A century on, the Russian Revolution still looms like a shadow from the past. Rather surprisingly, in a way, since the Cold War has been over for nearly three decades. Yet there is something enduringly fascinating and even romantic about the Russian Revolution: the collapse of tsarism, the mass uprising of the Russian people against oppression in the eventual triumph of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, and the establishment of the world’s first workers’ state.
This romanticized view, however, is somewhat compromised when read alongside the rise of Stalin and apparatus of state murder and brutality on an unprecedented scale. (Most historians today would agree that the origins of Stalinism are found in Lenin and Trotsky.) Not that Stalin lacked apologists in the West. Notably amongst them was Eric Hobsbawm, the British historian who, whilst defending Stalinism and Stalin himself, was able to summon enough of his principles to reject the offer of a British knighthood. To give you an idea of the man who the British establishment continue to admire, when asked in an interview if Stalin’s political vision of a “radiant tomorrow” had been achieved, would it have been worth the cost of 20 million human lives, he replied with a terse but confident “yes.”
Yet for progressively minded people with an ounce of decency, defending Stalinism became increasingly difficult by the 1950s. Consequently, there arose a tendency to see the Russian revolution as a tragedy of sorts, but one of betrayal in the years following the revolution itself, specifically in the ascendancy of Stalin. The English writer and left-wing activist, China Miévillenot long ago summed it up this way: “Why does the revolution matter? Because of what was right about it, and what went wrong.”
To my mind, this is not unreasonable, even if a little unoriginal. Certainly there are lessons to be learned here, for instance, on how the impersonal machinations of a state bureaucracy can be a source and architect of evil in its own right.
Read more at Crisis Magazine.