Revolutionary Russia in American eyes

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


To mark the centenary of the Russian revolutions of 1917, American publishers released several new histories in 2017, including a massive study by the distinguished scholar Laura Engelstein and a lengthy account by the prolific author Sean McMeekin. This article develops a critical perspective on the books by Engelstein and McMeekin by setting them in the context of other scholarship and by contrasting them to the views presented by American witnesses of the Russian revolutions. The review essay focuses primarily on three major issues: the nature of the February Revolution; the relationship between the Bolsheviks and Germany; and foreign intervention in the Russian Civil War. It argues that there are serious problems in McMeekin's and Engelstein's treatments of those issues. Their presentation of the revolution of February 1917 as a political event rather than a social transformation, McMeekin's depiction of the Bolsheviks as pawns of Imperial Germany, and both authors' downplaying of American interventions in Russia ignore the views of Americans who were in Petrograd at the time, and disregard much important scholarship published since the 1960s. By drawing on those eyewitness accounts and historical studies, this article reminds scholars of how the February Revolution both reflected and stimulated a profound change in many Russians' ways of thinking, how Americans as well as Germans funded propaganda campaigns in Russia in 1917, and how the United States intervened in the Russian civil war in several other ways, with the ultimate objective of restoring a democratic or at least a non-Bolshevik government.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)957-971
Number of pages15
JournalVestnik Sankt-Peterburgskogo Universiteta, Istoriya
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History


  • Americans
  • Intervention
  • Propaganda
  • Revolution
  • Russia
  • United States
  • Wilson


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