I badly mangled this post when I sought to correct a link in it yesterday. I’m taking the liberty of reposting it as intended below the break with apologies to readers who may have seen it in its mangled form.

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The late Richard Pipes’s narrative history The Russian Revolution is a great work of humane learning. Pipes’s mastery of the sources shines through his text. The text itself reflects a lifetime of study and reflection.

Reading Gary Saul Morson’s essay/review linked in a nearby post, I was reminded of Pipes’s chapter 7 (“Toward the Catastrophe”), covering the assassination of Rasputin. It includes this passage on the November 14, 1916 speech in the Duma by Kadet party leader Pavel Miliukov. Criticizing the czarist government’s conduct of the war, Miliukov concluded with a flourish. Playing off a comment by the “decent but unqualified” (as Pipes calls him) General Dmitry Shuvaev, Miliukov accused high government officials of treason. Professor Pipes comments (page 255):

The “subjective certainty” which Miliukov claimed to possess of high officials’ acts of collusion with the enemy had no basis in fact: to put it bluntly, it was a tissue of lies. Miliukov knew, even as he spoke, that neither [Russian Prime Minister Boris] Stürmer nor any other minister had committed treason, and whatever his shortcomings, the Prime Minister was a loyal Russian. Later on, in his memoirs, he admitted as much. Nevertheless, he felt morally justified in slandering an innocent man and sowing the most damaging suspicions about the government because he thought it essential for the Kadets to take charge of the country before it fell apart.

In reality, he contributed as much as anything the government did or failed to do to inflaming revolutionary passions….

In the 2018 CRB reading list Brian Domitrovic deems Pipes’s book “[p]erhaps the greatest narrative history written in the last century[.]”

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