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Quiet American

Essay by   •  February 2, 2011  •  Essay  •  344 Words (2 Pages)  •  1,072 Views

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Against all odds the Russian Revolution fought off counter-revolution and foreign intervention for three years in a bloody civil war. Eighty years after that war's conclusion it is still a battleground for revolutionary socialists. The conflict remains a favourite target for right wing attacks on the Russian Revolution, and is a major focus of left wing critics who imprint their ideological confusion in the aftermath of the collapse of Stalinism onto the revolutionary period. The policies associated with War Communism - ending workers' control of the factories, requisitioning grain from the peasants and the constriction of democracy - are seen as the seedbed of forced industrialisation, collectivisation, the show trials and the gulag. A collection of documents from the civil war is introduced with this argument: "The events of 1918-1922 ... foreshadow all the horrors of the Stalin period". [1]

In assessing the trajectory of the revolution, however, it is important to separate similarities of form from social and political content. Clearly Stalin's regime in the 1930s did draw on measures introduced under War Communism in its drive to industrialise the Russian economy in competition with the West. Lenin and Trotsky were driving in a different direction in the hope that certain developments - international revolution most crucially - could have made dispensing with those temporary measures a real possibility. That they did not was no more "inevitable" than the rise of fascism in Germany was an "inevitable" result of the First World War because war economies existed in both.

The tragedy of the civil war is precisely that the impact of the war and isolation on Russian society increasingly reduced the scope of political decisions and choices available. The Bolsheviks' politics and organisation, and the conviction of the mass of workers and peasants in Russian society in the project they were embarked on, enabled them to continue to fight for the survival of the revolution for an astonishingly long time. But ultimately they could not break out of the cage of material circumstances, and neither could they remain unchanged by life as it really was.

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