Author Topic: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?  (Read 108249 times)

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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #45 on: September 10, 2006, 06:43:44 PM »
I think that a couple of centuries from now, historians will be discussing the 20th century primarily in two dimensions:  how did a racist regime such as Hitler's emerge in Western Europe, and what caused the eruption of a set of ideologies onto the world stage that, for the first time literally in thousands of years, attacked the fundamental notions of personal property.

The history of the preceeding centuries (at least in the developed world) up until the 18th had largely revolved around questions of who sat at the top of which monarchical system and how that system related to religious authority.  The 18th century introduced the issue of the rights of larger populations to have a say in their government.  And the twentieth century opened up the question of whether private property rights should exist at all.

The soviet regime will play an enormous role -- maybe even a central one -- in this historical examination.  But I do not feel it will be viewed as uniquely criminal, uniquely murderous, or uniquely fated to doom.  The twentieth century just seethed with competition on all those scores.

Offline griffh

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #46 on: September 10, 2006, 07:01:04 PM »
Elizabeth that website did sound a bit dicey but then I am certainly not knowledgeable in this historic period.  I have to admit that I start waking up in 1848, am fully awake by 1885-1917, but when I go beyond 1921-1922 I start to get awfully sleepy and by 1928 I am out like a light!   I love learning more by being apart of this discussion. 

Bev that is an interesting distinction about the suffering in our immediate past.

However, Tsarfan, I believe the last century is already being compared by historians [Barbara Tuchman] to some aspects of the "Dark Ages" and in that context I do agree that the accomplishments of Soviet Union will stand out.  I apologize if my remark sounds sarcastic but it is almost unbearable to study slaughter-house Russia became under Lenin and Stalin, to paraphrase an American diplomat, I would rather study the history of the Chicago stockyards.  Perhaps if one has grown up under all that abuse one eventually becomes dumb. 

In discussing the Soviet’s control of Russia, I would like to paraphrase Dijkstra. It "...is like entering into an insane asylum in which the inmates have written all the rules...[they] tended to pronounce...goals of civilization so catastrophically anithumanistic and heartless that it is an immense relief to come across Freud's belated recognition, in 1930, the  "if the development of civilization has such a far-reaching similarity to the development of the individual and if it employs the same methods, may we not be justified in reaching the diagnosis that, under the influence of cultural urges, some civilizations, or some epochs of civilization--possibly the whole of mankind--have become 'neurotic.'   

I know that we have been around the block more than once about neurotic and psychotic behavior, so I hope I am not opening that door again as I think we explored that topic in detail. 

Just to say that I found a book about Russian/American relations in the 1860's which might supply some interesting perspectives on this discussion of Lincoln; it is written by a Ukrainian scholar….only kidding! 

I will try to get to it tomorrow.  But I will quickly add just one quote as it might prove helpful about in terms of the value of a strong Union.  This period in America was one of the severest tests of the strength of the American Union that it has ever faced.  Pressure to destroy the Union was being brought to bear by Britain and France.  Britain tried to turn the tide with its support of the South and France was gambling on the destruction of the American Union by setting up its Austrian Puppet-King, Maximilian, in Mexico. 

Anyway here is the quote:  "At the outbreak of the Civil War, a considerable number of young Russians offered their military services to Lincoln and the Union.  Among them was Prince Alexander Eristov...  Prince Eristov, whose English was imperfect, when called upon to explain why he had chosen to fight with the Union forces, took a peach between his fingers; "Like this the peach is so beautiful," he said, "and its skin with all those little hairs is protection in the severest weather."  Breaking the peach in half, he added, holding the two pieces far apart, "But like this, it can withstand nothing!" 

Poor Russia was torn open twice in the twentieth century; the first time, 1917-1921, and again when the Communist Regime collapsed at the end of the last century.  Tsarfan it is difficult for me to understand why, with your love of Soviet Russia you don't seem particulary interested in defending its Union which is a far more comprehensive question that would unite most Russians from the White Russian exiles to the Communists.   

Just as an aside, I always knew that there was no color-line in Russia because of my familiarity with the honors bestowed on the expatriate Black American Shakespearian Actor, Ira Aldridge, who became a honorary member of the Imperial Dramatic Society of Riga and was decorated by Alexander II.  Aldridge eventually married Countess Amanda Pauline Brandt. 

And I was aware that, as one source states;  “(Black) circus and cabaret performers, actors, boxers, jockeys and trainers, all from America, flocked to Russia, flourished there, and left numerous…descendants.” 

The thing that really took me by surprise was the owner of the famous restaurant in Moscow, the Yar, which Rasputin disrupted every now and then with his drunken antics, was owned by Mr. Thomas, a Black man from America who had married a Russian lady.  He also owned the equally famous Aquarium. 

Now every time I read a description of one of Rasputin’s drunken scenes in the Yar, I will have to include Mr. Thomas in that picture.   Well anyway I will post some interesting perspectives.     
« Last Edit: September 10, 2006, 07:08:33 PM by griffh »

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #47 on: September 10, 2006, 11:51:12 PM »
Tsarfan it is difficult for me to understand why, with your love of Soviet Russia . . . .

My "love of Soviet Russia" . . . ????  Did you miss my post where I called it an abomination in its origins, its ideology, its policies, and its outcomes?

For some reason, every time a discussion about the Bolshevik period comes up on this board, a coterie develops that asserts that the Soviet regime was absolutely without parallel in every aspect of its behavior.  The way they handled their deposed royals was the absolute worst in history . . . notwithstanding the fact that the French were at least equally cruel with theirs.  The Soviets killed more of their own citizenry than any other regime in history . . . despite the fact that new studies put deaths in Communist China in the 70-80 million range.  The Soviets were uniquely criminal . . . despite the fact that history has been peppered with criminal regimes (if the term even makes sense when applied to sovereign governments).

If one argues that these events were unique in Russia, I guess one doesn't have to confront the larger historical questions of why a runaway ideology anywhere (be it 18th century France or 20th century Russia) seems to result in runaway horrors.  One doesn't have to confront why totalitarian regimes anywhere (be it Germany, Russia, China, Uganda, Cambodia) seem inevitably to wind up committing mass murder.

Let's just all join the chorus to rehearse the horrors of soviet Russia over and over and over again without asking how they arose or how they fit into a larger picture.  And for good measure, let's deliberately mischaracterize the views of anyone who attempts to do so.

The original topic was "The Soviet Union:  What Kind of Mistake Was It?"  Well, I guess we now all know what the only allowable answer is.  It was a uniquely criminal regime that committed horrors never matched anywhere else.

See how easy history can be when one can ordain the facts to be whatever one wants them to be?

Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #48 on: September 11, 2006, 09:10:56 AM »
Certain things can be accepted as a given: the Soviet Union was an extremely cruel, despotic state that killed millions of its' own citizens. We all understand that, and it should not be necessary to re-list our anti-Soviet credentials everytime we post lest we be called "lovers of the Soviet Union". That being said, was it "uniquely" evil or despotic? I can't even imagine what the word "unique" means in that context.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch. . . it has always seemed to me that the USSR was successful in carrying out Tsarist foreign policy through its' domination of eastern Europe, destruction of Germany as a military power in World War II and positioning of Russia as a "superpower" in the second half of the 20th century. Of course, it also demonstrated the limits of that foreign policy, as the Soviet Union was unable to sustain itself as a military power, break the inherent nationalism of the eastern European states and continue its status as a superpower without ruining its economy. If I had to choose what kind of "mistake" the Soviet Union was, I would say that it tried to do too much too soon; that its' leadership was short-sighted in the extreme, and that it took Russia in directions that it could not implement. Instead of carefully husbanding resources and avoiding extra-national "adventures" (as, say, Stolypin would have advised Nicholas II to do), the Soviet Union found itself entrapped in the maintainence of an empire which could not be sustained.
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Offline LisaDavidson

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #49 on: September 11, 2006, 10:35:34 AM »
I also don't think anyone has suggested that Soviet Russia was uniquely criminal. I believe it has been established that many governments have committed criminal acts. The magnitude of the criminality of the Bolsheviks seems to be debatable amongst the members of the Forum contributing here - everything from committing criminal acts to being a criminal regime.

Should we start a list in answer to the original question?

1. Bolsheviks were basically criminals who killed millions of people and destroyed the agricultural infrastructure of the Ukraine.

Corrections and additions welcome.

Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #50 on: September 11, 2006, 11:09:13 AM »
2. Bolsheviks were basically the heirs to the Imperial State insofar as foreign policy was concerned, achieved limited success and then collapsed because of an inability to balance a military dictatorship with the needs of a domestic economy.
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Offline griffh

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #51 on: September 11, 2006, 11:21:58 AM »
3.  Bolsheviks supressed the intellectual life of Russia, forcing its literature, art, and music to serve the interests of the state, thereby forcing the literate life of the country underground or into exile.   

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #52 on: September 11, 2006, 11:27:00 AM »
1. Bolsheviks were basically criminals who killed millions of people and destroyed the agricultural infrastructure of the Ukraine.

Lisa, the Bolsheviks also destroyed the agricultural infrastructure of Russia proper, to the extent that it has yet, to this day, properly if at all recovered. As plenty of people here no doubt remember, throughout the 1970s and 80s the Soviet Union had to import grain from the West in order to make up for its deficient crop yields…The total collapse of the agricultural system throughout the country was one of the many factors leading Gorbachev to introduce radical new reforms in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.

Indeed, a lot of analysts believe that Gorbachev would have been far better off if he had followed the Chinese Communist model of beginning with gradual, incremental reforms of the agricultural system (privatizing land, encouraging small farmers in entrepeneurship), rather than starting, as Gorbachev no doubt unwisely did, with initiating free criticism of the Party and even free speech in general (glasnost), as well as the restructuring of the entire administrative system of the Party (perestroika).

By contrast, the Chinese Communists spent years reforming their disastrous (Mao-ruined) agricultural system without benefit of glasnost’ or perestroika. Arguably, they managed to hang on to power as a result, despite the growing democratization movement in the cities. This is because the peasantry by and large decided to support the Communist regime, so that the government could still rely on its army, largely made up of peasant recruits, to do the same. Such was not the case in the former Soviet Union, as we all know from the example of the August days of 1991, when Soviet troops for the most part refused to fire on the crowds protesting the recent coup by party and military hardliners.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2006, 11:29:19 AM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #53 on: September 11, 2006, 11:34:28 AM »
Meanwhile, back at the ranch. . . it has always seemed to me that the USSR was successful in carrying out Tsarist foreign policy through its' domination of eastern Europe, destruction of Germany as a military power in World War II and positioning of Russia as a "superpower" in the second half of the 20th century. Of course, it also demonstrated the limits of that foreign policy, as the Soviet Union was unable to sustain itself as a military power, break the inherent nationalism of the eastern European states and continue its status as a superpower without ruining its economy.

Simon, I don’t disagree with you. Russia faced a hard decision in the summer of 1914: either to become the dominant power in eastern Europe, or to become an economic if not necessarily a political satellite of a greater Germany.

In this sense the successor to the tsarist empire, the Soviet Union, in its domination of eastern Europe, and its division of Germany into East and West, was merely fulfilling, as you say, the old imperial Russian program, albeit with much, much greater coercive force and severity (for whereas countries like Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria to a large extent welcomed Soviet leadership, countries like Poland and East Germany certainly did not!).

The Soviets instigated purges on an unprecedented scale in the new satellite nations. Thousands of people in various eastern European states, Communists and non-Communists alike, fell victim to Stalin’s various paranoias during the late 1940s. I admit I don’t know this period of eastern European history at all well. But it seems to me significant that Stalin always took his lead not only from Marxism-Leninism but also from the great rulers of Russia’s past, and most particularly Ivan the Terrible, Russia’s first truly imperial tsar (remember, he conquered the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan, fought the Livonian War, etc.). For example, across Eisenstein’s screenplay for his famous film about Ivan, Stalin scribbled, repeatedly, "Uchitel'" – "Teacher." He even told Eisenstein that Ivan was the greatest ruler Russia had ever known, his only failing being that "God interfered with him." By this he meant that Ivan was prey to bouts of Christian remorse for his victims. Stalin, needless to say, never let God interfere with him!
« Last Edit: September 11, 2006, 11:39:21 AM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Bev

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #54 on: September 11, 2006, 12:05:46 PM »
Lisa, I have to agree with Tsarfan.  It is really diffficult to discuss the Soviet Union without being accused  at one time or another of supporting them if you don't agree that they're all as a group the worst criminal element in the history of the world.  I don't think that all bolsheviki were criminals.  I believe that some thought that what they were attempting would "save" Russia and make Russia a better nation.  As Solzhenitsyn pointed out, all of the institutions of terror were there, the Soviets employed them on a grander and more methodical scale.  I don't think that all Russians are evil people and anyone who participated in the Soviet government was a criminal.

When you state that "bolsheviks were basically criminals who killed millions of people and destroyed the agricultural infrastructure of the Ukraine" who can disagree with that?  Yes, that happened, there is no doubt about that, so what is there to correct or add?  I just don't know what you're expecting - if it's a list of Soviet crimes, then it's very easy to participate, if, however, you questions the basic premise; "bolsheviki were basically criminals"  then any comments made in opposition to this claim is considered support of the regime.  This isn't personal criticism of anyone, I'm trying to gauge the rules of debate as they apply to those who might dissent from the claim.  If critiques of claims and arguments are unwelcome, it would be easier to know that from the beginning of the thread, rather than to receive the arctic blast after posting.

Offline LisaDavidson

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #55 on: September 11, 2006, 12:30:21 PM »
Lisa, I have to agree with Tsarfan.  It is really diffficult to discuss the Soviet Union without being accused  at one time or another of supporting them if you don't agree that they're all as a group the worst criminal element in the history of the world.  I don't think that all bolsheviki were criminals.  I believe that some thought that what they were attempting would "save" Russia and make Russia a better nation.  As Solzhenitsyn pointed out, all of the institutions of terror were there, the Soviets employed them on a grander and more methodical scale.  I don't think that all Russians are evil people and anyone who participated in the Soviet government was a criminal.

When you state that "bolsheviks were basically criminals who killed millions of people and destroyed the agricultural infrastructure of the Ukraine" who can disagree with that?  Yes, that happened, there is no doubt about that, so what is there to correct or add?  I just don't know what you're expecting - if it's a list of Soviet crimes, then it's very easy to participate, if, however, you questions the basic premise; "bolsheviki were basically criminals"  then any comments made in opposition to this claim is considered support of the regime.  This isn't personal criticism of anyone, I'm trying to gauge the rules of debate as they apply to those who might dissent from the claim.  If critiques of claims and arguments are unwelcome, it would be easier to know that from the beginning of the thread, rather than to receive the arctic blast after posting.

Hi Bev - I have been trying to avoid directing any postings directly to anyone person because I feel it can limit a free exchange of ideas and puts us in the position of agreeing/disagreeing with every post. I also don't want anyone to feel they have to defend their ideas. So, you are most welcome to agree/disagree with Tsarfan or anyone else for that matter.

What I did suggest was that we commence discussing the mistakes that the Soviet Union made rather than getting hung up on the degree of criminality of that regime. So, if you would like to suggest a wording change to mistake #1, please feel free.

Or, you are also free to disregard my suggestion and we can resume what I was seeing was a possibly non-productive discussion that led some to the erroneous conclusion that Tsarfan was pro-Soviet. I would really prefer to discuss this particular topic, which is, what kind of mistake was it?

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #56 on: September 11, 2006, 01:12:06 PM »
Dear Bev and anyone else who feels similar concerns,

I deliberately phrased the topic line of this thread as "What Kind of Mistake Was It?" because I recognize that on some very profound level it was all one big gigantic mistake. In other words, I believe that Lenin's party, the Bolsheviks, set out with the most noble of intentions: those of saving not only Russia but also the entire world from injustice and inequality. So, where did they go wrong? Was it in the overall grandiosity or over-ambition of their vision (was their vision in itself somewhat messianic and for that very reason perhaps a mistake?) Or were they predestined to go wrong, given the heritage of Russian autocracy? For that matter, was any other alternative history ever possible, had the Romanov dynasty produced a few more progressive and liberal tsars on the lines of Alexander II (instead of the reactionary Alexander III and the timorous Nicholas II)? Was there a realistic historical alternative to the Bolsheviks? In short, was Russia predestined for the Bolshevik mistake? Or not? And exactly what kind of mistake was it? Where and when did the Bolsheviks go wrong and why?
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Offline Bev

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #57 on: September 11, 2006, 01:47:22 PM »
Thanks, Lisa, I just wanted to make sure we were all on the same page.  I suppose my answer would then be that it was a bad mistake since we know the outcome.  I don't think that the Bolsheviki understood that a philosophy of government may be inspirational to that government  but it is not a substitute for government.

Offline griffh

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #58 on: September 11, 2006, 01:53:23 PM »
That was truly my fault and I apologize Lisa and I especially apologize to you Tzarfan.  I wasn't using the word love in a negative way it came out. I didn't mean to say that you "loved the Soviet Union."  Clealy you present ideas that indicate that you have a very balanced approach to the question.  

I am also really sorry Elizabeth that I interuped what was a delightful well balanced sharing of ideas.  

Having said this, I think the thing that so difficult about the Soviets, is that even though other revolutions such as the French, who used equally strong measures (given their period); they relaxed those measures in a relatively short time and the exiled intelligence and creative spirit of the former regime were allowed to re-enter the national life of France and adjust to the changes in a relavtively short period of time.  Therefore no enourmous groups of exiled French people accumulated for very long in Europe and America.    

However exiled Russians have had a wait as long as the Babylonian exile.  As a result a highly intelligent and literate exiled community of Russia's has grown up over the last 80 years in many countrys and now, they are speaking out.  When the Wall fell it gave the exiled Russian communitys as much polarity as it gave progressive Russian citizens.  This website is such a wonderful example and possibly the first time that both groups can interface and discuss these issues together.  

I am so sorrry that I have inteferred with that process.  Once again Liz, Elizabeth, Louis_Charles, and especially Tsarfan please forgive me.    


  


  
« Last Edit: September 11, 2006, 01:57:42 PM by griffh »

Offline Richard_Cullen

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #59 on: September 11, 2006, 02:38:12 PM »
To answer Elizabeth's question, yes there was an alternative but the problem is power corrupts and absolute power corrupts completely.  I have said elsewhere in the AP that I think too many in Russia wish to put the past behind them but it is now part of their inheritamce.  James Blair Lovell tells us that Anna Anderson said to him "You are my heir, to you alone I leave these truths, how you tell the world about them will be for you to decide, but you will do so in my name."

Whether using the quote of a person who lived a lie is appropriate or not I think it sums up how Russia should deal with its history.  It is hard for us, except through the pages of biographies and history books to understand the true archaic nature of the latter elements of the Romanov dynasty.  Had the reforming work of Alexander II continued there may well have been a different future, but it didn't, a mere fact of history but a history that could in my view have been changed by Nicholas II.

Had the revolution been led differently, had it in those early months moved in another direction they may well have been no need for the violence of the Civil War or Stalin's purges. Lenin may never have been able to seize power.  Yet we have to reflect on what the 'Whites' would have done, no one would have happily stood by and watch there wealth dismantled.  Russia was a land of two extremes at one end the wealth of the IF and families such as the Yusupov's at at the bottom end the peasant working the land, or in the factories of the great cities.

I suppose Lenin, Stalin and their successors, their policies, strategies and tactics could be regarded as a 'mistake' but it wasn't a mistake for them or their supporters at the time.  It was a concious decision and one which had tremendous consequences for Russia and the rest of the world.  It is only by the application of the magnificent science of hindsight that we can say something was a mistake because at the time I am sure they were convinced it was the right decision.

I reflected in a bi-lateral (Great Britain and Russia) conference in St Petersburg that when I had first met the Lt General in charge of the St Petersburg Police Academy (we were the same age) how easily he and I could have faced each other over the battlefields of Germany had the cold war gone hot.  So the mistake could have been even greater and many more of us could have given our lives in the quest to defeat Lenin's dream and maybe the world would have entered that dreaded nuclear winter.

What does history say of any regime once it has faded?  This is an interesting question and so often it leads to a dumbing down of the regime and its processes.  So much of what one now reads by liberal historians about the old British Empire is negative and fails to acknowledge any good.  A recent book I have read re thinks the events of the 'Black Hole of Calcutta' I found it lacking in anything other than its condemnation of Empire.

This dumbing down extends to individuals such as Robert Falcon Scott and many others in an attempt to politicise the world of empire. There have always been empires - big ones and small ones and there is likely that there alawys will be, but the masters of those empires are changing.

So a mistake in hindsight yes but it was advoidable had the Romanovs been able to scan the political environment and responded to it.  And even once revolution had broken out and the Tsar abdicated it was in the gift of Kerensky and others, if they had the ability to do it to achieve another future for Russia.  I am sure someone will tell me that Russia post 1917 was a social experiment just like the colelctive farms.

So a few philosphical thoughts for a Monday night.

Richard
I feel like one
Who treads alone
Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,
Whose garlands dead,
And all, but he, departed!
Refrain:
Thus, in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain hath bound me,
Sad mem’ry brings the light
Of other days around me.

Thomas Moore 1815