Staunton, November 10 – Now that less than a year remains before the 100th anniversary of what used to be known as the Great October Socialist Revolution and is now more commonly referred to as the Bolshevik coup d’etat, many are going to be asking why that event happened and what it means for Russia today.
Answering these questions, Moscow sociologist and commentator Igor Chubais says, is going to prove no easy task for the Kremlin because that how one thinks about that long-ago event defines more clearly than almost anything else what one wants for the future of the country (mk.ru/print/article/1543978/).
In a commentary for “Moskovsky komsomolets,” he suggests that there are three main approaches to the issue: the official Soviet one, the official post-Soviet one, and, because of the inadequacies of both of these, an unofficial one based on an actual examination of why the revolution succeeded and how it cost Russia a century of its history.
According to the official Soviet version, “’The Great October Revolution was the main event of the 20th century.’ Everything before it was treated as the dark tsarist past, and October as a great revolution and great breakthrough by which we proceeded toward a bright future by the only correct road.”
Under its term, Chubais continues, “the USSR and historical Russia were completely different states,” and anything positive before 1917 was deemed to be such only because it contributed to the development of revolutionary conditions that resulted in the victory of October.
According to the official post-Soviet version, Russian history is “one and indivisible. No break occurred in 1917,” and focusing obsessively on the October events “makes no sense.” Under its terms, “the current Russian state … is the legal successor of the USSR and the current powers that be … are an organic continuation of all the fatherland’s history.”
Both of these conceptions have serious problems, and especially the latter as it seeks to cover up the fact that the Soviet state represented an illegitimate break with the past because to recognize that would be to recognize the fundamental illegitimacy of the Russian Federation at the present time.
Many countries have chosen to change or have been forced to change their identities and to begin life anew, Chubais points out. The Federal Republic of Germany was a successful case of this and that of Kemal Ataturk’s Turkey was a somewhat less successful one. But both show that this can occur.
“But in the case of the USSR-Russian Federation, we encounter a different situation,” he says, one in which the first and then the second build a similar kind of regime, “an untransparent quasi-state with changing slogans and goals or without slogans and goal, the only real task of which is the preservation of the rulers and their privileges.”
The third and very much unofficial approach to the October 1917 events has been given by close students of Russian history. For it, 1917 was a civilizational break and “the most horrific geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn put it, “the Soviet Union was to historic Russia what a murderer is to his victim.”
The Bolsheviks succeeded, these students of Russian history point out, because they offered more attractive slogans than their opponents even if they had no intention of living up to them, and because they used unprecedented terror against anyone who disagreed with them in the slightest and even against those who didn’t.
And they promoted atheism which arose as Dostoyevsky had warned because of a situation” in which “if God does not exist, then everything is permitted.” And that phenomenon became possible, Chubais argues, because what happened in Russia in the 20th century was “a break with the past in the absence of acceptance of something new.”
“The catastrophe of October imposed on Russians the heaviest and to the greatest extent irretrievable losses,” he says. “Russia entered the last century with pretensions to world leadership that were recognized by Europe and ended it by falling apart. We have lost an entire century … We have lost time and lost space” and lost all of Russia’s former allies.
Worse still, Chubais suggests, the current powers that be, mired in “lies, amorality, criminality, corruption, and censorship,” can’t “offer a project for the future. Russia is dying out.” And because things have gone downhill for so long, many fear that any new changes will only make things worse.
What is needed, the sociologist says, is not any change in the personalities of Russia but in “the system of coordinates” within which they do their thinking. Doing that requires facing up honestly to what October 1917 was really about – and that is something, he suggests, that the current powers that be have their own reasons for not being willing to do.