IN March 1917, in the third year of the Great War, the political system that had prevailed in Russia for several centuries-namely the Tsarist autocracy-suddenly collapsed. Signs of its disintegration had been mounting ominously for a year or two; the likelihood of its early demise had been widely sensed; yet no one expected it to come just at that moment. For a century in the past, its overthrow had been the dream of liberal and radical oppositionists, some of whom had schemed, worked, even suffered martyrdom, to bring it about. Yet its collapse, when it came, was not the immediate result of any such efforts. It fell because the strains of conducting a prolonged major war, superimposed on more basic weaknesses and problems of adjustment, were simply too much for it.

The trouble began when irregularities in the food supply led to street disorders in the capital city. Compared to ones that had occurred in the past, these disorders were not of an unusual or particularly dangerous nature. Nevertheless, the régime proved incapable of controlling them and restoring order. The war had taken its toll of the best units of the old army, with their relatively high morale and good discipline. The garrisons in the neighborhood of the capital, to which appeal had to be taken in the effort to restore order, were now manned by raw and semi-demoralized recruits. They refused their collaboration, disobeyed orders, fraternized with the unruly crowds and declined to support the police. In this development, the hollowness of the authority of the régime was at once revealed. It suddenly became apparent to everyone that "the king was naked"- naked, in this instance, of effective support from any quarter. In the short space of a few days, the monarchy, lacking effective defenders, fell of its own weight.

Even today, a half-century later, it is difficult to assess the meaning of this collapse. Was the Tsarist autocracy so largely an anachronism, were its weaknesses and failures of such gravity, that it was bound to fall in any case at an early date, and did the war merely hasten its end? Or was it Russia's participation in the war that destroyed what would otherwise have been, for the régime, a reasonable chance of adjustment, of adaptation, of survival into another age?

The question is hypothetical. There can of course be no authoritative answer. But it will be useful to glance at some of the background circumstances and, in the first instance, at certain of the more basic weaknesses of the régime.

Russia, at the outset of this century, was still predominantly an agricultural country; yet the agrarian system was unsuitable and inadequate to the needs of the modern age. The régime was well along, by 1914, in the implementation of an extensive program of modernization, designed to shift the weight of agricultural production from the landed estate and the village commune to the small, independent farmer-proprietor. There are many who feel that this was the most promising approach ever taken to the great problems of rural land ownership and of the organization of agricultural production that confronted Russia as the legacy of serfdom. But in 1914 this program was still only partially completed in the physical sense. And what had been accomplished here had scarcely begun to affect as yet the most dangerous aspect of the problem, which was the state of mind of the peasant himself: bitter, skeptical, withdrawn, frighteningly alienated not only from the régime itself but from the entire educated Russian society out of which that régime-or any conceivable Russian régime-had to be recruited.

No less disturbing were the deficiencies of the political system. In 1906 the effort had been undertaken by the Tsar, under heavy pressure, to modernize the political institutions of the country by adding to them a representative legislative branch in the form of the State Duma. The Duma survived formally as an institution down to 1917; but restrictions on the franchise, evoked by a combination of the Tsar's timidity and the provocative and defiant behavior of many of the deputies in some of the initial sessions (1906 and 1907), had so narrowed its representative quality as to render it incapable of functioning as a really effective bond between people and government. In earlier times the need of such a parliamentary bond had not been great. Now, with the rise of literacy and particularly with the growth of a large professional and technical intelligentsia, its absence was keenly and dangerously felt.

Closely connected with this imperfection of the political system was a situation that might well be viewed as the most deep-seated and ominous of all the weaknesses of the autocracy. This was the extensive alienation from its spirit and purposes of large parts of the intelligentsia generally, and of the student youth in particular. This situation was not of recent origin. The disaffection of these elements had been a prominent feature of Russian political life for at least a half-century. From the standpoint of the prospects for survival of the autocracy, its importance could scarcely be exaggerated. It worked nefariously in two ways. It operated on the one hand to enrich the ranks of the revolutionary opposition. But by the same token it served to impoverish the bureaucracy-to impoverish it in talent, in intelligence, in imagination. Had the talents and enthusiasms of those many brilliant youths who early found their way into the revolutionary movement been enlisted in the constructive undertakings of the régime, instead of being rejected, the achievements of the Tsarist government might have been of a decisively different order.

Closely connected with this problem of the alienation of the intelligentsia was the problem of national minorities. It is obvious that the romantic nationalism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, so closely linked to language, tended to disintegrate the great multilingual empires, particularly the Austrian and the Russian, just as it tended to unite peoples of a common tongue. In Russia the effect of this nationalism was felt, again, in two directions. Among the Great Russians it. stimulated cultural chauvinism, anti-Semitism and demands for the forceful russification of the national minorities. Among the minority peoples it provoked precisely those feelings, sensitivities and ambitions most calculated to make them resent such pressures and to demand cultural and political autonomy.

The extent to which this national unrest fed the revolutionary movement may be judged from the fact that a majority in the Social-Democratic Labor Party, out of which the Bolshevik faction emerged, was made up of members of the national-minority groups. At a time when nationalism was rapidly becoming the dominant political emotion of the age, and in a country where the majority or near majority of the population (depending on how you classified the Ukrainians) was made up of national-minority elements, no government could expect to have an easy time of it. But the Tsar's government, showing itself in the final decades of its power disgracefully receptive to all manner of chauvinistic and anti-Semitic influences, seriously disqualified itself for the promulgation of any hopeful approach to this problem.

To all these weaknesses there must be added the personal failings of the Tsar, Nicholas II. How long Fate would have given it to him to continue to bear the crown, had the vicissitudes of the war not intervened, one cannot know. But to have had favorable chances for survival, war or no war, the system of the autocracy could not have waited long for a more capable autocrat-one better educated, wider in outlook, more seriously motivated and, above all, more fortunately married. Nicholas had his virtues, and the clearer light of historical distance reveals him as a pathetic rather than a sinister character. But one could not run a great empire on tact, charm and good manners alone. His limitations, fatal under the stress of a great war, were such as to constitute a danger to the dynasty even in time of peace.

The picture was, of course, not all dark. The positive features and achievements of the Tsarist autocracy have tended to be lost from sight behind the dust and clamor of the Revolution. Soviet historians, in particular, have been at no pains to draw attention to them. The rate of industrial development in the final decades of Tsardom was impressively high. So, also, was the progress made in the direction of general education. Improvements in social legislation were not negligible. The judicial system was far from perfect, but it was well in advance of the political system in which it was imbedded. Russian cultural life enjoyed, in the final decades and years of Tsardom, a feverish vitality. The Russia of those years was truly a great battleground of negative and positive forces, working and contending within the same political framework.

What, then, the outcome might have been had there been no war is most unclear. One thing alone is certain: if there was any chance for the autocracy to evolve peacefully and successfully into another age, there could not be added to its long-term burdens-added to them for the second time in a decade-the strains of a great modern war. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 had already brought the system to the verge of collapse. How anyone seeing this-be it the Tsar's ministers or his French allies-could have imagined that it could with impunity, only ten years later, take upon itself the far greater strains of a war with Germany, remains one of the mysteries of the age. Perhaps the autocracy, all unknowing, was already doomed to an early demise when the Tsar gave the order for mobilization in July 1914; that it was irrevocably doomed from that moment on is beyond the realm of speculation.


The fall of the autocracy in February 1917, leaving Russia not only without a government but without any acceptable and traditional procedure for choosing a new one, could be no more than the first phase of the great process we have in mind when we speak of the Russian Revolution. There remained to be endured a long agony of contest to determine who and what should take the place of the Tsars as the rulers of the traditional Russian lands. Even the so-called October Revolution-the seizure of power by Lenin and his associates in the major urban and industrial centers at the end of 1917-was not the final answer to this question. A further three-year ordeal of civil strife, embracing the various allied interventions, the civil war in all its phases and even the bizarre Russo-Polish War of 1920, had still to be lived through before it could be said that the Russian Revolution was complete. And if the first great question of the Revolution concerns the reasons for the decline and fall of Tsardom, the second-no less complex and no less baffling-concerns the chain of causes and events by which there finally emerged, as Tsardom's successor, the extreme radical wing of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party-a faction whose members, then known as the Bolsheviki, were soon to appropriate to themselves, and to establish in world usage, the designation of Communists.

The success of the Bolsheviki could not possibly be explained by their numbers. The membership of the faction-or of the party, as we may now call it-as of March 1917 was tiny. Nor did it enjoy great popular support outside its own ranks. Elections held in December 1917, at a time when the party was already in control of the main centers of population and enjoying the prestige of a dramatic political success, showed it to have the support of only about one-fourth of the voters, and to be well outstripped in this respect by just one group of its rivals in the Socialist camp: the Socialist-Revolutionaries. It was, however, not at the polls but in countless obscure skirmishes and man?uvres on the scattered battlefields of the civil war that the issue of the succession was to be decided.

Here there were both positive and negative factors that proved decisive for the Communist victory. On the negative side there was the fact that none of the major rival factions or parties was well situated to establish itself in power. The monarchists and reactionaries disqualified themselves from the start and forfeited every possibility of adequate popular support, particularly among the peasantry and the intelligentsia, by opposing the February Revolution and favoring the return of the old order. To the peasantry, this meant the return of the landlords; to the intelligentsia, the return of reaction, obscurantism and bumbling incompetence. To oppose the October Revolution was still, in 1918-20, a possible political position; to oppose the February Revolution was not.

The Liberals were of course the first to attempt the governing of Russia in the immediate aftermath of the February Revolution. Victims of the characteristic nineteenth-century association of liberalism and nationalism and therefore dedicated to the continued prosecution of the war, opposed at all times by the monarchists and reactionaries on the Right, supported at first only weakly and later not at all by the moderate socialists on the Left, confronted with a virtual rival government in the capital city in the form of the Petersburg Soviet, which alone commanded the obedience of the workers and the military rank-and-file, these well-meaning Liberal figures wore themselves out in the space of three or four months in the contradictory effort simultaneously to prosecute a major war and to guide the country through its greatest of constitutional crises. By midsummer of 1917, their strength was spent; the Revolution had left them behind.

The moderate socialists, including both Socialist-Revolutionaries and the remainder of the Social Democrats (other, that is, than the Bolsheviki), were briefly the successors to the Liberals in the Provisional Government. After that, they constituted over the period of the civil war the main political opposition to Communist power. They lacked military and administrative skills, vigor of leadership and unity of popular appeal. The Socialist-Revolutionaries lacked support in the big cities, the Social Democrats in the countryside.

Not only were the various non-communist elements handicapped individually as candidates for the succession, but they were unable even to collaborate effectively in opposing the Bolshevik bid for power. The hatreds and suspicions that divided moderate socialists from the monarchistic and conservative ex-officers with whom they were ostensibly allied in the effort to unseat the Bolsheviki were no whit less intense than those that divided them from the Bolsheviki themselves. The reactionaries were already discredited. The unnatural alliance with them tended to discredit the socialists in the eyes of the masses. At the same time, the mutual antagonism of the two elements frustrated the effectiveness of their joint military-political action against the Communists. Increasingly, as the civil war progressed, the ex-officers tended to edge their moderate- socialist associates out of the camp, thus antagonizing the peasants and forfeiting popular support for the anti-Bolshevik cause generally.

So impelling were these realities that it is tempting to say that Bolshevism triumphed because no unity existed among its major political opponents, and none of those opponents, in any case, would have been remotely capable of ruling the country. But it would be an oversimplification to attribute the Communist success solely to these negative factors. No less central to it were positive ones as well: the extraordinary discipline, compactness and conspiratorial tightness of the Communist Party; the magnificent political leadership-bold, ruthless, determined and imaginative-given to it at all times by its dominant figure, Vladimir Il'ich Ulyanov-Lenin; and the driving, unrelenting military leadership which the party gave to the Red Army units in the civil war. In the vast fluid confusion that followed the breakdown of the old order, the cutting edge of these qualities was of far greater effectiveness than any of the shifting, undependable winds of popular sympathy. The Bolsheviki came out ahead very largely because they were, in this maelstrom of poorly organized political forces, the only political force that had hardness, sharpness, disciplined drive and clearly defined purpose.

But the feelings of the popular masses were not wholly irrelevant to the outcome. These masses had been insufficiently attached to Tsardom to defend it in its moment of trial. They were insufficiently opposed to Bolshevism to oppose it in its moment of challenge. If the Russian army, as Lenin said, "voted with its feet" in the process of its disintegration, the population as a whole voted with its apathy, its skepticism, its unwillingness to defend listlessness and incompetence on the Tsarist side, its equal unwillingness to oppose a fierce political will on the side of the Communists. This vote became the popular mandate of the Soviet régime.


This, then, in crude outline, was the Russian Revolution: the passing of power in the traditional Russian lands from the enfeebled hands of the Tsarist autocracy to something which the Russian-Communist leaders themselves have always liked to describe as a "dictatorship of the proletariat," but which the more skeptical eye of the non-communist historian finds difficulty in recognizing as anything more than a dictatorship of the Communist Party. And as one tries, from the perspective of a half-century, to review the significance of this great transition, three features of it stand out.

The first of these, often obscured to Western vision by the events of the intervening years but basic to any understanding of it, is the essential altruism of purpose that underlay this revolution. For nearly a century in the past, the greatest public issues of Western society had revolved around the problems of the distribution of wealth in an economic environment not yet one of plenty. The initial effect of the Industrial Revolution had been to sharpen old injustices, to create new ones, to open up new forms- temporary no doubt, but appalling in intensity-of hardship, suffering, exploitation and degradation. These effects made themselves felt in Russia some decades later than in England and Germany. As problems in Russian life they were reaching their peak around the turn of the century and in the immediately ensuing years. The outlook that inspired the Bolsheviki and brought them finally to power was founded on an understandable desire to correct these anomalies, to eliminate social injustice and economic exploitation, to assure to the servant of the machine the comfort, security, dignity of status and sense of community of which the Industrial Revolution and the workings of the capitalist system were conceived to have robbed him. The tensions and troubles of the intervening years should not cause us to forget that this was, measured against the circumstances then prevailing, a noble dream, supported by a great earnestness of purpose, and pursued by thousands and tens of thousands of people in Russia, including many of the Bolsheviki, with a selfless dedication that has few parallels in the history of our time.

It was a dream, furthermore, which had meaning-more meaning than it would have today-to people far beyond the limits of the Russian Empire. In 1917 millions of people across the continent of Europe had been reduced to desperation by social distress or by the sufferings of the World War or by a combination of the two. One cannot understand the meaning of the Russian Revolution unless one recalls the vast thrill of excitement and anticipation that went through great portions of the world public as the news of this event reached them. Tsardom, in its helpless ineptness, had permitted itself to stand before the eyes of the world as the symbol of an obsolescent and oppressive feudalism. To many millions beyond Russia's borders the Russian Revolution appeared initially as a great breakthrough of hope. Here were boldness, grandeur of concept and elevation of purpose bursting through the empty crust of tradition and privilege in one of the most backward and miserable of European countries. Here was the first great attempt to defy the evils of modern industrialism by setting against it a political system founded on the dignity and social innocence of the common working man-dedicated to the realization of his needs, his dreams, his aspirations.

One will not do justice to the complexity of the Revolution, on the other hand, if one does not recognize, along with the fundamental altruism of purpose, the extreme harshness, ruthlessness and opportunism of method, as well as the vindictive hatred addressed to members of the propertied or privileged classes in Russia and elsewhere, by which the early Bolsheviki were inspired. If the dream was a noble one, looking to the eventual achievement of a world without social injustice, the means and process by which this goal was to be approached were of a diametrically opposite character. Here, in the promulgation and consolidation of the Revolution, conflict, violence, dictatorial method, the disenfranchisement and punishment of great masses of people were all to have their place. It was through the inflicting of great new suffering that the abolition of all previous suffering was to be achieved. What was launched into the world by the Russian Revolution was a force committed on the one hand, by its vision of the future, to altruistic, even Utopian, aims (though ones that by no means assumed the brotherhood of all men), but on the other hand, by its methodological concepts, to undertakings in the face of which great new conflicts, misunderstandings, resentments and cruelties were unavoidable. Nor did this undertaking prove to be immune, over the course of the years, to the workings of that law of politics by virtue of which the means come eventually to be indistinguishable from the ends.

It is, then, according to the relative value one attaches to ends as opposed to means in human affairs that the positive and negative elements of the Russian Revolution will stand out through the prism of historical retrospection. But whichever value predominates-whether one sees this as a hopeful breakthrough or only as the onset of new misunderstanding, conflict and misery-one is obliged to concede to the Russian Revolution the status of the greatest political event of the present century. It deserves this description by virtue of the profound exemplary effect it had across great portions of the globe, of the alteration it produced in Russia's relations with the great powers of the West, and of the changes it brought to the life of one of the world's great peoples. A glance at each of these areas will not be out of order.


It was in its exemplary effect beyond Russia's borders that the Bolsheviki themselves saw the greatest importance of the Revolution. We have already noted the preoccupation of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century society with the problem of the distribution of wealth. The Bolsheviki never doubted that they possessed the key to the solution of this problem on a universal scale. The triumph of socialism in Russia, to take the metaphor that was then most commonly employed, was to be the spark that would ignite the dry tinder of revolution across the European continent.

As all the world knows, this particular dream was never realized. A variety of factors operating in the Western countries-the power of nationalism, the greater strength and solidity of the traditional political and social establishments, the powerful competition to communism presented by moderate- socialist political forces and the strong positions occupied by a reformist, evolutionary trade unionism-combined to render Western Europe, and even more the United States, resistant over the long run to the power of the revolutionary example.

But there were other ways in which the Russian Revolution had important political repercussions in the West. It served, in the first place, to split the socialist and labor elements in all the advanced countries. The split had actually begun during the war. It had begun in the form of a division of opinion as to which of the two principles, socialist internationalism or national patriotism, was to be the dominant force in wartime socialist policy. Those in Western Europe who had clung, as had the Bolsheviki in Russia, to the principle of socialist internationalism had opposed the war as an unworthy contest, conducted among imperialists for the benefit of imperialists. They tended, once the war was over, to cling to the association with Russian Communism into which this wartime affinity had thrown them. They accepted the Bolshevik example as authoritative. They made themselves the spokesmen for the same sort of violent revolution in their own countries that the Bolsheviki had carried out in Russia. It was out of these groups of dissident radical socialists that the Western communist parties were formed; and it was from the exemplary power of communist success in Russia that these parties continued to draw strength in ensuing decades. Increasingly, as the years went by, they became gathering points for all those elements in the Western countries whose discontent with their own societies could find no adequate outlet in normal democratic political activity-for that mutation of the human species, present in every sizeable political community, which is temperamentally incapable of adjustment to the normal delays, frustrations, compromises and disappointments of democratic political life.

Initially, most Western communists felt themselves in a sense parties to the Russian Revolution. They shared in its enthusiasms, its excitements and its international political goals. To the extent that physical proximity and ease of communication permitted, they remained in touch with the Russian Communist leaders, had a part in their councils and regarded the Russian Revolution as only the first phase of their own. It was not long, however, before the Russian Communists, proud of their own triumph, began to view their success in Russia as a proper source of authority over like- minded people elsewhere. The power of example was easily extrapolated into a claim on obedience. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, as the chances faded for revolution in the West and the Soviet leaders became preoccupied with the problems of national survival and competition within a capitalist environment, the foreign communist parties became pressed into the role of instruments of Soviet foreign policy.

In particular, Stalin, to whom the instigation of revolution elsewhere was always less interesting than the possibility of picking up support for the advance of Russia's national power, confronted foreign communists with the choice between accepting a blind subservience to Soviet policies that had little to do with the prospering of their own political fortunes at home or being declared traitors to the international communist movement and falling victim, accordingly, to every means of reprisal (not excluding personal terrorism) at Moscow's disposal. Only the death of Stalin and the development of the Sino-Soviet dispute that followed shortly thereafter rescued the foreign communists from this ignominious position and opened up for them new avenues of independent political activity. But by this time decades of subservience had been endured. A heavy toll had been taken of their domestic political effectiveness. The world had moved on into an era where the original postulates of Marxism-Leninism, already of questionable timeliness when Lenin expounded them, were clearly anachronistic. It was obvious that the vitality of these outlying communist parties would now have to be drawn from other sources than just the memory of the Bolshevik success in 1917-1920.

Meanwhile, Western society had been importantly affected by what would today be called the "backlash" of international communist activity. Extremism on the left of the political spectrum was bound to breed extremism on the right. There can be no question but that the sharp, provocative challenge to national outlooks and traditions and ideals implicit in practically all the activity of the Western communist parties, but particularly in their openly avowed subservience to a foreign center, had an important effect in stimulating fascist tendencies in the West. Many features of the international communist movement-the addiction to conspiratorial methods, the bewildering mixture of legal with illegal methods of operation, the use of "front" groups, the cultivated obscurity in sources of authority, the ruthless impersonality and even anonymity which Lenin had instilled into its devotees-combined to invite the attribution to it, in primitive and anxious minds, of a certain demon image, and thus to open the way to that striving for the total externalization of evil which is the hallmark of fascist attitudes in all times and places. Particularly was this true in Germany, where the powerful communist threat in the years of the 1920s not only weakened moderate political forces by confronting them with constant attacks from the Left, but served as a pretext for the build-up of fascist forces which then attacked them no less savagely, and even more successfully, from the Right.

The effect of the example of the Russian Revolution in the West was thus not actually to produce those other revolutions of which the early Bolsheviki had dreamed, but rather to work upon political life in many places a polarization which interfered seriously with the prospects for stability and had much to do, in the end, with the failure of the post- Versailles order and the origins of World War II.


Of even greater significance than the exemplary effect of the Russian Revolution on the advanced countries of the West was its similar influence on the underdeveloped peoples of the non-European world. The Russian Revolution occurred at a time when Europe's hegemony over the underdeveloped parts of the world was already passing its peak. This hegemony, a function of the great technological disparity between Europe and the rest of the world that had arisen since the opening of the world trade routes, was bound eventually to be modified by natural processes; but the First World War, draining Europe of much of its vitality as well as its capital, accelerated the process.

It was against this background that the Russian Revolution burst forth spectacularly as the first great example of successful revolt by non-Europe against Europe. It was, to be sure, a somewhat ambiguous example. Russia was herself largely a European power. She was also partly an industrial power. Her relation to Europe was not exactly that of a colony. But in the eyes of the world she was still a primitive country; her dependence on the great financial centers of the West had been extensive and humiliating (the foreign indebtedness of the Tsar's government was, by 1914, the heaviest of any in the world); for these and other reasons she presented a natural object for non-European sympathies.

From the Russian-Communist standpoint, too, the relevance of the Russian Revolution to the revolt against Europe was not devoid of ambiguity. Anticolonial revolt was not the same thing, after all, as proletarian revolution. National liberation movements, embracing many people of non- proletarian class character, were not the same thing as working-class political parties. For the entire half-century to come, Soviet policy- makers would writhe under the dilemma: whether to oppose the possessing classes of the colonial and underdeveloped countries of non-Europe in the name of orthodox Marxism or to support them in the name of anticolonialism. A fully satisfactory theoretical answer to this question was never to be found, but increasingly, as the years went by, Soviet policy-makers would be grateful for anything that would help to weaken the proud old metropolitan powers of Europe or the United States. They were well aware of the power of their revolutionary example in just this respect, and concerned at all times to make the most of it. The statement ascribed to Lenin that the road to Paris lay through Peking is apocryphal; but the early Bolshevik leaders did believe that European capitalism could be seriously weakened, if not actually overthrown, by undermining its overseas positions, and they bent every effort to achieve just that.

This, curiously enough, proved to be the most enduring aspect of the international projection of the Russian Revolution. It is ironic that today, after passage of half a century, the field of revolutionary action by the Western proletariat, regarded in 1917 as the primary theater of coming world events, should be quiescent; whereas in the field of rebellion by non-Europe against Europe, once regarded as a secondary theater of the world-revolutionary process, Soviet policy should remain vigorous and implacable. In direct relations between Russia and the West, violence is now eschewed; all wars are bad wars; coexistence is to prevail. But when it comes to the national liberation movement, different rules obtain: violence directed to the destruction of European, and particularly American, influence and activity in other regions is good violence; wars of national liberation are good wars.

We may leave aside, for purposes of this discussion, the reasons for this curious persistence in the attack on Europe's African and Asian positions. It suffices here to note that the Russian Revolution unquestionably hastened the disintegration of Europe's colonial empire and of her political influence in other parts of the world. The record to date does not suggest that either the harm brought to Europe or the benefit brought to Russia by this development was as great as the fears and hopes addressed to it, respectively, on the two sides. But for the non-European countries themselves, the exemplary effects of the Russian Revolution were of enormous importance. The effect it had on China's political development would alone be enough to justify this conclusion, and this was only a part of the whole. In India, in Turkey and at a later date in Africa, the example of Russia's revolution was one of the outstanding environmental factors of the nineteen-twenties and thirties.


These reflections lead naturally to the question of the direct effect of the Russian Revolution on relations between Russia and the leading countries of the West.

One should begin by noting that elements of an extraordinary antagonism in those relations were not unknown in earlier Russian history. Many of the characteristic features of Soviet attitudes (the strong instinct for orthodoxy, the claim to political infallibility and to a monopoly of ideological or religious truth, messianic dreams of world ascendancy, an exaggerated sense of prestige, a morbid suspiciousness toward outside powers, a determination to isolate the Russian people from contacts with the West, etc.) were characteristic features of pre-Petrine Russia. Even during the two centuries of the St. Petersburg period these traits continued to emerge from time to time to the surface of Russian governmental outlook and behavior. But in general the government of the Tsars came, during those last two centuries, to conform at least outwardly to accepted standards of behavior in international relations, to acknowledge in others the unlimited sovereignty it claimed for itself, and to embrace the principle of live-and-let-live as the essential foundation of international life.

It is idle to pretend, as do Soviet spokesmen today, that the Russian Revolution did not work a fundamental and extremely unhappy change in this state of affairs. It was not the issue of socialism versus capitalism that was the heart of the difficulty. There was no reason why great countries could not go different ways in this respect; and increasingly over the course of the years, as the two systems evolved toward each other, this dichotomy came to lose significance. The trouble was that the Bolshevik leaders brought to their conquest of power in Russia a complex of attitudes toward the Western governments that gave an entirely new dimension to the conflicts, apprehensions and suspicions that normally bedevil the relations between great states. Among these attitudes were a fundamental challenge to the legitimacy of the Western governments, a pervasive cynicism about the parliamentary and democratic sources of their power, a denial that their peoples owed them loyalty, a denial not only of the will of Western governments to work for the betterment of their peoples but of their congenital ability to make any progress in this direction, a widely propagandized conviction that these governments were doomed by inexorable social forces to eventual destruction, and an openly avowed determination to do everything possible to prod these social forces into the early accomplishment of their historic mission. In the Bolshevik view, the Western governments were without exception predatory, reprehensible, devoid of redeeming features and deserving of violent overthrow. Those who manned them were seen as fit subjects for removal from power, disfranchisement and punishment. It is superfluous to point out that merely to hold such views toward other régimes, regardless of whether one tries actively to implement them, is to deny the basis for a normal international relationship. Nor did the adherence to this stance by one of the world's great governments fail to work upon the manners and habits of diplomatic intercourse a deterioration from which we are suffering to the present day.

Soviet historians have tended to place the blame for the tensions and conflicts of the ensuing decades on the Western side. The Western statesmen, they allege, saw in the Russian Revolution the rise of a force bound to threaten their capitalistic and imperialistic interests, trembled accordingly for the security of their property and power, reacted in fury and bitterness, and set about, to the best of their ability, to overthrow the world's first proletarian government.

This view was not taken entirely out of thin air. All of these things were present, in one degree or another, in the pattern of Western statesmanship. But they never made up the totality of the pattern, or even the greater part of it. And even if they had not existed at all-even had the statesmen in question been paragons of detachment, self-confidence, broad-mindedness and tolerance in their reaction to the existence of Soviet power-the relationship could scarcely have been a normal one in the light of the fundamental postulates of the Bolshevik political outlook.

Over the intervening decades the discipline of international life has taken its toll of the militant intensity of these original attitudes on the Soviet side. It is not too much to say, in the case of the United States at least, that the right-wing reaction to Soviet Communism has actually proved more persistent in its emotional intensity than the phenomenon by which it was initially provoked. It will of course be long before the image of the Western world that projects itself onto the Russian-Communist vision will be devoid of some measure of distortion through the prism of Marxist assumptions. But after the passage of fifty years this factor of distortion, which in 1918 seemed to many so strong as to preclude every possibility of a normal relationship, no longer seems an insuperable impediment to peaceful and fruitful development of relations between Russia and the West. It is today in other areas-in the competition for influence in the underdeveloped regions, and especially in the nuclear weapons race where specific political differences are ignored or taken for granted and sheer fear takes over from real conflicts of interest as the source of political tension-it is in these fields, not in the direct political encounters between Russia and the West, that the greater danger now lies. The shuffle and confusion of history, which have eroded so many violent militancies in the past, are happily now well on the way to absorbing the acute East-West tensions of the early post-revolutionary period.


The most momentous of the consequences of the Russian Revolution were of course the internal ones. Obviously, changes of such magnitude in the life of the people defy brief description. The signal facts are well known. A political system of eight hundred years' standing was swept away. An entire upper class, in part the heritage of ages, was sloughed off, its members killed, driven to emigration, disenfranchised or degraded in status. In place of all this came the Communist Party, whose dictatorship, though varying in severity over the ensuing half-century with changes in personality and with successive phases of development, was never to be essentially relaxed. The nationalization of industry, that cherished goal of all Marxist striving, was carried ruthlessly to completion, only to have its significance thrown into question in later decades by the growing evidence that management was a factor no less important than ownership. By drastic methods, and at the cost of much sacrifice and suffering, Russia was driven into the ranks of the major industrial powers. A half-century after the Revolution, living conditions for industrial workers were better than they were before it-but so were such conditions just about everywhere else. The peasantry, after a brief respite in the 1920s when it was permitted to enjoy the fruits of the expropriation of the landlords, found itself subjected to new exploitation in the form of Stalin's collective farm system, the rigors of which, as a subjective experience for the peasantry, made memories of pre-Revolutionary conditions seem rosy. From the régime's standpoint, collectivization had its uses; it may even (though this is uncertain) have contributed significantly to rapid industrialization. For the country as a whole it is difficult to view it otherwise than as a grievous setback, retarding the growth of agricultural production to a point where by mid-century it was no longer always adequate to the requirements of internal consumption. But in judging all these things one must remember that the implementation of the domestic program of Russian Communism was interrupted, and set back roughly one decade, by the war effort of the 1940s-an effort probably unparalleled in scale in the military history of mankind (unless it be by the corresponding effort of the German opponents). This effort would stand, alone, as one of the great historic achievements of the Russian people and as a lasting testimonial to their extraordinary capacity for heroism, endurance and sacrifice in a cause.


Lenin once noted with pride and elation that the Soviet régime he had founded had lasted longer than the 72 days of the Paris Commune. It has now lasted a half-century and stands, so far as anyone can see, firmly and without rival at the head of the traditional Russian state. It has had its ups and downs. Its achievements, as we have just noted, have had their negative and their positive sides. What exists in Russia today is, in so far as any political régime can form the character of a human community, the product of its endeavor. Russian society today is something that draws heavily on historical experience and national tradition, but it also reflects, in features that are probably now ineradicable, the influence of the ideologically impassioned political will to which it has been subjected over five decades. It is in reality a civilization rather than just a national society that has been thus created-a unique civilization, not quite like anything else in the world, imperfect like every other, in many ways unsatisfying to those that bear it, but also embracing many aspects in which they take pride and satisfaction, and even some that they cherish. Its salient features have already achieved in many respects that sanction which only time and long acceptance can bestow on human institutions.

For the fact that this is so-for the fact that the experiment has gone on so long, and for the fact that it has yielded a stable civilization, capable of providing adequate outlets for many if not all of the positive human impulses-for this due credit must be given, even by those who constitute its ideological opponents, to the Russian Communist Party. In creating a new order out of the chaos of 1918-1919; in clinging to power successfully for half a century in a great and variegated country where the exertion of political power has never been easy; in retaining its own discipline and vitality as a political instrument in the face of the corrupting influence that the exercise of power invariably exerts; in realizing many of its far-reaching social objectives; in carrying to the present level the industrialization of the country and the development of new technology; in giving firm, determined and in many ways inspired leadership in the struggle against the armies of German fascism; in providing political inspiration and guidance to many of the radical- socialist forces of the world over most of this period, and to some of them over all of this period: in these achievements, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union has not only stamped itself as the greatest political organization of the century in vigor and in will, but has remained faithful to the quality of the Russian Revolution as the century's greatest political event.

Those of us in the West who have never been able to accept the validity of the classic assumptions of Marxism-Leninism and who even doubt their relevance to the major social and economic problems of our time are obliged to recognize in the Soviet example that such things as devotion, determination, discipline and self-sacrifice in a political purpose create their own achievements and their own rewards, quite aside from the soundness of their ideological inspiration. The concepts and purposes of men in power are always to some extent dreams-this is only a question of degree; but it is within the power of men to give reality to these dreams by the resolution and enthusiasm with which they pursue them: never quite the reality they hoped or intended to give, but one not necessarily less valuable for this measure of distortion. Even those of us in the West who have questioned the Soviet purpose and have contended at many points against the manner in which it was pursued are obliged to acknowledge, at this half-century mark, the impressive body of flesh with which the dream of the Russian Revolution has now been clothed; and we must extend to the present bearers of the Russian revolutionary tradition, even while we deny them our ideological sympathy, a respectful recognition of the great part they have taken in the authorship of the realities of our time. Their revolution has now entered, irrevocably, into the fabric of history.

On the other hand, it cannot be said that the system of power they have created and maintained has achieved complete stability-either in its relations with the non-communist world or in its relations with the great people over which its power extends. External relations are still troubled and made precarious by the neurotic view the régime takes of itself as a government among governments, by its predilection for secrecy and mystification in method, by its addiction to the use of exaggeration and falsehood in political utterance, by its persecution mania and its pathological preoccupation with espionage, by its excessive timidity and suspicion (more suitable to the former Grand Duchy of Moscovy than to a modern great power) about personal contacts between Soviet citizens and foreigners, by the inordinate role it concedes to its secret police apparatus in the conduct of its foreign policy. To its own people, also, it will not achieve a stable relationship so long as it remains, like its Tsarist predecessor, unable to recognize that dictatorship is not a feasible method of governing a great people in the modern age; that no man, no party and no régime has a monopoly on either truth or virtue; and that the aesthetic and intellectual life of so talented a people as the Russians can never be successfully regimented by a political priesthood and a literary gendarmerie. There was a time, in the years just after Stalin's death, when these appreciations-essential to any successful and stable adjustment of political systems to the needs of the modern age-seemed on the way to recognition and acceptance both in Russia and in most of the communist states of Eastern Europe. In these latter countries, indeed, the trend has generally continued and gives promise of happier days. In Russia itself, unfortunately, the years since Khrushchev's fall have seen in many ways a retrogression.

If, then, the Soviet régime can look back, at this half-century point, on certain impressive accomplishments, it cannot be said to have achieved full stability either externally or internally. Great question marks still hover over the adequacy of its approaches in both areas. These question marks will not be removed until it learns to look forward, rather than backward, for political inspiration and methodology. Let us hope, in the interests of world peace as well as of the prospering of the Soviet peoples, that it will not be long until the logic of this necessity is understood and the cultivation of new attitudes begun.

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