Notes for a book review by Win Tompkins, a PCFR member and a junior at the Met School, in Providence:
Dominic Lieven’s The Fall of Tsarist Russia focuses a lot of energy on trying to prove that World War I and Russian involvement in it was unavoidable. Many in Russia’s military and political circles knew that the country was not prepared for a major European conflict but they also felt that they had to defend Russia’s Balkan allies, especially Serbia, and needed to look strong in the eyes of the international community.
The Russian leadership also feared that the country would imperil its key alliance with France if it failed to help block German and Austro-Hungarian expansionism and that indeed, the entire Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia could collapse if Russian lack of will were displayed.
Decades of Internal unrest and the failure of the 1905 Russian constitution to give the parliament (the Duma) any real power made revolution seem a matter of when, not if. A major factor was that the peasant population proved that it was more than capable of violence against the government and ruling class in the decades following the end of serfdom, in 1861.
Mr. Lieven shares many of the points that other historians have made about the decades before the February and October revolutions in 1917, but it is a well-crafted account that gives many fascinating personal accounts from within the Russian Empire’s political, diplomatic and military institutions and how their leaders tried to fix Russia’s failing systems before it was too late.
The End of Tsarist Russia has many of the same basic conclusions as other books on the subject, such as Orlando Figes’s A People’s Tragedy. Mr. Lieven’s major conclusions come in late in the book, in a chapter discussing the weeks before the war known as ‘’the July Crisis’’ of 1914.
At the end of the book, Mr. Lieven reinforces his argument that the Russian government knew of its own political and military weaknesses, but felt that Russian involvement was necessary to maintain Russia’s alliance with France and Britain and to protect Serbia and the other Balkan States, an area of great strategicinterest and cultural affinity with Russia.