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Solzhenitsyn's Reflections on the February Revolution [1] (yet another text that has not, to my knowledge, been published in an English translation) consists of four essays originally intended as political summaries of each of the four volumes of March 1917. According to the jacket notes on the French edition: 'On reflection the author decided not to include them in his epic so as not to influence the reader and to preserve the openness of perspective appropriate to a work of literature.'

[1]  Alexandre Soljénitsyne: Réflexions sur la révolution de Février, French translation by Nikita Struve, Fayard, 2007 (published in Russian, 1995.

The decision was a good one. The four essays are written in a blaze of indignation against the incompetence and inadequacy of all the major players in the February Revolution (it started in February according to the Julian calendar but in March according to the Gregorian calendar which was only officially adopted in what was left of the Russian Empire - but not by the Church - in 1918). 

All of them, that is, except Lenin and Trotsky. As Solzhenitsyn said in an interview given to Der Spiegel in 2007:

'SPIEGEL: A few months ago in a long article you reiterated your thesis once again: Communism was not the result of the previous Russian political regime; the Bolshevik Revolution was made possible only by Kerensky’s poor governance in 1917. If one follows this line of thinking, then Lenin was only an accidental person, who was only able to come to Russia and seize power here with German support. Have we understood you correctly?

'Solzhenitsyn: No, you have not. Only an extraordinary person can turn opportunity into reality. Lenin and Trotsky were exceptionally nimble and vigorous politicians who managed in a short period of time to use the weakness of Kerensky’s government. But allow me to correct you: the "October Revolution" is a myth generated by the winners, the Bolsheviks, and swallowed whole by progressive circles in the West. On Oct. 25, 1917, a violent 24-hour coup d’etat took place in Petrograd. It was brilliantly and thoroughly planned by Leon Trotsky -- Lenin was still in hiding then to avoid being brought to justice for treason. What we call “the Russian Revolution of 1917” was actually the February Revolution.' [2]

[2] Der Spiegel, 07/23/2007. English translation accessible at

Trotsky, however, only arrived in Russia towards the end of the period covered in the novel and, unlike Lenin, Solzhenitsyn doesn't cover his period in exile (though he does describe quite amusingly Lenin's impotent jealousy as he witnessed the joyous playacting of Trotsky and Parvus in the St Petersburg soviet during the 1905 revolution). 

It is easy to see how Solzhenitsyn's indignation could have mounted as he writes at such length with such patience and human sympathy for the people - the representatives of 'civil society' - he believes plunged Russia into Hell but it is the patience and the human sympathy - the 'openness of perspective' - that make the greatness of the novel. 

The Reflections were first published as a separate text in 1995 after his return to Russia. In an introduction written in 2007 he says:

'At that time [1980-3 when the essays were written - PB], overwhelmed as I was by a huge pile of factual data, it was a physical need: to express in a coherent manner the conclusions that could be drawn from this mass of regrettable historical facts. It is all the more regrettable that still today, after a quarter of a century has passed, some of the conclusions may still apply to the dangerous instability we are experiencing at the present time.'

1917 AND 1941

One of the points Solzhenitsyn makes in the Reflections is that whereas the Russian Empire fell into anarchy in 1917 it did not fall into anarchy in 1941, when the military catastrophe that had hit it was a good deal worse. Thus he says:

'I'm not going to exaggerate in this respect the importance of the retreat in 1915, nor the weariness of the people nor, in some places, the interruptions in the supply of provisions, nor the incompetence of the Tsarist ministries. The Soviet retreat of 1941-2 was thirty times worse, it wasn't just Poland that was lost at that time but the whole of Belorussia, Ukraine, Russia as far as Moscow and the Volga, the losses in people killed and prisoners taken were twenty times worse, the famine which reigned everywhere was unimaginable, not counting the terrible tensions in the factories and on the land, ministries that were even more incompetent and of course a crushing of freedoms that was beyond compare but precisely because the regime didn't hesitate in its cruelty, and it couldn't come into anyone's mind to express the slightest notion of defiance against it - this catastrophic defeat and the destruction of the country didn't produce any sort of revolution (another parallel, but a strange one: in both wars we were dependent on our western allies. But because of this the Tsarist government and the provisional government sought to enter into the good graces of the allies, while Stalin, in a similar situation, he imposed conditions on them ...)'

And again, responding to the idea that the 1917 rising in Petrograd had been the result of a shortage of bread:

'But today we know that in itself the slipknot of bread wasn't tied sufficiently tightly to strangle Petrograd, much less Russia as a whole. Not only famine, but even a real scarcity of bread hadn't yet hit Petrograd in those days. With what we know today, can we talk of famine if, after having stood in a queue, you can gather up as much bread as your arms can hold? And in many enterprises the management itself supplied provisions - so there weren't any queues for bread. There was no lack of bread in the garrison yet that is what played the decisive role. Russia and Petrograd would know scarcities of bread many times worse and would support them. We know well today that that same town, during the Second World War against the same Germany, accepted without protest to live not a week but a year, not with two pounds of bread a day but with a third of a pound and no possibility of procuring any of the other products that were freely available in 1917 ... today we know well that no famine can provoke a revolution where there is a national enthusiasm and Chekist terror, not to speak of the two simultaneously. But in 1917 neither the one nor the other existed ...'

What Solzhenitsyn is saying in all this seems to me rather remarkable, especially coming from Solzhenitsyn. He is saying that in 1941, in addition to the Chekist terror, there was a 'national enthusiasm' that was missing in 1917. He is also saying that there was a nationwide machine that was able, even in the worst imaginable circumstances. to prevent any possibility of revolution - and we know from the previous article in this series that Solzhenitsyn was the declared enemy of all revolutions, even a revolution to overthrow the Soviet state.