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Legacies of the Civil War

Nobody knows the full human cost of the civil war. By any calculation it was catastrophic. Counting only deaths from the fighting, the terror, famine and disease, it was something in the region of 10 million people. The single biggest killer (it accounted for some 5 million lives) was the Volga famine of 1921-2, which was largely the result of the over-requisitioning of peasant grain.

EXTRACT: Orlando Figes, Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991 (Pelican, 2014), p.167.

The Civil War was a formative experience for the Bolsheviks. It became their model of success, the 'heroic period' of the revolution when 'any fortress could be stormed'. It shaped their political habits for a generation - until 1941, when another example of military success supplanted it. When Stalin spoke of a 'Bolshevik approach' or of doing things at a 'Bolshevik tempo' - in the Five Year Plans for example - he had in mind the Party's methods in the Civil War. From the Civil War the Bolsheviks inherited their cult of sacrifice; their military style of government, with its constant 'battles' and 'campaigns' on 'fronts'; their insistence on the need to struggle permanently against the revolution's enemies, foreign and internal, which they saw everywhere; their mistrust of the peasants; and their prototype of the planned economy with its militarization of labour and utopian vision of the state as the maker of a new society.

© 2014 Orlando Figes | All Rights Reserved