Profile for Keith A. Comess > Reviews

Browse

Keith A. Comess' Profile

Customer Reviews: 224
Top Reviewer Ranking: 7,992
Helpful Votes: 1941




Community Features
Review Discussion Boards
Top Reviewers

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Keith A. Comess RSS Feed
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20
pixel
Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America's Stealth Warfare
Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America's Stealth Warfare
by Scott Horton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.33
72 used & new from $13.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Fix, January 23, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
It's a bit difficult to conceive of a book on US government transgressions that can remain both interesting and current in the context of the ongoing Snowden revelations, but "Lords of Secrecy" accomplishes both goals. Not only that, it does so in a compelling, objective, direct and cogent manner. It succeeds by avoiding the taint of more polemical expositions (see, for example, Glenn Greenwald's book) and sticking to the facts as they are known.

Scott Horton is a lawyer by training and practice. To provide necessary context, he carefully yet succinctly summarizes relevant legal proceedings and describes how these have been consistently and practically transgressed by a succession of US Executive Branch office holders. In short, the bureaucratic compulsion to divorce government from the citizenry has not only been a cumulative process, it has obvious underpinnings in the composition of agencies constructed by the governing elites.

Horton pushes on an open door when he notes that bureaucracies tend to be simultaneously self-aggrandizing and self-sustaining: information is classified (to a great extent) to cover-up errors, waste, incompetence and cronyism: it's a recognizable pattern that evidently has both social and structural underpinnings and may be unavoidable. To maintain equilibrium (or control, depending on your perspective), steps taken by one administration are rarely undone by its successor and pressure from all sides conspires to perpetuate the status quo and also to enhance it. In other words, "the fix" is in.

The author details the perfidious and insidious pattern, progression and methods the "lords" employ to accomplish these goals. These include reliance on "experts" who are not only versed in arcana but also beholden to special interests as well as their own careerist goals. Abolition of the military draft further divorced citizens from the consequences of executive actions overseas: otherwise stated, if your own life isn't on the line, who cares? Contrast the current situation with the "at risk" draft-age population of the Vietnam era and reactions then and now.

Most tellingly, Horton is able to elucidate all of this in a calm, balanced and fair fashion. Despite the conspiratorial echoes of the book's title, the author never resorts to this convenient and inane dodge to make his case. The book is as balanced and expert a presentation of these thought-provoking and contentious issues as could be most optimistically expected and optimism for a democratic resolution of these matters, one that would be recognizable to Athenian-era participatory democracy is, in Horton's opinion, not too likely an outcome...and it's likely to get a whole lot worse given the fear of the average voter and the rewards garnered by the elites.


The Betrayers: A Novel
The Betrayers: A Novel
by David Bezmozgis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.26
103 used & new from $11.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Fall from Olympus, January 23, 2015
This review is from: The Betrayers: A Novel (Hardcover)
David Bezmozgis in "The Betrayers" has written a complementary novel to his outstanding "The Free World". Both books deal with the subject of Jews considered as perpetual "outsiders". "Betrayers" focuses on the long-ago denunciation of a Soviet-era dissident (now troubled Israeli politician, embroiled in a sex scandal) by a former friend and kindred spirit to the KGB. This resulted in prolonged detention and eventual exile from the USSR. Many years later, seeking both geographical escape to the post-Soviet Crimea and re-connection with the land of his youth, a chance encounter leads to confrontation between the long estranged and still angry antagonists.

While Bezmozgis wrote an engrossing, nuanced and beautifully detailed story in "Free World", he has chosen a much more spare style for "Betrayers". Scene settings in decaying and demoralized modern-era Crimea set an appropriately despondent tone. Echoing Israeli writer David Grossman's "To the End of the Land", the author juxtaposes the dilemma of modern Israel with its dynamism and deadly embrace of the Palestinians.

Certain stylistic conventions are a bit shopworn. The happenstance collision between the protagonists seems somewhat contrived and conventional; improbable at best and too convenient at worst. So too, the fall from Olympian heights to Stygian depths of the Israeli politician is overly dramatized. Recognizing this is, of course, a novel (as contrasted with a history), there have been plenty of sordid scandals involving the Israeli political elite and a simple sex scandal is insufficient pretext for such a dramatic reversal of fortune, especially for a much-lauded dissident hero. The same critique might also obtain with respect to the sub-plot involving the right-wing/settler-inspired refusal of the famous man's soldier-son to evict Jews from illegal settlements. Literally shooting himself in the hand to avoid following orders is simplistic. Similarly, the "return to perdition" and immediate disintegration of the newly established lovers and implied return to the status quo family relationship is overwrought.

In summary, "Betrayers" is an interesting novel but stands in the second rank when considered alongside "Free World".


Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune
Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune
by John Merriman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.22
40 used & new from $16.57

4.0 out of 5 stars The "Ancien Regime" and the Revolution of 1871, January 23, 2015
Like Che Guevara, the Paris Commune of 1871 has achieved mythic dimensions. It's notoriety transcends generations and crosses political lines. Those on the "left" tend to lionize this brief-lived insurrection whilst those on the "right" cite it as an example of of all that can go wrong when institutions are demolished. In "Massacre", John Merriman provides a comprehensive history of the insurrection giving particular emphasis to a comprehensive sampling of impressions, actions and reactions to this seminal occurrence from a cross-section of contemporaries on both sides of the divide.

In brief, following the 1871 French defeat by Prussia and its allies, the Empire collapsed and French territory was occupied. Punishing concessions were extracted by Bismarck, including reparations and territorial concessions. Not unexpectedly, particularly given the gross economic disparities between the proto-one-percenters and the burgeoning urban population of have-nots, this lead to domestic turmoil. The consequences were particularly acute in Paris. In what amounted to a popular uprising, the conservative inheritors of the governing mantle were booted out and a fractious group assumed de facto control. In many important regards, similarities between 1871 and 1789 are apparent. Merriman emphasizes the lack of an agreed upon strategy both for governance and for defense of the Commune by the new rulers of Paris. In contrast, the forces of reaction (the displaced nobility, the Catholic Church, reactionary elements of the general population and professional military) were well-funded, well-organized and in overall agreement on both the need to demolish the Commune and re-install some form of conservative rulership. In relatively short order, which Merriman attributes to chaotic lack of coordination by the defenders of the Commune, the forces of Adolphe Thiers not only eradicated the Commune but engaged in what amounted to wholesale slaughter of militants and citizens alike.

At this point, it's worth quoting from William Doyle's synopsis of the 1789 Revolution (in the Oxford Intro series) to the effect that, "The Revolution symbolized the assertion of political will against the constraints of history, circumstance, and vested interest. Revolutionaries soon found themselves learning the hard lesson that will alone is not enough to destroy the old regime. It fought back, and it is the strength and determination of resistance and counter-revolution that largely explains the ferocity of the terror...many of the things that revolutionaries had sought to destroy in and after 1789 were still there or had rapidly re-emerged." This nicely summarizes just what went wrong in 1871, as well. Worse, according to Merriman, there just wasn't enough "will" to coordinate an effective response to any challenge and to most obviously anticipated circumstances.

In an effort to be thorough, Merriman cites a plethora of contemporary comments, perhaps a few too many. While this certainly portrays the events in a compelling manner, it became a bit too detailed, at times bogging down the rapidly evolving sequence of events.

Perhaps the most dispiriting aspects of the history of the Commune are the parallels between the hackneyed and arguments invoked by the Thiers group and those mustered against democratization and progressivism by "conservatives" ever since the Enlightenment emancipated mankind from self-imposed immaturity and unwillingness to think freely for oneself (to paraphrase Kant's famous definition). If for no other reason than convincingly discovering the truth of the old adage that "the more things change, the more they remain the same", this book is worth reading.


The Drinker
The Drinker
by Hans Fallada
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.59
102 used & new from $3.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Reefer Madness!, December 31, 2014
This review is from: The Drinker (Paperback)
Only the genuinely extraordinary and inspired author can pen a series of uniformly excellent books. The merely highly-talented may write only a single great book. After that, perhaps talent, inspiration and luck run out. That seems to be the case with Hans Fallada, a man who suffered mightily under the Nazis and from his own tragic personal situation but nonetheless put out at least one real stunner. "Every Man Dies Alone" first appeared in English and met with commercial and critical success. Melville House (the publisher) released the rest of his work. The semi-autobiographical novel, "The Drinker" is one of Fallada's less distinguished stories.

The bourgeois protagonist and proprietor of a modestly successful backwater commodity trading corporation feels aggrieved with the world and there's every reason he should. Now standing on the brink of middle-age, Mr. Sommer notices that, absent his wife's managerial skills and executive guidance at work, his company is now foundering. Sommer himself realizes that he is now and has been a total mediocrity and he's lazy to boot! After decades of total sobriety (verging on complete abstinence) and a pedestrian existance, Sommer instantly kicks loose with the booze. A story bearing an uncanny resemblance to "The Lost Weekend" of AA fame unfolds. The poor man's trajectory is straight down and he descends very, very fast; improbably so, in fact. The sole motive offered is self-disgust/absence of self-worth, engendered by his mediocrity epiphany.

This sort of morality tale was standard fare of the era and comes across now as cheap and dated melodrama. Through alcohol, the protagonist will punish the world; a loved one is a favorite recipient, so Fallada gives that a try. The mcguffin in these stories is alcohol, but nowadays any drug or inane pleasurable past-time will work. A formulaic approach was often successfully employed rendering these genre works. The story line is simply a vehicle which allows the sanctimony and censoriousness to shine through.

This puritanical passion play represents conventional society's position and it is ironically and unintentionally revealed and endorsed by the author. In other words, Fallada isn't indicting society: he's indicting the man for his failings and weaknesses. Since Fallada has been compared with the masters, how does he stack up relative to (more-or-less) contemporaries? A socially censorious public was best displayed by Sinclair Lewis in "Main Street". Self-degradation is better depicted by Dostoevsky ("Crime and Punishment"). "Drinker" is a step above Temperance Union fliers but it shares the simultaneously preachy, archaic and contrived tone. It falls very short of the excellence line. It's the literary equivalent and written analogue of "Reefer Madness"


Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Price: $6.15

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Things Go Better with Koch, December 27, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
What exactly is a "revolution"? Jack Goldstone defines the term this way: "Revolution is the forcible overthrow of a government through mass mobilization...in the name of social justice, to create new political institutions. It is "...the process by which visionary leaders draw on the power of the masses to forcibly bring into existence a new political order." Revolution includes, "...all the elements of forcible overthrow of the government, mass mobilization, the pursuit of a vision of social justice, and the creation of new political institutions."

The author defines 5 coincident and crucial elements for a revolution to occur. These are:
1) National economic or fiscal strains, which disrupts the flow of rents and taxes to rulers and elites
2) Growing alienation (meaning perceived exclusion from favor) and opposition among the elites (competition, rivalries, factionalism)
3) Increasingly widespread popular anger at injustice
4) Bridging popular and elite grievances (requires an ideology)
5) Favorable international relations (external support or at least non-interference by foreign powers).

Goldstone uses this framework to great success throughout the book, with reference to specific events, ancient and modern. His insights and generalizations are interesting and informative.

Goldstone notes that ancient philosophers (Plato and Aristotle) believed that the cause of revolution is social injustice. Obviously, that is neither necessary nor is it sufficient to provoke revolutionary change. Not until various elements in the pre-revolutionary society realize that an alternative is possible (i.e., there is another alternative to the miserable status quo), does the potential for change become evident: put otherwise, simple misery doesn't suffice. That point is both implicit and explicit in Goldstone's summary.

"Revolutions" becomes more of a superficial survey beginning in chapter 7 ("Communist Revolutions"). This remains is an issue through chapter 10 ("The Arab Revolutions"). While these sections are useful overviews, they suffer in comparison to the introductory sections (which deal with definition, cause, processes, leaders, outcomes, respectively) and the sections on revolutions in the ancient world, the Renaissance, Reformation and "Constitutional Revolutions (US, France, Europe).

The book stumbles and falls in the concluding chapter ("The Future of Revolutions"). Goldstone waxes nostalgic on his student years (circa 1979) and digresses into vacuous platitudes and bromides. For instance, he asserts that, "Someday, all countries in the world will have stable, resilient, inclusive and just regimes". Is that so? If it is, where is the evidence for that assertion? How does the author neglect to deal with the recognized and rapidly conjoining factors of ecosystem collapse coupled with massive "Third World" (mostly Arab countries) population growth? This is something that Thomas Malthus anticipated in the Eighteenth Century. Omitting this aspect of social ferment seems derelict, even in a "very short introduction". How about underperforming economies? What about growing economic disparities between and within "First" and Third World countries? How about the baleful (and objectively obvious) destabilizing effects of climate change, which even the Pentagon has characterized as a major threat to social, political and economic stability, this looming on the near-term horizon?

As a "very short introduction", Goldstone's book suffices. As for the concluding patter, especially when juxtaposed to the insightful introductory chapters, one might speculate on Goldstone's potential conflict of interest. Why? In 2006, The Washington Post published an investigation of Goldstone's academic perch, The Mercatus Center at George Mason University. In it, columnist Al Kamen described Mercatus as a "staunchly anti-regulatory center funded largely by Koch Industries Inc. Maybe that explains the glaring omission of the implications of climate change and the breezy, Pollyanna dismissal of the potential for future revolutions spoiled this otherwise interesting book. Maybe Goldstone is just an optimist.


Services spéciaux Algérie 1955-1957 : Mon témoignage sur la torture
Services spéciaux Algérie 1955-1957 : Mon témoignage sur la torture
by Paul Aussaresses
Edition: Paperback
27 used & new from $10.65

5.0 out of 5 stars Briser la Greve (Break the Strike)!, December 23, 2014
First, I must admit I've not read the English translation of this book. I read the 2001 Perrin Edition in French (entitled, "Services Speciaux: Algerie 1955-1957). Nonetheless, assuming the translation accurate, here are my perspectives:

Aussaresses wrote this book when he was around 83 years old and with full knowledge of the probable ramifications of it's publication in France, to wit, prosecution for war crimes. Sure enough, that hypocritical action was undertaken by the French government. The General (for that was his final rank) was fined $6500 for "trying to justify war", but not for the acts themselves, as these were previously covered by an amnesty. Perrin Publishing was fined another $13,000. Aussaresses was further barred from wearing his uniform and he was stripped of his Legion d'Honneur.

Knowing, as he did, the ramifications of these memoirs, why do it? Aussaresses is nothing if not candid. His "confessions" are bare of adornment and self-justification. He embellishes nothing and omits nothing, including self-incriminating statements. However, he also makes quite clear that he was acting under the direct orders of his immediate superior (General Massu) who, in turn, was acting under the direct orders of the French Government, which included Francois Mitterand (Interior Minister). The methods used in the Battle of Algiers were first tried and proven successful in Philippeville, Algeria and were conducted under specific Interior Ministry order: "Des instructions drastiques furent donnees pour ecraser la rebellion..." (Draconian measures were authorized for wiping out the rebellion). Further, "Comme on ne pouvait eradiquer le terrorisme urbain par les voies policieres et judiciares ordinnaires, on demandait aux parachutistes de se substituer tant aux policiers qu'aux juges" (Ordinary police and judicial measures were ineffective against urban terorism, so it was demanded of the parachutistss to substitute such measures as they judged needed). Aussaresses repeatedly confirmed that this "sale boulot" (dirty job) was to be performed under valid orders and, despite his attempts to refuse it (correctly divining that he would ultimately be stuck with the culpability), pressed ahead.

Algeria was an integral department of France. Thus, the counterinsurgency was being undertaken against French citizens (at least de jure citizens, if not de facto). Of course, torture was used and many needlessly suffered. For whatever reasons, the rebellion was militarily crushed, but this tactical victory was Pyrrhic, as the political war was lost, as sympathy amongst elites evaporated and elements of the military (in concert with revanchist pieds-noirs) began acting against the French government as a final act of desperation. De Gaulle began negotiations for independence and Algeria left France.

Whilst some have taken this (and other books, such as Roger Trinquier's work) as "blueprints" for winning against Iraqi counterinsurgents, this is a misplaced emphasis. These wars are won the "hard way": politically, with a firm policing and military component. The French actually used this approach in some sectors, reportedly with good success. The larger enterprise was a failure. The long-term ramifications for France (now with a large population of Algerian Muslim immigrants) are just starting to be felt.

In summary, an outstanding, lucid memoir and integral component of the history of the French-Algerian War: not to be missed by any serious student of the subject.


The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI
The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI
by Betty Medsger
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.01
84 used & new from $8.04

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Happy Hour, December 13, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The FBI and its storied history of skullduggery have been written about many, many times before. Herein, the Media, PA burglary of a small FBI office and the resulting revelations (confirmations, actually) are extolled in an oftentimes hagiographic and pseudo-naive fashion by the author, a former investigative reporter who received copies of the original files. Now, decades after the event and ages after the statute of limitations had passed (i.e., no risk in blurting out the facts by those involved), the burglars come clean in this interesting but flawed book.

Leaving aside the annoying particulars of the burglars' life-stories (edifying though they are), exposure of these documents did have a transient effect: they produced a sort of a "happy hour" for reformists. As a result of publishing and publicizing nasty programs like COINTEL, the Church Committee investigated; liberal media engaged in hand-wringing, reforms were crafted and then...it all vaporized as FBI stalwarts (inside and outside the Agency), various apologists, right-wing jingoists and self-interested hangers-on delayed, diluted and dissipated any meaningful measures to curb domestic spying, use of agents provacateurs, and official lying (oops, I misspoke when I misspoke on this matter). In short, business as usual by the FBI and other domestic security agencies returned, if it ever vanished. The only meaningful accomplishments of the entire affair were that the facts entered the public record and (amazingly), some actual high-rankers in the Agency (Deepthroat, himself, the not-so-patriotic after all, Mark Felt) were punished. That, of course, wouldn't happen nowadays.

The most damning aspect of the book is the author's recurring implication that Hoover's fiefdom was entirely of Hoover's manufacture. The genesis of this notion is likely correct, but (as noted), the dirt and direction of Hoover's snooping was aided and abetted just about from the get-go (e.g., FDR's use of the FBI against political rivals). The tendency to identify a single evil and nefarious personality and pin the entire mess on that person is a recurring meme in American politics factual expositions and Ms. Medsger falls right into the pattern. Was Hoover unique? Was he worse than Gen. Mike Hayden? Gen. Keith Alexander? Who did the greatest damage?

Clearly, the research and preparation for "Burglary" was a major undertaking and many interesting facets of the milieu in which all this took place are nicely demonstrated. In the penultimate chapter, Ms. Medsger mentions Edward Snowden and his much more important revelations about NSA spying. While the book isn't about Snowden, why introduce the topic if not to contextualize its relevance in the concluding chapter? That wasn't done, so the impression conveyed is that the author added it after the text was prepared to keep-it-current.

So, "happy hour" for reform is over. Even John Kerry, current Secretary of State and former anti-war activist, fell afoul of the Hoover machine and now...he's an ardent defender of state secrecy and a tepid, insincere advocate of reform. Obama himself, a political cypher if there ever was one, ties gordian rhetorical and logical knots as he suggests reform, claims credit for it and then does absolutely nothing whatsoever to implement the mantra of "change we can believe in".

Medsger owes the reader the intellectual honesty to acknowledge that the Media Burglars, while brave and principled, made precious little difference to the trajectory of the surveillance-security "deep state" and J. Edgar Hoover, malign and devious as he was, was just a progenitor for the current generation of those at the controls.


Cryptography: A Very Short Introduction
Cryptography: A Very Short Introduction
by F. C. Piper
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.89
90 used & new from $4.39

3.0 out of 5 stars One way hash?, December 4, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
By design, the "Very Short Introduction" series strives for a maximum of brevity and strives to simultaneously maximize content. Some books in this series (e.g, Smith's Russian Revolution) succeed brilliantly: this book does not. The math section on binary numbers and modular arithmetic is emphasized to the detriment of explanations of public key cryptography. The former might have been dealt with in more detail for interested readers using an on-line appendix whereas the latter is much better explained in Bruce Schneier's "Applied Cryptography" which is an excellent (if dated) resource. Various free on-line resources are readily available, too (e.g. GnuPG's own web site). The Caesar Cyphers and other outmoded encryption schemes receive disproportionate emphasis. Again, interested readers can find free resources and the genuinely obsessed can and should consult Kahn's (ancient) tome, "The Codebreakers".

In short, this pocket book suffers from editorial misdirection. It's too long in some areas and too brief in others. Unfortunately, the truncated sections are likely to be of greatest interest to the intended audience of this series.


World Order
World Order
by Henry Kissinger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.60
99 used & new from $17.83

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars His Last Bow, November 22, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: World Order (Hardcover)
Henry Kissinger is, in many ways, the last man standing. His storied career has outlasted and outshone his contemporaries and, decades after his reign as Secretary of State, he continues to exert significant influence. Now, at around age 91 years, he's written his capstone work, "World Order". It is both interesting and informative though, of necessity, relatively brief. As such, it required a heavy editorial hand and naturally reflects the biases and interests of its author.

Kissinger writes extensively (perhaps overly so) on the world order that resulted from the Treaties of Westphalia (which more-or-less ended the Thirty Years War). By recognizing the powers and perquisites of individual rulers (and their states); by adopting a program of more-or-less non-interference in internal affairs; states balanced power with pragmatism. This more-or-less worked for centuries, but Kissinger now maintains the paradigm is dissolving. Some might contend it actually applied only to Western states in the first place and others might argue that the modus vivendi disintegrated under the internationalist program of Communism (until, that is, Stalin logically perverted the economic "laws" of Marxist thought into "Socialism in one state") but now, with the rise of multi-national corporations, disintegration of state order in the Middle East and the emergence of chiliastic Islamist movements, the Westphalian consensus may be entering its end-times.

Regardless of Kissinger's editorial choices and his inherent bias, "World Order" provides valuable insights into the thoughts of a major diplomatic figure, one whose impact will be felt for a long time to come. Looking over the near-term horizon, "World Order" will be a valuable resource to current and future students of Kissingers thoughts and actions. Kissinger, like Sherlock Holmes in "His Last Bow" is about to exit the world stage. Most likely, this is his final book. It's a worthy addition to his significant contribution to international diplomacy.


The Russian Revolution: A Very Short Introduction
The Russian Revolution: A Very Short Introduction
by Sheila Fitzpatrick
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.28
92 used & new from $4.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Triumph and Tragedy, November 22, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
In 1656, Pascal wrote, "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time". In other words, it's easy to be prolix but time, intellect, application and clarity are needed to be concise yet simultaneously informative. In this book, Steve Smith has achieved the "impossible": a perfect example of lucid concision in which he distills books that run to a thousand pages into around 180. "A Short Introduction" is just that and yet, Smith allows for statistical data (e.g., Red vs. White casualty figures, percentages of proletariat vs. peasants, etc) where necessary while also including his own enlightened perspective on the Bolshevik enterprise and yes: there are both good and bad points which should be acknowledged, regardless of one's own political philosophy.

By necessity, the story of the Revolution requires contextualization. Perhaps the prime catalyst was Russian involvement in WW-I. Russia was unequipped for battle against a sophisticated, determined professional army (Kaiserine Germany) backed by a large, modern, industrial economy. Yet, despite disaster after disaster, the Great Autocrat, Tsar Nicholas II, this arrogant, benighted and "divinely anointed" ruler was both intractable and sufficiently obtuse as to not recognize the unfolding debacle. A few concessions were made and then recanted. Thus, the stage was set. Kerensky's successor government was limited and ineffectual in dealing with soldier and peasant demands and, fatally engaged with General Kornilov to maintain power. By dint of iron willpower and absolute adherence to a carefully defined program, Lenin succeeded in undermining the Provisional Government. He was masterfully aided by the Petersburg Soviet under the brilliant and supremely capable Trotsky. Smith capably reviews all this and much more, yet keeps the story "on track".

The most contentious item - the legacy of the Revolution and its means/methods - is brilliantly stated. Anti-Communists (considering, that is, Soviet Party-State dictatorship as the functional equivalent of that construct) make much of Bolshevik atrocities and correctly so. However, in what context did they occur? "Between 1918 and February, 1922, it has been estimated that 280,000 were killed by the Cheka and Internal Security Troops, about half in the course of operations to mop up peasant insurgents. This suggests that perhaps 140,000 were executed directly by the Cheka - a bloodcurdling number to be sure...By contrast, the White terror, which has received far less attention...In Ukraine at least 100,000 Jews perished at the hands of unruly soldiers of Denikin...In leading Bolshevik circles concern was regularly expressed that the Cheka was out of control..." Does that excuse? No. Does it explain? Yes.

Opposition parties (SR, Menshiviks, and others) were routinely outmatched by Lenin and his cadre of professional revolutionaries. How did that happen? Smith attributes their failure to organizational difficulties, ideological infighting and failure to adhere to a consistent program which could nimbly adapt to changing circumstances. Lenin, on the other hand, was expert. By October, 1921, he conceded that "War Communism" (a pragmatic adaptation to the Civil War and international diplomatic isolation coupled with direct military intervention) wasn't working: he abandoned it. Food requisitions? A draconian but probably necessary expedient and, "That circumstances of war did much to dictate policy can be seen fromt he fact that een White regimes, commited to the free market, resorted to measures of economic compulsion in the 'interests of state'. Moreover, policies, whether carefully crafted or hastily cobbled together, threw up entirely unintended consequences that set parameters for future action."

By the end of the March, 1921 with the crushing of the Kronstadt Sailors' Rebellion, all pretexts for a multi-party state were demolished and the Bolshevik dictatorship was established. Did the roots of the regime extend to Marxist theory? Was the ultimate outcome the result of various expedients that later crystallized programmatically? Was the Party-State a perversion of more noble ideals by Stalin and others? These topics are also nicely addressed.

Finally, what does it all mean? The Revolution was likely the most important event of the Twentieth Century: "At a philosophical level, the revolution raised profound questions about how justice, equality, and freedom can be reconciled that are still relevant today, even if the answers the Bolsheviks gave to those questions were fatally flawed. We live in a world wher eit has become hard to think critically about the principals on which society is organized. Everything conspires to make us acquiesce in the world as it is, to discourage the belief that it can be radically reordered on more just and equal lines. Yet that is precisely what the Bolsheviks undertook to achieve. I write at a time when there has been a rise in 'anti-capitalist' protests, motivated by the revulsion at the staggering inequalities that charaterize our world. As the 21st century dawns, it seems safe to conclude that there will be elements in the Russian Revolution that continue to inspire, even as there are many that will stand as a dreadful warning." This is what good history is all about and I've never seen a finer synopsis that this one.


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20