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John Charlton

The Tsar’s Saddle

(Spring 1967)

From International Socialism (1st series), No. 26, Spring 1967, p. 30.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Russia in Revolution 1890-1918
Lionel Kochan
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 55s

Lionel Kochan weaves the diverse fibres of Tsarist Russia into a fast moving narrative. Making a valid comparison between Witte and Stalin, he sees the forced industrialisation from the top of the early 1890s as the crucial element, previously absent, which imposed strains on the system that could not be absorbed. Using this as a reason for starting at 1890, he describes the familiar elements which, acting and reacting upon one another, produced the cataclysmic events of 1917; the divided aristocracy, part ‘progressive,’ substituting itself for the bourgeoisie, anxious to share the spoils of the world with Britain, Germany etc, part hedonistic and feudal; the divided peasantry, part travelling upwards on the escalator to the bourgeoisie, major part dispossessed and descending into wage slavery; the working class, recently peasant, rapidly developing class consciousness in the giant factory units established by the foreign capitalist; the middle class, students, lawyers, doctors etc, growing increasingly disenchanted; the small revolutionary groups, driven underground by the Tsarist terror, injecting their ideas and growing in relevance; and, standing astride the pyramid, Nicholas himself, the ‘holy father on earth,’ jealous of his divine right, and determined to pass it on virgo intacta to his successor – Nicholas who, at a time when European monarchy was fast approaching the stage of riding its bicycles through the streets, could say,

‘Do you mean that I am to regain the confidence of my people, Ambassador, or that they are to regain my confidence?’

By 1905 then, all the actors were on the stage. Bloody Sunday was the curtain raiser. In a matter of hours the elements of opposition, disparate, defeated continually in separate confrontations with authority, fused in a dramatic heightening of class consciousness. Nothing could ever be the same again. A conclusion something like 1917 became inevitable. It is a pity the blurb claims the book to be ‘a searching analysis ... a study in depth;’ this it is not, but, as a compelling and highly readable introduction to the subject, it will take some beating.

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Last updated: 10 October 2020