Paul Le Blanc: The Russian Revolutions of 1917

Paul Le Blanc writes about The Russian Revolutions of 1917.

The collapse of the tsarist regime thus left in its wake two centers of political authority: (1) the traditional politicians of the Provisional Government, who had little control over the people, and (2) the democratically elected soviets, which exercised more political power owing to support from the great majority of workers and soldiers. This system of dual power proved to be unstable. The instability grew as the moderate politicians proved increasingly unable to meet the rising expectations of the laboring masses.

With armed workers and revolutionary troops controlling the streets of the capital, political realities now tilted in a much more revolutionary direction. The Russian workers and peasants saw clearly that the landowners and capitalists and their leading political representatives had actively supported Kornilov. Kerensky was badly compromised because of his earlier overtures to Kornilov. The moderate SR and Menshevik leaders were discredited for supporting Kerensky. The Bolsheviks—who had built an effective political organization and put forward the popular demands of “Peace, Bread, Land” and “All Power to the Soviets”—had greater mass support than ever before.

Trotsky’s failure at the peace talks led to another crisis that undermined soviet democracy. After a fierce debate, Lenin persuaded a Communist Party majority in the government to accept the harsh peace terms. The Left SRs strongly opposed any agreement to the German demands, which included Russia’s giving up the Baltic states, Finland, Poland, and Ukraine. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on March 3, 1918, and the Left SRs angrily walked out of the government and began organizing against both the peace settlement and the Communists. The Left SRs had a far better understanding of realities among the peasants than did the Communists. Their departure from the government opened the way for serious (sometimes even criminal) misjudgments by the government in dealing with the rural population. In particular, efforts to secure grain from the countryside in order to relieve bread shortages in the cities resulted in violent conflicts that undermined support for the Communist regime.

In this same period the Communists carried out a shift in economic policy that was to cause lasting problems. Threats of economic sabotage by capitalist factory owners who were hostile to the regime led the government to take over more and more of the economy—much more rapidly than originally intended. Ordinary workers were put in charge of factories, and their inexperience as managers resulted in economic difficulties. The government’s expansion into the economy also generated the growth of bureaucracy. A bureaucracy involves a hierarchy of administrators, managers, clerks, and others who are supposed to coordinate and control complex political, social, or economic activities. Often, a bureaucracy becomes an extremely impersonal and relatively inefficient structure, notorious for its arbitrary power and unnecessarily complicated procedures. Some historians believe that as the Soviet bureaucracy grew larger and more cumbersome, what was left of political democracy and economic efficiency degenerated. This bureaucratic degeneration added to the severe strains of the civil war and the foreign economic blockade. These added strains, in turn, resulted in a devastating breakdown of much of Russia’s industry.

As the USSR was experiencing significant economic development and becoming a major world power, the bureaucratic and authoritarian nature of the Stalin regime gave Communism the profoundly undemocratic connotation that it has for many people today. For many, socialism came to mean not economic democracy but merely state ownership and control of the economy. Even the word soviet became associated simply with the USSR’s dictatorial regime. Stalin’s successors in subsequent Communist governments of that country later denounced his crimes, but they were never successful in overcoming the dictatorial legacy. That legacy ultimately undermined the country’s future development, contributing in significant ways to the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

Emphasis Mine

Workers should learn from this history.

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