The purpose behind Peter Holquist’s 2003 article “Violent Russia, Deadly Marxism? Russia in the Epoch of Violence, 1905-21” was to historicize a range of conditions under which the Soviet regime grew in power. Holquist argues that the Bolshevik state was the outcome of specific time and place as well as of Bolshevik ideology, viewed by many as reasonable in that ruin. He points out that his research addresses the need to examine the emergence and success of the Russian Revolution not within either of the two dominant approaches (theory of circumstances and theory of ideology) but within the context of the revolutionary period, focusing on the historicity of the argument. In order to trace the historical conditions in which the interplay of ideology and specific circumstances took place resulting in the establishment of the unprecedentedly violent Bolshevik state and classless Soviet society, the author situates the Russian Revolution with the overall troubled time in Europe between 1914 and 1924. As he starts exploring the precedents of the Russian Revolution, Holquist points out at the mounting domestic crises in imperial Russia, which became especially strong in the middle of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), when a series of uprisings and strikes took place across the empire. The aftermath was the policy of punitive detachments and measures designated to intimidate the population rather than focus on liberal reforms. Besides, Russia was marked by colonial unrest due to its forceful colonial policies, in particular in Central Asia. Next, Holquist situates the Russian Revolution in the historical context of World War 1, asserting that this war greatly transformed Russia by exposing all inherent problems of economy and the government’s lack of capacity to solve them as well as by introducing the Russian society to the beginning of the long-term violence. After this, Holquist explores the nature of the February Revolution in 1917 and emphasizes the essence of the Provisional Government’s role as “a self-consciously revolutionary government, defining itself in explicit contrast to the previous “Old Regime” (641). He, in particular, underlines the fact that many ideas later forcibly implemented by Bolsheviks stem from the ideas of the Provisional Government. Another important historical factor was a series of civil wars in Eastern Europe rooted in various nations’ desire to build their own nation-states. Parts of the Russian empire (Ukraine, Poland, Galicia, and Finland) also fought for their liberation from the Russian political power. It defined the prolonged nature of violence associated with the Russian Revolution. Finally, Holquist explores the contribution into the immense violence of the Russian Revolution of the Bolshevik ideology, which applied the tools previously used only at war to its state-building practices. Holquist ends his article with the observation that Soviet Russia “resulted from the intersection of preexisting “persistent factors” with a chain of historical conjunctures,” described earlier in this summary (652).

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Holquist’s argument about the catastrophic nature for the Russian statehood of the intersection of ideological and circumstantial factors is highly persuasive. One of the strongest points in his article is Holquist’s use of high-quality evidence, including both primary and secondary sources. As to the primary sources, Holquist relies on the papers stored at (Russian State Military Archive, Moscow, and various primary texts from the researched period which were published in imperial Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet historical magazines in the Russian language (Russkoe Slovo, Rodina, Smena Vekh). He also relies on the original works by Lenin, Luk’ianov, Marx, Tocqueville, Miliukov, Struve, and others. In addition, the wide range of authoritative secondary sources, including monographs and journal articles, used by Holquist allows him to position his argument within the current scholarly context regarding the studied theme. As a matter of fact, Holquist’s source base is very broad and carefully selected, and it combines various types of sources both in English and in Russian. This fact makes his work unrivalled among other historians limited by their lack of mastery of Russian or lack of access to printed Russian sources from different periods. Another factor which contributes to the article’s persuasiveness is the credibility of its author and of the journal that published his work. Peter Holquist is a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and a renowned expert in the history of Russia and modern Europe. He is the author, editor, and co-editor of a series of books dealing with the Russian Revolution and European history in the first three decades of the twentieth century. In addition, Holquist is a founder of the academic journal Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, which he also edits. The volume in which this article was published is a highly reputable Cornell University journal, with high-quality peer review.

Overall, Holquist’s research is welcome addition to the scholarly literature on the Russian Revolution and Civil War. The chronology of Holquist’s research dictates a specific tale of escalated violence to which Bolshevik ideology became a really fertile soil. His observation about the need to unite the two existing approaches to the emergence of the extremely violent Russian Revolution (that of circumstances and that of ideology) instead of arguing for any of them is highly relevant. Another strong point of Holquist’s article is its dynamic approach to discussion of the factors that determined the nature of the Russian Revolution and the scale of his historical narrative, which embraces several decades preceding the Revolution and allows to link the pre-existing historical factors (which Holquist considers less important than previously thought) with the factors that were specific for the studied revolutionary period in Russia. The article assumes a degree of familiarity with the figures of the Russian revolution and events of World War 1, and thus can probably be recommended to history majors, professors, or researchers interested in the period of the Russian Revolution and in Soviet history.