March 1917 revisited

The current (May 12) issue of the New York Review of Books carries Gary Saul Morson’s chilling essay/review (behind the NYRB paywall) taking up March 1917: The Red Wheel/Node III (8 March–31 March): Book 3 and Between Two Millstones: Book 2, Exile in America, 1978–1994, the most recent of the books by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to be translated and published in English. Professor Morson channels Solzhenitsyn’s thinking on the preface to the catastrophic revolution of October 1917:

Almost without exception, the members of the Provisional Government could do no more than assume revolutionary poses and make speeches inspiring to intellectuals but beyond the comprehension of workers and soldiers. The “paramount principle” to which Prince Lvov, the first head of the Provisional Government, adheres “was belief and trust. Belief in people, all people, our holy people.” To the suggestion that police should put a limit to anarchy and murder, he replies, “Why does a free state need police at all?” Lvov recoils at the very idea of resolute action. “Ah, ‘decisive measures,’ that’s not our language,” he thinks, “it is unworthy of a free alliance of free people. My dear fellows, why so ominous?”

The radical Aleksandr Kerensky, intoxicated by his own voice, supposes he can defeat anarchy and Bolshevism by sheer charisma. Only Vladimir Nabokov, the progressive politician (and father of the novelist) who was murdered by monarchists in 1922 in Berlin, acts competently. He wonders that his colleagues “had no idea how to operate, how to translate thoughts and votes into legislation…. A decision was approved before it had any text, unaccompanied by any figures or budget,” and orders were given that made no sense or could not be implemented. Politicians neglected “the most fundamental act,” establishing their authority in the provinces.

Make of it what you will.

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