Was the Russian Revolution a Success? Part 2

Last night I had a long discussion with a person who seemed quite intelligent, but still she trotted out the standard line concerning the Russian Revolution that has been propagated by Western media and exiled Russian bourgeois critics since about 1918 – now filled out with all manner of gory details of unmitigated disaster. The revolution was a palace coup undertaken by a small band of intellectuals, Lenin was a sectarian autocrat, Stalin a monster, Russia sank into a new age of barbarism, with massive famines, industrial chaos, rampant killings and decades of sheer terror for the people.

It is reasonably easy to attribute such a narrative to the ingrained ideological and economic fabric of the West’s own justification for existence, especially by those keen to defend a dodgy project. But it is less forgivable for those on the Left to do so. To be sure, the narrative on the Left it has its refinements. I am reading Lenin Reloaded, a collection that seeks to offer a corrective to the perception of Lenin as an autocratic and doctrinaire thug bent on power. But then you get the standard ‘Fall narrative’: at some point the revolution lost its way, retreating first under a disillusioned Lenin in his last years, then completely waylaid by a paranoid Stalin, and then cementing the place of an autocratic new ruling class under Brezhnev.

The problem is that such a Fall narrative has difficulty dealing with some developments during the USSR. To begin with, as Norman Davies argues in his recent Europe at War, 1939-1945,  a key reason why the USSR under Stalin’s leadership won the Second World War was the reorganisation of economic and social life under communism. Leave aside the fact (which I have mentioned before) that he brilliantly led the war effort and drew together the best generals and strategists of the War – Zhukov, Chief of Staff Alexander Vasilevsky, and Chief of Operations Aleksei Antonov, all men of penetrating intelligence, exceptional abilities, and extraordinary character, and all encouraged to be dynamic and innovative, to argue, debate and counsel Stalin himself. Aside from that, the USSR underwent what Davies calls a ‘miraculous’ economic recovery in the midst of the war and after Hitler attacked in a mode of unprecedented viciousness and extermination. Such a recovery was possible only under the reorganisation brought by a communist system.

Further, as George Hallam pointed out in a comment to my earlier post on the Russian Revolution, biometric analysis of data from the time shows that children began to grow taller and weigh more. This is a telltale sign of increased nutrition, more physical activity and healthier lives.

Closely related to this development was kukharka: mass education for women and men. As Robert Allen shows in a recent study (From Farm to Factory, 2003), before the revolution Russia had the same demographic pattern as, for example, India – a high death rate and a higher birth rate. However, the USSR did not have the same population explosion. Why? It had nothing to do with the ‘civil’ war, Second World War or even the famines that came as a result. It was due to the massive increase in education and opportunity for women, who were instrumental in reducing the birth rate at the same time that children became healthier. A crucial factor was the communist feminist movement. If education had been restricted to men and the economic reorganisation had proceeded more slowly, the USSR’s population would have exploded, with dire economic consequences.

A final factor was the more open attitude to sexuality, which makes the West look like a breathless latecomer to the party. That’s the topic for another post, but these developments make the narrative of unmitigated disaster look decidedly untenable.

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35 thoughts on “Was the Russian Revolution a Success? Part 2

  1. Dr Roland,
    I have followed your posts and discussions regarding Chinese and Russian communisms with great interest. I was almost tempted to point to this document (http://critical-thinkers.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/A-Flowchart-to-Help-You-Determine-if-Yoursquore-Having-a-Rational-Discussion.jpg) which illustrates the nature of genuine discussion. But then I realized that the common rules of dialogue were drafted and established by bourgeois Enlightenment rationalist thinkers who were quite probably attempting to secure their own class interests. In this respect, I think it important that you continue to use your own methods of logic and rationality which are clearly untainted by such capitalist endeavors. I think it would also improve your argumentation if you threw in a few “cocks” and “vaginal cavities” here and there, as you so often do in your more serious work.
    Yours truly,
    BW16

  2. Roland, I’d like to ask you three questions which are related to your last two posts on the Russian Revolution.

    1) What is your opinion on Stalin’s extermination of the Bolshevik Party, which happened to lead the Revolution you are concerned with?
    2) What is your opinion on the collectivization war waged against the peasants during the 1930’s?
    3) What do you think would be Lenin’s views on the above two issues?

    There are of course many other issues that come to mind when reading your laudatory comments on Stalin, as for example the Shanghai massacre, the “Social Fascists” strategy in Weimar, the Soviet involvement in Spain, the fate of the Red Army soldiers who came into contact with Western troops during WWII, the Lysenko affair, the contradiction between your depiction of Stalin as a brilliant war strategist and the advance of Nazi troops over a vast area of the USSR with virtually no resistance by the Red Army etc., but I’ll stick to my three questions instead. After all it would be impossible to comment on all the crucial facets of Stalin’s policies in a post or two, since Stalin is by far the most important political figure of the 20th century, and I’m not being ironic about this. Lenin’s political importance compared to Stalin’s, in the context of 20th century history, is minimal, and as for the importance of Marx’s politics in the historical course of the previous century, well, sad bad true as far as I’m concerned, very few people in the Left displayed any kind of interest for Marx’s politics. Perhaps then you will expand your views on Stalin in some future (lengthy) posts and then you will tackle these, and other, themes of Stalin’s career as well.

    1. Alex the Red, you have read my mind, since I am pondering a post called ‘In Defence of Stalin’. But as a taster, the bulk of research on WWII makes it clear that former German generals, employed by the USA (one, engaged in the holocaust, was awarded a medal by the president). In the absence of Soviet material, they peddled the line that the Red Army was a rabble, that the reason why Hitler lost was due to long supply lines and the sheer numbers of untrained soldiers thrown into the Red Army. All that is crap: the Red Amry was highly trained and well disciplined, and the battles waged were done so with extreme precision and tactical originality. Above all, Kursk is still used as a model for tank warfare, being the battle when the might of the German Army was crushed by some very innovative work. Stalin was right in there, involved in planning with his stategists.

      The rest will have to wait, since the collectivisation was unfinished busines for Lenin.

      1. OK Roland, I am looking forward to your post on Stalin.

        Now, regarding your comments on the Red Army and WWII, if you think that I view the contribution of the Red Army to the outcome of WWII as unimportant, then you are wrong. I regard the Red Army – Wermacht clash as the defining moment of WWII. It was the Soviet Union that won this war and saved the world from Nazism. Furthermore, the Soviet Union suffered a death toll in excess of 20 million. No other country paid such a bloody price. One wonders then, why don’t we commemorate what I call the Soviet Holocaust, as we (justly) commemorate the Jewish Holocaust. But then the answer to this is rather obvious.

        PS: Who is Alex the Red?

      2. “the Soviet Union suffered a death toll in excess of 20 million. No other country paid such a bloody price. One wonders then, why don’t we commemorate what I call the Soviet Holocaust, as we (justly) commemorate the Jewish Holocaust. But then the answer to this is rather obvious.”
        I can’t remember when I first heard the word “Holocaust” applied to Hitler’s mass extermination of the Jews. I think it must have been after the 1967 war and possible after the Yom Kippur War. In the UK the term was not widely used until the late 1970’s.
        What I do remember that HMG did what it could to play down what might be called the more sensational aspects of the German Fascism. It seems the reason they did this was because reminding people about such things would make it more difficult to rearm West Germany.
        I hope readers of this blog will forgive me for reminding them of Lord Russell of Liverpool little book, ‘The Scourge of the Swastika’ From the mid 1950’s to well into the late 1960’s this was one of the very, widely available, accounts of Nazi war crimes.
        E.F.L. Russell (not to be confused with Bertrand Russell the philosopher) was a successful lawyer and Deputy Judge Advocate General to the British Army of the Rhine. At the end of the war he was one of the chief legal advisers during Nuremburg trials. Based on this experience he wrote ‘The Scourge of the Swastika’. As a public official he asked for permission to publish it. Permission was refused. The only way he could overcome this obstacle was by resigning his post and so ending his career as a military lawyer. This he did.
        During the Cold War the very idea of mentioning, let alone commemorating, Soviet suffering at the hand was the stuff of nightmares in the IRD. That, at least should be obvious.

      3. Apologies, Allons, I confused you with Red Alex. You’ll find plenty of recognition of the Soviet sacrifice in Russia, but good point given the sheer numbers (it was more like 29 million).

    2. “Social Fascists” strategy in Weimar?

      This expression had been in use for a number of years in the Communist movement before it was included in the Comintern programme at the Sixth World Congress in 1928.

      Bukharin was responsible for the “third period” analysis that underpinned the use of the term “Social Fascist”.

      There is no evidence that Stalin had anything to do with it.

      1. Right. This reminds me of some 19th century muzhiks. “The landowners are treating us awfully. If only our protector the Czar knew what was going on…”

      2. Wrong, 19th century muzhiks don’t come into it.

        This reminds me more of:
        Nicholas N. Kozlov, Eric D. Weitz “Reflections on the Origins of the ‘Third Period’: Bukharin, the Comintern, and the Political Economy of Weimar Germany” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Jul., 1989), pp. 387-410 JSTOR

      1. I am talking about the extermination of those fascist agents that managed to penetrate the party and engaged in sabotage of the production process of the Fatherland. The ones who, Lenin the Idiot, due to his notoriously small capacity for observation and understanding, wasn’t able to spot.

    3. the advance of Nazi troops over a vast area of the USSR with virtually no resistance by the Red Army etc.,

      virtually no resistance??

      Check the Wehrmacht’s casualties for june 1941 to june 1942 (i.e. before Stalingrad).

    4. the Soviet involvement in Spain

      ??? Your point being?

      Perhaps it is to contrast it with the British and French governments’ noninvolvement in Spain (aka non-intervention) that assisted Hitler/Mussolini/Salazar so much?

      The Soviet Union was one of the very few states to assist the Spanish Republic.

      Given the international situation this was a risky thing to do.

      Without Soviet (and Comintern) help Franco would have won a lot sooner.

      1. “http://www.scribd.com/doc/35218676/Furr-Evidence-of-Leon-Trotsky%E2%80%99s-Collaboration”

        This is hopeless. I regard the Marx-was-a-Satanist controversy as intellectually superior.”

        Please supply references so that I may judge for myself.

  3. “Last night I had a long discussion with a person who seemed quite intelligent, but still she trotted out the standard line concerning the Russian Revolution that has been propagated by Western media and exiled Russian bourgeois critics since about 1918”

    SNAP!

  4. “Please supply references so that I may judge for myself.”

    I suppose you mean “supply evidence”. In that case I am really sorry George, but I declare myself unable to supply evidence that Trotsky was not a fascist agent, for the same reason that I cannot supply evidence that Lenin was not of Martian descent or that my grandmother was not a reincarnation, even in an admittedly meek form, of a prehistoric triceratops.

    1. ” I suppose you mean “supply evidence”.”

      I am terriblysorry, I did not make myself clear.

      Please supply references to the Marx-was-a-Satanist controversy so that I may judge its intellectually quality for myself.

  5. Actually the issue of the context of the Spanish Civil War bears repeating here. We have an excellent example of a genuinely revolutionary agenda being put into practice by anarchists/CNT/FAI/etc with some significant success but instead of supporting a revolutionary agenda, it was opposed and opposed violently. If Soviet Russian really supported a revolutionary agenda why not support the anarchists, POUM etc in defending one?

    1. “If Soviet Russian really supported a revolutionary agenda why not support the anarchists, POUM etc in defending one?”

      This is a serious question and deserves a serious answer.

      As you say yourself “the issue of the context of the Spanish Civil War bears repeating here”

      Elections were held in Spain in February 1936. The Popular Front alliance of parties and their Catalonian equivalent, the Left Front, campaigned on a modernising programme of reforms. The ‘right’ was disunited. In terms of votes the result was close: 47.0 percent for the Popular Front , 46.5 percent for the Right parties. In terms of seats the more united PF won a comfortable majority of seats. They formed a government and began to implement their programme.

      The reaction of conservative army officers was to organise a military coup which they launched on July 18th 1936. It was a fiasco. A large section of the military stayed loyal to the elected government as did most of the police and practically the whole of the civil guard. The insurgents did not gain control of the capital or any major population centres in mainland Spain.

      The usual pattern for coups is that an initial setback like this leads rapidly to total failure. Forces loyal to the established government rally, supporters of the insurgents hesitate, the coup falters and collapses. This did not happen in Spain for various reasons. Consider the following two:

      External intervention. Germany supplied Ju 52 transport planes which ferried thousands of experienced insurgent troops from Morocco to mainland Spain. This allowed the insurgent to secure a base on in the South.

      The reaction of the revolutionary ‘Left’ to the coup. This was to launch attacks on the Spanish state as a whole, not just the insurgents. This had two effects. One was military: it disrupted the Government’s efforts to crush the coup. The other was political: ‘revolutionary’ action polarised opinion. This was enormous benefit to the insurgents who could present themselves as the defenders, not just of conservative Spain, but of law and order in general.

      The consequences of all of the above were that:
      The Spanish ‘right’, that had been in disarray, rallied around Franco
      The botched coup turned in a civil war with the anti-government forces backed by a group of fascist powers.
      Britain and France affected non-intervention: actually they favoured the defeat of the elected government.

      Abstractly, the way to revolution was to press forward with an attack on the Spanish state.

      Concretely, the state was split into two parts: the Republican state and the insurgent, fascist state.

      Abstractly, destroying the Republican state would release the revolutionary energies of the masses who would then have no difficulty in defeating the insurgent state.

      Concretely, militarily the insurgents had a number of advantages. Attacks on the Republican state would have tipped balance on the battlefield even more in favour the insurgents. Transforming revolutionary energy into usable military power takes time. From November 1936 Franco’s troops were fighting for control of the University City on the outskirts of Madrid. To most people on the spot at the time, it seemed that any fumbling would have lead to fall of capital.

      Abstractly, revolutionaries make better allies than non-revolutionaries. The obvious choice was to support the anarchists, POUM, etc.

      Concretely, the anarchists, POUM, etc., were not as strong as either reformist republicans or the increasingly united Spanish ‘Right’.

      The much-publicised POUM for example was tiny in comparison to mainstream parties such as the Spanish Socialist Party, the Republican Left or the Republican Union. The latter three won 88, 79 and 34 seats in the February election respectively: the POUM won one seat.

      Following the botched coup the POUM expanded greatly, as did many political groups. However it was still very small.

  6. “Such a recovery was possible only under the reorganisation brought by a communist system.” — It was not a communist system. It was a planned-state-capitalism-fordist system.

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