The History Book Club of Historic Newton hosted a discussion among Newton residents on Stephen Smith’s book, Russia in Revolution, focusing on the similarities between violent actions of Russian regimes in the 20th century and today.
“After reading this book, I found that I had no idea what a mess Russia was—different factions, groups, and warlords … I had no idea how complex a country it was,” Michael, one of the History Book Club’s members, said.
Russia in Revolution covers the causes and outcomes of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The book outlines Russia’s history from the last years of the Russian Empire to the beginning of Joseph Stalin’s regime in 1922, with the revolution as the focal point.
The Russian Revolution of 1917, led by Vladimir Lenin, resulted in the end of centuries-old czarist rule and ushered in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. There were an estimated seven to 12 million casualties during the revolution, most of which were civilians, according to the book.
“It’s an awful, dark history,” said History Book Club member and discussion moderator Peter Terris. “Nobody was united. It’s extraordinary, the way the sides keep changing, people going from one side to another side—the absolute mayhem. But the violence was what really struck me.”
Another member, Allen Cohen, noted the consistency of violence throughout Russian history, extending into Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine.
“The [violence] continued into World War II, where more than 20 million Russians died between combat and what Stalin did. And it still continues today,” he said.
Another member, Palmer, noted similarities between Stalin and Vladimir Putin’s violent rule of Russia.
“People like Putin and Stalin were able to exert enough self-control not to reveal their [violent] characters,” she said. “The only difference between Putin and Stalin is that Putin has a 700-foot yacht.”
Palmer also noted the striking similarities in oppressive, tyrannical leadership between Putin and Stalin.
“It seems pretty clear to me, Putin is Stalin-esque in the way he wants to control the state,” Palmer said.
The latter half of the club meeting focused largely on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The major consensus among members was that Russia’s lengthy and complicated history with violence resulted in Putin’s aggressive, dictatorial rule.
“In the long arc of history, Russia was invaded by France, then Nazi Germany,” said member Ken Boger. “Then they felt wrapped around by NATO and the Cold War. It’s understandable that people would feel they’re under attack and they need to make sure their walls are standing strong, so to speak.”
Michael said he believes Putin’s strategy resembles Hitler’s in World War II. He drew comparisons by noting that Hitler also invaded countries under a false premise of protection.
“I think [Putin] has claimed he’s after countries that are Russian, but a lot of that rhetoric sounds identical … to what Nazi Germany was saying,” he said. “[They said] they were protecting German speaking people and wanted them to be part of their nation.”
Concluding the discussion, Cohen talked about the future of Putin’s military action in Ukraine and how it could affect other European countries.
“If Putin was logical, he would not have invaded Ukraine,” Cohen said. “It’s about going as far as he can. … But I think this might be the last stand for the bully. He may eventually win in Ukraine, but he will go no further. If he goes past Ukraine, he’s going neck and neck with NATO. I think he’s crazy, but he’s not stupid.”
Currently about 1,000 Ukrainian civilians and more than 1,300 military members have died since the Russian invasion according to CNN. Fighting continues across Ukraine, including in major cities such as Kyiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv.
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