100 Years After the Russian Revolution, Russians Are Still Paying

How much more developed would Russia be if it didn't suffer from nearly a century of communism?


On April 16, 1917, which is to say 100 years ago last Sunday, a train from Helsinki arrived at the Finland Station in Petrograd. The "sealed train" originated in Zürich, Switzerland. It carried on board 32 Russian revolutionaries, including Vladimir Lenin and his wife, as well as millions of German "goldmarks." Lenin, who desperately wanted to return home from his Swiss exile in order to take over the leadership of the Russian Bolsheviks, needed German logistical help to cross the Eastern Front as well as financial help to foment a revolt against the sitting Russian government of Alexander Kerensky. Both were duly furnished by the German imperial high command.

As such, Russia experienced two revolutions in 1917. The February revolution deposed the Tsar, while the October revolution put the Bolsheviks in charge. Subsequent to the Bolshevik putsch, Russia withdrew from the Great War, thus allowing the Germans to move their divisions to the Western Front to face the combined might of the French, the British and the Americans. Once in charge, Lenin established one-party dictatorship and the first gulags. The Soviet Union, with its accompanying horrors, was born.

Communist apologists have often blamed Bolshevik crimes on Joseph Stalin, who took over the Russian government following Lenin's death in 1924. The Russian historian and politician Alexander Yakovlev, who headed the Presidential Commission for the Victims of Political Repression, however, noted that the "truth is that in punitive operations Stalin did not think up anything that was not there under Lenin: executions, hostage taking, concentration camps, and all the rest." Violence was inherent in the Bolshevik revolution. Per Lenin: "If we are not ready to shoot a saboteur and White Guardist [i.e., anti-communist Russian soldiers], what sort of revolution is that?"

Estimating the cost of the Bolshevik rule is not easy, although Yakovlev argues that 20 million lives were lost to state-sponsored violence, malnutrition, man-made famine, slave labor, etc. That seems like a very conservative estimate. Looking at other consequences of Russian communism, the story is similarly depressing. Comparing Russia with any other country is difficult. Russia's geography and history are unique. That said, I went back to Maddison's data in search of a European country that was, roughly speaking, at Russia's level of economic development in 1917. With average annual per capita income of $1,212 (in 1990 dollars), Portugal was closest to Russia's $1,085. Where would Russia be, had it matched the economic performance of Portugal—a country that is even today considered as something of a European basket case? Let data tell the story.

1. GDP per capita, per person, per year, 1990 Geary-Khamis dollars (1917-2010)

2. Life expectancy, years, 1960-2015

3. Democracy vs. autocracy, scale -10 (worst) to 10 (best), 1917-2015

4. Civil liberties, scale 1 (best) to 7 (worst), 1972-2015

5. Political rights, scale 1(best) to 7 (worst), 1972-2015

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  1. They should have plotted a slow march to central planning, like America.

  2. Without the revolution, feel like the Russians would’ve found a different way to screw it up for themselves.

    1. Came here to basically say this.

      1. This.

        Not to mention that this just looks like erecting a strawman. Outside of maybe Venezuela, the Soviet model of anything is as irrelevant as advocating the return of chattel slavery.

    2. They would most likely not have been the target of Hitler’s aggressions or would have come to the aid of Poland and made the European War a whole lot different.

      1. I dunno, the tsars weren’t known for NOT invading Poland whenever they felt like it.

        1. But would they have been as horrid about it as Stalin was? I suppose it’s quite possible.

    3. Yeah. Many related questions come to mind. Would it have been possible for them not to have some kind of revolution? Would a different winner have been any better in the end? Would they not have taken over Eastern Europe? Would they have stayed in WWI and how would that have changed the later 20th century? Lots of factors there.

      1. Russia already had a revolution before the Bolshevik Revolution. The czar was removed in the February Revolution, and the Bolsheviks seized power from the provisional government during the October Revolution (and the ensuing Civil War).

  3. But capitalism has killed many much mores than communism!

    1. Yes! Because there jhas never been a true communism! Even the slightest interference from capitalism pollutes communism so much as to render it capitalist!

      Whereas capitalism is so strong, that nothing can prevent it from being capitalism! So every system has been capitalist at its heart or at its fringes, you see, comrade!


      Like Jim Crow and the idea that white blood is so delicate and fragile that even one drop of that strong intense black blood can render it too impure to partake of white privilege.

  4. Are we forgetting the German November revolution? Communism doesn’t just breed lethargy, destroy innovation, and depress the average welfare of a society; no, communism also has a side effect of producing fascists.

    Keep up the good work AntiFa! Everyone will prosper under the National American Zenith Isolationists.

  5. Leave it to the libertectagenarians to luv the czar. Violence in service of the revulotion is totally cool because Czars suck.

    Why you luv Czar? You authoritarian bitches!

    1. Nice handle. Very apropos.

      1. I’m apropo your handle!

  6. As long as we’re dealing in alternate world lines, how you think Russia would’ve developed if we go back a little farther & keep the Romanovs from shortly before their deposition? Or just take Rasputin out of the picture?

    1. Or even further – what if Ivan the Terrible had preferred creating a kinder gentler czardomshipthing. Or if the Rus had taken the Swedish Chef rather than the Vikings/Varangians as their behavioral model?

  7. Well once again a writer that can’t tell a Democracy (which there are none) from a Republic which is what we are supposed to be and Communism (which there are none) from Socialism. I wish some of you people would have actually learn something in your high school government class. On paper Communism is the best and Democracy is the worse. In reality they all suck.

    1. “…Communism (which there are none) from Socialism…”

      Scarecrow beatcha to it.

    2. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is a fitting description of slavery.

      On paper, communism is slavery.

      Gee, I wonder why it turns out bad in the end.

    3. I thought socialism sounded like a really good idea on paper … when I was 13. It took about six weeks before, continuing to think about it, to realize that it was wrong and there was no way it could work.

  8. As a hobby I like to remind people that there are two constitutional mental health protections in the bill of rights. 1st Amendment. Freedom of association, the freedom to think for oneself. Freedom of speech, the freedom to speak one’s own mind. Enjoy them.

    One other thing, an appropriate term for organized perverts anywhere is communists.

  9. One things those graphs make clear is what a disaster the Yeltsin years were for Russia. Helps you understand why the Russkies keep electing Putin.

  10. As oppressive as the Tsars could be, the Russian economy was quite developed at the time. They were developing new methods and would have been a legitimate competitor to the US and the West, as opposed to relying on foreign capital and copying western design as pretty much was the case for all of the 20th century.

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  13. RE: 100 Years After the Russian Revolution, Russians Are Still Paying
    How much more developed would Russia be if it didn’t suffer from nearly a century of communism?

    Nothing could be further from the truth.
    Just look what communism did for Russia.
    It decreased the excess population thanks to Stalin’s wise and merciful plan of killing anyone and everyone who looked at him twice.
    It make the Soviet Union a leader in Eastern Europe.
    The Soviet Union passed its Stalinist legacy on to Cuba, North Korea and Cambodia. One only has to look at those freedom loving, humane and economic titans to see what the USA is missing out on.
    Lastly, it gives a lot of useful, over-educated idiots in our country something to talk about and aspire to today.
    It is silly to think Russia would have done much better under capitalism. They wouldn’t have had the show trials, the mass murderer Stalin killing them, the NKVD (later the KGB) watching over them in such a benevolent way and the world wouldn’t have the AK-47 or cheap vodka.
    I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think the historical facts about Soviet Russia speak for themselves.

  14. And since then lots of conspiracies theories had risen then some “rich white men” like Olof Aschberg and co. financed the Bolsheviks.

  15. “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.” After breaking the heads of tens of millions of fellow citizens– where’s the omelette? Economically, politically, and culturally backward and in most measures heading in the wrong direction. But with nuclear weapons and membership on the Security Council.

  16. The article is actually wrong. The Russians only suffered for about seventy years under communism. For the last thirty years they have suffered under the other ideologically driven,19th century idealistic economic system that is doomed ultimately to failure that is not Marxism. This is of course, Milton Friedman’s neoliberalism and the cult of the free market.

    When the Russians abandoned communism they turned to the University of Chicago school of economics to fashion their post communistic economy. The University of Chicago economists recommended that the Russians sell off all of their state owned businesses and then to sit back and let the magic of the free market unencumbered by any government oversight take over and to provide prosperity for all.

    It gave the Russians what unfettered capitalism always degenerates into, a kleptocracy where the biggest crooks end up with everything.

    1. Russia (and most of the other Soviet bloc) was advised by Jeffrey Sachs – a HARVARD economist. And reality is – some of those were very successful (Estonia, Slovenia, Czechia) – some were OK (Poland) – some were total flops (Russia). The key to success being – was that first post-Soviet govt run by previous dissidents or competent people (Havel, Laar, Drnovsek) – or just a meet-new-boss-same-as-the-old-drunk (Yeltsin).

      Academics are ideologues and theorists. It doesn’t matter what stripe they are – theories are no substitute for competence in the real world.

    2. Simpledon, you misplaced the ”t” key when you signed up for Reason.

  17. That comparison is unfair … to Portugal. It ignores an enormous economic advantage that only 4 nations have enjoyed since ancient times: a vast frontier. In Siberia, Russia had more land and more untapped mineral resources than even the USA. It should have become as rich as the USA, Canada, or Australia.

  18. With or without the Bolsheviks, Russia would still be Russia. Hundreds of years of Mongol domination has shaped the political position of Russia. Totalitarian and militarily paranoid. Yet Russians support their government in general, with a desire to be a superpower.

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