W. Bruce Lincoln, “Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War” (1989) – This sucked! I want some good history on the Russian Civil War. You can get tons and tons of stuff on the Revolution- the Civil War that came after, which arguably shaped the Soviet Union much more than the revolution did, is much harder to find books about. This one is supposed to be a standard, so I picked it up when I found it at a used place in Portland.
Listen- I don’t expect, or need, thoroughgoing sympathy with the left, especially from historians tied to the Hoover Institution, as Bruce Lincoln was. But this… it’s less a problem that Lincoln is critical of the Bolsheviks. It’s a civil war, no one is going to “behave well,” if that even has anything like the same meaning in a brutal internecine conflict as it does in an office or a daycare. And it’s not that he’s especially sympathetic towards their White adversaries. If nothing else, this dude is canny enough to get that the likes of Denikin, Kolchak etc do not for heroes make, and the closer you look at them — essentially, any look other than a still photograph, looking stern in fancy dress uniform (which is good enough for many, depressingly enough) — the less impressive they are. They were creepy reactionaries, and above all else, losers. Like Borges said of the Cossacks, who made up much of the White forces, “no one in the history of the universe has been defeated more often” than these “blustering and useless warriors.”
So where do Lincoln’s sympathies lie? With the people of Russia? It’s the people, people trying to live their lives without killing or being killed, that suffer the most in these situations. But no. Lincoln’s sympathies are entirely with anyone who can wring pathos from him, and, typical dumbass Anglo, that means, basically, what there was of a Russian middle class, and the nobility. Objectively, this puts him on the side of the Whites, though again, he gets that their actual forces sucked too bad, morally and militarily, to get behind. And this could be a decent platform for a narrative history! Maybe not one I’d agree with, but potentially one worth reading. But instead, you get comparatively short shrift on the process or politics of the war as Lincoln instead wallows in such indignities as… bourgeois inhabitants of revolutionary St. Petersburg made to do work! And pawn their jewels! There’s bloodier stuff, too, but when Lincoln bothers to discuss it, he only dramatizes what happens to rich people and never bothers with any other kind of human suffering. It’s sickening, but beyond that, it’s just shitty history. Hard pass. *