Texas Tech professor hosts lecture about Russian Revolution

Great War Series continues through March and April

By Sophia Gravatt
On February 15, 2019

Photo by Ian Saint: ASU held an in-depth seminar over Russia and its intricate history. Guest speaker Dr. Alan Barenberg from Texas Tech gave an attention grabbing lecture. 

The Great War Centennial Commemoration Lecture Series presented “The Great War and the Russian Revolution” on Feb. 4 in the C.J. Davidson Conference Center at ASU.
 Dr. Alan Barenberg, associate professor of history at Texas Tech University, hosted the lecture. 
 “We’re going to focus on a couple of questions,” Barenberg said. “First, what made Russia’s experience of the Great War different? The second thing we’re going to talk about is the legacies from the Soviet Union.”
He said that in order to answer these questions, he was going to focus on three aspects: the overall experience of the war, the state collapse and the emergence of a new kind of state. 
“Russia was the largest state on Earth, and it was also extraordinarily diverse,” Barenberg said. “It was a multifaith, multilinguistic and multinational empire.”
He said Russia was rapidly modernizing and experiencing the spread of literacy and professionalism. 
“This is a society that was rapidly changing,” he said. “Yet, despite all of these changes, it is a great understatement to say that Russia was poorly governed, and also very under-governed.” 
Barenberg said when Russia mobilized and went to war in 1914, things went pretty well at first. 
The Russians quickly recognized that they had a logistical problem with feeding their armies, he said. The Russian military planners reasoned it would be better to try and live off the enemy territory.
“Russia experienced higher casualties,” he said. “This is an essential part of understanding Russia’s experience of the Great War. Higher globalization and higher casualties, which cannot help but have a major effect, not just on the army, but on the civilian population.”
Barenberg said it wasn’t until February of 1917 when active signs of state collapse began to show. 
Russia had two governments in 1917, he said. The first was the provisional government, which was not elected, but instead formed by a group of politicians. This government was liberal and constitutionalist and thought that the war needed to be continued. 
The second government was the Petrograd Revolution. It was elected by the lower-class citizens and was socialist.
This created a power vacuum with no one able to take control. 
“The provisional government, in the summer of 1917, decides that the war needs to be continued to be fought,” Barenberg said. “This, at the urging of the allies, launches an offensive of the Germans, which is disastrous. Most Russians abandoned all optimism or support for this provisional government.”
The crisis deepened over the course of the year and encouraged radical political change. 
“The Bolsheviks know that they have to get out of the war,” he said. “They recognize that the Great War is the cause of the collapse of the Russian Empire.” 
Barenberg said in 1921, a new state was being built, which was unlike any other empire that ever existed. 
“They created a very strange union in which the various minority groups were given national territories, in which they had their own national languages and cultures; not Russian,” he said. “Most importantly, they were to be governed by their own elites.” 
“So, reflecting on Russia’s experience of the war, the takeaways are enormous suffering, widespread mobilization, high casualties and an ongoing process of state collapse,” Barenberg said. 
After the lecture, there was a Q&A session. 
There will be two more Great War series lectures on March 21 and April 9.


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