Sunday, March 7, 2021

March 1921 Set Pattern for Russia Since – By Separating Struggle for Power from Positions on Issues, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 5 – Russia is now marking the centenary of many fateful events, including the suppression of the Kronshtadt revolt, the West Siberian peasant uprising, and the Bolsheviks’ decision to scrap War Communism in favor of the New Economic Policy in order to save their regime.

            But another development took place, Sergey Shelin says, that was even more consequential and has defined Russian political life ever since, “the complete separation of the struggle for power from a struggle over ideas … a revolution that by its consequences has meant no less than the revolution of 1917” (

            The challenges to the Bolshevik regime seemed so severe in March 1921 that it seemed to most “that the regime would either collapse or be transformed into something much softer. But neither the one nor the other happened,” the Rosbalt commentator said. Instead, the revolts and opposition groups were suppressed even as the economic course was reversed.

            “Almost everywhere,” Shelin continues, “the so-called struggle for power and policy conflicts are combined.” That was the case in Soviet Russia for the first three years of its existence, but the events of March 1921 changed that, separating the two in ways that continue to this day.

            On the basis of what is typical of most political systems and what was the case in Russia before 1921, one might have expected the struggle before the 10th Bolshevik party congress to combine the struggle for power and the fight over policy. “But nothing like that happened,” the commentator says.

            Instead, from that time forward, many changes in policy in Russia “followed one after another without any discussion even behind the scenes and often without any change in the leading figures.” Party members backed leaders whose policies were at odds with their own, and leaders were prepared to depart from the positions they had taken earlier.

            As a result, in 1921, “the struggle between the backers of Lenin and those of Trotsky were in no way a battle of ideological opponents, between a sober pragmatist and a revolutionary fanatic.” Some fanatics supported Lenin, and some pragmatists took the side of Trotsky, but the winners were those around Lenin and the losers any who supported Trotsky and others.

            For Bolshevik Russia, “the result of March 1921 was a surprising regime – economically liberal, politically totalitarian, leader focused, but without any procedure for advancing a successor.” And so it remains today, a system that can survive most challenges by changing direction but cannot overcome the fatal flaw that was inserted within it a century ago. 


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