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Is There Anything We Can Learn From the Russian Revolution?

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I guess I’m pretty skeptical to the above question except that this essay reinforces my belief that radical groups (and maybe everyone I guess) mostly create ideology to justify their current positions rather than allow their actions to be shaped by ideology.

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  • Ahuitzotl

    There seems to be a massive unexamined assumption buried in the lead paragraph. Why is it being assumed that it was a disaster, that might have been avoided?

    I agree that there might have been superior outcomes to the one that obtained, but I dont see the revolution (either of them) as a disaster: not after examining Tsarist rule, anyway.

    • Malaclypse

      Perhaps the Thermidoran reaction phase was the disaster?

      • Simeon

        Trotskyite propaganda notwithstanding, the idea that the purge of Trotsky and his faction was in any way comparable to the fall of the Jacobins is ludicrous. It’s simply an attempt by Trotsky to flatter himself by drawing an analogy between himself and Robespierre. If anyone deserves to be compared to Robespierre, it’s Stalin.

        • Malaclypse

          Trostskyist, comrade.

          • sharculese

            No, I want LGM to become a place where we all hiss about the Trot menace through clenched teeth.

            • sibusisodan

              Be careful what you eat when abroad.

              Ah, my mistake. That’s the Trots menace.

              • c u n d gulag

                Also, too:
                “Be careful what you eat when a broad.” *
                And what you drink.
                Unscrupulous men might be spiking things.

                *I kid.
                Maybe…

                • AlanInSF

                  If you’re going to assassinate Rasputin, do it a whole bunch of times right at the start.

    • wengler

      I was trying to understand that as well. For all the human cost(which was substantial), the Revolution modernized the country through crash industrialization and a universal education system. The Soviet bureaucracy also successfully evacuated the entire military industrial sector to the Urals after the Nazis invaded. Can anyone imagine the Tsarist regime defeating the Germans?

      • Scott P.

        For all the human cost(which was substantial), antebellum slavery created a wealthy, educated citizen body that produced a huge amount of economic growth and investment. The South also gave us Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas Macarthur and Chester Nimitz. Can anyone imagine the Cherokee or the Creek defeating the Germans?

        • wengler

          That’s a fun substitution other than being substantially incorrect. Slavery created a large amount of wealth for a priviliged few but it kept the South from building heavy industry or even having a large city outside of New Orleans.

          I don’t quite know what you are getting at with military leaders. Maybe they are so extraordinary that we are forever indebted to them? I would argue that they were competent enough to use the extraordinary manufacturing advantage the US had.

          • Brett

            Slavery generated wealth for far more than a privileged fuel. The cotton it produced fueled industry in the northern US and Great Britain, including hundreds of thousands of jobs.

            But in any case, it’s a false dichotomy. We can imagine alternatives to the Tsarist regime aside from the one we got.

            • wengler

              We can imagine Iraq as a flourishing liberal democracy too.

      • J. Otto Pohl

        Is crash industrialization, however, the best way to achieve “modernization.”? Given the huge human costs of Leninist attempts it seems dubious. The USSR was successful in industrializing and bringing about universal education, but China under Mao and places like Ethiopia much less so. The only Leninist state to achieve a high degree of modernization without mass terror was Cuba. But, the fact that it avoided mass terror puts the necessity of such measures in the USSR and other places in doubt.

        Absent the Bolshevik Revolution it is highly doubtful that WWII would play out exactly as it did in reality. The butterfly effect of removing those variables make it impossible to say exactly what would have happened. But, one possibility is that there is no Second World War because Germany is not defeated in the first one hence no Hitler and no Operation Barbarossa.

        • wengler

          This is why historical counterfactuals are so difficult. It is doubtful that the Germans would have won the war though, since they couldn’t even after peace with the Bolsheviks.

          Crash industrialization is costly and cannot be done without revolutionary zeal combined with a highly coercive state. It’s certainly not the best way to achieve a modern state, but it’s one way.

  • Simeon

    Is there anything we can learn from the events that created what was at the time the most progressive society on the face of the planet (later to be surpassed, of course)? The first mass attempt to move beyond capitalism? Well, gee, what lessons could there possibly be in something like that?

    I’ll admit that probably more directly pertinent to modern events are the lessons to be learnt from the collapse of the Soviet Union (the greatest human rights tragedy of the past 50 years).

    • John F

      that created what was at the time the most progressive society on the face of the planet

      I just did a spit-take there

      (the greatest human rights tragedy of the past 50 years).

      and then Poe?

      • ExpatJK

        I would call the collapse of the USSR and what followed, e.g. Chechnya, Transnistria, etc, a human rights tragedy. The greatest one of the past 50 years? Not sure about that, nor about the point of establishing “the worst tragedy evah!”, but definitely numerous human tragedies did follow the breakup of the USSR. That these tragedies resulted from policies implemented during the USSR’s existence is neither here nor there.

    • Hogan

      At exactly what historical point was the Soviet Union “the most progressive society on the face of the planet”?

      • rhino

        Probably for about 45 seconds in a few Revolutionaries fevered dreams, before reality happened.

      • Captain C

        About three minutes after the brown acid kicked in.

      • Malaclypse

        Right after crushing the Kronstadt rebellion.

      • njorl

        After, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” was adopted, but before, “The party shall define who has what abilities and needs.”

      • burritoboy

        I think the USSR was a horrific and ill-advised experiment (even in theory), but, yes, it probably was the most progressive society on the face of the planet for quite a substantial period of time. That it didn’t remain the most progressive society is a more salient problem.

        • LeeEsq

          I’d argue that the Soviet Union was superficially progressive. On the surface, the Bolsheviks did create a lot of substantial social reforms during the 1920s like legalizing abortion, training women to do jobs previously reserved for men and more. These reforms never worked their way down to the rather patriarchal culture that still existed in Russia. As more ordinary Russians, the ones who weren’t Communist before the Revolution, rose through the ranks the more conservative Soviet social policy became.

          • ExpatJK

            Well, I think it was more than superficially progressive. It had many progressive and many not progressive elements. I wouldn’t conclude it was “the most progressive” (for one, how are we judging this? what are the metrics for greater or lesser progressive-ness?), but certainly it was in some areas. Women’s rights and job opportunities were a big one, also widespread literacy including extension to the peasantry who never had such opportunities in imperial Russia. As for not progressive: purges, Holodomor, forced deportations, gulags, the list can go on.

            Also, it’s worth remembering that the USSR was not completely monolithic, esp as the years wore on, and different SSR leaders were more or less progressive in some respects. For ex abortion and Ceaucescu in Romania.

            • J. Otto Pohl

              The Soviet Socialist Republics themselves had very little political autonomy. Their main differentiation was in cadre policy and the creation of networks of corruption. Each of the Central Asian and Caucasian republics had their own ruling “mafias.” The satellite states in Central Europe and the Balkans like Romania had considerably more ability to pursue individual policies.

              • ExpatJK

                Thanks for the correction.

          • burritoboy

            Even if it was superficially progressive (which I don’t agree is true), none of the other governments of the time – at least until the mid 1930s at the earliest – had even a remote pretense of being progressive.

            • ExpatJK

              True, I think Sweden began adopting progressive policies around the 1930s, but not much earlier?

              Also, despite its many failings and murderous policies, there’s also a case to be made for the USSR inspiring progressive policies in other countries.

            • Teddy Fucking Roosevelt

              Well fuck me like a walrus.

            • Manny Kant

              I feel like this very much depends how you are defining “progressive.” Obviously you can definite it in a Marxist-Leninist way, in which case of course the Soviet Union was the most progressive state in the world. But I’m not sure why you’d want to do that. By any other standard it’s hard for me to see how the USSR was particularly progressive.

          • Mellano

            Yes, superficial at best. An undemocratic revolutionary police state can be progressive in the same way “separate but equal” is equal.

    • J. Otto Pohl

      This is one major reason I am not a progressive.

      • Malaclypse

        Because some dude on a blog said something silly?

        Well, that’s a sort of a reason, I suppose…

        • Don’t you know, we are all Soviet-loving communists keeping Otto out of an academic job in the United States.

          • Malaclypse

            I still remember when Otto said it was due to people just like me – you know, washed-out adjuncts – that kept him from tenure.

            • wjts

              Wait, what?

              • Malaclypse

                Yep. My fault. Me, and people like me. The link got lost in the Great Laptop Meltdown of 2014.

                • wjts

                  Oh, no! I’m in the process of washing out, but if the consequences are so dire then I guess I should reconsider.

                • Malaclypse

                  Joking aside, washing out was the best career move I ever made. That said, the process was wrenching, so my best wishes that your situation works out as best it can.

                • wjts

                  Thanks. We’ll see. I’m ABD at this point, and I’ve given myself a year to finish up. Exactly what I’m supposed to do with myself at this point if I don’t go into academia is the question.

                • Hogan

                  I went out ABD 25 years ago (with two chapters in the can), and I’ve never looked back.

                • Linnaeus

                  I’ve been washing out for several years now. Still working on it. Crazy, I know.

          • wengler

            I reported directly to the commissar of education.

        • Because some dude on a blog said something silly?

          Live by the silly comment; overreact to the silly comment.

      • Hogan

        Oh c’mon, man, doesn’t it warm your heart to see all these hardcore leftists dumping on Lenin?

      • AlanInSF

        Why are you judging Progressives on the communist sympathies of blog commenters rather than on the policies of Woodrow Wilson’s administration?

  • c u n d gulag

    A lot of people don’t know that after trying to collectivize agriculture right after the Revolution – and it leading to bread and food riots in many cities – Lenin ok’d capitalism, allowing farmers and others to sell their products independently.

    This worked so well, that when he died, Stalin had to kill that program, and force collectivization on the masses – at the cost of ten’s of millions of lives, of which a good chunk were Ukrainian.

    Read “The Harvest of Sorrow:”
    http://www.amazon.com/The-Harvest-Sorrow-Collectivization-Terror-Famine/dp/0195051807

    • Katya

      Tim Snyder also discusses the horrors of collectivization in Ukraine in Bloodlands.

    • LeeEsq

      The world would have been a better place if NEP was allowed to continue and Nikolai Bukharin rather than Stalin became the leader of the Soviet Union. The result was that the USSR might have ended up more like the post-Mao PRC. It would be a one party state with a fair amount of rotation within its leadership. Heavy industry would be controlled by the state but agriculture and light industry and commerce would be private preventing the famines caused by forced collectivization.

      • Malaclypse

        There’s also a good chance that this hypothetical leads to a state far better able to fight Nazis. I don’t think Bukharin had the stomach for Stalin’s endless, stupid purges.

        But that, of course, is pretty much why Bukharin did not become the leader.

        • John F

          I think that was the main problem with Lenin’s model- it almost guaranteed that the most amorally ruthless individual was the one to rise to the top.

          • That is an excellent point.

            • The Temporary Name

              I can’t remember how many offices Stalin held, but I wonder how different things would have been if those positions were not collectible. It was Lenin’s doing to allow multiple roles because he didn’t like opposition at various points. What’s surprising was that Stalin was so awful, not that some sharp-eyed brute would take advantage of the machinery.

          • DrS

            I had no idea that Leninism was so similar to the modern corporation

            • Hogan

              After the revolution Lenin became a big fan of Frederick Winslow Taylor, which should tell you something.

          • cpinva

            “I think that was the main problem with Lenin’s model- it almost guaranteed that the most amorally ruthless individual was the one to rise to the top.”

            gee, where have I heard that concept, in nicer terms, elucidated before? hmmmmmmmmmmmm, think, think, think! oh, the thinks we can think! ok, I’m thinking it starts with an “L”.

            ok, right from the start, I had a big problem with your headline, prof. Loomis: which particular Russian Revolution were you focusing on? there were at least two, probably more like 3 or 4, between the collapse of the Tsarist regime (mostly due to its disastrous handling of the eastern front against Germany, and the fact that it was already in a precarious position) in 1917, and the final takeover, by Vlad & the gang, in 1921.

            I note, at least as far as I read, no mention made of the attempts, by the U.S., and European countries, to militarily subvert the Lenin-led Russian revolution, not unlike the attempts, a century earlier, of the remaining European monarchies, to destroy the French revolution and Napoleon.

            man, history is repeating itself faster and faster!

          • DrDick

            Good point. I have argued for a while now that the Soviet era states (not just the Soviet Union) were far more Leninist than Marxist.

            • J. Otto Pohl

              Marx’s writing had very little about a blueprint for building a socialist state. But, what it did have in its copious analysis of capitalism and class relations was a definite conclusion that a proletarian revolution needed a proletariat and more than an aspirational minority proletariat. It needed a strong working class in an already industrialized country like Germany or England. In the Russian Empire rather than have a proletariat lead a revolution and create a socialist state you had a vanguard party sieze power and use the state to create a working class out of the peasantry. Later Leninist inspired revolutions in China and Vietnam are even less proletarian and more peasant based. Marx unlike Mao did not assign the peasantry an important revolutionary role. Capitalism was supposed to have already largely eliminated their importance in favor of the urban proletariat. So yes the whole Soviet model of industrializing after the revolution rather than before is Leninist and anti-Marxist in this sense.

              • DrDick

                Right. The limited hints we do have indicate he favored some kind of socialist syndicalist system, like the Paris Commune. Again, this was never really worked out at all. Marx would have been horrified by the thought that the communist revolutions occurred in Russia and China.

          • J. Otto Pohl

            Creating a dictatorship of the proletariat in a country where 80% of the population lived in the countryside by definition required a huge amount of violence. Industrializing and creating a working class required the forced extraction of wealth from the countryside. This doesn’t get fully into the national issue. But, when Lenin declared a Worker’s and Peasant’s state it left no room for Kazakh nomads, Chechen highlanders, Volga German yeoman farmers, and other people who were neither workers or peasants. So from the start there are serious problems in Lenin’s deviation from the orthodox Marxist position that the workers’ revolution had to take place in an industrial state with a numerically strong working class.

            • Malaclypse

              Yep. When you sell your revolution with the slogan “Peace and Land,” then shooting all the SRs and taking away the land is not likely to end well.

              • LeeEsq

                Most of the Russian peasants didn’t want to engage in collective socialist agriculture. They wanted to own and farm their own land. This land ownership was kind of contradictory towards the Bolshevik’s ideas about socialism.

                • Brett

                  That tends to be typical of peasant revolts and populist movements, like the Zapatistas in early 20th century Mexico, the Arbenz-era Guatemalan government, and so forth. Lots of support for breaking up old plantations and feudal estates into parcels of land that the peasantry can then individually own and farm (often working together in cooperative arrangements as well to afford machinery and other stuff).

                  It’s a good thing in terms of industrialization, as well. Poor farmers on their own land can produce pretty high yields through labor-intensive gardening on small plots if they have some further assistance in access to machinery, seeds, and information, and they form a consumer base for industries as well as a source of savings for nascent banks.

            • LeeEsq

              This. The society of the Russian Empire was very diverse. You had big, ultra-modern industrial cities that fit rather well in Marxist theory like Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Odessa and than you had a diverse rural society that included traditional nomadic cultures in central Asia, the most religious and traditional peasantry in a Christian-majority country, and everything in-between. These groups didn’t fit into Marxism and the Bolsheviks had to find a way to force the groups in.

          • Simeon

            The liberal mind: “This statement says something negative about communism/communists, ergo it must be true.”

        • LeeEsq

          Bukharin wouldn’t even see the need for endless, stupid purges. The Soviet military would remain in the hands of people that new what they were doing rather than party hacks. There probably wouldn’t even be a temporary alliance with the Nazis in the first place.

          The only person more disastrous than Stalin would have been Trotsky. It would have combined the worst features of Stalin’s domestic policy with even more foreign adventurism.

          • burritoboy

            Trotsky was, however, the much better military commander and much more clearly understood what the Nazi regime was up to.

            • Malaclypse

              However, Churchill loathed Trotsky, much more than he disliked Stalin. I’m not certain Britain allies with a Trotsky-led USSR, especially given that Trotsky did not believe in socialism in one nation.

              • ExpatJK

                That’s possible, though given the threat from Hitler he might have. Of course, without Stalin there may have been no Nazi/Soviet pact and who knows how that would have affected Hitler’s war plans.

                • Malaclypse

                  I think a Trotsky-led USSR goes all in backing (and subverting) the German Marxists in the 1920s. WW2 starts a decade earlier, allied against Russia. Hitler never attacks Poland or Czechoslovakia, and is seen as a necessary evil against the existential threat of Bolshevism. Later, historians blame Truman for being weak at Yalta and giving Hitler the lebensraum he clearly wanted.

                • rea

                  Later, historians blame Truman for being weak at Yalta and giving Hitler the lebensraum he clearly wanted.

                  Potsdam, surely.

                • Malaclypse

                  Nope. FDR dies earlier, because mumblty, mumblty, I can’t believe I wrote the wrong fucking conference, reasons.

                • Simeon

                  Malaclypse says that a Trotsky-led USSR magically avoids the need to rebuild after the Civil War, allowing it to engage in whatever flights of fancy Trotsky’s fevered mind could dream up. Truly, the power of Comrade Lev is limitless!

              • Manny Kant

                Did he loathe Trotsky more than he loathed Satan? Since he at least promised a kind word for Lucifer if Hitler invaded hell (I suppose, more practically, the question would be whether he hated Trotsky more than he hated Hitler).

      • J. Otto Pohl

        Hosking argues that had Bukharin’s ideas triumphed that the USSR would have looked a lot like Yugoslavia economically after it decollectivized agriculture in 1948.

        • humanoid.panda

          The problem with this line of argumentation is that it presumes that the political culture of the Bolsheviks would have allowed someone like Bukharin to come to power. That is, at best, a dubious proposition.

          • J. Otto Pohl

            I don’t see where Hosking argues that the Bolsheviks would have allowed Bukharin or someone like him to come to power. Could you provide a citation? I am relying mainly on The First Socialist Society. He is speculating on what such policies might have looked like using the evidence of what happened in Yugoslavia after Tito’s reforms. He also makes some comparisons to Poland after it decollectivized agriculture in the late 1950s. He is using a comparative approach to show what the logical conclusion of Bukharin’s policies might have looked like.

            • Malaclypse

              How do Bukharin’s ideas come to power without Bukharin himself coming to power?

              • J. Otto Pohl

                They don’t, it is purely an alt-history type speculation that requires altering a major variable. But, it shows how they would have looked in practice in the absence of this obstacle.

                • humanoid.panda

                  I was thinking more of Stephen Cohen’s work than Hosking’s, but it is the basic flaw of all sorts of “all but Stalin thinking”: there is no way anyone but Stalin or someone very similar to Stalin comes to power in the political culture of late 20th century Bolshevism. Anyone who is entertaining even soft alt-history thoughts along this lines and doesn’t grapple with this issue as he is developing his scenario is not being a good historian.

          • Manny Kant

            I’d imagine that if Stalin dies in some sort of sudden, unexpected accident some time between 1926 and 1928, Bukharin and Rykov probably take over. Trotsky and Zinoviev/Kamenev were already marginalized by that point, and Stalin’s full on cronies like Molotov weren’t really prominent enough to be plausible candidates.

      • wengler

        This is quite the counterfactual. My reading of Lenin is that if he would have lived longer he would’ve joyfully ended NEP and put the ‘NEP men’ up against the wall as soon as the country was well capitalized again.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          Historically, for the USSR it is counterfactual because Bukharin was shot and as others pointed out the political economy necessitated the development of something similar to Stalinism. But, more or less permanent NEP type policies were institued in other socialist states such as Yugoslavia, Poland, and Hungary.

        • Manny Kant

          I agree that Lenin didn’t intend for the NEP to be permanent, but he also generally didn’t execute old Bolshevik comrades, or really purge them all that much. Zinoviev and Kamenev were constantly disagreeing with him on all kinds of things, iirc, and he kept letting them back into the fold.

          • wengler

            Zinoviev and Kamenev were left Bolsheviks though. The NEP men weren’t old comrades. Hell, even Trotsky was looked down upon for being a late Bolshevik.

  • Jerry Vinokurov

    I guess this article satisfies some fetish for hashing out minute and ultimately irrelevant ideological details that some leftists have. It’s hard to see what purpose it serves beyond that.

    • AlanInSF

      If by fetish, you mean “studying one of the most significant yet least understood upheavals of the past century.” Calling the difference between Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky an irrelevant ideological detail is like calling the difference between the Union and the Confederacy in the War of Treason in Defense of Slavery an irrelevant ideological detail.

      • I’m genuinely curious, as a reader of history: what makes the Russian Revolution(s) “one of the … least understood upheavals of the past century”?

        It’s not all that mysterious, is it?

        • Linnaeus

          Well, it’s a lot more complicated than it’s often presented to be. Heck, no one’s even mentioned the SRs yet!

          • cpinva

            what Linnaeus said.

          • J. Otto Pohl

            The SRs are not what makes it particularly complicated. Rather it is the fact that on top of a White-Red and Red-Red conflict there is also a Black-Red (Makhno), Green-Red (Antonov) conflict. There are also a whole series of national based groups including the Georgian Mensheviks. In Central Asia there was an Islamic jihad (Basmachi) against the Bolsheviks. Then there was foreign intervention not only by the US , but also UK, France, Greece, Poland, and probably most significantly in terms of numbers, people killed, and length of time and size of area occupied some 70,000 Japanese. Places like parts of the Caucasus, Ukraine, the Far East, and Central Asia tend not to get much attention in most accounts even though there would not have been a USSR as we knew it if the Bolsheviks had lost in these outlying areas.

            • Linnaeus

              I know that there’s a lot more, such as what you’ve pointed out. I was only offering the SRs as an example of one of many factors involved.

            • wengler

              This is funny because I wrote my final undergraduate essay on the Black-Red conflict.

          • wengler

            Came here just to mention the SRs. How someone could write an article on the Russian Revolution and not even mention the party that won the only free election in post-Tsar Russia is puzzling.

            • Manny Kant

              Lih looks pretty obviously to be some shade of Marxist, and seems basically interested in the Bolshevik/Menshevik dispute. The SRs are irrelevant to this, because they weren’t Marxists.

              I’d add, though, that from what I recall in the actual context of 1917 the SRs, unlike the two Marxist factions, didn’t really have a clear program of their own. There were right SRs, who mostly followed the Menshevik lead that they should collaborate with the Kadets and the Provisional Government; and there were left SRs, who mostly followed the Bolsheviks in condemning accomodationism. It wasn’t until after the Bolshevik takeover that the SRs really started to act much on their own.

              • Lee Rudolph

                I can assure you from personal knowledge that Lars is not, in fact, any shade of Marxist.

                I’ve asked him to join this thread, and as of yesterday he seemed to be ready to do so. I’m still hoping he will get to it before the thread becomes stale.

              • wengler

                The SRs won mostly out of the legacy of activism of young educated Russians trying to radicalize the peasants during Tsarist times. Meaning they had a lot of votes but not the same amount of political organization as the Bolsheviks, especially when it came to armed factions. Many Left SRs joined the October Revolution with the Bolsheviks and some Anarchists.

      • Jerry Vinokurov

        Obviously the ideological differences between the major participants are significant. And a serious study of the Russian Revolution would clearly take those differences into account. But it would also examine lots of other factors, including economic and social conditions on the ground, and also whether the ideology itself was or was not a sufficient explanation for what actually took place; in other words, one should take a seriously skeptical approach to the ideological claims of any side in this conflict, since there are almost no reliable narrators here.

        This article isn’t such a study. There’s not even a comprehensible thesis here outside of “hurr aren’t bourgeios liberals stupid for thinking that executing dissenters might not be the greatest plan ever.” It just tries to shoehorn an unruly reality into some kind of ideologically predetermined framework under the pretense that the operations of the actors at the time can only be understood through that framework. It’s just really bad writing and thinking all around.

        • Linnaeus

          There’s not even a comprehensible thesis here

          I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed that.

        • nixnutz

          “hurr aren’t bourgeios liberals stupid for thinking that executing dissenters might not be the greatest plan ever.”

          I clicked on the story and when I saw “Jacobin” I decided I didn’t really need to read their take. I’m amused that you seem to have come away with an impression that so closely matches my preconception.

          Nice of them to put a disclaimer right in their URL.

          • Jerry Vinokurov

            Well, the name is obviously a bit of a rhetorical jab, if you will pardon the pun. And I’ve read some good things on Jacobin, so I don’t discount them out of hand, and I have a lot of sympathy for the positions that many of their writers take. It’s just that I think this particular piece is quite bad and lazy.

            • JL

              Yeah, this. I’ve read a lot of really good stuff on Jacobin, their name notwithstanding. This piece just didn’t go anywhere thought. “The bourgeois liberals are wrong. The leftists are wrong for different reasons. Isn’t it interesting that everyone is wrong? If I keep writing maybe a point will emerge.”

              • J. Otto Pohl

                I have seen some Phd dissertations in process like this. A colleague of mine called it “the jazz improvision” method of writing. Although usually it looks a lot more like the Spinal Tap attempt than something by Coltrane.

              • Anna in PDX

                I love Jacobin and I also love their name. It’s obviously tongue in cheek. But the piece is definitely not one of their better efforts, for all the reasons you mention. (Also loved JOtto’s point about being more Spinal Tap than Coltrane.)

                • nixnutz

                  I get that they’re being tongue in cheek but the irony still struck me as funny. My objection to the name is less that it’s pro-terror than that it’s trying to be cute in a way I think is gross.

                • How is it “obviously” tongue in cheek?

                  I take the name seriously. The Jacobins should not be role models. They might as well call the magazine “Bolshevik” … then they could still say “oh, it’s tongue-in-cheek!”

                • Anna in PDX

                  Anderson: Fair enough. I sometimes say things like “where are the guillotines?” or “knit one, purl two” when we are discussing awful capitalist people. I don’t think this means I am objectively pro-terrorist. But maybe I should not make these sorts of jokes. That’s the same sort of thing I think the name of Jacobin Magazine is about. For some reason I don’t think it’s tasteless at all but I am actually hard pressed to come up with why. Maybe because it is kicking up instead of down?

            • Linnaeus

              On the whole, I like Jacobin and I think they’re putting out a lot of good stuff, even if some of it goes further, politically, than I would go. But as Jacobin grows, it’s bound to publish some stuff that’s subpar.

        • Manny Kant

          It’s a very poorly edited article (which seems pretty common on Jacobin), and, indeed, a lot of hurr-hurring stupidly in a typical factional leftist way, but I thought there were some interesting points on Bolsheviks vs. Mensheviks towards the end. The idea that there was a no win situation – the success of the revolution depended on cooperation with bourgeois elements, but such cooperation was ultimately impossible; that the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks each correctly identified a different half of the problem, but also refused to accept the other half; and that the particular half each faction recognized led inevitably to victory for the Bolsheviks and defeat for the Mensheviks – is at least an interesting gloss on what happened.

      • Manny Kant

        Did anyone actually read the Jacobin article? It mostly ends up being about the difference between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.

        • The Temporary Name

          Yes, it seemed to be about the right ideology magically leading to practical changes.

          Say what you like, Bolsheviks just win.

  • Aimai

    I’m not sure what I think–its not my field and I have only a passing aquaintance with the history/scholarship. But I think there is something weird and distancing about this passage:

    For both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, a correct empirical view leads to a factual assertion that is based more on wishful thinking than on the realities. The Mensheviks have to insist that a suitable partner can be found in bourgeois society for carrying out the revolution’s goals (or, at least, that educated society can be bullied into cooperation by “pressure from below”). The situation is too horrible to contemplate if this is not the case.

    The Bolsheviks have to insist that vast complicated policies of social transformation and crisis management can be carried out almost painlessly if only the proletariat asserts its class power. The situation is too horrible to contemplate if this is not the case.

    In each case, there is a parenthetical add-on that tries to give the legitimacy of Marxist doctrine to an empirically chosen strategy. But in fact, the Mensheviks did not choose their strategy because of doctrinal labels such as “bourgeois revolution,” but rather the reverse: they insisted Russia faced a bourgeois revolution because they didn’t want to dispense with the “bourgeoise” — that is, with educated and trained specialists (or spetsy, as the Bolsheviks later called them when they realized how much they needed them). And the Bolsheviks did not choose their strategy because they first convinced themselves for doctrinal reasons that a socialist revolution was possible in Russia, but rather the reverse: they claimed that immediate “steps towards socialism” were possible because they felt the proletariat had to take power.

    and its rendered even worse by what comes next:

    In fact, in 1917, the attitude toward soglashenie with educated society was the heart of the matter. Essentially, there were only two choices for the socialists: for or against soglashenie. Menshevik and Bolshevik are just the names for these two choices. But the tragedy of Russia in 1917 was that soglashenie was both necessary and impossible. The situation was in fact horrible — too horrible to look straight in the face, too horrible to contemplate.

    In this reading, the Russian Revolution is not a matter of making or avoiding mistakes, but a tragedy without an acceptable solution (that’s what tragedy is).

    “The attitude” –isn’t that just another way of saying the ideology? And saying “the situation was in fact horrible” just a cop out. OK: the collapse of Tsarist Russia took people by surprise and choices were difficult and results unknown but there could have either been a bias towards mitigating the horror or abetting it.

    • KarenJo12

      Did you understand what the writer meant by “educated society?” He seems to mean both “humanities types who understood philosophy” and “engineers and the guys with the instructions to the factory machinery.” That ambiguity rendered most of his thesis incomprehensible to me.

      • humanoid.panda

        Educated society is a specific historical term: in Russia, it basically encompassed everyone who was engaged in the world of the modern economy and/or had access to modern forms of knowledge, from rural teachers to large businessmen.

        • Manny Kant

          Right. I thought this part was the only actually interesting part of the article. The beginning part where it just goes through attacking various straw-schools is tedious.

          What seems to me is that there’s a kind of big problem here in that the analysis just ends with the Bolshevik coup in November 1917. Lih’s structure does a decent job explaining why the Menshevik accommodationist strategy failed and the Bolsheviks were thus able to seize power from the provisional government. It doesn’t really explain a) Why the forces of reaction, whether in the form of Kadets + Kornilov in 1917 or in the form of Kolchak and the Volunteer Army later on, were unable to take power; b) why Lenin’s initial seizure of power emphasized complete Bolshevik control rather than some attempt at cooperation with other socialist groups; c) why the SRs were unable to translate their popular support and electoral victory into actual political power; or d) why the Bolsheviks, after they had consolidated power, ended up with such a brutal and horrendous series of policies.

  • rea

    Is there anything we can learn from the Russian Revolution? That attempts to establish utopia by force of arms are a bad idea? That the first rule for establishing a just society is, “Don’t kill everyone who disagrees with you?”

    • John F

      Well we are getting a front row seat to watch this play out in the Middle East right now as the “Islamic State” is hell bent on establishing a utopia (to them) on earth- and killing everyone who opposes them, I suspect it’ll play out less like the USSR and more like Pol Pot’s Cambodia

      • Aimai

        If the reports are true that ISIS is, in fact, demanding female circumcision of 4 million women under their control we are going to see something really new and horrible: mass sexual mutilation of all women between the ages of 11 and 49.

        • JL

          According to sources including ThinkProgress, the NPR Cairo bureau chief, and ISIS itself, ISIS is not demanding FGM.

          • Aimai

            Excellent. I was going off the earlier Guardian report. I’m happy that this is turning out to be wrong.

            • Anna in PDX

              Me too. I was really confused by the claim because it does not track with ISIS not being an African group and being more of a radical sunni thing a la the Taliban or Saudi wahhabism. Apparently having read a little more about it it seems that the one group outside of Africa that practices this awful thing is…. Kurds. I did not know this! And Mosul is Kurdish, right? So maybe it is a thing there, but that does not make this particular rumor true.

              • Manny Kant

                Mosul is primarily Sunni Arab, I believe, although there are apparently substantial Kurdish, Turkmen, Assyrian, and Armenian minorities (although I’d guess not so many of the last two, at this point).

          • mud man

            Those people are bad ™, right? Therefore they must be doing every horrible thing.

      • rea

        I suspect it’ll play out less like the USSR and more like Pol Pot’s Cambodia

        Stalin made Pol Pot look like an amateur.

        • For % of population? One or two million out of seven million?

          • rea

            Holodomor

          • J. Otto Pohl

            For total percentage of the population excess premature deaths in Cambodia are much higher in four years than in the USSR under Stalin for 25 years. For Cambodia it is about 25% versus 10% for the USSR. Of course these deaths were not distrubuted evenly either geographically, by ethnicity, or chronologically. But, the USSR with over 150 million people saw a much higher absolute number of deaths.

            • KarenJo12

              And Pol Pot completely eliminated knowledge of much of Cambodian culture; things like dance and poetry. Stalin, who was a thorough monster in every other way, actually preserved most of Russia’s artistic heritage, including wooden churches, jewelry-making, and the Bolshoi ballet. No, it doesn’t make up for the purges, the Gulags, and the Ukrainian famine. It does make him slightly less horrible that Pol Pot, which says much more about the Khmer Rouge leader.

              • ExpatJK

                True, though I’m not sure how well this was upheld in the various SSRs (though again, they did have some of their own leadership, albeit closely connected with Moscow).

                Interestingly, Stalin was at one point People’s Commissar for Nationalities.

                • J. Otto Pohl

                  Most SSRs saw the development of hybrid national cultures in a dynamic that showed a lot of similarities with what happened in many colonial situations. That is there was a synergy between Sovietization and the existing indigenous cultures. The Soviets called it national in form and socialist in content, but it was really a hybridity.

                • rea

                  Stalin was at one point People’s Commissar for Nationalities.

                  As a Georgian, he was a natural choice.

            • rea

              But notice what you are doing here. If you look at the whole Soviet Union for Stalin’s rule, Stalin’s kill ratio goes down, but if you look at the Ukraine for ’32-’33, it might well approach Pol Pot levels–although no one really knows the figures for Cambodia, the Ukraine, or the Soviet Union, and of course “which monster holds the world’s record for biggest pile of skulls” is not necessarily important information.

              • J. Otto Pohl

                Ukraine for 1932-1933 had about 3.5 million excess deaths during the months November to March. The total population of Ukraine was around 30 million at this time. That is 11.7% of the population. Still considerably lower than Cambodia by about half, but in only five months rather than four years.

                • rea

                  Although a number of people (including the Ukrainian government) say 3.5 million was way low, and that it was more like 10 million.

                • Manny Kant

                  The Ukrainian government is surely not a trustworthy source on this. (I’d also say that if you’re arguing from a more stridently anti-Stalinist position than J Otto, you’re kind of being more Catholic than the Pope).

              • Linnaeus

                and of course “which monster holds the world’s record for biggest pile of skulls” is not necessarily important information.

                Yeah, there’s a point at which body count is no longer a particularly useful metric.

                • J. Otto Pohl

                  There is no question that Stalin killed more people than Pol Pot. The question was regarding percentages and Cambodia is hard to beat on a state to state comparison.

                • Hogan

                  At that level of competition, the real honor is just being nominated.

        • SatanicPanic

          Pol Pot didn’t have the resources or the population to do what Stalin did. Though really, does it matter who is worse? There’s room in hell for the both of em

      • The chances of ISIS committing mass genocide on the scale of the Khmer Rouge is highly remote and I don’t think this hyperbole helps.

        • Aimai

          I don’t think its necessary to make a comparison at all–is there some kind of oppression olympics here? We are discussing utopian/ideological revolutions and the damage that they can do. ISIS is proposing to sexually mutilate 4 million women–just the ones that are under their control. That’s a pretty serious thing if it happens. Whether it will be “worse” in some sense than Pol Pot doesn’t really concern me. It will be horrific and is entirely down to priviliging ideology and a weaponized concept of culture and religion over common sense and humanity.

          • Malaclypse

            ISIS is proposing to sexually mutilate 4 million women

            Honest question – do we actually know they have proposed this?

            • Aimai

              Apparently the earlier Guardian Report was wrong. So–no, this is not happening. Mercifully.

          • KarenJo12

            Yeah, this. Also, the elimination of everyone who isn’t their own type of Muslim in the ISIS controlled areas. No, it is not the same as the Holocaust and no, it doesn’t prove Christians are mistreated in the US, but is still terrible and shouldn’t happen. Noting that this is a bad thing is not really hyperbole.

    • LeeEsq

      The second rule for a just society is that you shouldn’t use humans as sociological experiments in testing your ideology. The third rule is that government and society must be flexible enough to deal with changing whims from the people even if some of those whims are really dumb.

      • njorl

        “The second rule for a just society is that you shouldn’t use humans as sociological experiments in testing your ideology. “

        I think I get what you’re saying, but isn’t it impossible to avoid this? We can’t test socio-economic systems on rhesus monkeys, and if we could, PETA would complain. The best we can do is to make it clear that the test subjects are more important than the test.

        • Malaclypse

          Agreed. Allowing marriage equality was a massive sociological experiment. That was one of the objections conservatives had, if you recall.

          • KarenJo12

            Maybe “limit your massive social experiments to things the participants say they really want, and avoid imposing things YOU think are good ideas but the people who have to carry out the experiment reject.”

            The emancipation of women was also quite the novelty, but I think has worked out rather well.

          • Aimai

            But no humans were “used” in the marriage equality movement. We call it a “massive sociological experiment” but that isn’t really true–its only a way of talking. It wasn’t a sociogical experiment. It was an expansion of rights. No one was experimented *on*–people voluntarily chose to get married, or not. In that sense it is more like “remember that people are to be treated as ends, not means, even if that makes some other asshole angry.”

            • Malaclypse

              It wasn’t a sociogical experiment. It was an expansion of rights.

              I don’t see those as inherently distinct. I doubt any Enlightenment thinker did not think of the expansion of rights as revolutionary. We’ve just forgotten how revolutionary human rights are.

              • Aimai

                Yes sure but what is the experiment part.? Even if you want to say society itself is experimented on individual humans were not test subjects.

                • Malaclypse

                  “Get rid of the king and see if it works out” wasn’t an experiment?

                • UserGoogol

                  Individual humans are “experimented on” in the sense that the experimental treatment is giving them the option to get married itself. Some humans are given the “you can get married to someone of the same sex if you want” treatment and some aren’t, and we observe what happens. Giving humans the option to do something is morally different from forcing humans to do something, but I think it’s still fair to call it an experiment.

                  Or to phrase it another way, if you’re running an experiment to see if a pill is effective in treating a disease, you can force patients to take the pill, or you can just give them a bottle and tell them to take it if they want. Both would be experiments, although the data in the latter case would more ambiguous.

        • LeeEsq

          What Aimai said. Same-sex marriage isn’t a massive sociological experiment. We already have a good idea how marriages work and don’t work. Same-sex marriage just allows more people to participate in the institution. Even if it can be constituted as an experiment, nobody is forcing anybody to engage in the act of same-sex marriage against their will.

          Anarchism, communism, islamism, and fascism are what I call high ideologies. They are all encompassing belief systems on how the world works and how society should be organized and run. They do not tolerate any dissent. All are high ideologies treat people as sociological experiments because they engage in radical changes to how society works and is organized without the consent of the people who live under them.

          • mud man

            Capitalism? Democracy? Humanism?

          • KarenJo12

            Could the same idea be expressed better as “don’t interfere with social changes supported by most of the populace” and “don’t allow the citizens to interfere with those improvements, either?”

          • Linnaeus

            The caveat that I would add is that terms like “social experiment” and its relative “social engineering” are very often employed rhetorically to normalize one’s own ideology and point out that someone else’s is extreme. Hence, right-wing critiques of social reforms as “social engineering” despite the fact that many of things the right advocates could be labeled the same.

            It’s all very Goldilocksish sometimes – you advocate social experiments whereas my ideology is just right.

            • LeeEsq

              Right, one person’s social reform can easily be another person’s social engineering. Thats why I think its useful to look into whether or not something is a high ideology or not. If the would be reformers or revolutionaries are insisting that things have to be this way, that we totally need to get rid of the old method of doing something than there is a good chance that they are about to engage in social engineering that is going to cause a lot of hardship at the very least. Another thing to look at is how voluntary the reform is. This isn’t a hard and fast rule but it does provide some useful guidelines.

              Stalin was insistent on a collectivist agriculture. Collectivist agriculture doesn’t have to be a miserable experience. Israel managed to do quite well with collectivist agriculture in the form of the kibbutz for a few decades. The reason why the Israeli experiment didn’t result in the misery that Stalin’s did was that the kibbutz was a voluntary institution. Nobody was made to join in it. There were plenty of private farms in Israel. Under Stalin, all farmers were made to join the kolkhoz and no alternatives were allowed. They couldn’t leave the kolkhoz on their own will either.

              • J. Otto Pohl

                The Israeli government also was not forcibly extracting huge amounts of grain from the kibbutzes to fund industrialization. The point of collectivization was to create a mechanism to allow the extraction of grain from the countryside to support the cities. So you end up with the USSR exporting grain during the 1932-33 famine, grain that had been forcibly removed from starving peasants using the mechanism of the kolkhoz. Given the purpose of collectivization voluntary participation was impossible. Attempts to get peasants to join through non-coercive means failed. Only the mass deportation of “kulaks” with the rather stark threat that middle peasants who did not join the kolkhozes would join them in the special settlements worked. So the two forms of agriculture really have little in common. The kibbutz was much closer to a traditional agricultural cooperative.

      • Gwen

        One of the realizations I have had since going into IT is that the political science community doesn’t seem to have an adequate understanding of management disciplines, particularly change and risk management.

        Revolutionary regimes are usually – but not necessarily – textbook examples of poor management. Changes are implemented without proper understanding of their consequences, because objections are discouraged or prohibited.

        Liberal incrementalism is not necessarily good policy, but does *generally* tend to be fairly safe. If a tax credit for rhubarb producers fails to produce the desired consequences, it is easy to roll back the change — just repeal the tax credit.

        You can’t roll back out of a change that involves murdering a million people (disregarding the horrible moral problem with mass murder).

        • sibusisodan

          Revolutionary regimes are usually – but not necessarily – textbook examples of poor management. Changes are implemented without proper understanding of their consequences, because objections are discouraged or prohibited.

          While I think you are entirely correct, I just had a horrible, horrible vision of Change Management Courses for Revolutionaries.

          • Aimai

            A friend of mine used to call Harvard Kennedy School “The School For Mid-Career Dictators.”

            • J. Otto Pohl

              I hadn’t heard that one. I know a lot of Latin American dictators got their training at the School of the Americas. But, for most of its existence 1946-1984 it was based in Panama, and then moved to Ft. Benning Georgia, so not really an Ivy League.

              • Hogan

                Was it the dictators who trained there, or the majors and colonels who organized and supervised the torture counter-insurgency operations?

                • Aimai

                  It was higher ups and african bureaucrats. Not the actual killers.

                • Hogan

                  I see you’re right–Banzer and Noriega are on the alumni list.

            • njorl

              Obviously our policy on dictators was “Better fewer, but better.”

          • KarenJo12

            If such things were offered as the alternative to killing everyone who disagrees, then I support them. Otherwise, there is a brilliant comedy sketch hidden in that idea.

            Not that I think mass murder is at all funny.

            • sibusisodan

              Otherwise, there is a brilliant comedy sketch hidden in that idea.

              “OK, Vlad – may I call you Vlad? – I hear what you’re saying about the dictatorship of the proletariat, but have you considered doing that within an Agile framework? We could also upskill to a SWOT or PESTLE analysis about overthrowing the Tsarist regime and their capitalist running dogs, perhaps if there’s time after you’ve crushed the Mensheviks.

              Also – Joe and Leon, I’m sensing some friction within the team here, but we shouldn’t argue about who is the betrayer of the glorious revolution, and who is the right-deviationist wrecker. Let’s hop over to the groupwork area, engage blue-sky and see if we can’t transform this paradigm…

              • Malaclypse

                40 million starving peasants will learn exactly who moved their cheese.

                • Aimai

                  +1

              • Hogan

                I think some interest-based bargaining might be just the thing to get you two to Yes.

              • KarenJo12

                I’ve been to that seminar. I’m not entirely sure a gulag would have been worse.

        • LeeEsq

          The problem with revolutionary regimes is that they usually get bored with the day to day necessities of administration. They all these sorts of grand schemes that they want to implement right away. Anything more gradual just doesn’t excite them as much. Thats why the USSR and to a greater extent the PRC wanted to industrialize right away rather than take a slower approach. They all jump for the moon but get slammed down by the reality of gravity very hard and with much resulting suffering.

          Liberal incrementalism isn’t as sexy as revolutionary change but it does have better track record of success.

          • Aimai

            I dont think it has anything to do with boredom. All revolutionary regimes–from the french to the hatians to the russians were under phenomenal outside economic pressure. They had debts to pay frim the mismanagement of previous regimes, they had rising expectations from their citizens, and they were often trying to prepare for war. Agricultural and industrial innovations and leaps forward were crucial to their survival. Nothing to do with boredom. That seems kind of an insulting gloss to put on the Situation.

            • ExpatJK

              I agree. Also, while agricultural and industrial changes were vital, the method of administration was informed more by ideology than boredom. For example the push to collectivize, etc. For a right wing example of this, see the GOP and the abdication of governing and ideological emphasis on tax cuts. I would not describe the GOP’s approach to governing as being driven by boredom.

          • wengler

            They wanted to industrialize right away to catch up with everyone else. And in the USSR’s case it saved them from German genocide.

        • wengler

          The exact opposite problem, political stagnation and neglect caused by the ruling political elite, is also a horrible problem to have. Since we are three days from the 100 year anniversary of the start of WWI, it is particularly in my mind.

          • J. Otto Pohl

            This was Barrington Moore’s point with regards to India in Lord and Peasant.

      • burritoboy

        But the premier democratic regimes of our era managed repeatedly to use humans as sociological experiments in testing our own ideologies that we currently support (or that the vast majority of the citizenry in those regimes support). The United Kingdom killed off about 3.5 million people in the Bengal Famine and killed off another 1 million in the Great Irish Famine, precisely in sociological experiments. The UK gave Pol Pot a run for his money, percentage-wise, in reducing the Irish Catholic population (about a quarter of the Irish population either died or fled the country).

        The UK’s current ruling party still supports the same version of capitalism and economics that the prevailing UK government had in the 1840s and 1850s.

        • Hogan

          The United Kingdom killed off about 3.5 million people in the Bengal Famine and killed off another 1 million in the Great Irish Famine, precisely in sociological experiments.

          If you know exactly what’s going to happen and don’t care, it doesn’t count as an experiment.

    • wengler

      Don’t kill everyone who disagrees with you?

      State creation and maintenance is the killing or imprisonment of people who disagree with you. It’s up to the leadership of the state to consider what are acceptable disagreements and what are not.

  • mud man

    mostly create ideology to justify their current positions

    Bottom-up, not top-down. Truly, humans do top-down thinking very poorly. I think the point about “educated classes” is that people who have learned to think in a formal style can do the top-down thing, but “educated” i.e. “been to college” actually encourages no such thing.

    Which plays into the present problem of middle- and working-class people voting against their class interests. We need a new soglashenie that can exercise vlast, and good luck with that. As it was, so it remains.

  • shah8

    Late to the convo, mostly because I didn’t want to write anything until I read the article this time, and I took my time getting to it.

    My knowledge is from Figge’s book about the Revolution…

    1) There isn’t much discussion about what we could actually learn from the RR, more discussion about hippy punching, which I sympathize with, but not topical.

    2) The Mensheviks were not a viable alternative. They were much like the Girondist of earlier times, where a self-styled bourgeoisie tries to put itself in power and more or less rule by diktat over a vast rural country with many centers of power. The Mensheviks were never going to do anything but die, and it was only a question of how, when, and the local why. The Mensheviks were mostly a collection of disparate parties filled with little big men and an incoherent programme that was bowdlerized of content that could rally important factions. That Kerensky was stupid enough to commit Russia into war again when Russia pretty much absolutely couldn’t fight (i.e., they couldn’t get people to fronts, supply arms or food, etc, etc, not just morale) was only a final symptom of what was a broadly egotistical and incompetent movement which receives rose-tinted consideration from later times that they did not deserve.

    3) This probably does have to be mentioned. Revolutions are bad things. They aren’t change by any register other than the fact that lots of people are dead. At the end of the day, the RR is about the heart attack of the Tsarist regime more than it was about the late Leninist or Stalinist regimes. One of the key reasons revolutions happen is that the bureaucracy (stikes, perversion of new rules), various local political authorities (independent local armies/mafias), and the bourgeoisie (capital strikes, flight) refuse to allow meaningful reforms so as to allow the ancien régime to continue, imagining that they are entirely too useful to be be dismissed, or that the régime will survive, somehow. Revolutions don’t clear the way for a better government. Revolutions clear the way for a rationalized government (good or bad), and the process is by killing lots and lots of people who had power. Sure, peasants gets stomped by elephants going at each other, but they don’t matter. They didn’t matter when there was no bread or rice, or water everywheres. They didn’t matter when various millenarian cults spread like wildfire. They die and other peasants take their place. Revolutions do not take their course until sufficient blood of important people are running in the streets, such that remaining powers are finally committed to political reorganization (and centralization). Real revolutions, in fact, happens because everyone (local to the moment) understands that there will always be a conservative counter-revolution unless the heads of conservatives are on pikes. More than that, that if you participate in a revolution, and the counter happens, you and your family will die or flee penniless–lending incentives towards political murder.

    There was, and never will be, never a remote prospect of a Broderist Revolution. The idea that you could run a revolution *better* and more *moral* than other revolution is absurd, and will kill you when the Metternich of the day gets to you. The following implication of the idea that you could preserve human capital such that you can have an enlightened and effective successor state reasonably soon is worthless. At best, you’ll have Chavista Venezuela, with most of the people who knows what’s what, in Colombia or the US (and there was never enough human talent, anyways), such that you’re left with a grindingly incompetent and corrupt (in the sense of local actors like police and officials always asking for bribes) administration until you grow a new cohort of human talent. At worst, you’ll have the nearly thorough Maoist murder of most of the educated classes and much of the intellectual and cultural traditions preserved offshore.

    Never, ever, be romantic about Revolution. That’s like being romantic about pancreatic cancer.

    As far as learning from the successor Soviet state–yes, people do study and learn from it, as that it was a growth miracle at the time, and some lessons actually were pertinent for people in East Asia on their way to being economic tigers. Most other people did not look at the basic national finances aspect, but on how you could just command shit to be built, which was not the best part.

    • Malaclypse

      Kerenski was not a Menshevik.

      • shah8

        You know, I never quite said he was. And the Trudoviks weren’t exactly the most happening party around 1917, instead of perhaps 1905.

        • Manny Kant

          But the Mensheviks and Kerensky had very different goals. I don’t think Kerensky can be viewed very productively as a socialist. He was a socialist only in the most nominal sense.

          For the Mensheviks, the question was whether to support the provisional government or overthrow it and institute a socialist government. They chose the former, and a few of their leaders ended up as ministers in the provisional government, but that doesn’t mean we can equate the two. Kerensky and the Mensheviks were always in tension with each other, even if they were nominally allies – they both believed that they needed the other to survive, but they didn’t particularly have the same goals. Kerensky, for all his socialist posturing, basically wanted a standard liberal democracy – there’s a reason he was the only “socialist” in the first iteration of the Provisional Government. The Mensheviks weren’t exactly sure what they wanted, but were at least vaguely committed to some sort of government by Soviet.

          I’m certainly not sure how you can describe the Mensheviks as a “self-styled bourgeoisie,” when they were a Marxist Workers’ Party. The Kadets were the self-styled bourgeoisie, and were feckless in a very different way from the Mensheviks.

          • shah8

            I did not make the comparison with the Gironds lightly.

            In a lot of history texts, Kerensky practically *was* a Menshevik, because what was material was the alliance between Kerensky and effectively the right wing of the Mensheviks. I would personally say that Kerensky and the Mensheviks were more than nominal allies, ultimately. Kerensky wouldn’t perhaps have thought much of them, but he had no political base without them. The Mensheviks sought an alliance with the more…vested factions of Russian society and Kerensky was a tool for that legitimacy.

            • Manny Kant

              They represent the two poles of the provisional government, I think. Kerensky and the Provisional Government need the (right-)Mensheviks to give them popular legitimacy; the (right-)Mensheviks need Kerensky and the Provisional Government to give them a connection to what you call the “vested factions of Russian society.”

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