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Journal of Social History 38.3 (2005) 780-782
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Donald Raleigh, Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was among the first Western scholars to get an access to various provincial archives of Saratov oblast', and Experiencing Russia's Civil War is a manifestation to the author's strenuous labor in these archives over the last decade. Very readable and convincingly argued, this book is a much needed and anticipated revelation of local experience of the Civil War. This jewel of Soviet studies is not to be missed by any student or scholar of the Soviet Union.
Raleigh demonstrates that "many features of Soviet life that observers identify with later periods had already found expression between 1918 and 1922" (387). To name a few, the party's perceived need for "discipline," purges of the party members, militarization of the public life, and use of coercion to achieve various political and economic goals were the legacy of the Civil War carried into the later Soviet reality. Many of these features and the overall nature of Bolsheviks' power, although inevitably shaped and modified by the Civil War experiences, "had much to do with the tsarist autocratic legacy" (75). First, the author relies on the studies of origins and rhetoric of the French Revolution to show that a the times of extreme change, the leaders and communities alike tend to fall back to old, pre-revolutionary practices. Secondly, the analysis of Bolsheviks' external and internal languages helps Raleigh reveal this autocratic legacy. Both languages were contested and the boundary between them porous, but nevertheless the two languages had strikingly different features. The external language came to rely on various rhetorical strategies designed to bridge a gap between the Civil War reality and the Bolshevik ideological model, and it remained highly codified for the duration of the Soviet regime. The internal language also utilized some of these strategies. However, not only did it clearly recognize the "frail foundation" of the Bolshevik power, it also displayed an encoded class hierarchy. It exemplified a belief on the party elite's part in their "moral authority" to rule over masses, in ways similar to earlier claims of Russian intelligentsia and to the rhetoric used by colonizers of various countries to explain their right to rule over "savages" of their colonies. This belief resulted in the creation of "not a workers' party, but a plebeian one, run mainly by intellectuals" (132).
Raleigh also asserts that the Bolsheviks' social and political policies resulted in reconfiguration of social and cultural identities of various strata of the society. [End Page 780] Yet these different strata, often internalizing the class delineations designed by the Bolsheviks, nevertheless remained hostile to the Bolsheviks' presence. Ironically, in the countryside the results of early Soviet actions were a direct opposite of Bolsheviks' aspired goals. On one hand, to survive in the harsh conditions of the Civil War and to achieve their own goals, peasants often used "Soviet" language for their own means, displaying a "shrewd historical agency" (342). On the other hand, grain monopoly, mobilization into the Red Army, food dictatorship, and various attempts to establish communal ventures alienated peasantry, strengthened the appeal of private property ownership among peasants at the expense of communal features which had always existed in the Russian village, and disallowed for a strong hold of the Soviet power on the countryside even after the end of the Civil War.
Raleigh has an abundant proof to demonstrate that, breaking out in mid-1918 and thereafter, the peasant uprisings in the Saratov countryside were violent, widespread and sustained, contrary to earlier claims of historians that before the summer of 1920 there were "few significant uprisings in the countryside under permanent Bolshevik control."1 Historians also tend to overlook the fact that many of internal hostilities, which were "more dangerous [for the...