9780300081060 / 0300081065

Interpreting the Russian Revolution: The Language and Symbols of 1917


Publisher:Yale University Press



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About the book:

Compared to the gargantuan, award-winning study of the Russian Revolution,A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924, which consolidated Figes' reputation as one of the foremost authorities on the subject, this volume appears almost as an afterthought, running to less than 200 pages. Appearances, though, are by design deceptive, something the authors prove in their comprehensive analysis of the cultural manifestations and struggles that defined the events of 1917. Spin-doctors are taken to be a late 20th- century phenomenon, but there is little new under the sun. The rumour mongers who flooded Petrograd with tales of court debauchery, Rasputin and Germanic "dark forces", significantly helped Tsar Nicholas II bring about his own downfall, but what did not disappear with the hapless monarch were Tsarist attitudes. The workers, the peasants, the people (all terms endlessly defined and argued over) still demanded an authoritarian figure, which in turn allowed a cult of personality to develop, raising and then dashing characters such as Kerensky and Kournilov. In truth, Russia was a rather ugly patchwork of sects and divisions who were united only by their obeisance to a brutal creed of "them" and "us", though who was who remained ambiguous at best. "Bourgeois" meant all things to all men and when corrupted to the word "Burzhooi" was applied by peasants to all selfish, foreign, wealthy or educated persons, or in other words, not themselves. "Democracy" lost its constitutional gladrags in the mle, being used by the populace as the diametrical opposite to "bourgeois". Clothes, songs, flags and language became potent, stirring symbols (even prostitutes courted men with the cry "share some fraternity!"), as all sides struggled to define a lexicon of battle and to lay sole claim to the emblems of revolution. Figes and Kolonitskii dissect the semiotics of revolution with a thoroughness that does not prove intrusive to what is a fluid and commanding sociological text. From disparate, gabbling voices they've pieced together an alternative, mellifluous history of the symbolism endemic in 1917 Russia, which proves a small, but not slight, coda to its mammoth predecessor.--David Vincent

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