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Introduction

"— Но поляк стрелял, мой ласковый пан, потому что он — контрреволюция. Вы стреляете потому, что вы — революция. А революция — это же удовольствие. И удовольствие не любит в доме сирот. Хорошие дела делает хороший человек. Революция — это хорошее дело хороших людей. Но хорошие люди не убивают. Значит, революцию делают злые люди. Но поляки тоже злые люди. Кто же скажет Гедали, где революция и где контрреволюция?"

"— But the Poles, my kind sir, were shooting because they are the counterrevolution. You are shooting because you are the revolution. And revolution, why, it's pleasure. And pleasure does not like orphans in the house. Good deeds are done by good people. Revolution is the good deed of good people. But good people do not kill. That means the revolution is done by evil people. But the Poles are also evil people. So who will tell Gedali which is the revolution and which is the counterrevolution?"

- Isaak Babel, "Gedali," Red Cavalry

One hundred years after 1917, the Russian Revolution continues to puzzle, inspire, and horrify. The February Revolution overthrew the monarchy with an ineffectual attempt at democracy in an empire exhausted by World War I. The October Revolution established a one-party dictatorship, sparking a catastrophic civil war and a series of expansionist conflicts that gave birth to a new totalitarian state. The Soviet Union dominated world politics for much of the 20th century and its communist legacy continues to shape the affairs of the region and international relations.

The Revolution held disparate meanings for its defenders, opponents, exploiters, victims and observers. What to some was the means to create paradise on earth, to others was endless, senseless destruction of life, morality, and culture. Where some saw a chance for freedom and equality, others found an opportunity to conquer and rule. What some called the Revolution, others called a coup, an invasion, or simply shifting frontlines. For Gedali, the Jewish shopkeeper caught in the Polish-Soviet War in Babel's story, wartime brutality discredits the morality of either side of the conflict and blurs the ideological differences between them. The Polish, Ukrainian and Belarusian combatants and civilians are not given a voice in the story.