A centenary consensus dismisses the Soviet takeover as an unmitigated failure. That says more about us than the Bolsheviksby Sheila Fitzpatrick / September 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Is there a lesson to be drawn from the Russian Revolution at its centenary? “Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” is the word from Marxist provocateur Slavoj Žižek, channelling “Lenin at his Beckettian best.” Author China Miéville is similarly downbeat, identifying the lesson as the recognition that “things changed once, and they might do so again.” Those are the friendly assessments from the left.
Move right, and it gets worse. Egregious failure is the general message—failure of the revolution, failure of the Soviet system, and, by extension, failure of socialism. “Our times are not especially friendly to the idea of revolution,” Steve Smith noted ruefully in a scholarly forum. “While our knowledge… has increased significantly… our ability to understand—certainly to empathise with—the aspirations of 1917 has diminished.” With the crimes of the Stalin era seen as the revolution’s appalling, inevitable outcome, its centenary is something to be “mourned, not celebrated,” wrote Max Hastings.