100 Years After the October Revolution – What Did We Learn?

100 years ago, the October (or, using the current calendar, November) revolution created at first a lot of chaos, and later on, a new regime, allegedly in an attempt to create some form of socialism or communism.  While this new socio-economic formation never materialized, the international repercussions were significant. While soviet Russia and, after 1922, the Soviet Union were relatively weak and isolated, a brutally enforced strategy of selective modernization and development proved sufficient to withstand the attack by Nazi Germany. After 1945, the USSR was one of the two cores of the bipolar cold war system. Two nuclear powers opposed each other, but they actually never engaged in a hot war. After the end of the east-west conflict, global politics became more unruly, uncertain, and dangerous.

Some people claim that the USSR, while never really resembling socialism, worked as some kind of corrective for capitalism, and with its (the SU’s) demise, global capitalism accelerated and became more unchecked. Others believe that the real history of ‘real socialism’ ruined the alternative potential of socialism forever.

This week’s question is: 100 years on, is there anything we may learn from the experience of the grand Soviet experiment?

– Klaus Segbers

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  1. Thilo Bodenstein 2 years ago

    Most people probably did not notice the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, neither in Russia, nor somewhere else in Europe. Eric Hobsbawm coined the term of the ‘short 20th century’, which was marked by the revolution and which ended in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The events belong to a distant past. Do they? The root causes of the revolution – poverty, inequality, lack of voice of the deprived – persist until today. The Soviet Union wanted to be the answer to these problems, but is was itself a product of Lenin’s stubborn and uncompromising attitude that he unveiled in his April theses. What can we learn from the mistakes of the past for the great challenges of our time? Maybe cheering the means that the protagonists of the revolution despised – compromise and pragmatism. Problems need to be solved now; grandiose visions distract from solutions. Call it the art of muddling-through.

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  2. Sergei Medvedev 2 years ago

    The main lesson from the centennial of the Russian Revolution is that it is by no means complete. Moreover, 100 years on, Russia finds itself at the same historical crossroads as in 1917: it is a resource periphery of global capitalism, critically lacking capital, investment and technologies, ruled by an unreformed autocracy with mock parliamentarism, with weak institutions of rule of law and private property. Its economic system is state capitalism controlled by bureaucracy and selected oligarchs, reproducing the perennial Russian patterns of distributive economy (razdatochnaya ekonomika) and society of estates (soslovnoe obshestvo) . Most importantly, it is an unsustainable federation and a declining Empire in a post-imperial age, obsessed by nostalgia and delusions of greatness.
    In this sense, in 2017, like in 1917, Russia still faces the challenge of incomplete modernization. Despite the glorious and catastrophic 20th century, the victims and the successes seem to have been in vain, and a century has been wasted – Russia still stands at the edge of the global world, ailing, jealous and obsessed with its own past. It is currently in the midst of Putin’s Thermidor – his politics is pure counter-revolution, procrastination, and the postponement of reform – but the more he protracts his toxic rule and his lethargic stability, the higher the likelihood of the next Revolution that will finally complete the tasks of 1917 and will terminate the rule of Empire, turning Russia into a nation-state.

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  3. Alexei Voskressenski 2 years ago

    The political order that was created in the USSR was an authoritarian state socialism that was a caricature picture of the socialism described by intellectuals as an alternative to capitalism. However it prouved its ability to live for historically limited time and even to transform itself into local versions of various types including the most excuisite financial ones, as some argue, with allegidly different future. The Soviet version of state socialism collapsed as an empire of Qin in ancient Chine under Qin Shihuang proving many years after that a cohersive mobilization based on violence is always doomed. This is the most important lesson.

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  4. Wang Mengyao 2 years ago

    Had the Soviet Union represented a broken dream or an ended nightmare? It is our duty to answer this question.
    The collapse of the socialist block in 20th century delegitimized the utopia of an alternative to capitalism. People gave up the illusion of the paradise in heaven, as well as that of "paradise" underneath. It is good to know the Cold War ended and nobody would ever starve in collectivization of agriculture but it is worse that we have never really ended wars and starvations anywhere else without an attempt in looking for another alternative to the present world. We will lose, or have lost the imagination of diversity. The lack of imagination causes crisis regarding the existence of human beings. We all should take the responsibility for the past rather than being an outsider; we all should listen to the marginalized voices against the legitimized ways of being rather than eliminating them.

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  5. Mina Sumaadii 2 years ago

    Some people in Russia say that their great experiment showed the world how things shouldn’t be done. If we look at the original theory, it is not socialism or communism failed, but rather a Leninist version of it. On the economic side, the experiment ruled out the choice of command economy, and you could say that its legacy contributed to the evolution of some autocracies. On the political side, based on the Soviet experience the more resilient autocracies have evolved to feed their population and open borders for dissidents. Thus, the Soviet experience at the very least had a good demonstration effect.
    I would also not agree with those who suggest the experiment has ruined socialism or its alternatives. Some of its ideas have developed into new forms such as the universal basic income. Moreover, as an alternative to disruptive forces of capitalism, there is a promotion of ‘sustainable development.' It seems that we’ve just got a bit of rebranding.

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  6. Nikoloz Tokhvadze 2 years ago

    The significance of the anniversary might be expressed through not only its historical impact, but also how in different parts of the world (and strata of society) this date and its historical significance is framed - from total apathy to vehement praise. That reminds us how polarized and contested current world order still is.

    The main takeaway of the century old tectonic shift is the lesson teaching the price of an experiment. It does not matter whether one adheres to the overused excuse that the Socialism (and perpetually pledged 'communism') done by the Soviet Union is in fact a misnomer and hence shall not be tainting the good name of real socialism and/or communism spirit. What really matters is that the risky experiments, although paved with good intentions, often fail (in political and social sphere more so) while the cost of such failure can be devastating.

    On the other hand, the technology advancements, besides bringing the new challenges also provide new opportunities. Rapid introduction of mechanical and robotic labor and experimenting with the basic income might prove to have potential of eradicating some grave shortcomings of the previous experiments and can be inducing the Soviet Union as a precursor for a high tech communist bright future.

    Yet again, this (and any other) critical social engineering shall came with caveat that those who wonder off the beaten track must be conscious of the risks hiding behind the uncharted bushes.

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  7. Ivanna Didur 2 years ago

    Although there were many flaws and factors, which contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union, from the bankruptcy of communist ideology to the failure of the Soviet economy, the collapse of the USSR was a long process, which started from the very beginning.
    Centralizing the power in the hands of Moscow and diminishing the role of all the other member states was at the core of the Soviet Union. Built on principles of tyranny, the union was able to exist for a long time but the dissatisfaction of member states was continuing to rise. Granting more power to member states and decentralization could help to keep the USSR. Is this something similar to the requirements we hear from the EU members?

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  8. Anastasia Wischnewskaja 2 years ago

    For me as a Russian it is really hard to talk about lessons learned from the October revolution, as the moment I think about it, I am paralyzed by fear and disgust for the regime it brought about. Talking about the lessons learned from the soviet experiment, I can think of only very trivial things. For example, that driving the socialist idea ad absurdum has shown, where its limits are, so that other countries could realize Engels’ dream much better than the Soviet Union did. He would be pleased to see the present-day Germany or USA. The left idea is not dead, but its limits are clear, just like the limits of nationalism were demonstrated clearly by the Nazi Germany. The major lesson for me is, however, that economy comes first and politics is only second. This lesson was learned well by China, but the Russian government still does not it, even after 70 years of the failed Soviet experiment.

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