Review: The Black Horse, by Boris Savinkov

Boris Savinkov was possibly the most dangerous man in Russia. A leading figure in the Socialist Revolutionary Party’s Combat Organisation, he was the scourge of the Romanovs in their final years. When the tsarist regime finally collapsed, Savinkov fell in with the Kerensky government, and supported its policy of continuing Russian involvement in the World War. This was to prove its downfall.

Following the Bolshevik coup d’etat in November 1917, Savinkov went into opposition, organising armed resistance to the new Communist government. He allied himself with foreign governments, monarchists and other dodgy characters. This novel — his last before his capture by the Cheka and execution — tells the story of men like himself, and Makhno and Antonov, who strove to lead peasant rebellions against the Soviets.

The book is a fast-paced, honest account of what he saw. Its violence is unflinching and horrifying. Several times when the narrator, the commander of one of the “Green” partisan groups, sees something he disapproves of among his men, he casually orders them to be flogged, hanged or shot. In the end he realises that not much separate his “bandits” from their enemies, as both sides engage in a merciless fight to the death. A compelling novel — and what a pity that it can only be found today in a few libraries.