wall of icons , the iconostasis , whose visual beauty is a central feature of the Eastern Church . Seeing is believing for the Orthodox . Russians pray with their eyes open – their gaze fixed on an icon , which serves as a window on the divine sphere . 22 The icon is the focal point of the believers ‘ spiritual emotions – a sacred object able to elicit miracles . Icons weep and produce myrrh . They are lost and reappear , intervening in events to steer them on a divine path .

Of the 800 Russian saints created up until the eighteenth century , over a hundred had been princes or princesses . 26 No other country in the world has made so many saints from its rulers . Nowhere else has power been so sacralised .

At the core of the Russian faith is a distinctive stress on motherhood which never really took root in the Latin West . Where the Catholic tradition placed its emphasis on the Madonna’s purity , the Russian emphasised her divine motherhood ( bogoroditsa ) . This

Each prince was equipped with an army or druzhina of a few thousand horsemen led by warriors , known as boyars , who received part of the prince’s land .

On the death of the grand prince or one of his sons there was a reshuffling of the principalities held by the remaining kin . Normally the throne of the grand prince would pass , not from father to son , but from the elder brother to the younger one ( usually until the fourth brother ) . Only then would it pass down to the next generation . When the eldest brother took the throne in Kiev , all the others moved up to the principality on the next step of the ladder . It was a system of collateral succession not found elsewhere in Europe .

Kinship not kingship was its constitutional principle . The grand prince was not the equal of a king , but primus inter pares , a figurehead of unity . Outside Kiev itself , in the principalities , his authority was limited .

Kiev had a population of 40,000 people , more than London and not much less than Paris , at the start of the thirteenth century .

In fact , politically , Muscovy was different from Kievan Rus . Two hundred and fifty years of Mongol occupation had created a fundamental break between the two .

army was in a good position to conquer Europe , whose disunited countries had little chance of withstanding the onslaught . But the West was saved by the death of the great khan Ögedei , the favourite son of Chingiz Khan , in December 1241 . When Batu received the news , the following spring , he called off the western offensive and took his army back to Karakorum , the empire’s capital on the Mongolian steppe , to stake his claim to the succession .

They preferred indeed to fight in the winter when the rivers and marshlands – the main impediment to their horses – were frozen .

being punished by the Tatar infidels for its sins ( they called them the ‘ Tartars ‘ , with an extra ‘ r ‘ , to associate them with Tartarus , the Greek name for ‘ hell ‘ ) . In

So many craftsmen were captured by the Mongols that practically no stone or brick buildings were built in the half – abandoned towns during the next fifty years .

Nevsky’s collaboration was no doubt motivated by his mistrust of the West , which he regarded as a greater threat to Orthodox Russia than the Golden Horde , generally tolerant of religions . He

The Church too collaborated with the Golden Horde . The khan exempted it from taxation , protected its property and outlawed the persecution of all Christians , on condition that its priests said prayers for him , meaning that they upheld his authority . These dispensations allowed the Church to thrive . Under the Mongols it made its first real inroads into the pagan countryside .

An important part of this monastic movement was led by men of deep religious feeling who rebelled against the worldly hierarchies of the Orthodox Church and went into the wilderness to live an ascetic life of private prayer and contemplation , book – learning and manual work . They took their spiritual guidance from the hesychasm of Byzantium , a contemplative mysticism ( from the Greek hesychia , meaning ‘ quietude ‘ ) founded on the idea that the way to God was through a life of poverty and prayer under the guidance of a holy man or elder . The

the bringer of Christianity to the Komi people , who fought hard to defend their animist beliefs ( the artist Kandinsky found them still in existence when he visited the remote Komi region in 1889 ) ,

West . These lands ‘ political development was later shaped by the Polish – Lithuanian Commonwealth , a constitutional monarchy with an elected king and parliament dominated by the local landed nobles , which would rule this polyethnic area from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century .

The Mongols ‘ growing fear of Lithuania was also an important factor in their promotion of Moscow . In the early fourteenth century the Lithuanians were steadily expanding their control to the former western lands of Kievan Rus . Where they were unable to annex them by pressure or persuasion , the Lithuanians turned to religion . They established a separate metropolitan to prise away the western territories from the rest of Orthodox Russia . By the 1330s , Smolensk , Novgorod and Tver were all close to throwing in their lot with Lithuania ; Moscow was struggling to rein them in through military threats ; and the Mongols were confronted by the danger of a powerful new state appearing on their western frontier that might undermine their empire in the Russian lands .

‘ national awakening ‘ . Kulikovo is still celebrated in Russia . Putin has frequently referred to it as evidence that Russia was already a great power – the saviour of Europe from the Mongol threat – in the fourteenth century . This idea – Russia as a guard protecting Europe from the ‘ Asiatic hordes ‘ – became part of the national myth from the sixteenth century , as Muscovy began to see itself as a European power on the Asian steppe .

Today the Kulikovo victory is linked in the nationalist consciousness to other episodes when Russia’s military sacrifice ‘ saved ‘ the West , in 1812 – 15 ( against Napoleon ) or 1941 – 5 , for example ; each time its sacrifice had been unthanked , unrecognised by its Western allies in these wars . The country’s deep resentment of the West is rooted in this national myth .

Just as the Mongols were dealing with the challenge from Moscow , they faced a new threat from the Central Asian empire that was then emerging under the command of Timur , better known as Tamerlane . Timur’s army conquered Persia and the Caucasus and then went on to destroy the key trading bases of the Golden Horde , which began a slow but terminal decline . The weakening of the Horde , however , was due less to outside military threats than to the Black Death , which began on the Central Asian steppe in the mid – fourteenth century .

pandemic turned trade routes into plague routes , devastating the economy and killing perhaps half the population of the Golden Horde , which over the next century broke up into three khanates ( Kazan , Crimea , Astrakhan ) .

Muscovy remained a vassal of the khans until 1502 . Long before , however , it began to act as if it were an independent state .

Mongols stayed in Russia for more than three centuries . It was not until the 1550s that the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan were finally defeated by Ivan IV ( the khanate of Crimea survived until 1783 ) . How much impact did these centuries have on the course of Russian history ? There

The Mongol period brought some positive advances for Russia . The postal system was the fastest in the world – a vast network of relay stations , each equipped with teams of fresh horses capable of carrying officials to all corners of the Mongol Empire at unheard – of speeds . It became the basis of the Muscovite system , which so impressed foreigners . Sigismund

The nineteenth – century socialist Alexander Herzen compared the repressive Nicholas I ( who reigned from 1825 to 1855 ) to ‘ Chingiz Khan with a telegraph ‘ . The Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin said that Stalin was like ‘ Chingiz Khan with a telephone ‘ .

The most senior boyar clans – those who were closest through marriage or royal favour to the Moscow court – formed an oligarchic ruling class , which at times , when the grand prince was weak , might direct his government . But their wealth and power came from him . They kept them only for as long as they retained his protection . It was a system of dependency upon the ruler that has lasted to this day . Putin’s oligarchs are totally dependent on his will .

To some extent this greater freedom from the Mongol influence set the lands of Kiev on a different historical trajectory from Muscovy . The Kievan lands were more oriented to the West , less exposed to the institutions of patrimonial autocracy .

The dual nature of the Christian ruler – fallible in his humanity but divine in his princely functions – was a common notion in Europe . 4 The

By the 1530s the idea had been fleshed out in church tracts and legendary tales into what would later become known as the ‘ Third Rome doctrine ‘ .

year . Moscow itself had a population of perhaps 100,000 people by the early sixteenth century , almost twice as many as London .

Its vast complex of palaces and churches was constructed largely by Italians . The Hall of Facets ( the tsar’s palace ) was the work of the Venetian architects Marco Ruffo and Pietro Antonio Solari , who built the Kremlin’s walls in the style of the Sforza castle in Milan . Aristotele Fioravanti was responsible for the newly rebuilt Dormition Cathedral ( 1475 – 9 ) and Alevise Novi for the Archangel Cathedral , completed twenty years later . Over centuries many of the Kremlin’s buildings became Russified – Russian architectural elements and ornaments were gradually added – so that today visitors will not easily recognise its Italianate character . There

‘ All the people consider themselves to be the slaves of their Tsar , ‘ remarked Herberstein , who thought that ‘ in the sway which he holds over his people , he surpasses the monarchs of the whole world ‘ . 8 Ivan referred to his servitors as ‘ slaves ‘ ( kholopy ) . Protocol required every boyar , even members of the princely clans , to refer to themselves as ‘ your slave ‘ when addressing him – a ritual reminiscent of the servility displayed by the Mongols to their khans . This subservience was fundamental to the patrimonial autocracy that distinguished Russia from the European monarchies .

As this service class increased in size , the pressure on the state to find more land for it intensified . This became a major driving force of Russia’s territorial expansion – the conquest of new lands for the military servitors .

One result of the pomeste system was the creation of a landowning service class with only weak ties to a particular community . The pomeshchiki were creatures of the state .

The persistence of autocracy in Russia is explained less by the state’s strength than by the weakness of society . There were few public institutions to resist the power of the monarchy . The landowning class was overly dependent on the tsar .

This imbalance – between a dominating state and a weak society

Between 1500 and the revolution of 1917 , the Russian Empire grew at an astonishing rate , 130 square kilometres on average every day . 10 From the nucleus of Muscovy it expanded into the world’s largest territorial empire . The history of Russia , as Kliuchevsky put it , is the ‘ history of a country that is colonizing itself ‘ . 11

The Cossacks ‘ name derived from the Turkic word qazaqi , meaning ‘ adventurers ‘ or ‘ vagrant soldiers ‘ who lived in freedom as bandits on the steppe . Many of the Cossacks were remnants of the Mongol army ( Tamerlane had started out as a qazaq ) . They were joined by Russians from the north who fled in growing numbers to the ‘ wild lands ‘ of the south because of the economic crises caused by wars , rising taxes and crop failures in the ‘ little ice age ‘ of the sixteenth century .

The iconography borrows from the Book of Revelation , in which Michael defeats Satan before the Apocalypse . Ivan appears as a new King David and the Russians as God’s Chosen People , the new Israelites , reinforcing Moscow’s mythic status and mission in the world as the Third Rome . 12

Russian folklore , the ‘ fool for the sake of Christ ‘ , or Holy Fool , held the status of a saint , though he acted more like a madman or a clown , dressed in bizarre clothes , with an iron cap or harness on his head and chains beneath his shirt , like the shamans of Asia . He wandered as a poor man round the countryside , living off the alms of villagers , who found portents in his strange riddles and believed in his supernatural powers of divination and healing . Unafraid to speak the truth to the rich and powerful , he was frequently received by the nobility and became a common presence at the court . Ivan enjoyed the company of Holy Fools .

Instead he licensed private entrepreneurs to settle on the land , allowing them to exploit it for their own economic purposes and defend themselves with mercenary troops , usually Cossacks . The Stroganovs were the first big beneficiaries of this colonial policy . A wealthy merchant family with interests in saltworks and mining , in 1558 they leased vast tracts of land on the Kama River between Kazan and Perm . Their

Ivan became ‘ the Terrible ‘ – in the sense we understand today – only in the eighteenth century . The epithet ( grozny ) was first applied to him in the early seventeenth century , when a rich folklore about the tsar was just developing . At that time the meaning of the word was closer to the sense of awe – inspiring and formidable rather than cruel or harsh – so basically positive . In

They dressed in long black cloaks like a monk’s habit and rode around the country on black horses with dogs ‘ heads and brooms attached to their bridles – symbols of their mission to hunt out the tsar’s enemies and sweep them from the land . 15

The horror of the scene was captured by Repin in his 1885 painting Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan on 16 November 1581 , in which Ivan is shown consumed by remorse .

He was particularly angered by the film’s depiction of the oprichniki who , he said , appeared as ‘ the worst kind of filth , degenerates , something like the Ku Klux Klan ‘ , no doubt fearing that the viewing public would see in them a reference to his own political police .

The crucial factor in the tsar’s authority – his godlike personality projected through the myth of the holy tsar – could thus be turned against him if his actions did not meet the people’s expectations of his sacred cult .

There were dozens of ‘ pretender tsars ‘ ( samozvantsy ) who stirred the people to revolt by claiming they were the true tsar , the deliverer of God’s justice . At least twenty – three of these pretenders have been documented before 1700 , and there would be over forty in the eighteenth century .

The only way the Russians could legitimise rebellion was in the name of the true tsar . No other concept of the state – neither the idea of the public good nor the commonwealth – carried any force in the peasant mind .

historiography as the first peasant revolutionary . In fact he was a small – scale landowner and military servitor who , like so many of his kind , had fallen on hard times and run away to join the Cossacks , living as a bandit on the steppe .

Petitioning the tsar had a long tradition in Russia . It continued through the Soviet period when millions of people wrote to Stalin for his help against the abuses of his officials , and can still be seen in Putin’s annual TV programme Direct Line when viewers call in with their questions for the president .

The new Law Code extended their collective duty to mutual surveillance and denunciation of sedition to the state .

In one section worthy of the Stalinist regime , the code stated that the families of ‘ traitors ‘ , even children , were liable to execution if they failed to denounce their seditious relatives . Included in such crimes were expressions of intent to rebel against the tsar or public statements against him . The practice of informing became deeply rooted in society . By the late nineteenth century it was an effective tool of the police .

The Law Code divided the population into legally defined classes , known as estates ( sosloviia ) , strictly ordered in a hierarchy according to their service to the state . Each class was closed and self – contained . The service nobles , townsmen , clergy and peasants could neither leave their class nor hope their children would .

The social mobility that made Western societies so dynamic in the early modern age was basically absent in Russia . The town population in Russia was permanently fixed .

They sold themselves as slaves to the richer servicemen , which meant fighting in their place . The struggling pomeshchiki begged the tsar to support them . They wanted stricter laws to bind the peasants to their land . The result of their pleas was the institution of serfdom under the provisions of the new Law Code .

Stepan Razin was a Cossack from an area of the Don overrun by peasant fugitives . The migrants were ready to become ‘ Cossacks ‘ , to live a life of freedom , without masters or taxes .

Around 60,000 Jews were killed in 1648 alone – a level of killing that would not be equalled until the pogroms of the Russian Civil War .

In 1686 , Russia signed a Treaty of Eternal Peace with the Polish – Lithuanian Commonwealth .

Publishing was also controlled by the Church . Russia was the only country in Europe without private publishers , printed news sheets or journals , printed plays or poetry . When Peter the Great came to the throne , in 1682 , no more than three books of a non – religious nature had been published by the Moscow press since its establishment in the 1560s .

where priests were trained in Latin as well as Slavonic .

Elsewhere , as the soldiers of the tsar approached , the Old Believers shut themselves inside their wooden churches and burned themselves to death to avoid submitting to the Antichrist .

They continued to follow the teachings of Avvakum , disseminated from his place of enforced exile in the Arctic fort of Pustozersk , where in 1680 he was burned at the stake .

Until the eighteenth century , the Russians followed the Byzantine custom of counting years from the creation of the world , an event which they believed had occurred 5,508 years before the birth of Christ . But in December 1699 Tsar Peter decreed a calendar reform . Henceforth years were to be numbered from Christ’s birth , ‘ in the manner of European Christian nations ‘ , beginning on 1 January 1700 ( 7209 in the old system ) .

Peter was a man in a hurry . Almost seven feet in height ,

He set up a new system of conscription , unparalleled in Europe , in which units of twenty peasant households were each collectively responsible for sending one man for life into the army every year , and even more at times of war . This sweeping militarisation of society produced the largest standing army in the world – some 300,000 troops by Peter’s death , in 1725 , and 2 million men by 1801.4 No other state could mobilise so many men .

It was said that Peter made his city in the sky and then lowered it , like a giant model , to the ground . Here was a new imperial capital without roots in Russian soil .

He gave himself the Latin title ‘ Imperator ‘ and had his image cast on a new rouble coin , with laurel wreath and armour , in imitation of Caesar . It was a symbolic break from Muscovy , with its Byzantine mythology , in which the tsar had been portrayed as a divine agent and defender of the faith . Now he appeared in armour with a Western crown and cloak and imperial regalia

He made state service compulsory for the nobility , whose status was defined by the seniority of their office rather than by birth .

The Table of Ranks , introduced in 1722 , established fourteen ranks or categories of state service , in which hereditary nobility was conferred on office – holders in the top eight ranks . Commoners could enter at the bottom rank and earn noble titles by working up to the eighth rank ( collegiate assessor in the government , major in the army or third captain in the navy ) . This ordering of the nobles by their service to the state lasted until 1917 . It had a deep effect on the nobles ‘ way of life , further weakening their attachment to the land . Because promotion was normally by seniority , the system rewarded time – servers and encouraged bureaucratic mediocrity .

From the middle of the eighteenth century we can see the emergence of a new national consciousness which found its first expression in an anti – Western ideology . It was based on the defence of Russian customs and morals against the corrupting impact of the West – a trope of the later Slavophiles .

Whether Saltykov was Paul’s father remains unknown , but Catherine’s memoirs hinted that he was , much to the horror of her nineteenth – century descendants , who censored any mention of his name .

Peter meekly surrendered ( on hearing of his overthrow , Frederick the Great said that he had ‘ let himself be driven from the throne as a child is sent to bed ‘ ) . Peter was exiled to one of his estates near St Petersburg , where he was murdered three weeks later by Orlov . It was announced that he had died of ‘ haemorrhoidal colic ‘ – prompting one French wit to note that haemorrhoids must be very dangerous in Russia . 18

A follower of the Enlightenment , she emphasised the need to educate the nobles as agents of enlightened government . She wanted to create a noble class that would serve the public good , not by compulsion but from a sense of obligation to society ( noblesse oblige ) .

What she meant by this simple statement was that , on account of its European character , Russia had a natural mastery over all the peoples of Asia .

Montesquieu . Although she disputed Montesquieu’s conception of Russia as an oriental despotism , she accepted his idea that laws should be consistent with the spirit of a nation shaped by climate and geography .

‘ You were right in not wanting to be counted among the philosophes , ‘ she wrote to Grimm at the height of the Jacobin terror in 1794 , ‘ for experience has shown that all of that leads to ruin ; no matter what they say or do , the world will never cease to need authority . It is better to endure the tyranny of one man than the insanity of the multitude . ‘

On his accession to the throne Paul restored the principle of primogeniture to the law of succession , effectively ensuring that his mother would be the last female ruler of Russia .

Appalled by his tyranny , a small group of drunken officers broke into the Mikhailovsky Palace and strangled Paul to death on the night of 23 – 24 March 1801 . The officers were acting on the orders of a court conspiracy with close links to Alexander , son of Paul and heir to the throne , who had set the date for the killing .

Barely 10 per cent of the invasion force would make it back

Alexander was convinced that all these groups were connected to a secret international Bonapartist organisation . He urged the Holy Alliance to root them out and destroy them before they spread to Poland and Russia . At

The officers began to organise themselves in secret circles of conspirators , like those in Spain and Italy , often building on the networks of the Freemasons , banned by Alexander in 1822 , to which most of them belonged . All were in favour of a liberal constitution and the abolition of serfdom , but they were divided over how to bring this end about . Some wanted to wait for the tsar to die , whereupon they would refuse to swear allegiance to his successor unless reforms were introduced .

His younger brother Nicholas did not announce his decision to take the crown instead until 12 December . Pestel resolved to seize the moment for revolt and hurried to St Petersburg to organise it with his fellow officers – the Decembrists as they would be known .

They conceived of the uprising as a military putsch , instigated by orders issued by the officers , without even thinking whether the soldiers ( who showed no inclination for an armed revolt ) would go along with them . In the end , the Decembrist leaders rallied the support of 3,000 troops in Petersburg – far fewer than the hoped – for 20,000 men , but still enough perhaps to bring about a change of government if well organised and resolute . But that they were not .

Pestel and four others were hanged in the courtyard of the fortress , even though officially the death penalty had been abolished in Russia . When the five were strung up on the gallows and the floor traps were released , three of the condemned proved too heavy for their ropes and , still alive , fell into the ditch . ‘ What a wretched country ! ‘ cried one of them . ‘ They don’t even know how to hang properly . ‘ 6

Known as ‘ official nationality ‘ , this new ideology was based on the old myth that the Russians were distinguished from the Europeans by the strength of their devotion to the Church and tsar and by their capacity for sacrifice in the service of a higher patriotic goal .

The Slavophiles were opposed to the Westernising reforms begun by Peter the Great . They feared that these changes , imposed by a state that was ‘ foreign ‘ to the peasants , would result in the loss of Russia’s national character , its native customs and traditions . The

‘ Intelligentsia ‘ is in origin a Russian word .

Published in the same year as Uncle Tom’s Cabin , the Sketches had as big an impact in swaying Russian views against serfdom as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book had on the anti – slavery movement in America .

The humiliation was to leave a deep and lasting sense of resentment towards the West . It continues to this day . All Putin’s talk of Western ‘ double standards ‘ and ‘ hypocrisy ‘ , of Western ‘ Russophobia ‘ and ‘ disrespect ‘ for Russia , goes back to this history . In

The war had brutally exposed the country’s many weaknesses : the corruption and incompetence of the command ; the technological backwardness of the army and navy ; the poor roads and lack of railways that accounted for the chronic problems of supply ; the poverty of the army’s serf conscripts ; the inability of the economy to sustain a state of war against the industrial powers ; the weakness of the country’s finances ; and the failures of autocracy . Critics focused on the tsar , whose arrogant and wilful policies , as they now seemed , had led the country to defeat and sacrificed so many lives . Even within the governing elite the bankruptcy of the Nicholaevan system was coming to be recognised .

‘ My God , so many victims , ‘ wrote the tsarist censor Alexander Nikitenko in his diary . ‘ All at the behest of a mad will , drunk with absolute power … We have been waging war not for two years , but for thirty , maintaining an army of a million men and constantly threatening Europe . What was the point of it all ? ‘

They found one , a semiliterate peasant and Old Believer called Andrei Petrov . After studying the proclamation for three days , he managed to interpret the statutes in a way that told the peasants what they had wanted to hear all along .

The commune emerged from the Emancipation as the basic unit of administration in the countryside . The mir , as it was called , a word that also means ‘ world ‘ and ‘ universe ‘ , regulated every aspect of the peasants ‘ lives : it decided the rotation of the crops ( the open – field system of strip farming necessitated uniformity ) ; took care of the woods and pasture lands ; saw to the repair of roads and bridges ; established welfare schemes for widows and the poor ; organised the payment of redemption dues and taxes ; fulfilled the conscription of soldiers ; maintained public order ; and enforced justice through customary law .

Second was the labour principle – basically a peasant version of the labour theory of value . The peasants attached rights to labour on the land . They believed in a sacred link between the two . The land belonged to God . It could not be owned by anyone . But every peasant family should have the right to feed itself from its own labour on the land . On this principle the landowners did not fairly own their land , and the hungry peasants were fully justified in claiming their right to farm it . A constant battle was thus fought between the state’s written law , framed to defend property , and the peasants ‘ customary law , which they used to defend their transgressions of the landowners ‘ property . The

The practice of communal repartitioning encouraged the peasants to have bigger families – the main criterion for receiving land . The birth rate in Russia was nearly twice the European average in the latter nineteenth century . The rapid growth of the peasant population ( from 50 to 79 millions between 1861 and 1897 ) resulted in a worsening land shortage . By the turn of the century 7 per cent of the peasant households in the central zone had no land at all , while one in five had less than one hectare . Although

Lacking the capital to modernise their farms , the easiest way the peasants had to feed themselves was by ploughing more land at the expense of fallow and other pasture lands . But this made the situation worse . It meant reducing livestock herds ( the main source of fertiliser ) and the exhaustion of the soil . By 1900 , one in three peasant households did not have a horse . 6 To cultivate

The common image of the tsarist regime as omnipresent and all – powerful was largely an invention of the revolutionaries , who spent their lives in fear of it , living in the underground . The reality was different . For every 1,000 inhabitants of the Russian Empire there were only four state officials at the turn of the twentieth century , compared with 7.3 in England and Wales , 12.6 in Germany and 17.6 in France . For a rural population of 100 million people , Russia in 1900 had no more than 1,852 police sergeants and 6,874 police constables . The average constable was responsible for policing 50,000 people in dozens of settlements scattered across 5,000 square kilometres . 10

After the failure of the ‘ Going to the people ‘ , as the events of 1874 were known , Tkachev argued that such methods were too slow . Before a social revolution could be organised a class of richer peasants , whose interests lay in the status quo , would appear as a result of capitalist development and assert its domination in the countryside . Tkachev argued for a putsch by a disciplined vanguard , which would set up a dictatorship before engineering the creation of a socialist society by waging civil war against the rich . He claimed the time was ripe to carry out this coup , since as yet there was no major social force , just a weak landowning class , prepared to defend the monarchy . Delay would be fatal , Tkachev argued , because soon there would be such a force , a bourgeoisie , supported by the ‘ petty – bourgeois ‘ peasantry , which would be formed by the new market forces in Russia .

It is hard to think of a more momentous turning – point in Russian history . On the day the tsar was killed , 1 March , he had agreed to a reform that would include elected representatives from the zemstvos and town councils in a new consultative assembly . Although it was a limited reform , by no means implying the creation of a constitutional monarchy , it showed that Alexander was prepared to involve the public in the work of government . On 8 March , the proposal was rejected by his son and heir , Alexander III , in a meeting of grand dukes and ministers . The most reactionary and influential critic , Konstantin Pobedonostsev , procurator of the Holy Synod , warned that accepting the reform would represent a first decisive step on the road to constitutional government . At this time of crisis , he maintained , Russia was in need not of a ‘ talking shop ‘ but of firm actions by the government . From that point , the new tsar , who would rule from 1881 to 1894 , pursued an unbending course of political reaction to restore the autocratic principle .

Until 1904 , they could even have the peasants flogged for minor crimes . The impact of such corporal punishments – decades after the Emancipation – cannot be overstressed . It made it clear to the peasantry that violence was the basis of state power – and that violence was the only way to remove it .

Russian was made compulsory in schools and public offices . Polish students at Warsaw University had to suffer the indignity of studying their national literature in Russian translation .

During the 1907 cholera epidemic in the Kiev area , doctors were forbidden to publish warnings not to drink the water in Ukrainian . But the peasants could not read the Russian signs , and many died as a result .

The last two tsars encouraged this . Nicholas II , in particular , saw the pogroms as an act of loyalty by the ‘ good and simple Russian folk ‘ . He became a patron of the Union of the Russian People , formed in 1905 , which instigated more than one pogrom . Little wonder , then , that Jews were prominent in the revolutionary underground . The Marxist movement , in particular , was attractive to the Jews . The

Whereas Populism had proposed to build a socialism based on peasant Russia , the land of pogroms , Marxism was based on a modern Western vision of Russia . It promised to assimilate the Jews into a movement of universal human liberation based on internationalism .

Millions of peasants came into the towns , some drawn by ambition , others forced to leave the countryside because of overpopulation on the land . Between 1861 and 1914 the empire’s urban population grew from 7 to 28 million people . First came the young men , then the married men , then unmarried girls , who worked mainly in domestic service , and finally the married women with children

Contrary to the Soviet myth , in which Lenin was a Marxist theorist from his infancy , he came late to politics . He was born in 1870 into a respectable and prosperous family in Simbirsk , a typical provincial town on the Volga . His father was inspector of the Simbirsk district’s primary schools . In Lenin’s final year at secondary school , a middle – class gymnasium , he was highly praised by his headmaster , who by one of those strange historical ironies was the father of Alexander Kerensky , the prime minister Lenin would overthrow in October 1917 .

Lenin came to Marx already armed with set ideas . All the main components of his ideology – his stress on the need for a disciplined ‘ vanguard ‘ ; his belief that action ( the ‘ subjective factor ‘ ) could alter the objective course of history ; his defence of terror and dictatorship ; his contempt for democrats ( and for socialists who compromised with them ) – stemmed not just from Marx but from Tkachev and the People’s Will . He injected a distinctly Russian dose of conspiratorial politics into a Marxist dialectic that might have remained passive otherwise , tied down by a willingness to wait for the revolution to develop socially rather than bringing it about through political action . It was not Marxism that made Lenin a revolutionary but Lenin who made Marxism revolutionary .

He wanted followers who would devote their whole lives to the Party’s cause . It had to be a small but secret party made up of committed revolutionaries ( be they workers or , more likely , intellectuals ) who understood ‘ the fine art of not getting arrested ‘ .

From his tutor , the arch – reactionary Pobedonostsev , Nicholas had learned to see his sovereignty as absolute , unlimited by bureaucracy , parliaments or public opinion , and guided only by his conscience before God .

Kovno did not have the peasant commune . The peasants owned their land , and as a result they farmed it more efficiently than the peasants did in central Russia where the commune gave them no incentive to improve their landholdings . Stolypin’s solution to the land question was to help the peasants break away from the commune and consolidate their landholding as private property .

Stolypin had misunderstood the peasantry’s attachment to the mir . He had assumed that they were poor because of it . But in fact it was the other way around : the commune served to share the burden of their poverty , and as long as they were poor they had no reason to leave

They believed that Europe was heading unavoidably towards a final struggle between the Teutons and the Slavs . They saw the Drang nach Osten , the Drive to the East , as part of a broader German plan to undermine Slavic civilisation , concluding that , unless it made a firm stand to defend its Balkan allies , Russia would suffer a long period of imperial decline and subjugation to Germany . ‘ In

eight Ukrainian provinces produced one – third of the Russian Empire’s wheat , two – thirds of its coal and more than half its steel . If Russia lost Ukraine , it would no longer be a great power .

Nicholas was under intense pressure from his generals and ministers , Duma leaders and the press to go to war . Sergei Sazonov , his foreign minister , told him that ‘ unless he yielded to the popular demand for war and unsheathed the sword on Serbia’s behalf , he would run the risk of a revolution and perhaps the loss of his throne ‘ . Nicholas went pale . ‘ Just think of the responsibility you’re advising me to assume , ‘ he said to Sazonov . But he was too weak to argue against

The soldiers , for the most part , were strangers to the sentiment of patriotism . With little direct knowledge of the world outside their villages , they had only a weak sense of their identity as Russians . They thought of themselves as natives of their village or region . ‘ We are from here and Orthodox , ‘ they would say in response to questions about their nationality . As

A large proportion of the population was younger than the minimum draft age . Where 12 per cent of the German population was mobilised for military service , Russia was able to call up only 5 per cent .

By 1915 , new recruits were being trained without rifles . Thrown into battle , they were ordered to retrieve the guns dropped by men shot down in the line in front of them .

The collapse of discipline was related to the spread of rumours about treason at the court . It was said that the empress and Rasputin were working for the Germans , that they were pushing for a separate peace ( a myth encouraged by the German press which printed fake news of negotiations with the Russian government ) . The court had no idea how to counteract these damaging rumours .

It had never attached any importance to public opinion and had not learned to manage

The Soviet leaders , mostly Mensheviks , believed in line with Marxist doctrine that Russia was too backward to proceed at once to a socialist government . Marx had taught them that what was needed now was a ‘ bourgeois democratic ‘ period of development with freedom for the masses to organise themselves through trade unions , political parties and so on . These

The monarchy was dead . All its institutions of support had collapsed virtually overnight . No one tried to revive it . None of the counter – revolutionary armies of the Civil War – the fight to remove the Bolsheviks from power after 1917 – embraced monarchism as a cause , although many of their officers were monarchists .

In the countryside the peasants formed their own ad hoc committees ( they sometimes called them Soviets ) and seized the gentry’s property , first the tools and livestock and then their fields , which the commune divided in line with its customary principles ( usually according to

Soldiers ‘ committees supervised relations with the officers and discussed their military commands . In some units they refused to fight for more than eight hours a day , claiming the same rights as the workers . Throughout the army they demanded to be treated as equals by their officers when they were not engaged in fighting . This assertion of ‘ soldier power ‘ was essential to the spirit of ‘ trench Bolshevism ‘ – a term used by the officers to describe the troops ‘ refusal to obey their orders

Kerensky , now the minister of war , toured the front to raise the troops ‘ morale . He dressed in military uniform and wore his right arm in a sling , although no one knew of any injury . Kerensky was an actor – politician , made for the revolutionary stage , where his fiery speeches , filled with theatrical gestures and even fainting fits , genuine but timed to coincide with the dramatic climax of his speech , captured the emotions of the crowd .

For two days the Russians advanced , led by the Women’s Battalion of Death , formed by female volunteers in 1917 and chosen now to shame the men into fighting ; but when the Germans launched a counteroffensive , the Russians fled to the rear in panic .

The failed uprising sparked a reaction from the right . Leaflets were released by the Ministry of Justice claiming that the Bolsheviks were German agents – an idea based on concrete evidence ( the Bolsheviks undoubtedly received German money and logistical support in 1917 ) but giving rise to the dangerous myth that Soviet power was imposed on Russia by the Germans , Jews and other foreign enemies of the country .

He did not want to share power . From his hideout in Finland , he had been calling for an armed uprising before the Congress met . The Party ‘ can and must ‘ seize power , he had argued in a series of impatient letters to the Bolshevik Central Committee . He said ‘ can ‘ because the Party had enough support to win a civil war , which was more important than elections at this point . And ‘ must ‘ because by waiting for a vote in the Congress they would give time to Kerensky to organise a counter – revolutionary force and close down the Soviet .

He had left that morning for the Northern Front in a desperate search for loyal troops . His government by this time was so helpless that it did not even have a car : he had departed in a Renault seized from the American Embassy . The

By walking out of the Congress , the Mensheviks and SRs had surrendered the Soviet to the Bolsheviks .

Trotsky pounced on the opportunity . Denouncing Martov’s resolution , he gave his verdict on the renegades : ‘ You are miserable bankrupts , your role is played out ; go where you ought to go – into the dustbin of history ! ‘ Trotsky then proposed a resolution condemning their ‘ treacherous ‘ attempts to kill Soviet power at its birth . 16 The Soviet delegates , who did not understand what they were doing , raised their hands to support it . The effect of their action was to give a Soviet stamp of approval for a Bolshevik dictatorship . Not

Meanwhile , at the grass – roots level of society , the Bolsheviks gave free rein to the ‘ looting of the looters ‘ – mob trials , lynchings , violent robberies and requisitionings of anyone who bore the slightest trace of wealth or privilege .

‘ especially distrustful of a Russian when he gets power into his own hands . Not long ago a slave , he becomes the most unbridled despot as soon as he has the chance to become his neighbour’s master . ‘ 17

Their terror took a leaf out of the old playbook of krugovaya poruka , collective responsibility , applied now to a whole social class . They called this terror the ‘ internal front ‘ of the Civil War .

The Civil War demanded an immediate peace , or as Lenin put it with his usual bluntness , ‘ The bourgeoisie has to be throttled and for that we need both hands free . ‘

All in all , the Soviet Republic lost 34 per cent of its population ( 55 million people ) , 32 per cent of its agricultural land , 54 per cent of its industrial capacity and 89 per cent of its coalmines ( peat and wood now became its biggest source of fuel ) . 20 As a European power , Russia was reduced to a status on a par with seventeenth – century Muscovy .

The armies of the Civil War were being formed . The anti – Bolshevik forces , known as the ‘ Whites ‘ ( a name derived from the white cockades worn in the hats of the anti – Jacobins during the French revolutionary wars ) , were a motley bunch without a clear or unifying ideology except to remove the

Where they found none , they assumed that it was being hidden by the ‘ kulaks ‘ – the phantom class of ‘ capitalist ‘ peasants invented by the Bolsheviks – and an unequal ‘ battle for grain ‘ began . The brigades beat and tortured villagers ; villages were burned , until they handed over what they had , which was often their last stocks of food and seed for the next year . There were hundreds of peasant uprisings – a ‘ kulak counter – revolution ‘ according to the Bolsheviks – behind the Red fronts in the Civil War .

By 1920 , some 3 million people were employed in the Soviet bureaucracy . This was not a Dictatorship of the Proletariat but a Dictatorship of the Bureaucracy .

Their propaganda was cleverly adapted to the old religious myths of social justice and freedom which had long inspired popular rebellions . It was communicated in a simple visual and iconic form easily accessible and understood by a population with low rates of literacy and little understanding of political discourse . Pamphlets for the rural poor compared socialism to the work of Christ . The cult of Lenin , which took off from August 1918 after he was wounded in an assassination attempt , carried clear religious overtones . Lenin was depicted as a Christlike figure , ready to die for the people’s cause , and , because he had survived , blessed with miraculous powers .

The Whites ‘ refusal to recognise the national independence movements was disastrous . It lost them the support of the Poles , Ukrainians , Estonians and Finns – any one of which could have tipped the military balance in their favour – and complicated their relations with the Cossacks , who wanted more autonomy from Russia than the White leaders were prepared to give .

Once the Whites had been defeated the peasants turned against the Bolsheviks , whose requisitionings had brought them to the brink of starvation . By the autumn of 1920 , the whole of the country was engulfed in peasant wars . Most were small revolts but there were also larger armies , sometimes called the Greens , such as Makhno’s in Ukraine or Antonov’s in Tambov , which set up peasant governments . Everywhere their aims were basically the same : to restore the peasant self – rule of 1917 . Some expressed this in the slogan ‘ Soviets without Communists ! ‘

But Lenin insisted that as long as the state controlled the ‘ commanding heights of the economy ‘ ( heavy industry , the utilities and natural resources ) , there was no danger in allowing private farming , retail trade and handicrafts to satisfy consumer needs .

The NEP was to be a temporary retreat from the utopian dream of building socialism by decree – the essence of the War Communist model .

should support their country’s war campaign . To mark their ideological opposition to the Social Democrats , some of whom had backed their national wartime governments , the Bolsheviks in 1918 changed their name from the SDs to the Communist Party . The distinction was reinforced by the Comintern , known as the Third International , whose ‘ Twenty – One Conditions ‘ ( passed in 1920 ) obliged its member parties to rename themselves as Communist , to fight against the ‘ social patriots ‘ of the parliamentary socialist parties and give loyal support to the Soviet Republic , which , as the sole existing seat of Communism in the world , was their only true homeland .

During the Civil War he took on many jobs that others had considered too mundane . He

a consequence he had gained a reputation for modest and industrious mediocrity .

the police . Hidden in a drawer inside his desk , Stalin had a secret telephone on which he was able to listen to the private conversations of senior government officials in the Kremlin . He knew all his comrades ‘ weaknesses – their mistresses , their cocaine use , their homosexuality – and knew how to exploit them .

Lenin had asked to be buried next to his mother’s grave in Petrograd . But Stalin wanted to embalm the corpse and put it on display . In the Russian Orthodox tradition the uncorrupted body was a sign of holiness .

the market mechanisms of the NEP alive , requisitioning was brought back for the 1928 harvest .

Most of the peasants were afraid of giving up a way of life their families had lived for centuries – a life based on the family farm , the peasant commune , the village and its church , all of which were to be swept away as legacies of ‘ backwardness ‘ . In many villages there were demonstrations and riots , assaults on Communists , attacks on kolkhoz property and protests against church closures in which peasant women often took the lead . It was almost a return to the situation at the end of the Civil War , when peasant wars had forced the Bolsheviks to abandon requisitioning , only this time the regime was strong enough to crush the resistance . Realising their own weakness , the peasants ran away or slaughtered their livestock to prevent them being requisitioned for the collective farms . The number of cattle in the Soviet Union fell by 30 per cent in 1929 – 30 , and by half from 1928 to 1933 .

The war against the kulaks was an economic disaster , on top of its immense human costs . It deprived the new collective farms of the best and hardest – working peasants ( because these are what the kulaks in fact were ) and ultimately led to the terminal decline of the Soviet economy .

Tied to the collective farm by an internal passport system , the peasants saw this enforced labour as the restoration of serfdom .

the levies on collective farms were particularly high . This has prompted some historians to argue that the ‘ terror – famine ‘ was a calculated policy of genocide against Ukrainians , although that is hard to prove . 6 Certainly the famine , or Holodomor ( ‘ killing by starvation ‘ in Ukrainian ) , has left a bitter legacy of hatred towards Russia among the descendants of Ukrainians who died from Soviet policies . Although

The rates of growth that Stalin had demanded in the Five – Year Plan could not have been achieved without the use of forced labour , particularly in the cold and remote regions of the Far North and Siberia , where so many of the Soviet Union’s precious economic resources ( diamonds , gold , platinum and nickel , oil , coal and timber ) were located but where nobody would freely go . The Gulag was the key to the colonisation of these areas . A vast slave economy organised by the police , the Gulag ( an acronym for the Main Administration of Corrective Labour Camps and Colonies ) oversaw the process of arresting ‘ enemies ‘ and sending them to prison camps where they were worked to death on construction sites , building railways and canals , mining coal and gold by hand , and chopping down whole forests in the Arctic zone . Their labour made an incalculable contribution to the country’s economic growth – far more valuable than any figures can communicate because of its added benefit of colonising these inhospitable regions with their precious resources .

The speed of change in the early 1930s was intoxicating . There were so many signs of the country’s progress – or so it seemed from the Soviet press and other propaganda media – that people believed

propaganda aimed to foster the belief that the utopia was imminent , that it could be reached by one last collective effort . The promise was renewed by every Five – Year Plan , of which there were twelve , but the utopia was never reached .

Whereas Lenin , in his cult , appeared as a human god or saint , a sacred guide for the Party orphaned by his death , the cult of Stalin portrayed him as a tsar , the ‘ little – father tsar ‘ or tsar – batiushka of folklore , who would protect the people , like his children , and guide them to a better life . ‘ The Russians need a tsar ‘ , Stalin said on many occasions . 8

Dmitry studied hard but could not go to university or hold down a proper job because of his kulak origins . Yet he never ceased believing in Stalin , and was himself , in his own words , an ‘ ardent Stalinist ‘ . Looking back on his life decades later , he said in interviews : ‘ it was easier for us [ the repressed ] to survive our punishments if we continued to believe in Stalin , to think that Stalin was deceived by enemies of the people , rather than to give up hope in him … Perhaps it was a form of self – deception , but psychologically it made life much easier to bear , believing in the justice of Stalin . It took away our fear . ‘ 9

Better known as the Riutin Platform , the typescript was a blistering critique of Stalin’s politics and personality , denouncing him as a mediocre thinker , ‘ unscrupulous intriguer ‘ and ‘ gravedigger of the revolution ‘ through his catastrophic policies , which , in forcing through collectivisation , had betrayed Lenin’s voluntarist principles . 11

She went to her room and shot herself with a pistol . Among her things they found a note to Stalin in which she had written that she was opposed to everything he was doing . They also found a copy of the Riutin Platform . Stalin

The army had been the one institution capable of standing up to Stalin in his quest for complete power ( which is why the Trial of the Generals had been in secret ) . Now its leadership was virtually destroyed : of the 767 members of the high command , 512 were shot , 29 died in prison , 3 committed suicide and 59 were still in jail when the war with Germany began in 1941 .

The typical provincial town was ruled by a clique of senior officials – the district Party boss , the police chief , the heads of local factories , collective farms and prisons – who each had their own client networks in the institutions they controlled . These officials protected one another as long as their power – circle was maintained . But the arrest of one official would inevitably lead to the arrest of all the other members of the ruling clique , as well as their hangers – on , once the NKVD got to work revealing the connections between them .

The duty to inform was a long – established principle in Russian governance , dating back to the sixteenth century , as we have seen . It was connected to the obligations of krugovaya poruka , the medieval principle of collective responsibility , which we have observed as a recurrent feature in the country’s history . During

The concept of ‘ objective guilt ‘ applied to crimes against the state – meaning that a person might act with sincere and innocent intentions and yet serve the counter – revolution through their behaviour . It was the objective consequence ( the ‘ meaning ‘ ) of a person’s actions that determined guilt or innocence .

‘ To win a battle , ‘ Stalin warned in 1937 , ‘ several corps of soldiers are needed . But to subvert this victory on the front , all that is needed are a few spies somewhere in army headquarters . ‘ On this reasoning , if only 5 per cent of those arrested turned out to be truly enemies , ‘ that ‘ , Stalin said , ‘ would be a good result ‘ . 13

He would surely put things right if they wrote to him , as many people did , continuing the old tradition of petitioning the tsar to correct the abuses of his officials .

himself was exposed as an ‘ enemy of the people ‘ . It was said that he had tried to undermine the government by spreading discontent through false arrests . He was later shot in a basement near the Lubianka , the NKVD headquarters .

Stalin realised that patriotic pride was a more solid base of popular belief than Marxist ideology . After the mass upheavals of the Five – Year Plan , he recognised the need to reunite the country around familiar national symbols and ideas .

Under Stalin’s leadership the Bolsheviks continued with their atheist campaigns against the Church , but they adopted new ‘ pro – family policies ‘ ( for example , the outlawing of abortion , more state child support , the prosecution of homosexuals ) to boost the birth rate , which had fallen sharply since the launching of the Five – Year Plan . Like Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany , Stalin’s Russia needed more young people for its military . The

On 7 September , he told his inner circle that they would wait for the Western powers and Nazi Germany to exhaust themselves in a long war before they joined the fighting to ‘ tip the scales ‘ and emerge as the victors . The capitalist system ( in which he included the Fascist states ) would be weakened , enabling the Red Army to export the Soviet revolution as it marched into Europe .

‘ You can send your “ source ” from German aviation headquarters back to his fucking mother . This is disinformation , not a “ source ” , ‘ he wrote to his state security commissar , who on 17 June had warned of an imminent attack .

Hitler wanted the destruction of Russia . He viewed the Russians , like the Slavs , as ‘ sub – humans ‘ , incapable of building their own civilisation . He once said , in terms reminding us of the early German historians of Russia we met in the first chapter , that ‘ unless other peoples , beginning with the Vikings , had imported some rudiments of organisation into Russian humanity , the Russians would still be living like rabbits ‘ .

By 1941 , they were more prepared than other peoples for the hardships of the war – the sharp decline in living standards , the breaking – up of families , the death and disappearance of their relatives – because they had been through these during the 1930s . The most selfless sacrifice was made by teenagers .

Her generation fought with reckless bravery . Only 3 per cent of the eighteen – year – olds mobilised in 1941 would still be alive in 1945 .

The Soviet command economy was made for war . Its ability to organise production for the military campaign – to move and build new factories overnight , to subject workers to martial law and to work to death a million Gulag slaves mining fuel and minerals – gave it an advantage over the Nazis , who were unable to demand so much from the Germans .

Only by considering this ruthless disregard for human life can we explain the shocking losses of the Red Army – around 12 million soldiers killed between 1941 and 1945 – three times the number of German military losses between 1939 and 1945.13

The poem ‘ Kill Him ! ‘ by Konstantin Simonov was read to soldiers by their officers before they went into battle :

Around 2 million German women are believed to have been raped by Soviet soldiers , whose actions went unpunished by their commanders . When

‘ Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach . ‘ Stalin

Timofei Lysenko , the director of the Soviet Institute of Genetics , even claimed to have developed a new strain of wheat that would grow in the Arctic – a bogus claim that was responsible for millions of deaths in Maoist China where the pseudoscience was adopted during the 1950s .

might have been saved if medical assistance had been called in time . But in the panic of the Doctors ‘ Plot none of Stalin’s inner circle dared take the initiative . He became the final victim of his system of terror .

The Gulag population reached its peak in 1952 , when there were around 2 million prisoners in its labour camps and colonies .

In 1957 , Moscow hosted the World Festival of Youth . The Kremlin’s aim was to win over the young people of the capitalist countries to the Soviet way of life . But the outcome was the opposite . With their jeans and easy – going manner the visitors converted Soviet youth to the Western way of life . Rock and roll and its attendant fashions captured the imagination of a generation of Soviet students too sophisticated for the dull , conformist culture of the Komsomol , the Communist Youth League . On their short – wave radios , they listened to the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe , where rock and jazz were the draw for news and information about the freedoms of the West . This

By 1960 , more than half the population was under thirty years of age . The October Revolution was not something they could relate to – for them it was ancient history – while the Great Patriotic War was something that their parents had lived through . It was a challenge to engage this generation in the system’s values and beliefs .

Like so many Party apparatchiks promoted during Stalin’s purges and the war , he had more practical than intellectual capacities ( according to his brightest minister , Alexander Yakovlev , his main talent was an uncanny ability to ‘ recognise precisely who was his friend and who was his enemy ‘ ) . 29 He was good at building political alliances and networks of support among the regional Party leaders , many of them comrades from the 1930s , when he had risen from the factory floor to become the propaganda chief of the Dnepropetrovsk Party organisation in Ukraine .

received protection from the Party leadership . Nationalism was regarded as an antidote to the growing influence of Western ideas and culture . It

By the end of the 1970s , they took up 4 per cent of the country’s agricultural land , but produced 40 per cent of its pork and poultry , 42 per cent of its fruit and over half its potatoes . 31 The prices in the peasant markets were too high for most

man goes into a shop and asks : ‘ You don’t have any meat ? ‘ ‘ No , ‘ replies the sales assistant , ‘ we don’t have any fish . It’s the shop across the street that has no meat . ‘

The one product not in short supply was alcohol . Consumption more than doubled in the Brezhnev years . By the early 1980s , the average kolkhoz family was spending one – third of its household income on vodka . Alcoholism was the national disease . It had a major impact on crime rates ( 10 million people every year were detained by the police for drunkenness ) and male life expectancy , which declined from sixty – six in 1964 to just sixty – two in 1980 . Brezhnev’s

Oil revenues rescued the regime from probable

Before the revolution , Russia had been a major agricultural exporter . But within sixty years of 1917 it had become the biggest food importer in the world . One – third of all baked goods were made from foreign cereals . Cattle farming was entirely dependent on imported grain .

After only fifteen months in office , Andropov died from a long illness . He had nominated Gorbachev to succeed him , but Chernenko took his place . Within weeks he too became terminally ill . The Bolsheviks were dying of old age .

A tired – looking Yanaev , his hands seized by alcoholic tremors , announced uncertainly to the world’s press that he was taking over as the Soviet president .

But in a referendum on 1 December the Ukrainians voted by a huge majority for independence . Their departure blew a massive hole in the Soviet ship of state , an act that would not be forgotten by those who saw its sinking as a tragedy . A

Gorbachev declared that he could not support the abolition of the Soviet Union . It had not been ratified by constitutional procedures or even by a democratic vote . Popular opinion had been in favour of a union , but the nationalist leaders had gone against the people’s will . 11 ENDS How does the story of Russia end ?

The events of 1991 were not a revolution but an abdication of power by the Communist Party . There was no mass uprising or opposition movement to bring down the Soviet regime in Russia . There were no parties , no trade unions or civic forum groups ready to take power , as they did in the east European revolutions of 1989 .

Without a democratic revolution , the old elites soon re – emerged at the top of the post – Soviet system . The KGB renamed itself the Federal Counter – Intelligence Service ( later changed to the Federal Security Service , or FSB ) without changes in its personnel . Yeltsin filled his government with former Communists and set about reclaiming the old Soviet bodies ( the army , the state bank , the Soviet seat in the United Nations ) for Russia .

Even the leaders of the August putsch were amnestied in February 1994 . Some went straight from jail to leading positions in Russia’s largest banks and companies .

Yeltsin wanted a successor who would protect him . His choice fell on Putin , Berezovsky’s favoured candidate , whom he made prime minister in August 1999 , announcing at the same time that he wanted Putin to succeed him as the president . One of Putin’s first acts in that office was to grant immunity to Yeltsin and his family .

His victory depended , not on an assessment of his policies ( no one knew what he stood for ) but on how he came across on television screens : sober , clean – cut , competent , someone who would not bring shame to Russia on the international stage – in sum , Yeltsin’s opposite .

Russia had existed as an empire for so long that it could not simply reinvent itself as a nation after 1991 .

Outside the main cities , few people had the internet in their homes . Eight out of ten received their news from the

Vladislav Surkov , Putin’s deputy chief of staff and principal adviser , whose approach to words was the same as Humpty Dumpty’s in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass ( ‘ When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean ‘ ) . The meaning of ‘ sovereign democracy ‘ , as Surkov defined it , was that Russia should be free to choose its own political system and call it a ‘ democracy ‘ ( Putin , after all , had been elected ) .

Fifteen hundred Serbians , half of them civilians , were killed by NATO aerial bombardment between March and

Statues of the partisan leader were erected in cities such as Lviv and Ternopil . The Bandera cult was a gift for Moscow’s propaganda about the threat of ‘ Nazis ‘ in Ukraine .

it Putin argued , yet again , that the Russians and Ukrainians were one nation , that Ukraine was a part of ‘ greater Russia ‘ ( an entity at times he equated with the Soviet Union and at times with its inner Slavic core ) and , as such , had no real statehood of its own .

The Russians began their military build – up in March 2021 .

His decision surprised even senior Kremlin officials . It must be explained by Putin’s isolation from reality . Terrified of Covid , he had spent the past two years in lockdown on his own in the Kremlin , seldom meeting anybody in person ( even the President of Kazakhstan was made to spend two weeks in quarantine before Putin would see him ) .

It relied on heavy firepower and on its sheer size to overwhelm its better – supplied and more agile opponents – a distinctly Russian way of fighting wars , as we have seen . The

Society has been too weak , too divided and too disorganised to sustain an opposition movement , let alone a revolution , for long enough to bring about a change in the character of state power . Today

With only fossil fuels , precious metals and raw materials to offer the Chinese , Russia would become the junior partner in this new relationship .

Russia might have taken a more democratic path . It had strong traditions of self – rule in its medieval city republics , in the peasant commune and the Cossack hetmanates and not least in the zemstvos , which might have laid the basis for a more inclusive form of national government .

Seeing is believing for the Orthodox . Russians pray with their eyes open , their gaze fixed on an icon , which serves as a window onto the divine sphere .

Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan on 16 November 1581 ( 1885 ) . The remorseful tsar , haunted by his own destructive terror , captured the imagination of many artists from the nineteenth century .

Peter was a man in a hurry . Almost seven feet in height , he walked with giant , rapid strides , leaving his advisers far behind .

Expansion on the evil CCP genius post

After a discussion at the meetup I think it can be simplified as this


“Hey Dearest Chairman – I have this idea on how we can secure Russian oil, gas, food and financial traffic forever – which would neutralize much of the American advantage over us, without firing a shot”

“How will you do that?”

“We get the Russians to invade Ukraine in a cruel and barbarous fashion – The west will cut them off, which will drive Russia to a competitor for their goods, namely us. We can also see how well the weapons of the west do in actual combat. The best thing is, the Russians don’t even have to win – once these change are made there is no way to go back!”

“Make it so”

Evil Chinese Communist Party Genius Musings

If an evil genius within the CCP foreign policy department decided to come up with a scheme that would:

  1.  Solidify their north western flank
  2. Reroute Russia’s energy consumption to China in a reasonably permanent way
  3. Make Russia tied to the Chinese financial system
  4. Exhaust the Western/NATO advanced weapons supply
  5. Let the world see how Western mechanized tactics works against actual opposition
  6. Hide anything they’re doing the the Uighurs
  7. Make Russia totally dependent on China economically and diplomatically
  8. Exhaust the foreign policy budgets of the west (by funding all of the URK economy)
  9. Refocus all of the analytic and technical intelligence apparatus from East to West

Could they have done a better job than the Russia/Ukraine war?

Moldbug actually says something well

An actually good metaphor from Moldbug (though I will give him some points for defining Effective Altruism as “Telescopic Philanthropy)  the below is about libertarianism
https://graymirror.substack.com/p/is-effective-altruism-effective

Capitalism is cool. Spontaneous order is cool. Yet it is easy to ignore the fact that capitalism, as we know it, is not mostly made of spontaneous order. It is not a sea of self-employing economic atoms.

Capitalism is a sea of economic molecules. Some of these molecules are single atoms. Some are giant megacorporations. Between the molecules, all order is spontaneous. Within the molecules—raisins in the bread—all order is directed and monarchical.