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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

October revolution: international experts' view

Was the October Revolution unavoidable?  Did the Revolution in 1917 come from within Russia or was it imported? Was the October Revolution a step ahead or a tragic mistake?
1) Was the October Revolution unavoidable?
2) Did the Revolution in 1917 come from within Russia or was it imported?
3) Was the October Revolution a step ahead or a tragic mistake?
   Alexander Rahr, Germany, German Council on Foreign Relations.
1) No, it was avoidable. In reality, the October Revolution was only a putsch by the Bolshevists against the Provisional Government. The real revolution -- in historical terms -- was the February Revolution which brought democratic changes in Russia which happened long before in the rest of Europa.
2) It came from Russia. The German support for Lenin was marginal. The West had not such an influence on Russian interior affriars those days.
3) A tragic mistake, which isolated Russia for 7 decades from the European civilization.
Michael Stuermer, Germany, Die Welt.
1) Modernisation of Russia was necessary and already under way, including key elements of liberal democracy. The October revolution was the product of war and civil unrest, translated into a violent coup.
2) It came from within, but key ideas were imported from outside. There was even a misfit between the ideology which assumed a developed capitalist society, and the state of rural Russia. In grim irony, the revolution created its own conditions - at horrendous cost.
3) A tragic mistake rather, destructive for Russia's masses much as for Russia's elites, combining the worst of the czarist era with the worst of the revolutionary experience. Tragic mistake? Tragic means it was the product of unavoidable and unresolvalbe contradictions - I very much doubt that.
Michael Binyon, UK, The Times.
1) Yes, the October Revolution was unavoidable. The Provisional Government's failure to end the fighting with Germany made it impossible for the non-Bolsheviks to concentrate on urgent domestic reform while soldiers were being killed and money wasted on the war.
2) The Revolution came entirely from within Russia. The fact that several of the leaders, including Lenin, had lived in exile is irrelevant, as almost all the thinking, planning and strategy for the revolution was carried out by Bolsheviks who were entirely a creation of the circumstances within Russia.
3) The October Revolution was regarded at the time as a step ahead, and a liberation from tsarist autocracy. Unfortunately, because of the circumstances in which it took place and the people who led it, it gave birth to a system of even greater tyranny. In hindsight, it is clear that the material achievements could have been achieved just as swiftly and with less bloodshed had there not been a revolution.
Richard Sakwa, UK, University of Kent at Canterbury.
1) There is nothing inevitable in history, and thus the October revolution could probably have been avoided - if different policies had been pursued from 1905; if war had been avoided; if the Provisonal Government had greater legitimacy and efficacy; and if there was not such determined leadership in the form of the Leninist wing of the Bolsheviks.
2) A bit of both. A powerful revolutionary current born in the Enlightenment later fused with the a social agenda and a type of political voluntarism to provide the pattern for revolutionary action. At the same time, a powerful domestic current of revolutionism, criticised by the Veki collection in 1909, merged with the Western revolutionary current, and when the two intersected in Russia in the early twentieth century the spark indeed set the world alight.
3) As often pointed out, history does not make mistakes. The consequences of the revolution for Russia were both tragic and developmental. Who knows what worse tragedies could have been in store for Russia later!
Burkhard Bischof, Austria, Die Presse.
1) It was avoidable, since it was not a Revolution, but rather a communist Putsch. Had the anti-bolshevist February-Revolutionaries and the Russian Army stayed together and not quarreld and intrigued against one another, the Communists might have been defeated und kept under control.
2) It came mainly from within Russia. No doubt, that a majority of Russians were completly fed up with a totally rotten Czarist Regime. But there is also no doubt, that outside forces, mainly Germany, did everything, to fuel Chaos in Russia. The Russian Revolution 1917 can not be understood without the First World War and would very likely not have happened in that year, if there wouldn't have been the background of the European slaughter going on at that time.
3) It was not a step ahead, but one of the many tragic mistakes under which the Russian people suffered terrible in their history. But not only the Russians suffered under the Bolshevic Regime but all other people in Eastern Europa and Central Asia as well. The Bolshevic path was the bloodiest of all alternatives, one could imagne for the developements after February 1917.
Jan Carnogursky, Slovakia, former Prime Minister.
1) After the afflictions of the First World War a revolution was unavoidable. Only, it did not have to be the Bolshevik revolution, for example, if the Provisional government would be stronger.
2) Internal tensions were Russian, the ideology was imported. The October revolution reflects Russia's danger to adopt Western ideas and then adapt them to absurdity. Communism then, the oligarchs now, just to mention two examples.
3) Victory in World War II gave the October revolution a historical legitimacy.
Orietta Moscatelli, Italy, Apcom news agency.
1) It was unavoidable in ‘global terms', a sort of Bing bang that had been underlying the Russian society, and to a big extent the international balances, and that was finally ignited by the First World War. It takes surely a more in depth reflection to establish whether it was unavoidable the way it went: in this perspective, I think the decisive factor was Lenin's role, as a leader capable to ‘seize the moment' and push forward.
2) Again, in 1917 the international order - and essentially Europe after the war - was ready for a radical break. Without the War there would have not been the Russian revolution, not at that time and with that lightening-speed.  The need for a radical change was looming, not only in Russia, and it would be dangerously reductive to describe the October revolution as a coup d'Etat, though the Russian scenario was the detonator.  The ‘two powers' scheme after the February Revolution and the end of the Tzarist rule accelerated the events: the provisional governement on one side and the Soviet assembly on the other, in a situation of absolute emergency (hunger, social destructuration, expectations in the rural world, all mixed up by the consequences of the war). In this undecided and undecisive scenario, Lenin's ability to act, to embody the necessity of a principle for a new order became the winning factor. 
3) The October revolution was first af all a deep break in the global order, and a badly needed one. It certainly got up to repression, after liberation, and to a new totalitarian system after breaking an old one. But it freed, and channeled at the same time, the need of wide masses to emancipate, to change the structure of society and, not least, mentalities. In this sense it's useless, and impossible, to think in terms of better with or without.
Arnaud Dubien, France, Russia Intelligence.
1) Historians are still debating this issue. To my mind, the revolution was inevitable because Russia had a weakened state and a feeble government in conditions of war, and because the Bolshevik Party offered a clear program and strategy and was determined to seize power. I think that from this standpoint, the revolution was inevitable.
2) Of course, the revolution was pre-determined by the domestic context. This is evidenced by the fact that the first "victorious" socialist revolution took place in Russia. Amongst other things, Tsarist Russia had lost its military might. Moreover, centuries of serfdom and other factors embedded in Russian history also facilitated the revolution. On the other hand, the Bolsheviks could be seen as children of the French Revolution's Jacobinism, as well as Marxism - both ideological products of the West. More anecdotally, one can recall German funding for the Bolsheviks and the fact that Germany allowed Vladimir Lenin to cross the Russian border. I would call it a typically Russian revolution with several foreign ideological elements.
3) In the global context, the Soviet experience was tragic. Hopes raised by the revolution were eventually dashed. Historians are still trying to find out when exactly everything started going wrong. Were collectivization, the purges of the 1930s and other tragic episodes of Soviet history inevitable aspects of the initial Bolshevik program? I do not think that things could have turned out differently. The situation had been pre-determined by the Bolshevik doctrine and concept of power. However, there were some even more unpredictable factors, including the personality of Josef Stalin.
Mary Dejevsky, UK, The Independent.
1) Was it inevitable? - yes, because it happened.
2) I suppose it had its social roots in Russia, had its ideological roots abroad - in marxism - and was quickly 'russified', at least in part because its appeal to equality and communality tapped into the russian concept of sobornost'.
3) It depends who you were. if you were an aristocrat, successful businessman or intellectual in the traditional mould, it was a tragic mistake. if you were a worker or 'ordinary' peasant, with no hope of improving your lot under the tsarist system, it was probably a step ahead, at least temporarily. If you look back now, and consider Russia's state of development and urban living standards on the eve of the revolution, and compare it with conditions in Russia - and its comparable international position - in 1991, it looks like a tragic mistake.
Eric Hoesli, Switzerland, Edipresse,
1) In my opinion, this question seems a bit far-fetched because we should first acknowledge whether all the previous events of Russian history, including its involvement in World War I were inevitable. All of them followed in quick succession.
2) I do not think an event that caused such great upheaval could have been imported into Russia. This is nonsense reeking of a foreign-conspiracy theory. In reality, the national situation had caused the Revolution, although some foreign forces tried to take advantage of it and manipulate some of its elements. It is obvious that the October Revolution is a product of Russian history.
3) In short, high hopes brought about by the Revolution ended in terrible tragedy. You may be interested to know that our school textbooks no longer portray the Russian Revolution as a landmark event. We now think that it did not usher in a new era, but rather that it is a deviation from Russian history. We are changing our opinion of the Revolution, the counter-revolution, the White Guards and Vladimir Lenin. People tend to reexamine history in the context of the present-day situation and I think our current opinion of the Revolution reflects modern developments.
Taha Al-Weli, Syria, journalist. 1) Yes, it was inevitable, due to long brewing social unrest.
2) All Russian politicians of that time were members of the upper classes and therefore spent a lot of time living and studying abroad. Consequently, all of their ideas were borrowed from foreign countries. It was not a Russian idea, and thus, unlike previous sporadic rebellions in Russia, the October Revolution had its own concept and plan.
3) This is a debatable issue because the Revolution deprived Russia of many cultural values and stifled society's cultural development for a long time. To be more precise, it eroded the idea of a "social elite". Moreover, the emerging lumpen-proletariat, or the Great Unwashed, that had extremely low cultural and moral standards, began to think of themselves as kings.
Mohammad Al-Ahmad, Syria, Professor, Ph. D. (History).
1) I think so. As you know, the first Russian Revolution in 1905 failed to accomplish all of its objectives, and the questions it raised were not addressed. This foreshadowed the 1917 Revolution - the latter became inevitable because unsolved problems were allowed to accumulate.
2) First and foremost, it was a result of internal developments. The revolution was caused by the domestic political crisis and aggravated nationwide problems.
3) If we perceive the Revolution as a phenomenon, then we can say that it was a progressive step for Russia, but it did not achieve all its goals. Consequently, the October 1917 Revolution was never completed.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bolshevik revolution: national disaster or midwife of history?

11–01–2007 – MOSCOW (RIA Novosti political commentator Boris Kaimakov) - With the 90th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution just days away, many in Russia look back on this major upheaval in the country's history, trying to reassess its controversial legacy. Some view it as a man-made disaster that claimed millions of innocent lives and ended in a dictatorship. Others consider it to be a positive undertaking, an attempt to create a state driven by social justice. The Levada Center, one of Russia's leading pollsters, has recently conducted a survey to find out more about how this historic event is perceived by the general public. Some 31% of those interviewed credited the Bolshevik revolution with spearheading Russia's economic and social progress. As many as 26% of the respondents said it had helped Russia turn over a new leaf. About 16% argued that it had been a major impediment to the nation's development, while 15% described it as a national disaster. Around 12% gave the "don't know" answer. The Levada Center's survey suggests that the majority of Russians regard the Bolshevik revolution as a progressive and positive event. Which is, perhaps, one of the reasons why the mummified body of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin still lies in state in the Mausoleum. The post-Communist ruling elite are in no hurry to rebury the iconic revolutionary as they fear such a step will provoke a public outcry. Monuments to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin were knocked off their pedestals overnight in 1956, following Nikita Khrushchev's public condemnation of his predecessor's political repressions. Effigies of Lenin, by contrast, still remain in place in many cities and towns across the country. And the faithful continue to pay homage and lay flowers in an expression of an almost religious piety for their communist idol. Students of Lenin's works will come across a lot of discrepancies and inconsistencies in his writings, as well as examples of downright cynicism, utter contempt for human life, and what we would now recognize as PR tricks. But the aggressive style of his polemics and his analytical reasoning possess some galvanizing power that is hard to resist. Social upheavals often bring forth leaders with a special talent for rallying the masses behind them. Lenin galvanized crowds in 1917 as he jumped on a personnel carrier to speak about his vision for a communist revolution. And Soviet leader Boris Yeltsin, speaking to his audience from the top of a tank, set forth guidelines for a new, democratic Russia following the August 1991 putsch. Such historical parallels reveal a single pattern, making it easier for us to make sense of our past. Both Lenin and Yeltsin started out their political careers from a low base, and it was their populist rhetoric, voiced at the right time and in the right place, that quickly propelled them to prominence. Lenin's slogan "Land to Peasants" struck a cord with Russia's predominantly rural populace, bringing him an overwhelming victory over the hearts and minds. Yeltsin called for democracy at a moment when the nation was ready to move away from totalitarianism to a freer society, and only lacked a leader to show the way. There has been a lot of debate lately over the extrajudicial character of the regime change initiated by the Bolsheviks, with some analysts arguing that the October event should be categorized as a coup. But I believe the term "revolution" is more appropriate, if only because its masterminds had a thought-out plan of action, as well as a clear vision for the country's post-revolutionary future. More often than not, people staging regime change have no respect for the law, and many of them could even be classified as criminals. But in politics, everything depends on the perspective. Governed by the winner-takes-all principle, those who seize power will demonize leaders they have just deposed. So if the 1991 putsch to oust Mikhail Gorbachev had been a success, the hardliners who orchestrated that coup would have surely proclaimed themselves saviors of the nation while vilifying Yeltsin as a criminal. But whatever tricks politicians may use to conceal the true nature of things, their creed and motives become apparent after a short while. Lenin was trying to build in Russia a communist utopia he ardently believed in. His successor Stalin had no communism-related illusions when he came to power, but he sought to create a powerful autocratic state through industrialization and the collectivization of farms. The October "coup" was preceded by a peaceful revolution in February. It is probably true that if not for the bloody follow-up, the birth of the Russian republic would have been much less painful. The difference between these two events could be illustrated using a medical analogy. The former treated Russia as a competent obstetrician, whereas the latter behaved more like a backstreet midwife, performing a Cesarean section without proper instruments or skills. A lot of historical injustices can be blamed on the Bolsheviks, but their greatest crime was to slay all those who stood in the way. The famous Russian poet Alexander Blok believed there was a profound mystical meaning behind the Bolshevik revolution. In his poem "The Twelve," the first poetic attempt to make sense of the event, he presented it as an act initiated by the twelve disciples of Jesus. Russia plunged into revolutionary violence for the sake of a blissful future. And it went to Calvary, hoping its martyrdom would help the communist utopia materialize. In hindsight, it looks like the October revolution was a curse rather than a blessing to the Russian nation. Ninety years of solitude...

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