Interpreting the Russian Revolution: The Language and Symbols of 1917

Orlando Figes, Author, Boris Kolonitsk, Author, Boris Kolonitskii, Joint Author
Orlando Figes, Author, Boris Kolonitsk, Author, Boris Kolonitskii, Joint Author Yale University Press $60 (208p) ISBN 978-0-300-08106-0
Reviewed on: 10/11/1999
Release date: 10/01/1999
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In this scholarly reduction of the Russian Revolution, Figes (A People's Tragedy, etc.), professor of history at Birbeck College, London, and Kolonitskii, senior researcher at the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, examine the minutiae of political culture circa 1917, concluding that the often-neglected struggles played out in popular culture--via rumors, jokes, flag waving and singing--had significant impacts on political events in Russia. ""The demonization of the old regime was a vital means of legitimizing and enforcing unity around `the revolution,'"" the authors argue. They then offer extensive examples from letters, movies, postcards and newspapers that demonstrate the popular conclusion that the empress was a German spy and a woman of loose sexual morals and that her husband was a weak cuckold. Most interesting is an analysis of the use of the same symbols by opposing forces--many political parties opposing the Romanov monarchy, such as Mensheviks, Bolsheviks and anarchists, waved the same red flags and sang the same revolutionary anthems. After the Romanovs were deposed, a struggle began among the parties to appropriate the most effective symbols for themselves. While the book is certainly not, as the jacket claims, ""the first book in any language to offer an analysis of the political culture of the Russian Revolution"" (James von Geldern's 1993 Bolshevik Festivals 1917-1920, Univ. of California, offers a good analysis of its own), it is a fine contribution to an understudied area of Russian history. (Oct.)
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