Tell Me, Comrade, When Did Russia Go Bad?

Shouldn't that arrow be pointed to the left, comrade?

There's an old left-wing debate called When was the Russian Revolution betrayed? (Like many leftist pastimes, this can take the form of either a parlor game or a firefight, depending on the circumstances.) The anarchists think the revolution went sour when the Bolsheviks seized power and transformed the soviets from bottom-up organs of worker control into instruments of the state. The Trotskyists think things went bad when Trotsky lost his power struggle with Stalin, though most of them maintained that Russia remained a "workers' state," albeit a "bureaucratically deformed" one. The "anti-revisionists"—that's Stalinist for "Stalinists"—think Khrushchev's the man who drove the train off the rails. (*) I'm sure there's an old Communist Party stalwart somewhere who thinks the last moment of True Socialism in Red Square came on December 26, 1991, the day the Soviet Union broke up.

Twenty-two years later, there's talk of a new Cold War beginning. Large swaths of the West have given up on post-Communist Russia. But no one's gotten a good game going of When was the Russian Revolution of '91 betrayed? There's a vague sense in the American press that it happened not long after Putin took over, which matches the personality-centric way that power tends to be covered (as well as the fact that Yeltsin is widely seen as a U.S. ally and Putin as an enemy). But while Putin has certainly made thing worse, I remember the moment my pessimism about the new Russia started to outweigh my optimism, and it arrived long before he came to power. It was October 4, 1993, the day Yeltsin had his tanks shell parliament. I didn't doubt that the new order was freer than the Soviet system, of course, but it seemed to be stopping well short of anything appealing.

In those days, setting aside some Bircher die-hards convinced that the apparent fall of Communism was a ruse, my fellow Yeltsin-skeptics tended to be on the left. Now Moscow's most vocal American opponents are the neocons, whose Cold War nostalgia feels like a right-wing mutation of Ostalgie. But my attitude hasn't substantially changed, except for getting bleaker.

If I'm pessimistic about Russian liberty, I'm relatively optimistic when it comes to Russia's place in the world order. Two years before I was born, the Soviet Union sent tanks to a city in the middle of Europe. Nowadays the big Russian foreign-policy crisis involves a dispute over the control of a majority-Russian enclave just over the country's border. While I don't for a moment defend Putin's actions in Crimea, I think I can safely say that in the grand arc of history, this is a better problem to have. And while I don't have sympathy for those Americans eager to thrust this country deeper into that dispute, I can see that they're spouting the frustrated rhetoric of a faction that knows it isn't setting policy. On both sides of the old Cold War, things could be a lot worse.

(* There's probably only five or six people out there who'll agree with me about this, but I think the Encyclopedia of anti-Revisionism On-Line is one of the most endlessly entertaining sites on the Internet. The thing is like a TV Tropes of Stalinism. I'm especially fond of this document from 1980, in which an American Maoist sect's loyalty to Chinese foreign policy leads it to call for a "united front with U.S. imperialism against Soviet imperialism." It goes on to endorse the draft, NATO, increased Pentagon spending, and an American military presence around the globe—but not in Taiwan, since the U.S. presence there "represents support for a comprador, counterrevolutionary separatist faction." Seriously, this is hilarious.)

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    When was the Russian Revolution betrayed?

    When human nature came into play. I don't know the answer to the more recent one.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    When was the Russian Revolution betrayed?

    When Russians became involved.

  • Malkavian||

    When Latvians became involved.

  • AlgerHiss||

    When did Russia go bad?

    When was that place anything but a shit-hole country ever?

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    Russia has always been the greasy, festering, shit-scented penis of Eurasia. Always smelly, huge when it's functional (which isn't often), covered in unexplained blemishes, and always convinced that it's the biggest, baddest, swingingest cock on the block.

  • Cytotoxic||

    The only good things to come out of there were Rand, the guy who made the first periodic table, and Crime and Punishment. I wish Napoleon had won the Eastern Front. I wish Churchill had undertaken Operation Unthinkable with American nukes.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Don't forget the composers.

  • ||

    I wish Churchill had undertaken Operation Unthinkable with American nukes.

    BAH!!

    The US won Europe in WW2 and it has been an albatross on our necks ever since.

    Winning Russia would only be another albatross but one the size of, and as fucked up as, Russia.

  • Lord Humungus||

    When did Russia go bad?

    When was it good? Did I miss something?

  • Lord Humungus||

    but Russian girls... I like 'em bad.

  • OldMexican||

    In those days, setting aside some Bircher die-hards convinced that the apparent fall of Communism was a ruse, my fellow Yeltsin-skeptics tended to be on the left. Now Moscow's most vocal American opponents are the neocons


    Maybe. As Diana West pointed out in her book "America Betrayed", George Bush père and James Baker showed genuine dismay at how quickly the collapse of the Soviet Union unfolded before them and were wary of Yeltsin's offers to open the archives and show everything that might have given a glimpse of the Soviet-American cooperation activities during WWII and the thousands of American servicemen that were interned in the gulags, never to be seen again. Yeltsin had to put a lid on it not because of outcries from his officials but from the United States!

  • OldMexican||

    Which provides evidence that Yeltsin-skeptics were either also found on the right, or ex-CIA Bush and Baker were closet socialists - which they were.

  • Tim||

    Having grown up under the threat of imminent nuclear annihilation I can tell you that, Putin or not, things are far better today.

  • SIV||

    setting aside some Bircher die-hards convinced that the apparent fall of Communism was a ruse

    New World Order CFR Bilderbergers

  • Paul.||

    Interesting topic.

    Bolsheviks seized power and transformed the soviets from bottom-up organs of worker control into instruments of the state. The Trotskyists think things went bad when Trotsky lost his power struggle with Stalin

    They're both right, but missing the point.

    The system where the bottom-up organ of worker control couldn't end in any way but control by instruments of the state. The Trotsky theory was purely based on a cult of personality, the right people being in charge- again, it's not the structure of the system that's failing us, we just need better people at the levers!

    Part of Russia's problem is that it had a slow decay-- even the fall of the Berlin wall really just represented a weakening of its grip on its satellite states. Russia is still Russia and you could say that its communism had an 'orderly shutdown'. That, in my opinion is the problem. Communism should have been kicked out the door with prejudice and violence, and told to never return.

  • Sevo||

    "The Trotsky theory was purely based on a cult of personality, the right people being in charge- again, it's not the structure of the system that's failing us, we just need better people at the levers!"

    I'm plowing through the second book on the Russian revolution(s), and this ^: "The Tsar is dead! Long live the Tsar!"
    "A History of China" (Keay) makes exactly the same point with Mao; he was simply the new emperor and his dynasty continued until the mandate from heaven was denied.
    Whether the Chi Coms will make a better break is open to question.
    Both cultures, however, have depended on the father figure for as long as anyone has records.

  • Malkavian||

    Russia has always been fascinated by strong leaders, but it pretty much had to be to run war economy almost 24/7. Euros were imperialistic and aggressive as hell (French Kings and Emperors, German and Austrian Emperors were not exactly models of democracy either).

    Euros got over it by getting tired in WWII (and I to a lesser extent), and outsourcing their defense to US. Russians never had that chance. Maybe if Russia was admitted into NATO from the start. Now it's too late, I think.

  • Malkavian||

    *From the start - after USSR dissolution, I mean.

  • AlmightyJB||

    "Russia has always been fascinated by strong leaders"

    Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It's the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life's joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.

  • Malkavian||

    I prefer to avoid ethnic/racial language when describing political preferences. You sound like one of those people who think that natural state of Jews is to be bankers and exploit the world.

    I happen to be Russian, but have a more liberal outlook. I also got out of Russia first chance I got. That said, I understand where we are coming from, and that nothing is set in stone. Hey, Russia's got a stock market, a flat income tax, and a $14,000/capita GDP. And population seems to be dying less. So Russia is moving in the right direction, sure, slowly and with a lot of setbacks (like freedom of speech), but it's getting better. Over time, I'm optimistic.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    You sound like one of those people who think that natural state of Jews is to be bankers and exploit the world.

    I think he's just seeing a chance to quote a movie.

  • Malkavian||

    Ah, sorry then.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    Russia has always been fascinated by strong leaders

    All it takes is a good old fashioned invasion to create that fascination. Witness the USA after 9/11. Self-preservation can sometimes be a society's driving principle.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Wasn't parliament occupied by armed skinheads when Yeltsin shelled it?

  • R C Dean||

    I got nothin' to add. You can't "go bad" when you've never been good.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Now Moscow's most vocal American opponents are the neocons

    Sort of. The neo-cons have this weird love/hate relationship with Putin, simultaneously hating his policies why openly lusting after his alpha-maleness.

  • The Last American Hero||

    I've read quite a bit of Tolstoy lately and he had some great insights into Russia's problems. The place has always been corrupt but the country really seemed to get bad around the time of the enlightenment when Western Europe began its ascendancy and Russia was this big bloated backward dinosaur.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    USA! USA! USA!

  • Malkavian||

    Two years before I was born, the Soviet Union sent tanks to a city in the middle of Europe. Nowadays the big Russian foreign-policy crisis involves a dispute over the control of a majority-Russian enclave just over the country's border.

    And less than 40 years before I was born, a coalition of Germans and Finns starved a million people in my hometown. So yes, I would agree that in the grand arc of history, it's a lot nicer problem to have.

  • The Laconic Marc F Cheney||

    There's probably only five or six people out there who'll agree with me about this, but I think the Encyclopedia of anti-Revisionism On-Line is one of the most endlessly entertaining sites on the Internet.

    I had one look and my brain recoiled. It looks like English, but it's not.

  • The Laconic Marc F Cheney||

    I think I understand where you're coming from, though. I used to find xenu.org entertaining for the same reason.

  • JD the elder||

    Read some Richard Pipes for insight on this kind of thing. He basically makes the point that not only did Russia never really go through the Enlightenment, it never went through a bunch of the changes that led up to the Enlightenment either.* Most relevantly, the West developed this idea that while the king might rule the nation, he didn't own the nation, which in turn developed into ideas about rights, separation of powers, etc., but Russia never really got the memo.

    * Apologies to Pipes if this is grossly oversimplifying his thesis, but it's what I remember from his books.

  • CE||

    Russia has always been bad.

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