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Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Few countries have had as dramatic a history as Russia’s in the twentieth century. The country as such disappeared for some seven decades during the Soviet period, only to re-emerge at the end of the century. For seventy-four years from 1917 the country was ruled by a party that claimed to be building some version of communism. This book is an essay on the experience of communism in those years. It is not a history of Russia over the last century, and neither is it a full-scale analysis of communism. The aim of the work is to examine the origins of the communist idea in Russian political thought and practice, the various forms that revolutionary socialism took in the pre-revolutionary period, and the resistance to these ideas. The nature of the revolutionary socialist challenge will be discussed, together with an examination of why a particularly virulent form came to power in Russia in 1917. The debates within the new communist regime will then be analysed, together with the failure of the alternatives to Leninist closure. The experience of the revolutionary society will be revealed in the light of various theories of Stalinism and totalitarianism.
Richard Sakwa

1. Russia and Revolution

Abstract
Following the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 the armies of the Russian tsar reached Paris. The military triumph was followed by hopes for constitutional reform at home as the ideas that had inspired the French revolution filtered back to Russia [110]. The Decembrist uprising in 1825 signalled the beginning of a revolutionary movement for political change: the Russian revolution had begun. The partial and disappointing land reform of 1861 and the continued blockage on political reform that could ensure effective and meaningful popular participation and the rudiments of executive accountability inspired an increasingly strong radical movement that looked to revolution as the solution to the country’s problems. Quite why the siren call of revolution should have been so strong in Russia is still not clear. The classic Leninist formulation suggests that political and economic backwardness breeds radical solutions as a way of overcoming the resistance of the ruling elites. The argument undoubtedly contains an element of truth, but this is to formulate the problem in a Leninist way.
Richard Sakwa

2. Bolshevism and its Critics

Abstract
The political prerogatives of the autocracy increasingly came into conflict with the modernising impulse of the Russian state and economic and social developments. There was a fundamental incompatibility between imperial ambitions and the existing structure of power in a world undergoing a technological transformation. Russian defeats in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904–5 confirmed the lessons of the Crimean War (1854–6) a half-century earlier: substantial reforms were required for the Russian state to meet the heavy demands of modern warfare. The Japanese were themselves a good example of how this grafting could be achieved. Military reform in Russia would have been completed by 1916, and this in part set the German timetable for war in 1914. The revolution of 1905 resulted in due course in the establishment of a constitutional monarchy (although skewed towards the monarchy), but Russia ultimately failed to assimilate technological modernisation and economic change to a conservative social and political framework, and the whole edifice collapsed under the strain of war in February 1917.
Richard Sakwa

3. Stalinism and Communist Reform

Abstract
The New Economic Policy represented the abandonment (temporarily) of the ‘revolutionary’ strategy of War Communism in favour of a ‘reformist’ approach, but this reformism was of a distinctive and highly ambivalent sort. It was a tactical rather than a strategic retreat. As Lenin put it, NEP ‘would last a long time but not forever’. How long ‘long’ would be was not defined, and in 1928–9 the regime once again went on the offensive. Communism in Russia remained a type of crusade, with a two-fold project designed to transform its own society and the individuals who composed it, while at the same time calling for revolutionary change in the world at large. The tension between involution, the adaptation of a transformative agenda into the inward-looking maintenance of an existing order, and revolution was to remain until the end. When this tension disappeared and world revolution was abandoned, in both rhetoric and practice, the domestic order also dissolved.
Richard Sakwa

4. The Great Retreat

Abstract
Soviet civilisation represented a combination of Marxist— Leninist ideology and Russian realities, but, as we have seen, this ‘civilisation’ was deeply fragmented and no sustained synthesis created a fundamentally new reality with adequate social roots. Even though Russia was the heartland of the Soviet order, even here a gulf gradually widened between Soviet communist ideas and practices and an increasingly influential notion of ‘Russia’, existing apart and aside from the communist experiment; and indeed increasingly portrayed as much a victim of the communist experiment as, say, Estonia or Poland. As with the fall of communism in eastern Europe, discussion over the date when the Russian communist system moved into ‘negative viability’ continues. Some would start from the very beginning.
Richard Sakwa

5. Communism in Russia

Abstract
The Russian revolution in 1917 promised freedom, yet the revolution as a form of collective political action removed restraints on the exercise of power, and prepared the way for a greater despotism. The Bolshevik regime operated within the parameters of a revolutionary socialist ideology with a very strong Enlightenment perspective of progress, deculturation and denationalisation. Walicki has convincingly argued that the Bolshevik revolution remained remarkably loyal to the basic Marxist vision of the destruction of commodity production [187]. Even Stalin in his own way was guided by his interpretation of the Marxist classics and did not simply use ideology as a philosophical camouflage to disguise his undoubted striving to gain and maintain power [184]. In the end the USSR represented a transient challenge. We now know that Bolshevik practices largely vitiated any ‘progress’ that may have been achieved, not only in the sense that the price in human lives and suffering was enormous, but that the very structures that the Bolsheviks built, in the economy, society and the polity, proved unsustainable. The Bolshevik regime solved none of the most urgent tasks facing Russia — not the national question, economic development or political coherence.
Richard Sakwa
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