The Parting of Ways: Comparing the Russian Revolutions of 1917 and 1991

  • Edward Acton
Part of the Themes in Focus book series (TIF)


‘A legend widely known in Russia,’ wrote Alexander Herzen in the mid-nineteenth century,

tells how a Tsar, suspecting his wife of infidelity, shut her and her son in a barrel and then had the barrel sealed up and thrown into the sea. For many years the barrel floated on the waves.

Nevertheless the Tsarevich grew, and his feet and his head began to press against the ends of the barrel. Every day he became more and more cramped. One day he said to his mother: ‘Queen-mother, allow me to stretch to the full length of my limbs.’ ‘My son, the Tsarevich,’ answered the mother, ‘beware of doing what you say: the barrel will burst and you will perish in the salt waves.’

The Tsarevich thought in silence for a while; then he spoke again: ‘I shall stretch, Mother; better to stretch for once in freedom and perish at once.’

‘That legend’, Herzen concluded, ‘contains our whole history.’1


Shock Therapy National Sovereignty Welfare Provision Union Republic Russian Revolution 
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Notes and References

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© Edward Acton 2001

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  • Edward Acton

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