Lumbering late Tsarist Russia and international finance? Is there anything there? The Bolsheviks and finance? How can there be anything there? It turns out that the answer to both questions is yes. In Dr. Hassan Malik
's meticulously researched new book, Bankers and Bolsheviks: International Finance and the Russian Revolution
(Princeton University Press, 2018), the Tsarist government's relationship to foreign investors, mostly French bondholders, becomes a lens to judge the efficacy of Sergei Witte, Russia's reformist finance minister and, briefly, prime minister, in the early 20th century. The same approach is applied on the eve of World War I where the state of international investment in Russia provides a perspective on the existing debate as to whether Russia was on the road to recovery or revolution when World War I broke out. During the war and in 1917, Western bankers generally seem indifferent to the risks that are emerging from Russia. Indeed, an American bank, the forerunner to Citibank, was opening up branches in Russia in late 1917 as the Bolsheviks were taking power. Soviet Russia's repudiation of its Western debts now seems like an obvious and inevitable outcome, but Malik documents how it came about and the debates among the Bolsheviks as to how to handle Russia's government debt. Beyond students of Russian history, readers interested in how governments can fail, and how risk can appear in a financial system thought stable and safe will find this book of great interest.
Daniel Peris is Senior Vice President at Federated Investors in Pittsburgh. Trained as a historian of modern Russia, he is the author most recently of Getting Back to Business: Why Modern Portfolio Theory Fails Investors
. You can follow him on Twitter @Back2BizBook or at http://www.strategicdividendinvestor.com