Beautiful Prose, Perspective in 'March 1917'

hen Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn embarked on the writing of The Red Wheel at the age of eighteen in 1936, he did so from a committed revolutionary or Bolshevik point of view. Red October was understood to be both the telos of universal history and the centerpiece of his imagined literary and historical epic. When the mature Solzhenitsyn turned to The Red Wheel once again in the 1960s and 1970s (he would complete the work in 1992), his historical novel (and work of dramatized history) had dramatically changed focus. Not only was Solzhenitsyn now the most determined and vigorous opponent of the Bolshevik enterprise one could imagine, but the focus of the work had shifted considerably. In his youth, his focus was steadfastly on the October Revolution of 1917 and the Civil War that ensued after the forced Bolshevik seizure of power. But that would change.

As Solzhenitsyn tells the story in his Journal of The Red Wheel, 1960-1991, which has yet to appear in English, he initially had little interest in the “bourgeois” February Revolution or the last days of old Russia precisely because he dogmatically associated them with an antiquated “Right,” with a world that the progressive march of History had left behind. The aspiring Russian writer still thought like an ideologist; at that point, he remained imprisoned by the historicist framework at the heart of the Marxist-Leninist vulgate. But after the scales of ideology had fallen from his eyes as a result of his imprisonment in Soviet prisons and camps, he came to realize that Red October flowed inexorably from the earlier misnamed “liberal” Revolution. The February Revolution (or March Revolution to use the Gregorian calendar that revolutionary Russia would soon adopt) created the necessary preconditions for the world’s first experiment in the totalitarian subjugation of a great people and nation.


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