Biography & Autobiography, Book Reviews, Charles, Civil War, Communism, Eastern European History, European History, Military History, War, Wars To Come
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Always with Honor: The Memoirs of General Wrangel (Pyotr Wrangel)

I recently wrote of the Finnish Civil War, where the Whites defeated the Reds. In the twentieth century, that pattern was unfortunately the exception, with the more common result being seen in the Russian Civil War of 1918–20, where the Russian Reds defeated the Russian Whites. That struggle, though not as forgotten as the Finnish Civil War, does not loom large in modern consciousness, and books on it are rare. This volume, the recently-reprinted war memoir of Pyotr Wrangel, probably the most successful and certainly the most charismatic of the White generals, addresses that gap. It also carries many lessons, including about what might occur in a twenty-first-century ideological civil war in a large country.

The Whites lost for more than one reason, including poor generalship, inability to work in a unified fashion, and betrayal by the Allies, particularly Britain. We will return to all of these as seen through Wrangel’s eyes. He was a Baltic German, born in 1878 in the Russian Empire, what is now Lithuania. Trained as a mining engineer, he volunteered for Imperial service, and became a cavalry officer in the prestigious Life Guards. He fought in the Russo-Japanese War, and then all through World War I, receiving numerous decorations for bravery. This book picks up in 1916, as the war dragged on for Russia, and as the Russian elite, corrupt and clueless, shattered upon the shoals of destiny.

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Wrangel’s memoir, essentially an edited war diary, was first published in 1928, the year Wrangel died, serialized in German in a White émigré magazine. Translated into English the next year by one Sophie Goulston, it fell from view, but was republished in 1957. This second edition added a preface written by Herbert Hoover, but also fell from view. It is not obvious from within the pages of this book why Hoover wrote a preface. It is because when Wrangel died, probably by poison, at only forty-nine, all his papers were sent to the new Hoover War Library, which was aggregating information about the former empires of Europe. Apparently, to this day the Hoover Archives harbors the single largest collection pertaining to Russian émigré documents, presumably still containing all of Wrangel’s documents. (They also contain much else interesting, such as the archives of the Tsar’s secret police, the Okhrana, a sadly ineffective body.) Thus, what is now the Hoover Institution must have had a connection to Always With Honor being republished in 1957.

Until very recently, therefore, this book was functionally unavailable to the public. You could buy a copy for hundreds of dollars, if you were lucky. But as I have noted before, a new publishing house, Mystery Grove Publishing, has been doing yeoman’s work in rescuing important books with a right-of-center tilt from the deliberate obscurity into which they have been placed, and this book made their list. True, most people today are frighteningly under-educated, so no doubt sales are not in the millions. It doesn’t matter for current purposes; reading the Mystery Grove books allows our future elite to self-educate, avoiding or repairing the indoctrination the Left has used to ruin America. Other than Always with Honor, there appears to exist only one English-language biography of Wrangel, published in 2010: The White Knight of the Black Sea, by a Dutchman, Anthony Kröner. Although it was blurbed by the Hoover Institution, suggesting an ongoing connection, Kröner’s book is obscure and nearly impossible to obtain. After chasing down leads (Twitter is sometimes good for something), I was able to order a copy from a Dutch bookstore. But it just goes to show that even today, serious, mainstream books can become functionally unavailable—it’s not just books published decades ago.

If there is a defect to this book, it is that you have to know at least the basics about Russian history from 1914 through 1918 in order to understand its contents. Wrangel wrote for an audience that was intimately familiar with that history, and makes no effort to either explain events or introduce individuals; he merely drops them, uncoated, into his own personal story. Wrangel begins in 1916, when World War I had ground on for three years, and there was great turmoil at the top of Russian society. He saw this first hand, because for a brief time he was aide-de-camp to the Tsar, leaving to return to the front right before Rasputin was killed. Although he only touches glancingly on Russian imperial politics, Wrangel seems to blame the Tsar for not seeing how corrupt many of the men surrounding him were, and for ignoring the needs of the people. He does not offer the details of what was happening as Russia came apart, merely a sketch, along with making two key points. First, the generals, the High Command, increasingly felt that “things could not go on as they were,” and many sought a solution that involved removing the Tsar—and not only to serve Mother Russia. “Others, again, desired a revolution for purely personal reasons, hoping to find in it scope for their ambitions, or to profit from it and settle their accounts with such of the commanders as they hated.” That is to say, a fragmenting society finds many eager to accelerate the fragmentation. Second, the people as a whole, and the upper classes in particular, acted as if everything was normal, they paid “no heed to the approaching storm.” That is to say, apparent normalcy says nothing about whether a society is about to founder.

In early 1917, after the February Revolution, Wrangel was sent back to St. Petersburg by his superior to remonstrate with the new Minister of War, Alexander Guchkov, who was promoting disorder in the Army, mostly by undermining authority through promoting “democracy” in the Army, in the form of Communist-dominated “soldiers’ committees.” Arriving in St. Petersburg (after having on the train thrashed a man with a red ribbon for insulting a woman), he was appalled to see the widespread disorder and profusion of Communist paraphernalia, most of all red ribbons and flags. Although officers not wearing a “red rag” were often attacked, Wrangel, all 6’ 7” of him, refused, and seems somewhat surprised nobody bothered him. Wrangel’s aim was to strengthen the Provisional Government’s hand against the expanding power of the “soviets,” that is, groups organized to seize power by the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and the Socialist Revolutionaries, but he discovered the truth for himself—the Provisional Government was utterly incompetent.

Wrangel in passing mentions meeting “General Baron Mannerheim” on a train, who was leaving St. Petersburg after the ascendancy of the Provisional Government, as Wrangel himself was returning to Petersburg. In fact, Wrangel’s career bears more than passing parallels to those of the Finnish hero. Both were born on the outskirts of the Empire and ably served the Tsar, then fought his enemies after he abdicated. Like Mannerheim, Wrangel was extremely competent and decisive. And both had little patience for politicians, less for bureaucrats, and struggled to balance political imperatives with military dictates. Mannerheim won his struggle against Communism, at least his first one, though, and Wrangel lost.

He describes, from a ground-level view, the struggle between the Provisional Government and the new Petrograd Soviet, including how the Bolsheviks, subsidized by Germany, rapidly expanded their power. It wasn’t just money—they seized whatever property they wanted to use, and the Provisional Government took no action against them. The new government was eager to suppress the conservative press, but never bothered the left-wing press, which was openly treasonous. Sounds familiar. Guchkov, who had rejected Wrangel’s pleas, was replaced as Minister of War by Alexander Kerensky, and Wrangel went back to the front in June 1917, in what is now Ukraine, as part of Kerensky’s major summer offensive, which he hoped would unify the Russians.

It did not; the unrest Wrangel witnessed in St. Petersburg was merely the run-up to the “July Days,” where the Bolsheviks attempted to seize power and were defeated, but unwisely were not slaughtered. The commander-in-chief of the army, Lavr Kornilov, whom Wrangel knew, assaulted the Petrograd Soviet, in what may or may not have been a coup attempt against the Provisional Government. This failed, strengthening the Soviet. The October Revolution soon followed, and Kornilov, escaping prison, went on to create the Volunteer Army, the largest military grouping of the Whites. Meanwhile, Wrangel had been discharged by the Provisional Government—he was, no doubt justifiably, regarded as completely politically unreliable. Thus, he went with his wife and four children to Yalta, in the Crimea, where he had a home.

Soon enough, though, war came to him. The postwar events in southern Russia are enormously complex. It was not just the struggle of the Reds to establish power, opposed by the gradually coalescing Whites, but also involved many other players, such as the Ukrainian Parliament, seeking independence but willing to cooperate with the Whites, seeing the Reds as joint enemies, and various Cossack groups, generally hostile to the Reds but desirous of managing their own affairs. For the Whites, whose internal interactions often featured disunity, one point of unity was opposition to breaking up Russia. Thus, a constant challenge was how to fight side-by-side with groups opposed to maintaining the Russian Empire, or who wanted some degree of independence within the Empire. With the Cossacks, federation was a possibility, given history and their own organization; with the Ukrainians, not so much (as we see even today, though I know little about the modern specifics).

Wrangel joined the Volunteer Army, soon commanded by Anton Denikin. In Wrangel’s telling, much of the blame for ultimate White failure lies on Denikin, whom he faults for bad leadership and terrible strategic decisions, most of all requiring a premature march by all White forces on Moscow, in 1919. “We wanted to do too much and make ourselves master of every position at once, and we [succeeded] only in weakening ourselves and so becoming powerless.” Wrangel also faults squabbling among the Whites, corruption among their leaders, and a lack of discipline among the men. He admits that “requisitioning” is necessary, but gives constant pained descriptions of how many White officers of all ranks simply engaged in organized looting for personal advantage, turning the Army into “a collection of tradesmen and profiteers.” He also faults Denikin for inflexibility in coming to terms with the Cossacks and the Ukrainians. His relations with Denikin were further soured by third-party agitation for Wrangel to supplant Denikin. “As is usual in such cases, as one man was more and more discredited, another became dearer and dearer to the people. Unfortunately, this other was myself.”

One of Wrangel’s chief talents appears to have been as a judge of men. I cannot say if his portrait of Denikin is accurate, but it comports with what history I know, and the results Denikin achieved. Nearly every other important person with whom Wrangel meets is judged and given an incisive summary (and Wrangel admits where he made errors, as well). Thus, in passing, Wrangel mentions that “Captain Baron Ungern Stenberg, or simply ‘the Baron,’ as his troops called him, was more complex and interesting. He was of the type that is invaluable in wartime and impossible in times of peace.” (Ungern was a fascinating figure, whom I have discussed elsewhere.) This talent to judge men is completely invaluable in a Man of Destiny and completely inborn (though it can be polished with training); it also seems nonexistent in today’s American political leaders, perhaps because they have come to rely on money and the media to achieve their ends, rather than on forming a cohesive and dedicated group of men with the same objectives, on whom they can rely.

The main White armies, including the Volunteer Army, were largely defeated by early 1920. Again, this is an area I am not expert in, and one that does not have a lot of historiography directed at it, although I have ordered what appear to be the two main scholarly works on it, by Peter Kenez, written forty years ago. I don’t know why this is, though certainly most histories of Russia, or of the Russian Revolution, cover the Civil War to some degree. Wrangel then went into exile in Constantinople, and thus ends Part I of his memoir.

But by April 1920, he was back, after Denikin resigned and the remaining military commanders asked Wrangel to be Commander-in-Chief of the remnants of the Whites. Part II narrates two difficult tasks Wrangel had—trying to reverse military defeat while achieving political renewal. His hope was that if he could achieve both, and establish stable White rule in Taurida (the Russian province composed of Crimea and “mainland” Russia north of it, including parts of Ukraine and the Kuban), that could form the “healthy nucleus” of a new Russia. From there, they could ultimately completely defeat the Bolsheviks and rebuild a new version of old Russia.

To win militarily, Wrangel had to reconstruct the shattered White forces, gather new men, and not only resist, but push back, the Reds, most of all from the rich agricultural land of northern Taurida. To win politically, he had to satisfy multiple constituencies—the Army, of course, but also the peasants, terrified of the Reds but desirous of land reform, and the middle classes, mostly also terrified of the Reds but many still holding, stupidly, to non-Communist leftism and hoping for the return of something like the Provisional Government. He had to run a government, as well, with too few competent bureaucrats. These intertwined tasks were monumental (and the strain, combined with the morale crusher of ultimate failure, may, in fact, account for Wrangel’s early death, rather than poison).

To head the government, he recruited Alexander Krivoshein, who had been Minister of Agriculture under Pyotr Stolypin. Krivoshein had a reputation as being competent, fair, and focused on a good deal for the smallholding peasant. His choice was not random—agriculture was everything to Wrangel in his time in Crimea and Taurida, since not only was solving the political question of land ownership paramount, agricultural exports were critical to obtaining any supplies from abroad, since foreign governments had abandoned the Whites, and nobody would loan them any money, assuming (reasonably) they had zero chance of repayment. Wrangel promptly issued proclamations not only ordering land reform, but rejecting the earlier White insistence that national minorities abandon all traces of their own nationalisms. His explicit goal was to create the new, improved Russia (he insisted that his was the “Russian Army,” and the Reds merely contemptible “Bolshevists”). Wrangel himself was a monarchist, but he saw the old monarchy was spent, and something new was needed.

For land reform, Wrangel quickly implemented a policy whereby any peasant could buy, over time, the land he farmed, with compensation to the landowners. Decisions were decentralized, with safeguards to prevent either capture by the landowners, or stealing from the landowners. Wrangel wanted, after the disorders caused by war and revolution, to “reinstate the hard-working peasants and set them up on their land again, to weld them together and rally them to the defence of order and national principles.” Thus, the rural proletariat, wage laborers, would not necessarily receive free land, though they too could purchase land if not currently farmed. It seems like a good system, and crucially, one that recognized that returning to the old system, which had led them all to this pass, was not an option. It never is.

Wrangel was a hard but just man, and a stickler for order and discipline. In June of 1917, when sent back to the front and waiting for the arrival of the division he commanded, other troops in the town (Stanislavov), retreating ahead of the Reds, pillaged widely and engaged in a pogrom. Wrangel put the disorder down with floggings and executions. Early in the Civil War, he needed to replenish his ranks, and he had captured a sizeable number of Reds. “I ordered three hundred and seventy of the Bolshevists to line up. They were all officers and non-commissioned officers, and I had them shot on the spot. Then I told the rest that they too deserved death, but that I had let those who had misled them take the responsibility for their treason, because I wanted to give them a chance to atone for their crime and prove their loyalty to their country.” No surprise, everyone volunteered, and Wrangel says they became among his best troops. (Elsewhere he notes that later in the war most Red troops were conscripts, and eager to join the Whites. And he faults Denikin for not taking a more capacious approach to recruiting Red prisoners, or those who had treated with the Bolsheviks earlier in the war.) Every several pages, Wrangel notes some execution in passing—for example, of some railroad employees bribed to carry passengers rather than munitions, “I had these three employees court-martialed, and they were hanged the same day.” (Later, though, he stopped public executions, on the basis that “In view of the prevailing callousness, public executions no longer served to intimidate, they merely aggravated the existing state of moral apathy.”) Of course, executions are only a small part of the mountains of corpses that appear in this book. Civil war is a brutal taskmaster; nobody should forget this.

Military victory was not to be. Wrangel did get a breathing space as the Russians fought the Poles in 1919 and 1920. The British government had abandoned him, and in fact pressured him to end the war on Red terms equivalent to unconditional surrender. The English, opportunists all, wanted to reopen trade with Russia, and David Lloyd George wanted to pander to those of the British working classes who saw in Bolshevism their own possible, supposedly bright, future. Wrangel views this betrayal with bitterness, and he views Lloyd George with the greatest contempt—although he gave interviews to British and other foreign newspapers, trying hard to shore up support. But the French found it convenient to offer support, including de facto recognition, in order to assist the Poles. However, when the Poles beat back the Red menace, the French withdrew support, and the Reds were able to concentrate their forces on the southern front, dooming the Whites. Nonetheless, Wrangel organized and conducted one last major offensive; it was defeated by the Reds, who thereupon advanced through Taurida towards the Crimea.

Wrangel and everyone else in the Crimea knew what this meant for most of the population. Therefore, moving heaven and earth, Wrangel organized a massive boatlift, such that anyone who desired to go into exile could, though he made no promises of the future. After himself checking all the ports of embarkation, Wrangel was the last White to step off the shore, on November 14, 1920, ending the dream of Red defeat, at least for the next seventy years. He himself accompanied the diaspora of the Army, at first initially in Greece and Turkey, then mostly forced out of those places by the English, who wanted the Army disbanded, because the Reds wanted it disbanded. Many moved to Serbia or Yugoslavia. Wrangel notes how he tried to get the Army transferred to Hungary, which had itself just suffered under, then defeated, a Red dictatorship and terror, but the French stopped the transfer, because “anti-Bolshevist intrigues [were] contrary to the true interests of Hungary and of the civilized world.” Typical. He himself lived for several years in Belgrade, heading up an organization he praises and of which he expects great things in a speech given in 1927, attached as the last chapter, the “General Union of Old Soldiers of Russia.”

The truth was much more bitter, as it always is for defeated émigrés, a topic about which I know something, for my grandfather was a Hungarian émigré, who fled Communism in 1945 (and as it happens, I am currently helping edit his own war diary for private, family use). The men were forced to earn their bread any way they could in their new countries, in the Russians’ case, usually by hard manual labor such as mining. Wrangel ends with a lament for this, tempered by the hope “But we are confident the hour of recognition is at hand.” He was wrong. In 1927, Wrangel reluctantly handed over control of the General Union to a Romanov grand duke, and moved to Brussels to return to mining engineering. He died within eighteen months.

I find it hard to get a handle on the last generation of the Russian ruling class. My father was a professor of Russian history, so I was exposed to thought about Russia growing up, but perhaps one has to be embedded in Russia to really understand. Was their time just up? Is it the nature of all civilizations that the ruling class eventually becomes unable to overcome a crisis? Wrangel’s focus, where and when he ruled, suggests that some in the ruling class were capable of reforming their society. Now, the word “reform” today has a bad odor; like “dialogue,” it is simply a cant word of the Left, used to ease the forcing of their program on an unwilling and unreceptive audience. But it is the nature of all human institutions, because they are human, that they come to require legitimate reform. And it is also in the nature of all human institutions to resist that reform. I suspect there is no way out but to break the society and remake it, which is always a dangerous roll of the dice.

So what does Wrangel’s story say of civil war in America, which more than a few people think is looming? Well, the Whites as a whole certainly show what not to do in a civil war. Other than that, it is often supposed that given the intermixing of Red and Blue America, old-fashioned territory-based civil war is impossible here. (We really need to flip those monikers, so the descendants of the Bolsheviks, today’s “Blue America,” get called what they really are.) The Russian Civil War disproves this. In truth, most people just want to keep their heads down, and will hew to the line of whoever controls the land where they live. Also, complete armies can arise nearly overnight, formed from fragments of an older army, or just organically. Perhaps occupying territory adverse to the occupiers would be harder in America, particularly in heavily-armed Red America (notably, both the Reds and Wrangel made civilians give up their weapons in the areas they controlled). But maybe even Red America would bow to an occupying force—after all, people here have accepted without revolt the arbitrary and oppressive diktats, issued by modern commissars, tied to the Wuhan Plague. In fact, in other countries, notably recently the Netherlands, they have showed far more resistance. I am just not sure how much resistance Red America would offer an occupying force.

But I am sure that most of all, as Wrangel’s career shows, it’s all about the leadership. I suspect that if Red America perceived the costs of the insane reactions to the Wuhan Plague as higher, and if they had a leader around whom to coalesce, something could be done. Mutatis mutandis, the same is true, but much more true, of the inevitable final ideological clash looming in America. Let’s hope we find that leader soon.

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  1. Eugene says

    “Was their time just up? Is it the nature of all civilizations that the ruling class eventually becomes unable to overcome a crisis?”

    Charles, my own knowledge of Russian history is not at an academic level by any means, but perhaps I do bring something of a personal perspective, as I was born in what was then the former Soviet Union, and my ancestors lived in tsarist Russia. While it doesn’t, ipso facto, make me qualified to answer your questions, I might still contribute something to the discussion.

    I do think their time was just up. They say nothing is inevitable in history, but I am convinced that the Russia of the Romanovs was living on heavily borrowed time. Reading Herzen’s memoirs (My Past and Thoughts – and I have yet to figure out how to italicize titles on your blog!), written in the middle of the 19th century, it is hard to see how tsarist Russia was *not* doomed. Of course, the modern reader has the benefit of hindsight, but Herzen did not, which did not prevent him from anticipating the demise of the Romanovs (and certainly longing for it!).

    Nicholas II epitomized what is today so fashionably known as the failure of the elites. He was woefully unqualified the country he’d inherited. Is that the perspective of a myope pontificating in 2020? Nicholas II underestimated the Japanese, which cost Russia its fleet during the Battle of Tsushima (he generally held the Japanese in contempt, which may have had something to do with his having been attacked by madman during a visit to Japan); courted rabid nationalists and baited ethnic minorities (never a good idea if you’re running an empire); showed an astounding callousness towards his own subjects (on display during such events as the Khodynka Tragedy and Bloody Sunday); allowed his wife to be surrounded by disreputable and shady individuals (Rasputin comes to mind), which did not much endear him to the people; and chased away men of high caliber (men such as Sergei Witte – whom, if Witte’s memoirs are to be believed, Nicholas II shamelessly dropped and then rehired to help him with the Treaty of Portsmouth, before dropping him again, this time for good – and Stolypin, whose assassination in Kiev once again illuminated the tsar’s emotional impoverishment) – Nicholas II, it seems, simply could not stomach anyone who seemed to be more of a statesman than he was. Lastly, and this might be the biggest error of them all, he allowed himself to be dragged into a war that Russia did not need. The First World War brought down the whole edifice, although I think the edifice would have been brought down anyway – if not by the war, then by something else. Nicholas II met a terrible end; it was an end he (and certainly his family) did not deserve, but I simply cannot understand the decision of the Russian Orthodox Church to canonize him.

    Is it that Nicholas II was simply an inept ruler surrounded by worthy and capable elites? I doubt it. Would they not have found a way to get rid of him if that had been the case? Then again, I do have a somewhat deterministic view of history; I believe that there are certain laws that are simply indecipherable to us, and which hold sway over our collective destiny. (Tolstoy had similar ideas, though I don’t share his complete negation of the role of the individual in history.)

    I doubt that the Reds would have won without the support of the masses. I could be wrong, but I doubt it. Bolshevism was a millenarian movement, almost religious in its nature. It promised paradise here on earth (of course, you had to hang the bad guys first), and you’ll find no shortage of people today in Russia who believe that, though they may not have made it to the Promised Land, they certainly got close (I speak from personal experience now). Much of it is no doubt the result of the post-Soviet hangover. Although I will concede that the inertness of the masses should not be dismissed either. Bunin shows this inertia in his Cursed Days, the inertia of the Russian “muzhik” who says “As does Ilya, so do I” (“Ilya” being a popular Russian name).

    I am not entirely sure I can agree with you when you say that today’s wokesters are the descendants of the Bolsheviks. Descendants in what way? In their millenarian take on society? Their objectives could not be more different. I do not see much of a lineage. I do, however, feel that the growing mood of censorship and intolerance to any dissent is reminiscent of certain facets of Soviet society. But, given that our societies are dominated by Big Tech (and other) moguls and that, as the New York Post has reported, the collective net worth of billionaires in New York increased by $81 billion during the pandemic, it is a very curious form of sovietization.

    Other than that, it is a pity that your article will not draw the number of readers it deserves. Keep up the good quality!

    • acetone says

      Hi Eugene, if you don’t mind answering, what is your ethnicity and how did your family leave Soviet Union?

  2. Altitude Zero says

    Eugene, do you think that things would have been different had Stolypin had lived? I always regarded him as Russia’ last hope, but of course, I could be wrong.

    With regard to determinacy, I have to disagree. Yes, there’s no doubt that Nicholas was a terrible leader, but a truly great leader (and Russia has produced a few) could have maneuvered Russia through the rapids. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has pointed out (seconded by McMeekin) there were strong elements of just flat-out bad luck with regard to what happened to Russia in 1917. Drastic change was almost certainly in the cards, but Lenin’s victory was a product of luck, almost incredible stupidity on the part of his enemies, and German money. Or so it seems to me.

    • Eugene says

      Altitude Zero, I truly don’t know. I am always chary of toying with the past perfect. Stolypin was a statesman for sure; however, had he lived, it is possible that Nicholas II would have treated him the same way he’d treated Witte, in which case Stolypin might have ended up as an emigrant in Paris, busy working on his own literary postmortem. But that’s just more past perfect.

      With respect to determinism, it is entirely possible that a truly great leader might have steered Russia through those turbulent times. However, the fact that there was no Peter the Great (or Catherine the Great) on hand to do so suggests that Russia may have simply reached its terminal stage by that point. The empire had become too enervated; the ruling dynasty was no longer able to produce a great statesman (or, appropriately enough, a stateswoman, given that in the 18th century Russia had no fewer than four empresses, of whom two left a lasting impact) that could save the system from collapse. Of course, I am offering this is an opinion and not a fact, so take it for what it’s worth. In the final analysis, no one knows for sure.

      That said, I would agree that Lenin’s victory is, as you say, a product of luck. It is hard to see it any other way.

  3. Altitude Zero says

    Thanks for the interesting and thoughtful reply, Eugene. I guess that I always like to think that such a huge tragedy as what happened in Russia between 1918 and 1991 was preventable, but sometimes events do seem to acquire a momentum of their own. I can only hope that this is not true of the modern US, although I have my suspicions…

    • Eugene says

      Altitude Zero, my pleasure!

      One always wants to believe that historical cataclysms are preventable. By the way, as far as Stolypin is concerned, I ought to have mentioned that, by the time he arrived in Kiev (where he’d be imminently assassinated), he’d already fallen out of favor with the tsar. In fact, his position was so precarious that there was no one to meet him at the train station, and he had to obtain his own method of conveyance to shuttle him to his destination – and, ultimately, to his death. To add insult to injury, if I remember correctly, he also had to pay for his transportation. The man was prime minister in name only; his fate (as a statesman) had already been sealed, for all intents and purposes. So that does somewhat answer your original question, I think, though, of course, there’s no way to know for sure what would have happened if he hadn’t been killed.

  4. Eugene says

    By the way – and I feel that this is an important element in the present discussion – the point of departure in Charles’s book review (and the point of departure of most people in the West) is that the Bolshevist experiment was a failure. As you can imagine, I strongly agree with that (I doubt I’d be a devoted reader of this blog if I didn’t). However, this is not a universal opinion. I have been acquainted with individuals – intelligent people with a keen awareness of history – who believe that the Bolshevist project was an almost miraculous success. In their analysis, Lenin and his crew inherited a giant mess and managed to parlay that into a superpower in a remarkably short span of time. The evidence is hard to dispute: massive industrialization; an extraordinary leap in literary rates (the Soviet education system was indeed exceptionally good; this observation is based on my own experience); victory in World War II (knows as the “Great Patriotic War” in Russia); the first man in space, etc. As for the price that was paid (the desecration of age-old traditions; the Gulag; the millions of lost lives; the economic inefficiency; the lack of basic freedoms; paradoxical, almost perverse queues and shortages in a country that was immensely rich in resources) – well, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. So goes the logic. Needless to say, this is not my point of view, and I cannot accept the idea that the price exacted of the population was worth it.

    • Charles says

      Gentlemen, thank you for the stimulating exchange! I have nothing to add, except two points, one technical:

      1) As to no italics, comments on WordPress blogs are always a nightmare. Disqus is terrible. The inbuilt system, with some add-ons, which I’m using, isn’t bad for small amounts of comments, but as you say, formatting is difficult. (Well, not for me, but I have the god’s eye view.) I will look into it more.

      2) As to today’s wokesters, or more broadly, today’s Left, being the descendants of the Bolsheviks, one of my basic tenets is that the modern Left is in essence one entity, though with different heads, like the Hydra. By “modern” I mean since 1789 in practice, or a bit before in theory. I discuss this at various points and places, but in short what binds the “Left” in this typology is (a) a belief in emancipation from unchosen bonds as the desired end of all political actions; (b) a belief that equality is the natural state of man, and any inequality the result of pernicious human action; and (c) a belief in the perfectibility of humans and human society (which necessarily implies that any cost in the present should be borne to advance the perfect future).

      Economics enters into this as part of equality, true, but is not a core tenet. It is a second order issue not characterizing all Left players as an important matter. (Those who ran the Terror were economic libertarians, although admittedly people viewed economics somewhat differently back then.)

      Thus, that Left oligarchs, such as Soros (though he is only the most visible example) are both filthy rich and committed to Left principles is not a contradiction.

  5. Paul Sansonetti says

    I would recommend that anyone interested in this subject , check out juri Lina’s two books on this subject

    Under the sign of the scorpion

    Architects of deception

    Both available for free as pdf’s at for sure, and possibly at

    As a heads up, both are very conspiratorial.

    He also has videos on YouTube , though I’ve never watched them.

    Dr Matthew Rafael Johnson has written much on this subject.
    He has interviews with Tim Kelly of the ” our interesting times ” podcast and the myth of the 20th century podcast , plus plenty of articles,essays.

    Musonius Rufus of rebel yell/identity Dixie has some good interviews on this subject, especially with the myth of the 20th century podcast guys.

    Also prof Antony c Sutton’s books on wall street and the Bolshevik revolution and I believe another professor followed up with” wall street and the Russian revolution”
    Or I might have that backwards.

  6. Marcus says

    “My father was a professor of Russian history, so I was exposed to thought about Russia growing up”

    I’d be interested to hear what you think of Letters from Russia by Astolphe de Custine (La Russie en 1839). I don’t think you’ve reviewed this yet and did quickly scan this review to see if it appeared, before I read the entire post above.

    I’d lend you my copy, but it is falling apart.

  7. acetone says

    Okhrana was not ineffective.

    They were actually one of the most effective secret services in world history. As an aside, its an interesting exercise to contrast their successes which relied mostly on an understanding of people and their motivations with western intelligence success which relies more on signal intelligence, remote surveillance and now bribery with the promise of immigrant visas. Russian and later Soviet intelligence services were always better at gathering and analyzing information.

    Failure of Okhrana to quell Russian revolution was actually due to liberalism of Russian judicial system that (despite reputation) refused to mete out harsh punishment to people that participated in revolutionary activities. Again and again, top echelon of Russian revolutionary movement received light sentences that allowed them to resume activities following short exiles/prison terms. Case in point is three time capture and deportation of Stalin to Siberia. He was well known as a bad dude from 1902 onwards. Burying him in a mine shaft was always the obvious and correct decision. After seizing power, Soviet leadership of course recognized the failings of the predecessor regime to punish treason harshly, which is why they didn’t repeat the mistakes of Russian Imperial government once they seized power.

    Montefiore’s “Young Stalin” is an entertaining book that discusses these topics in some detail. I highly recommend if you haven’t read it already.

    • Eugene says

      I second Montefiore’s Young Stalin, and I would additionally recommend The Court of the Red Tsar, also by the same author – a highly readable and engrossing biography of Stalin.

      • Charles Haywood says

        I have both. I have like ten Stalin biographies! I’ve read a couple, even. I’m falling farther behind . . . .

    • Charles Haywood says

      Well, my impression has always been they were ineffective, but admittedly I’ve never studied it, and it is certainly entirely possible, if not likely by parallel to our own current regime, that the real fault lay in the Russian judicial system’s alignment with the forces of darkness.

  8. Gavrila says

    Have you read ‘The White Guard’ by Mikhail Bulgakov? Your thoughts?

  9. Dean Ericson says

    Mr. Haywood writes:

    ”This book picks up in 1916, as the war dragged on for Russia, and as the Russian elite, corrupt and clueless, shattered upon the shoals of destiny.”

    You wrote elsewhere, in the modern architecture piece, I think, that you hadn’t much of an artistic bone, or aesthetic gift, but evidence shows otherwise. Writing is an art and you demonstrate an artist’s concern for rhythm, and structure, and poetic phrasing, such as,“shattered upon the shoals of destiny.” Pithy, poetic, and punchy, capturing in six words the devastating agony of a nation that could not avoid a terrible fate. It’s good writing, of the sort that doesn’t consider arranging words to be simply a means of conveying information, but rather to be a branch of poetry, or architecture, or swordsmanship, or bull fighting.

    You style with the bulls is… methodical, where passion is tempered in discipline, but the bravura comes through. Olé.

    • Charles Haywood says

      Well, that’s the nicest compliment I’ve gotten for some time! Thanks.

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