Author Topic: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?  (Read 108256 times)

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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #15 on: September 07, 2006, 01:27:33 PM »
You're right, of course, Elisabeth on the above points.  And, as is often the case, my tongue was a bit in my cheek on the point of Othodoxy vs communism.

As I wrote in an earlier discussion on this topic, I really do not mean to imply that autocracy and bolshevik rule were simply the same phenomenon under different ideological rubrics.

I simply view certain aspects of autocracy -- in particular, its elevation of a single unquestionable central authority as the arbiter of all matters both secular and religious -- as something that created the conditions under which the Lenin and Stalin terrors could occur.  This is not to say that autocracy was a form of government by terror (although it had close scrapes with it in a few instances).  It is simply to say that when all limits on authority are deliberately suppressed, anything can happen.  History seems to suggest that a system that can be run by a madman eventually will be run by one.

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #16 on: September 07, 2006, 01:54:09 PM »
I simply view certain aspects of autocracy -- in particular, its elevation of a single unquestionable central authority as the arbiter of all matters both secular and religious -- as something that created the conditions under which the Lenin and Stalin terrors could occur.  This is not to say that autocracy was a form of government by terror (although it had close scrapes with it in a few instances).  It is simply to say that when all limits on authority are deliberately suppressed, anything can happen.  History seems to suggest that a system that can be run by a madman eventually will be run by one.

Again, I don't disagree. What's interesting about my current reading of Figes is his view of the effects of such arbitrary autocratic rule on the peasantry, who, as we all remember, constituted over 80 per cent of the total population of the Russian empire under the tsars. He thinks (and I see no reason to disagree with him) that these longterm effects were dire: an insatiable hunger for the land forbidden to it; an inclination towards lawlessness and anarchy (since the entire concept of the law was unknown to the peasantry, who were deliberately kept outside its jurisdiction); lack of identification with state and country, again because of social, civil, and judicial marginalization; and last but not least, a childlike obedience to any overwhelming outside force that could quell their own lawlessness. Thus, during the height of the land revolution in 1918, the Bolsheviks received from the heartland of Russia repeated appeals to establish a new "autocracy" - literally, an "autocracy" - over the Russian people. Shades of the ancient Rus', at a loss to maintain order amongst themselves, begging the ragtag Scandinavian band called the Varangians to "come and rule over us." And thus the founding of the Rurikovichi dynasty and the beginning of Russian autocracy as we know it!

This is why I wonder if the last hope for sustaining the old regime actually died on Bloody Sunday, 1905, as opposed to that dark day in September 1911 when the great reformer Petr Stolypin died in a Kiev hospital of the wounds he had recieved from an assassin's bullets.
« Last Edit: September 07, 2006, 02:01:16 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Tania+

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #17 on: September 07, 2006, 02:32:14 PM »
Stolypin would have made a great deal of difference, in and throughout Russia, had he lived !

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Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #18 on: September 07, 2006, 03:50:57 PM »
But according to Figes, Stolypin's reforms were already failing before his death. His land reforms had met intransigent opposition not only from the landed gentry but also from the majority of the very class they were designed to help, the peasantry. As a result, despite unprecedented aid and encouragement from the central government and bureaucracy, by 1914 less than a third of peasant households in the Russian empire were freehold properties held in hereditary tenure (see Figes, p. 238). Most peasants chose to stay in the commune and pressured their neighbors to do the same, especially in central Russia proper - the very region where, as Figes notes, the land revolution would take off with a vengeance in spring 1917.

Moreover, by 1911 Stolypin had lost the support of the tsar. He was an isolated figure, without even a political party of his own to fall back on. When he lost Nicholas' favor, he lost everything. On some level he seems to have recognized this. The first sentence of his will read, "When I am assassinated..." and during his last visit to Kiev he refused to travel with bodyguards or even to wear a bulletproof vest. He seems to have known that he, like his life's mission, was doomed. 
« Last Edit: September 07, 2006, 03:56:08 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #19 on: September 07, 2006, 03:55:51 PM »
This is why I wonder if the last hope for sustaining the old regime actually died on Bloody Sunday, 1905, as opposed to that dark day in September 1911 when the great reformer Petr Stolypin died in a Kiev hospital of the wounds he had recieved from an assassin's bullets.

I think 1905 was a watershed year on two counts.  Certainly Bloody Sunday was a tipping point signalling to ordinary Russians that the mystical pact between them and their father-tsar was perhaps not the relationship they had imagined.  (It is hard today to realize how deep and broad was the breaking of faith that occurred on that one day.  I posted elsewhere that years ago I spent an afternoon in front of a microfiche reader looking at contemporary international press and editorial coverage of Bloody Sunday in papers from New York to Berlin.  The vilification of the Russian regime was immediate, extreme, and universal.  The epithet "Bloody Nicholas" gained instant currency not just in revolutionary ranks, but in diplomatic salons across the monarchies and democracies of western Europe.  And I think England's decision twelve years later to deny a safe haven to Nicholas and his family was actually foreordained on that day.)

However, I think 1905/06 was significant on an even more fundamental level.  The paradox of Russian politics was that any successful move toward participatory government could only come from the top.  The organs and instincts of self-government were so stunted after centuries of autocracy that any forced attempt to gain influence from below seems to me almost fated to veer into anarchy and from there into a new dictatorship . . . all of which actually happened in 1917.

I think your point, Elisabeth, about the peasants' single-minded craving for land is significant here.  In order for a revolutionary regime to muster the force required to stave off the anarchy their quest would unleash, a new regime would have to create a monster that would be extremely dangerous for anyone new to power to wield.

Russia could only have made a peaceful transition to some form of participatory government under the sponshorship of and management by monarchical institutions.  Had Nicholas not instead mounted a series of rear-guard actions meant to recover as much of his autonomy as possible from 1906 forward, Russia might have been able to evolve a workable approach to constitutional monarchy.  It perhaps would not have looked like its English counterpart, nor would it have needed to.

To me, many more of the crossroads of Russia's lost opportunities intersected in 1905 than in 1911, 1914, or 1917.

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #20 on: September 07, 2006, 04:43:48 PM »
I think 1905 was a watershed year on two counts.  Certainly Bloody Sunday was a tipping point signalling to ordinary Russians that the mystical pact between them and their father-tsar was perhaps not the relationship they had imagined. 

I think this is very true. The Englishman Bernard Pares talked to a peasant in 1907 who told him that the "biggest change in [Russia] the last five years" was that "five years ago there was a belief [in the Tsar] as well as fear. Now the belief is all gone and only the fear remains."

A landowner remarked of the peasants in his village after the disturbances of 1905-06: "instead of the peasants' previous courtesy, their friendliness and humility, there was only hatred on their faces, and the manner of their greetings was such as to underline their rudeness." (Figes, p. 203-6)

However, I think 1905/06 was significant on an even more fundamental level.  The paradox of Russian politics was that any successful move toward participatory government could only come from the top.  The organs and instincts of self-government were so stunted after centuries of autocracy that any forced attempt to gain influence from below seems to me almost fated to veer into anarchy and from there into a new dictatorship . . . all of which actually happened in 1917.

This is why 1905 also seems to me the watershed year, after which fundamental change for the better was less and less likely. Pre-1905 at least most of the educated classes seem to have evinced a willingness to work with the tsar toward social and institutional reform. If the tsar had only shown himself willing to lead society in this regard a permanent compromise satisfactory to all (or at least to most) might have been reached. But after the Revolution of 1905-06, and the simultaneous revolution on the land, the gentry by and large became increasingly conservative and bent on retaining its privileges (the gentry had a deathwish, if you ask me), while the workers and many of their fellow peasants in the villages became increasingly radicalized, turning away from moderate political parties like the Mensheviks towards groups demanding immediate, drastic land redistirbution like the Trudoviks, or immediate, drastic revolution, i.e. the SRs and the Bolsheviks.

Stolypin attempted to reform local government at the volost (township?) level by allowing for peasant representation but the landed gentry blocked this reform, fearful that if peasants achieved equal representation in local government their own power in the countryside would wane. Stolypin also wanted to get rid of anachronistic institutions like the noble land captains but again, was blocked by gentry interests.

But if Stolypin's local governmental reforms had succeeded (a big if), this would have gone some way toward preparing ordinary Russians to govern themselves (rather than seeking big government to do it for them). Local authority in the countryside might not have collapsed so dramatically in the spring of 1917, leaving a power vacuum for the Bolsheviks to fill. And even if  this is all mere speculation and wishful thinking... it nevertheless shows that some officials in the tsarist government were aware of the dangers of leaving the peasant out of local administrative affairs.

I think your point, Elisabeth, about the peasants' single-minded craving for land is significant here.  In order for a revolutionary regime to muster the force required to stave off the anarchy their quest would unleash, a new regime would have to create a monster that would be extremely dangerous for anyone new to power to wield.

Russia could only have made a peaceful transition to some form of participatory government under the sponshorship of and management by monarchical institutions.  Had Nicholas not instead mounted a series of rear-guard actions meant to recover as much of his autonomy as possible from 1906 forward, Russia might have been able to evolve a workable approach to constitutional monarchy.  It perhaps would not have looked like its English counterpart, nor would it have needed to.

To me, many more of the crossroads of Russia's lost opportunities intersected in 1905 than in 1911, 1914, or 1917.

Yes, very well put as always. I also tend to think that 1905 was the fateful year for the tsarist regime. Ordinarily we view 1905 as the year of great reforms signalling promise and hope for Russia, but in fact all the reforms seem to been too little, too late.
« Last Edit: September 07, 2006, 04:45:26 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline LisaDavidson

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #21 on: September 08, 2006, 12:54:45 AM »
I like reading thrillers. Right now I am reading Robert Harris' novel about Stalin's "lost notebook," Archangel. (I don't recommend it as highly as I do his first novel about Nazi Germany in the 1960s if Hitler had won the war, Fatherland - which is superb. But the action in this novel rather drags.) However, there's an interesting passage in which a character summarizes the demographic changes that took place under the Soviets:

"Professor I. A. Kaganov estimates that some 66 million people were killed in the USSR between 1917 and 1953 - shot, tortured, starved mostly, frozen or worked to death. Others say the true figure is a mere 45 million. Who knows?

"Neither estimate, by the way, includes the 30 million now known to have been killed in the Second World War.

"To put this loss in context: The Russian Federation today has a population of roughly 150 million. Assuming the ravages inflicted by Communism had never occurred and assuming normal demographic trends, the actual population should be about 300 million."

(p. 155, Archangel, Robert Harris, 1998)

Taking into account these horrific numerical figures, what do you think the history of the Soviet Union was? Obviously a major mistake, but what kind of mistake in the larger historical context? Necessary or unnecesary? Avoidable or unavoidable? Criminal or non-criminal? How does it compare to the history of the Russian empire under the tsars? Or is that an unfair comparison? What's your opinion and why?   

1. I think the history of the Soviet Union is a realistic representation of what happens when criminals seize a legitimate government. This regime continuously lied to its people, mass murdered millions, stole the property of its citizens, and adhered to no known moral standard. The fact that Russia has refused over the last decade and a half to honestly face the criminality of the Soviet Union means that its recovery will be slow if not non existent.

2. As to what kind of mistake it was, it was a triumph of criminals over decent people. It was completely unnecessary and it was surely avoidable. If lying, murdering, theft and no morals are not criminal, I don't know what you would consider moral (or non criminal).

3. In terms of comparison to the tsarist regime, the autocracy was a legitimate government which adhered to accepted standards of conduct. For this reason alone, it is rather strange to compare it to a criminal regime. However, since the question has been posed, the tsars were for the most part well intentioned towards the country - unlike Lenin, who really hated Russia as his writings show us. This does not mean that everything they did was benevolent and beneficial. All were Orthodox and were not proud of lying if and when they did it. None engaged in the type of mass murder that the Bolsheviks did. Private property was respected for the most part - property was not stolen.

4. In short, my opinion is that while the tsarist regime undoubtedly had serious failings, these failings were addressed by the February Revolution. The government lost power because it lost the support of its citizens. However, none of its failings were on the magnitude of that of the Soviet government. Decent people everywhere should revile the criminal behavior of the Bolsheviks. They were truly the face of evil on this earth - anti-Christs in every sense of the word.

By the way - everyone is welcome to agree or to disagree with my opinions or anyone else's. But, if I see any more personal attacks on anyone on this thread, they will be immediately deleted by me. This is my first and only warning.

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #22 on: September 08, 2006, 06:58:50 AM »
In terms of comparison to the tsarist regime, the autocracy was a legitimate government which adhered to accepted standards of conduct. For this reason alone, it is rather strange to compare it to a criminal regime.

I don't quite understand why a government cannot be compared to its predecessor or what the definition is of a "criminal regime".

If a regime is "criminal" because it seized power from a "legitimate" regime, then the American revolutionary government was a criminal regime.  So was the Napoleonic government, as was the rule of the Roman emperors . . . and so was the rule of the tsars over every non-Muscovite territory they conquered over the centuries.

Consider Catherine the Great.  If she did not give prior approval to the murder of her husband -- the legitimate tsar -- she certainly sanctioned it afterward.  Moreover, after his murder, the legitimate successor was Peter's son, whose throne she usurped.  Why, then, isn't Catherine's reign a "criminal regime"?

I think I can speak for Elisabeth as well as myself in saying that comparing the soviet regime to the tsarist regime by no means implies they were equivalent in morals (whatever that means in the context of government), in good or evil, or in outcomes.  The discussion has rather been about whether the tsarist government created the conditions in which a small group of radicals could within a very few years command the people and resources of an entire nation to restructure every aspect of its political, social, and economic life.

Regardless of the origins of their power, both the tsars and the bolshevik dictators ruled the Russian empire and its peoples.  What is wrong with comparing the records of each in doing so?


Offline LisaDavidson

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #23 on: September 08, 2006, 06:15:20 PM »
In terms of comparison to the tsarist regime, the autocracy was a legitimate government which adhered to accepted standards of conduct. For this reason alone, it is rather strange to compare it to a criminal regime.

I don't quite understand why a government cannot be compared to its predecessor or what the definition is of a "criminal regime".

If a regime is "criminal" because it seized power from a "legitimate" regime, then the American revolutionary government was a criminal regime.  So was the Napoleonic government, as was the rule of the Roman emperors . . . and so was the rule of the tsars over every non-Muscovite territory they conquered over the centuries.

Consider Catherine the Great.  If she did not give prior approval to the murder of her husband -- the legitimate tsar -- she certainly sanctioned it afterward.  Moreover, after his murder, the legitimate successor was Peter's son, whose throne she usurped.  Why, then, isn't Catherine's reign a "criminal regime"?

I think I can speak for Elisabeth as well as myself in saying that comparing the soviet regime to the tsarist regime by no means implies they were equivalent in morals (whatever that means in the context of government), in good or evil, or in outcomes.  The discussion has rather been about whether the tsarist government created the conditions in which a small group of radicals could within a very few years command the people and resources of an entire nation to restructure every aspect of its political, social, and economic life.

Regardless of the origins of their power, both the tsars and the bolshevik dictators ruled the Russian empire and its peoples.  What is wrong with comparing the records of each in doing so?



I don't recall saying I had the opinion that the two regimes could not be compared. Rather, I think such comparisons are problematic due to the criminal conduct of so many members of the Bolshevik Party. Let's put it this way - if a group of pirates took over a monastery, could you then compare that monastery to other religious houses? Well, I suppose you could, but do you see the problem?

Allow me to illustrate. It is normal in revolutionary situations for the overthrown to either leave the country or be killed. But, when Grand Duke Michael was murdered, there was no trial, no proper burial, and the murderer went to Moscow with the watch he stole from Michael's corpse. Contrast that with what happened in revolutionary France. Louis XVI lost his life, to be sure, but he had a trial, he was buried, and his executioner did not pilfer his valuables.

To me, a criminal regime is one where any pretence to morality is abandoned, and that was certainly the case of Soviet Russia. The United States is certainly not a criminal regime, nor was Napoleon's, nor any of the others you have cited. Revolution is part of the political process and is not in itself criminal, in my opinion.

I think Catherine II was a usurper. She pushed aside her husband and her son. She probably had her husband murdered. Of course this was a criminal act, but as she was sovereign, was never prosecuted for it. Once in power, Catherine endeavored to be an enlightened ruler. Was hers a criminal regime? No, she exercised power often brutally, but her regime itself was certainly not criminal.

I answered Elisabeth's questions with my own opinions, as did you. I believe your opinion is that tsarism is largely responsible for what occured under the Bolsheviks. While I disagree with you, I absolutely support your right to hold it and discuss it and to continue to debate it.

Offline griffh

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #24 on: September 08, 2006, 08:34:09 PM »
First off Tania I am right with you about Stolypin.  His political fatique and the partial fullfillment of his land reforms still created the Siberian farmers who lasted until Stalin mass murdered them.  In spite of the fact that Stolypin found himself between a rock and a hard place in 1911 does not make him a failure.  The very fact that Stolypin was one of the first Russian statesmen to be studied by the Russian Government in the 1990's indicates that he has a valuable contribution to make.  What is your take Elizabeth in connection with the Soviet farmers.  Were they called Kolcaks?  I am ashamed to say that I cannot think of their name as I keep getting it confused with the White Army Officer.  There goes my credibility right down the drain. 

I also wanted to say that while posting my new chronology for 1916 where this tendency to demean Nicholas first appeared, outside Revolutionary propaganda, from the public statements of Woodrow Wilson.  I ended my chonology with Churchill’s point of view which speaks to Tsarfan's question about comparing Nicholas reign with Lenin and the rest:


I don't quite understand why a government cannot be compared to its predecessor or what the definition is of a "criminal regime".

If a regime is "criminal" because it seized power from a "legitimate" regime, then the American revolutionary government was a criminal regime. 

I think the answer is found in the character of the rulers: 

“It is the shallow fashion of these times to dismiss the Tsarist regime as a purblind, corrupt, incompetent tyranny.  But a survey of its thirty months’ war with Germany and Austria should correct there loose impressions and expose the dominant facts.  We may measure the strength of the Russian Empire by the battering it had endured, by the disasters it had survived, by the inexhaustible forces it had developed, and by the recovery it had made.  In the governments of states, when great events are afoot, the leader of the nation, whoever he be, is held accountable for failure and vindicated by success.  No matter who wrought the toil, who planned the struggle, to the supreme responsible authority belongs the blame or credit.

Why should this stern test be denied to Nicholas II?  He had made many mistakes, what ruler had not?  He was neither a great captain nor a great prince.  He was only a true, simple man of average ability, of merciful disposition, upheld in all his daily life by his faith in God.  But the brunt of supreme decisions centered on him.  At the summit where all problems are reduced to Yea or Nay, where events transcend the faculties of man and where all is inscrutable, he had to give answers.  His was the function of the compass needle.  War or no war?  Advance or retreat? Right or Left?  Democratise or hold firm? Quit or persevere?  These were the battlefields of Nicholas II.  Why should he reap no honor for them?  The devoted onset of the Russian armies which saved Paris in 1914; the mastered agony of the munitionless retreat; the slowly regathered forces; the victories of Brusilov; The Russian entry upon the campaign of 1917, unconquered, stronger than ever; has he no share in these?  In spite of the errors vast and terrible, the regime he personified, over which he presided, to which his personal character gave the vital spark, had at this moment won the war for Russia.

He is about to be struck down.  A dark hand, gloved at first in folly, now intervenes.  Exit Tsar.  Deliver him and all he loved to wounds and death.  Belittle his efforts, asperse his conduct, insult his memory; but pause then to tell us who else was found capable.  Who or what could guide the Russian state?  Men gifted and daring; men ambitious and fierce; spirits audacious and commanding—of these there was no lack.  But none could answer the few plain questions on which the life and fame of Russia turned.”
 
Tsarfan I know that answer is probably not acceptable to you but I think it captures the entire point and shows the heart of the matter at hand. 

 



 

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #25 on: September 09, 2006, 07:10:16 AM »
I think Catherine II was a usurper. She pushed aside her husband and her son. She probably had her husband murdered. Of course this was a criminal act, but as she was sovereign, was never prosecuted for it. Once in power, Catherine endeavored to be an enlightened ruler. Was hers a criminal regime? No, she exercised power often brutally, but her regime itself was certainly not criminal.

I guess my fundamental problem, Lisa, is that I cannot find a coherent application for the term "criminal" in discussing the legitimacy of a regime.  Consider Hitler, for example.  He was legitimately appointed Chancellor under the laws of the Weimar Republic.  Then he obtained a vote from the Reichstag conferring martial powers on him.  Then, using those powers, he assembled the machinery of Nazi rule.  In a strictly legal sense, his was a "legitimate" government . . . but one that plunged all of Europe into a war of conquest, that murdered millions of political opponents and "undesireables" in and out of concentration camps, and that caused the deaths of tens of millions beyond that.

Even with Catherine II (of whom I'm a big fan, by the way), I have trouble with the use of the terms "legitimate" versus "criminal."  In an autocracy, all power is vested in one person.  If that person obtained power illegally (an illegal act being the very definition of a crime), isn't her government by definition "criminal" . . . since she is the government?


To me, a criminal regime is one where any pretence to morality is abandoned, and that was certainly the case of Soviet Russia. The United States is certainly not a criminal regime, nor was Napoleon's, nor any of the others you have cited. Revolution is part of the political process and is not in itself criminal, in my opinion.

All governments abandon any pretence to morality -- or legality -- when the stakes get high enough.  Take the United States when gold was discovered in the Black Hills in the last half of the 19th century.  Those lands had been granted by treaty to an Indian nation.  When gold was discovered, the U.S. attempted to purchase the land from the Indians.  When they refused, the U.S. unceremoniously tossed the treaty aside, seized the lands, and triggered a war in which the Indians were almost annihilated.  Or take Great Britain.  When the tide was running against them in the Boer War, they created the world's first concentration camps, in which upwards of 20,000 people -- many of them non-combatant women and children -- died from disease, starvation, and mistreatment.

So this definition of a "criminal regime" to distinguish the Bolsheviks from others doesn't quite work for me, either.


Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #26 on: September 09, 2006, 07:14:59 AM »
Allow me to illustrate. It is normal in revolutionary situations for the overthrown to either leave the country or be killed. But, when Grand Duke Michael was murdered, there was no trial, no proper burial, and the murderer went to Moscow with the watch he stole from Michael's corpse. Contrast that with what happened in revolutionary France. Louis XVI lost his life, to be sure, but he had a trial, he was buried, and his executioner did not pilfer his valuables.

The Bolshevik regime committed untold horrors for which it will never be held to account.  Those horrors should be discussed for what they were.  But I do not see the utility of trying to heighten the contrast between Bolshevik bad deeds and the bad deeds of other governments by mischaracterizing those other deeds.

Let's look at the fate of Louis XVI and his family.  They were held in a prison.  In the latter stages of their imprisonment, Louis was separated from the family, and finally the children were separated from Marie Antoinette, to her great anguish.  Yes, Louis was put on trial.  But it was a stage-managed farce known to be such by all participants.  And Marie Antoinette's trial was even worse, both for knowing that such a proceeding had already sent her husband to the guillotine and for her young son being put on the stand to testify to a jeering crowd that she had committed incest with him.  Both Louis and Marie were hauled in open carts to public executions in front of cheering crowds, having spent months of imprisonment specifically engineered to cause them maximum psychological torment.  Their young son -- having been separated from his parents and then brainwashed by his captors -- then later disappeared from history, almost certainly to die either by outright murder or by gross abuse.

Contrast that with the Bolshevik period of the imprisonment of Nicholas and his family.  Even in Ekaterinburg, they were housed in one of the town's finest residences instead of the local prison.  They were allowed to keep their retainers with them.  Instead of putting them on public display for entertainment or ridicule, the local soviet actually quelled occasional demonstrations that demanded Romanov blood.  Until very late in the imprisonment, they were given access to Orthodox clerics (despite the rabid anti-clericism of the Bolshevik regime).  The family was kept together, allowed reading material, given limited exercise, and provided with substantial meals.  All indications are that they went to their deaths calmly and buying the pretense that they were about to be relocated.  Yes, it was nevertheless an imprisonment that certainly exacted its torments.  But it was not the stage-managed feast of building horrors that the imprisonment of Louis and Marie was sadisctically engineered to be.

None of this makes any of the murders all right.  However, I really don't see the point of contrasting the treatment of the Romanovs with the treatment of the Bourbons for the purpose of portraying the Bolsheviks as something worse than their French counterparts.  If one really wanted to go there, I think the French take first prize for biggest evil-doers in terms of how they handled the elimination of their former rulers.

(By the way, the reason Michael's valuables were pilfered is that he had been left with valuables to be pilfered.  Louis had been stripped of all worldly goods long before his execution, as opposed to the Romanovs who were sent to Ekaterinburg accompanied by several trunks of personal belongings.  Again . . . I'm not saying the Bolsheviks were nice guys.  I'm just saying that comparisons only work when both sides of the comparison are accurately represented.)

Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #27 on: September 09, 2006, 10:21:06 AM »
Not to nitpick, but Louis Charles did not testify in an open court; his words were quoted at his mother's trial (bad enough, she heard them). Louis XVI was taken to his death in a closed coach, although Marie Antoinette did travel in a tumbril. She objected to it on the grounds that her husband had not suffered this indignity.

But Tsarfan is spot on in his description of the travails suffered by the French Royal Family as compared to the Imperials. Moreover, of the five French Royals imprisoned together, only one --- Marie Therese --- escaped violent death, and that only thanks to the overthrow of Robespierre. The Romanovs' captivity was physically much easier.

Griffth, I'm not sure that your description of Nicholas II's government (let alone him, if you intended that) as responsible for three years grim resistance to the Germans is enough to make him a competent, moral leader. Stalin and his boys did pretty well in 1941 and are (justly) stigmatized as criminals.

Tsarfan makes a good point, I think. There are very few governments throughout history that make a tenable claim to operating on conventionally moral grounds. The worst cloak their actions with an appeal to a higher, newer morality than conventional Judeo-Christian (the Nazis, the Bolsheviks), and most simply operate according to enlightened self-interest (most Western powers, and certainly Tsarist Russia). Catherine II was an effective ruler, not a moral one. Had she failed, she might be labelled a criminal because of the murder of Peter III. If Nicholas II had succeeded, he would not bear the onus for the stupid political decisions he made (the Russo-Japanese War, the entry of Russia into World War I, the inability to support his own ministers --- ex. Stolypin). Nicholas II is not being held to a higher standard than any American President.
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Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #28 on: September 09, 2006, 11:17:26 AM »
First off Tania I am right with you about Stolypin.  His political fatique and the partial fullfillment of his land reforms still created the Siberian farmers who lasted until Stalin mass murdered them.  In spite of the fact that Stolypin found himself between a rock and a hard place in 1911 does not make him a failure.  The very fact that Stolypin was one of the first Russian statesmen to be studied by the Russian Government in the 1990's indicates that he has a valuable contribution to make.  What is your take Elizabeth in connection with the Soviet farmers.  Were they called Kolcaks?  I am ashamed to say that I cannot think of their name as I keep getting it confused with the White Army Officer. 

Nothing to be ashamed of, Griff. Everybody makes mistakes when it comes to the kulaks. That's because the term itself is terribly misleading. Who constituted a kulak depends to a large extent on the period of Russian history you’re discussing. There were prerevolutionary kulaks, and there were post-revolutionary kulaks, and there’s a world of difference between the two.

In prerevolutionary Russia, long before Stolypin's reforms, a kulak was a rich peasant. ("Kulak" literally means "fist" in Russian and probably originally referred to the so-called tightfistedness of this class of people. And yes, there were rich peasants even before Stolypin.) To be honest I don’t know how many new kulaks were created by Stolypin’s land reforms. However, judging from the overall lack of success of these reforms, especially in central Russia, it seems reasonable to assume that the number was not great, at least, not relative to the overall size of the peasant population. (And remember, just because a peasant chose to take advantage of Stolypin’s land reforms to leave the commune and establish his own farm does not mean that he became a successful, much less a rich, peasant as a result. Probably – I’m going out on a limb here – most of these people became "middle" peasants, neither rich nor poor.) 

After the Revolution, the term "kulak" took on a much broader meaning. During Stalin’s collectivization campaign, which forced the peasantry into collective farms, a kulak was redefined to mean any peasant of means who owned, say, two cows. In other words a kulak was any peasant, "high" or "middle," who had a good reason to resist collectivization and therefore, the state determined, had either to be shot or deported to Siberia.

For this very reason, most historians in my experience do not use the term "kulaks" to describe Stalin’s peasant victims. To do so is, intentionally or unintentionally, to mislead the reader as to the true extent and nature of the crimes committed against the peasantry by the Soviet regime.  But you're quite right, Griff, that the new class of peasant farmers created by Stolypin's reforms was wiped out by Stalin's collectivization program.

And speaking of the peasants... I get tired of always hearing about the Bolshevik regime's crimes against the imperial family (much as I sympathize with OTMA and Alexei in particular). I would define the Bolshevik regime criminal not only because it seized power illegally from the freely elected Constituent Assembly (which it forcibly disbanded) but also because from its very earliest days it had to spill oceans of blood to keep its new government afloat. I refer not to the purges directed against the IF and the aristocracy and bourgeoisie, but precisely to those workers and peasants who rebelled against Communist power in the early 1920s and brought the new regime almost to its knees. The peasant rebellions against War Communism (i.e., grain requisitions and collective farms) swept virtually the entire country, and paralyzed Soviet power in various regions. Lenin said the peasant rebellions were "far more dangerous than all the Denikins, Yudeniches, and Kolchaks put together."  Meanwhile the Soviet workers who had supported the new regime in its infancy turned against it as its true coercive nature began to be known. Lenin's government had to respond with terror to both the workers' (the Kronstadt Rebellion) and to an even greater extent to the peasants' rebellions (which were not entirely put down until 1923). I don't think anyone knows exactly how many people died as a result, but it was easily in the tens of thousands. To me, a regime that can only maintain its power through a campaign of terror directed against the entire population (with the sole exception of the ruling party itself) is a criminal regime.
« Last Edit: September 09, 2006, 11:29:40 AM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #29 on: September 09, 2006, 12:01:08 PM »
Dear Elisabeth,

I agree with your definition of a criminal regime up to a point. But can such a regime acquire legitimacy? By the 1950s, is the Sovet government "legitimate", i.e. it handles power transitions without violence?

I think the question at the head of this thread is a little dicey: okay, the Soviet Union was a moral mistake. It abused its' citizens. But it also succeeded in many of the foreign policy aims of Tsarist Russia. She became a feared world power, she excercised enormous influence over central and eastern Europe, and she survived the destruction of France, Germany, England and Austria as imperial powers. In a Realpolitik sense, the Soviet Union experienced some success.

Simon

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