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All the Russias: The End of an Empire.


Fitzroy Maclean. Viking. 285pp. 25.00.[pounds]

The author, who played a key part in Britain's now controversial role in the rise of Marshal Tito, has been around in what was once the Soviet Union for over 40 years seeing all interesting regions. He enjoys Russia and its turbulent history and, what is more, the Russians and most of the others like him.

It is the perfect coffee table book with 170 splendid colour photographs taken by the author himself, splendid Church domes and fascinating people. It is a straightforward, engagingly written, concentrated history of Russia and its conquests from the Tsarist times to the end of Gorbachev. It shows that in the application and manipulation of power there is not much difference. Peter the Great and Stalin, the same paranoiac brutality, the fate of their sons, and their ruthless policy to open Russia to the West so that it becomes a Great Power, by building up a great army and a big industry, the same central planning based on notions which the West, that had created them, was just shedding.

There is also an extremely informative appendix listing the territories of the late Soviet Union, 15 republics, within them 20 autonomous republics. There were, and are, 169 ethnic groups. The author writes about 22 nationalities giving their locations, numbers, interests, languages and a little about their food, customs, art and industries. After reading that appendix we know what the media are talking about, perhaps a little more. They are all there from Armenians and Belo-Russians to Uzbeks and Ukrainians.

His brief account of the sudden, merciless changes at the top under the Tsars with the Imperial Guard arrogantly interferring, his very dismissive account of Stalin's savage purges and of the Politburo's survival tactics after Stalin shows three permanent aspects of Russian history: there was the Tsar, the Orthodox Church, the Army, the Bureaucracy; there was the Politburo, the Apparatchiks, the Army; secondly, the Communist Regime has created a new class of administrators beside the Appratchiks and almost all people can read and write and watch TV; thirdly these people are now trying desperately to turn themselves into what are now called |businessmen'. But the changes are very difficult in practical terms. This is because the Politburo, in its planning set up all industries concentrated in different territories so that they could not become independent economies and had to rely on Moscow for economic progress and survival. Uzbekistan, for instance, had to concentrate on growing cotton, thus destroying its traditional self-supporting economy. The Tsars never thought of that.

Fitzroy Maclean ends with Yeltsin's efforts to form that meaningless Commonwealth of Independent States. After the 1917 Revolution, he briefly relates how the anti-Imperialist Red Army re-conquered the Tsarist Empire in Asia with its scores of ethnic groups. The Army is still there and events suggest that it still wants Russia to be at least a Big Power, if not a Super-Power. Macleans's End of an Empire shows how difficult and how full of unexpected events such an End can be. The book gives the historical background.
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Author:Muray, Leo
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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