Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick on Russia 1917 and Russia 2017


One of the most famous history books of the last few hundred years is called “Ten Days that Shook the World.” It was written by the  journalist – and full-fledged supporter of Lenin’s social experiment to end all social experiments -John Reed, Reed’s support, especially as it was shown in the aforementioned book, was considered to be so helpful by the Bolshevik inner circle that he – John Reed, an American Harvard alumnus from Portland, Oregon – was actually buried in the Kremlin along with Vladimir Lenin.

We call it the Russian Revolution but in fact it had an international importance was truly international; international and important enough to have had a formidable impact on world affairs ever since. It’s international character was apparent as soon as it unfolded, as sympathizers and active supporters from all over the world saw this grand historical event as the crucial moment of world history. For after all, this disowning of the Western status quo and attempt to set the standards for a new, improved was a dream come true for thousands of non-Russians like John Reed, many of whom flocked to Russia to see it (and in some cases even die for it) for themselves.

Almost as soon as the Bolshevik Party succeeded in defeating the various  counter-revolutionary armies – and thereby convincing the Western powers that it was not worth their while to make further attempts to overthrow the communist regime and return Russia to its former state – they were faced with the task of governing the country they had just won for the cause of state socialism.

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The counterrevolutionary period had been hellish for Russia. Millions died – not just on the battlefield but from the typhus epidemic and famine that came in its wake. This period gave way to a short-lived period of peace; a period of rebuilding during which Lenin inaugurated a policy – the “New Economic Policy” – that combined socialism and private commerce. This socioeconomic hybrid, an experiment within an experiment, gave Russians and the other peoples of the Soviet Union the right to start a small business and make (and keep)  modest profits for themselves.

Unfortunately the “New Economic Policy,” didn’t survive Lenin’s untimely death at the age of 53. By the time Josef Stalin had completed his successful campaign for the leadership of the Politburo (the main governing body of the Soviet Union), things had taken a very different turn.

After banishing Leon Trotsky, his main competitor for the leadership position, Stalin enacted a grandiose plan to rebuild Russia’s war-, revolution- and civil war-torn economy in order to achieve economic parity with the West within a very short period of time. Like Peter the Great, who also embarked on a colossal building project (the creation of St.Petersburg), Stalin succeeded at the cost of death and disease on a grand scale. The difference was that while thousands died under the harsh direction of the 18th century Tsar, tens of millions died during the 30-year long reign of the Soviet dictator.

As the title of this article suggests, the question now is how do present-day Russians see their revolution – an event that transformed not only their reality but the whole world’s – one hundred years later.

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How the Russian Revolution is seen in Russia and the West; a look back at a world-shaking event with Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick – professor of modern Russian history at the University of Sydney.







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