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  • Krasnaia smuta: Priroda i posledstviia revoliutsionnogo nasiliia
  • Daniel Orlovsky
Vladimir Prokhorovich Buldakov, Krasnaia smuta: Priroda i posledstviia revoliutsionnogo nasiliia. Moscow: ROSSPEN, 1997. 376 pp. ISBN 5-86004-168-3.

Buldakov has written a powerful, passionate, difficult, and disturbing book. It is a long analytical and historiographical essay on the causes, course, and outcomes of the revolutions of 1917, but also a sociological and psychological speculation on the meaning of violence and the role of the crowd and leaders in history. Frequently along the way Buldakov trenchantly comments on such age-old matters as Russia's relationship to the West, the deeper meanings of Russian history, and the relationship of all of the above to Russia's present-day situation. This is, needless to say, an ambitious agenda and the author does not carry out all of its parts with equal focus or analytic depth.

Buldakov's analysis of the revolutions of 1917 offers much that should be taken into account if the historiography of that subject is to move forward from the older Marxist, liberal, or social history paradigms. This is already happening in the writings of such scholars as Boris Kolonitskii, Orlando Figes, Peter Gatrell, Peter Holquist, Mark von Hagen, Josh Sanborn, and Eric Lohr.1 But Buldakov [End Page 675] stakes out his own vision of early 20th-century history that is centered around his concept of violence. Buldakov is an interpreter and polemicist in this book. It is by and large not a work of archival research on the Russian Revolution, although the author has read widely in a vast array of sources. He does not aim at causal explanations of proximate events in the standard narratives of 1917. He is interested in macro explanations and insights, sweeping generalizations that certainly will not please all readers. His work rests upon several major assumptions, such as the idea that Russia is different from the West, yet has moved through comparable historical processes. Superficial application to Russia of Western norms, institutions, and the like is thus not going to work easily, if at all.

For Buldakov, history and the history of the revolution are best understood from a social and psychological point of view. The central event and cause of the revolution is World War I. On the one hand, the war sanctified violence and drew upon its deep and timeless roots in the Russian countryside; on the other, it desacralized authority, most tellingly the authority of the state. For Buldakov, ideologies, parties, and the like are epiphenomena, riding the surface of history, pushed along by deeper and darker forces. It is almost as if Buldakov substituted the psycho-social for the materialism of Marx, leaving all the previously accepted categories to the "superstructure" of history. The psycho-social becomes a phantom category that is evoked as explanation, or at the least is attached by the author to powerful social movements and forces that require deeper explanation. The source of social violence in the revolutionary era was the war. For Buldakov this violence was not conscious, but was rather a ritualized, sacralized activity rooted in a preconscious or subconscious domain of large social formations. The social violence of wartime Russia therefore has less to do with killings and death on the battlefield than with pogroms and all manner of pogrom-like activity that was spurred by notions of us/the enemy, insider/outsider and other such dichotomies. Historians, therefore, should be investigating all violence directed at peaceful populations, the role and symbolism of the Cossacks, and violence toward the "other." That soldiers used violence against the general population speaks volumes about the character of the later revolution – this violence was both a product of and deeply shaped by traditions of the countryside and the "tribal" attitudes of the nationalities (140–156).

Violence in the mass consciousness, for Buldakov, was the harbinger of revolution. It is here that he makes perhaps his greatest contribution in arguing that the February Revolution was neither liberal nor democratic – the categories of Marxist and liberal historiography. Rather, the key to understanding the "red [End Page 676] upheaval" (krasnaia smuta) is that February was the revolution of violence (55–67). This, of course...


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