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About this book

The Soviet Union and the communist ideology on which it was founded were central to a great number of people's lives and pivotal to international relations for decades, most clearly in giving rise to the Cold War. Soviet Communism provided an alternative path forward, set apart from liberal capitalism and also from the various strands of fascism that took root in the early twentieth century, and its legacy can still be felt across the contemporary globe.

This innovative analysis of Soviet Communism offers a fresh perspective on the Soviet Union's role in world politics by paying particular attention to the influence of Soviet ideology and the balance of power on different regions of the world, including the West, the Third World, and the East European Soviet bloc. A central theme of the book is the diverse effects nationalism had on the Soviet Union, which the author argues not only played an important and often overlooked part in shaping Bolshevik policy but also contributed to the demise of Soviet Communism and the collapse of the USSR.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
This book reassesses the impact that the Soviet communist experiment had during its lifetime and its continuing influence today. World politics in the twentieth century were in large part determined by events that took place in the former Soviet Union after 1917 when the Bolsheviks set about creating an alternative system to capitalism. The ensuing long era of contestation between the Soviet Union and the West finally came to an end with the demise of communism as a powerful alternative ideology in the 1980s, and the ensuing unravelling of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991. The influence of the October Revolution in 1917 was pervasive, and although its immediate impact on the subjects of the former Russian Empire was dramatic, the revolution also had profound consequences in wider global politics. Communism was to become the most influential cross-border idea in modern history to challenge both liberal democracy and the organization of world politics.
Peter Shearman

1. The October Revolution, and the Rise and Demise of Soviet Communism

Abstract
As Martin Malia puts it, ‘The Soviet socialist experiment was the great utopian adventure of the modern age’ (Malia, 1994, p. 1). Yet few people could have anticipated this experiment beginning in, of all places, the Russian Empire, which at its greatest extent would be the third largest in history after the Mongol and British empires, and incorporated multiple nationalities and religions at various stages of social and economic development, but generally lagging well behind the modernized West. The Soviet Union would cover one-sixth of the world’s land surface across eleven time zones from Vladivostok in the East to Kaliningrad in the West. What is also remarkable is that this radical experiment took place in the world’s largest country, yet was conducted by a handful of young revolutionaries with little or no experience whatsoever of practical work, either in the public or private sectors, neither in government, nor in business. The oldest of the leading Bolsheviks at that time were Lenin himself, Leonid Krasin and Pyotr Krasikov, all just 37 years of age. Krasin played a key role as transport minister keeping the Red Army supplied during the Civil War, and Krasikov a key member of the St. Petersburg Soviet would help to draw up the Soviet legal system. The average age of the Bolshevik leaders was 34 years. The leader of the Mensheviks, L. Martov, was 34 years of age. One-sixth of the chief Bolshevik
Peter Shearman

2. Soviet Ideology and Theories of Soviet Communism

Abstract
In this chapter I evaluate Soviet ideology, and how it was over-determined, underplayed, or misunderstood in Soviet Studies. There is a number of factors as to why Soviet Studies got Soviet Communism so wrong, and in many ways the answer is to be found in its actual origins, for from the very beginning it was always a highly politicized subject. Soviet Studies as a separate field was not established until the 1950s. There had naturally nevertheless always been a strong interest in the Russian Revolution among intellectuals, journalists, and academic specialists. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 clearly had its adherents among radical leftists outside the Russian Empire, and some of the early works in the West were written by those who were strong supporters of the communists’ goal of creating a socialist society, such as the book by Reed referred to in the previous chapter, or the work of Sidney and Beatrice Webb. In other words, one of the problems at the outset was that much of western analysis of the Soviet system was itself ideologically motivated. Martin Malia suggests that Soviet Studies was the ‘most impassioned field of the social sciences’ (Malia, 1994, p. x.). Someone once said that researchers in the natural sciences stand upon one another’s shoulders, whereas, proverbially speaking, political scientists tend to stand upon each other’s faces! This was perhaps more true of Soviet Studies than it was in any other area of the social sciences.
Peter Shearman

3. Soviet Communism and the International Communist Movement

Abstract
As noted in previous chapters, Soviet Communism by definition was always perceived in international as opposed to national terms. Within three decades of the October Revolution one-third of the world’s population lived in states whose regimes were directly influenced by Lenin’s model of the ruling communist party. At one point in the twentieth century 3.5 billion people— more than half of the world’s entire population—lived under some form of communist influence. Marxists rejected the idea of the nation as a natural outgrowth of cultural or ethnic identity, seeing it rather as tied to and serving the interests of the capitalist mode of production. Therefore, nations would not be eternal or long-lived, but would disappear with the end of the capitalist mode of production and those living under communism would be part of one common international, or post-national community. Nationalism after all was a social construction, a form of identity that did not exist before and was invented during the French Revolution and then gaining traction during the industrial revolution. A socialist revolution therefore was expected to result in strengthened identities reflecting a new mode of post-capitalist, socialist production. Rejecting the concept of political practices being defined by, and state legitimacy being linked to the “nation,” Marxists had always prioritized class as the main determinant of human relations seen in international terms. The concept of
Peter Shearman

4. Soviet Communism and the Third World

Abstract
To reiterate once more: Lenin and the Bolsheviks instigated the October Revolution in the name of the international proletariat, but always assumed that a socialist revolution could not succeed in Russia alone, and that it was necessary for its survival there for revolutions to take place in the more advanced countries of the capitalist West. Yet the irony was that socialism did not then come to Munich or Manchester, but it did come, in 1921, to Mongolia. Following the defeat of Nazism in Germany the Third World would actually become the main theatre of contestation between the Soviet Union and the United States. Although the sources of the Cold War were in Europe and its foundations remained there until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the major arena of superpower competition in both ideological and geo-strategic terms was in the Third World (what is now referred to as the Global South). On the eve of the October Revolution European or American colonial powers had direct rule over much of the Caribbean, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and even as war broke out once more in 1939 around one billion of the world’s population were still subject to colonial rule (Bradley, 2011, p. 464). This made fertile ground for contestation between the USA and the USSR, as national liberation movements sought independence from imperial control.
Peter Shearman

5. Soviet Communism and the West

Abstract
When examining the role that Soviet Communism had in the West it is necessary first to define the “West.” This is not as straightforward as it might at first seem. West signifies a geographical orientation. Yet in terms of geography Russia itself is part of the West—well, at least part of it is part of the West, for it straddles across nine time zones from Europe through the Ural Mountains to Pacific Asia (hence the idea of Russia as a special Eurasian entity). Although the bulk of Russian territory is east of the Urals, the bulk of its population has always been to the west, in the European part. In a continual expansion of the empire/state Russians sought to impose their own (western) customs and traditions and culture on newly incorporated territories, whether in the Far East, Central Asia, or the Caucasus. For not only is Russia physically part of the West, it is at a very deep level also part of the West in cultural terms. From Alexander Pushkin to Boris Pasternak to the present, Russian literary figures have been part of a wider western canon, which is true of the arts more generally. Orthodox religion in Russia, although often used with the prefix “eastern,” derives from western Christianity. The first step Russia took in adopting the religion of the Eastern Roman Empire was in Kieven Rus’ at the end of the tenth century. The Russian Orthodox Church would come to see itself as the rightful successor to Constantinople, with Moscow as the “Third Rome.” During the course of the nineteenth century and the earlier part of the twentieth century, political ideologies replaced religious doctrines as sources of individual morality and group affiliation, especially in the West.
Peter Shearman

6. Soviet Communism and the National Question

Abstract
Previous chapters have each demonstrated in different ways the powerful influence that national identities and nationalism have had in the Soviet Communist experience. This chapter will deal with the national question in detail. Ernest Gellner pointed out that from a Marxist perspective ‘History is the history of class struggle. It is not, or only superficially, the history of national struggles’ (Gellner, 1994, p. 6). Marxists saw nationalism as an instrument used by the bourgeois to divide and rule the international proletariat. Afflicted with nationalism the workers in each country would not recognize their natural and proper allegiance to their fellow workers overseas. The workers would be subjected to false consciousness. The Soviet Communist Party leadership in its public discourse, of necessity, employed the language of Marxism-Leninism and class conflict. However, although the twentieth century was in many ways defined by ideological contestation between Soviet Communism and International Liberalism, the key factor in some of the major events of the century was the role of nationalism. The idea that it was liberalism that eventually triumphed over communism is a simplistic take on the dynamics that would eventually lead to the end of the Cold War and the demise of Soviet Communism. Michael Madelbaum’s claim that liberalism ‘triumphed decisively’ over Soviet Communism due to the victory of liberal values needs qualification (Mandelbaum, 2002, p. 49; see also Fukuyama, 1992).
Peter Shearman

7. Soviet Communism and International Security

Abstract
On taking power in 1917 the Bolsheviks were faced from the outset with a very insecure environment, something that would continue with various levels of threat throughout the entire Soviet era. This fact would have a fundamental and lasting impact on Soviet perceptions and policies in the security domain. From a realist perspective the international system of anarchy and the security dilemma this creates inevitably led to Soviet Russia seeking security through military means and alliances. Despite the rhetoric, and as noted in previous chapters, to a certain extent the practice of seeking to spread communism overseas, the logic of international politics, always pulled the Soviet leadership back, using whatever means were required, to defending the “national interest” (for which read state interest) as the first priority. In the realm of international security the question most often asked was whether communism served the state, or did the state serve communism? In other words, was the Soviet leadership in its foreign and security policies motivated chiefly by ideological, or state interests? This was never a simple question to answer, and even with access to key archival materials since the Soviet Union expired there is still no consensus on this matter. However, the wrong question was being posed. The question is not really one of an either/or kind, but rather: to what degree in any particular instance did ideology and state interests count? The evidence shows that both ideational and material interests were at work.
Peter Shearman

Conclusions

Abstract
There is no single explanation of any important event, let alone of a long historical period such as that covered in this book. There will always be differences of view and emphasis, and history is a controversial matter, and interpretations of history are often used as tools in political contestation. What I have sought to do in this book is to provide an assessment of Soviet Communism and an examination of the rise of fall of the USSR and its impact on world politics, by focusing on the roles of ideology, power, and the state, and where these all interplay with and have been determined to an extent by the forces of nationalism, whilst trying to avoid any political biases. The previous chapters have shown how events coming out of the Revolution of October 1917 and the rise of Soviet Communism went on to shape the international politics of the twentieth century, whilst leaving a legacy that well into the twenty-first century was still being played out in Ukraine. Without the challenge of Soviet Communism there would have been no Cold War, that tense, dangerous ideological and balance of power contestation that brought the world so close to nuclear war in October 1962. In this final chapter I will highlight the main findings from the study and suggest any lessons that might be drawn, whilst also returning to the question of how academics failed to foresee the collapse of Soviet Communism and the subsequent radical impact this had on the international system. In rethinking the international politics of the twentieth century it is necessary to highlight the power of ideological challenges to the international order, as well as the more traditional notions of the balance of power defined in material terms. This book has shown how the Soviet communist state was central to both.
Peter Shearman
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