How Did 1917 Change the West?

By Samuel A. Greene, Reader in Russian Politics and Director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London. Originally published at openDemocracy

Failed utopias lead to the death of idealism, and the likes of Putin and Trump are symbols of this process. As we watch Russia struggle with history, the US and UK cannot afford to pretend that this history doesn’t affect us too.

Revolutions – and their centenaries – are best dealt with in the first person. That, of course, creates a certain awkwardness for an academic, whose stock in trade is meant to be distance from the subject of study. But nothing forces a reckoning with one’s place in the order of things quite like a revolution, and that is true of academics even 100 years after the fact. Witness, for example, the never-ending debates about what a revolution even is.

Slipping into the first person – reckoning with my place in the order of things – allows me to admit another awkwardness that has arisen in this centenary season: That of an American, living in the UK, who is expected by virtue of his profession to pronounce on the “Russian” revolution. If any combination of subject, audience and personal heritage could make me feel like more of an imposter, I don’t know what it is.

To lessen that awkwardness, I have told myself – and a handful of audiences – that October 1917 was not just a Russian revolution. February had already done away with monarchical absolutism and the doorway to modernity – at least in the Euro-centric conception that dominated the age – was open. But Bolshevism, as the name would suggest, was meant to be about more than that: about more than Russia, perhaps about more than modernity.

The Bolsheviks looked at western modernity and found it lacking – in need of transformation. However misbegotten, and without regard to its eventual mutations, the communist ideal – what Yuri Slezkine has described as a millenarian, utopian vision for the fall of Babylon and the establishment of Justice – was to its adherents a universalist idea. It was a pathway to universal justice, to global justice, and it emerged onto the scene just as its brother, the Wilsonian democratic ideal, strode forth from America. Both of these universalist projects shared a progenitor, in the Scottish Enlightenment of Hume, Ferguson and Smith.

Russia and America: Mirroring Ambition, Mirroring Failure

Each vision of Utopia presented an insurmountable challenge to the other.

Woodrow Wilson’s conceit was that paradise on Earth was already extant, in the New World and pockets of the Old, and, provided that the passions of humanity could be tamed, this paradise would eventually bathe the world in a gently rising tide of democracy. Lenin’s conceit was a hotter one, an understanding of the world so structurally unjust that only the fire of revolutionary uprising – the passions of humanity unleashed – could clear away the suffocating underbrush and allow for new growth. Russia and America have spent the last 100 years as mirrors held up to one another, revealing in excruciating detail both the loftiness of our ambitions and our frequent failures to live up to them. Indeed, our almost ubiquitous failures to live up to them. Russia and America – and perhaps the west more broadly – have constructed their contemporary selves with clear and abiding reference to one another: the American way was American because it was the rejection of the Soviet way, and vice versa.

A Works Progress Administration poster. Source: Public domain.

That reflexive, reflective modernity continues today. It outlasted the death of ideological fervour in both Moscow and Washington. It was the New Deal and the rise of the western welfare state – propelled by the example of state socialism and the fear of contagious ideology – that fueled Khrushchev’s Thaw. It was Yuri Gagarin who put Neil Armstrong on the moon. It was in the hall of mirrors that we call the Cold War that Martin Luther King Jr and Andrei Sakharov came into focus.

Utopia, of course, died long before the Soviet Union, but it is threatening to drown idealism in its wake. It is easy to forget, but in 1991 – in that moment of genuine euphoria – many Americans and Russians alike believed in a common future.

It took Americans longer than Russians to realize that this dream – that Russians would somehow become “like us” (whatever that might mean), the dream of the end of history – would not come true. Russians began to see in their American mirror something unattainable, but also something undesirable, and retreated from universalism into particularism, an insistence on a special path, a uniquely Russian civilization.

And Americans have come to see in the Russian mirror an image of everything we so desperately fear becoming – and that image is getting sharper by the day. We fear, in truth, not that Trump was installed by Putin, but that in electing Trump we ourselves have elected our own Putin – a leader who allows us to be our basest self and absolves us of guilt. If poet Fyodor Tyutchev (of “You cannot understand Russia with your mind…” fame) has replaced Lenin in the Russian discourse, Sarah Palin has replaced Wilson in the American.

As Russia Grapples With Its History, Are We Doing Any Better?

It has become commonplace to note how few conversations are happening in the Russian public space about 1917. The current masters of the Kremlin have hewn to a story of uninterrupted Russian power, from the princes of Kyiv, through Ivan the Terrible’s Muscovy and the Romanovs, into the Soviet era and beyond, with Putin the rightful heir of all of these disparate lineages. It is a neat trick, made possible only by the replacement of universalism with particularism. The only legitimating idea that connects the 19th, 20th and 21st-Century constructions of Russian power into a single arc is that of Russia itself.

Having noted that, it’s worth turning the same question back on ourselves: If Russia is struggling to come to grips with the transformation caused by 1917, are we doing any better?

Rally marking the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in St Petersburg. (c) NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.

We call it the Russian revolution – or the Bolshevik revolution, which, if anything, makes it sound even more foreign – and we hold lectures and exhibitions. Excellent lectures and engrossing exhibitions. The Royal Academy. The Tate Modern. The British Library. Even King’s College London. John Reed is serialised on BBC Radio 4, with Russian workers speaking in cockney and Stalin sporting a spectacular Scottish brogue. We have dozens and dozens of opportunities to reflect – on Russia. And they’re fascinating. And we’re fascinated. But they miss the point.

How did 1917 change us? I don’t mean the fate of capitalism and socialism in the west, though that matters, too. I mean the west itself. To a very great extent, the west as we know it was born in 1917 in Petrograd. And 100 years later, it is still in Russia’s mirror that we see ourselves most clearly. If we care to look.

Revolutions generally begin with a mixture of concrete grievance and an abstract sense of justice – while the most powerful revolutions seem to involve an appeal to a transcendent, universal justice, to values that accrue to us all. Revolution in its purest sense thus might be thought of as the negation of identity and the rejection of particularism.

Revolutions are also about imagination – a simultaneous re-imagination of the future and the past, transforming our past into an abstraction of injustice to be rejected, and transforming the future into its opposite. In the process, we universalize our particularism – we ascribe to all of humanity our own grievances and our own imaginations.

But revolutions are also mobilisational processes, and sociology tells us that mobilisational processes seek solidarity by reinforcing dichotomies – between just and unjust, past and future, us and them.

The first thing we need to understand, then, was that 1917 threw all of us into a process of self-definition by reference to different imagined utopias. Competing and incompatible claims to universality – stalemated first by accidents of history and then by the design of Mutually Assured Destruction – decay into competitive claims of exceptional particularism, with the caveat that each particular exceptionalism is grounded in an exclusive universality.

Let me repeat that. Over the course of the 20th Century, Russia’s and America’s competing and incompatible claims to represent a universal vision decayed into competitive claims of exceptional particularism. And each of these particularistic formulations of exceptionalism was grounded in a mutually exclusive vision of universality.

An Impossible Future, and a Past That Never Existed

Because we “won” the Cold War – because our system of political and economic governance survived and the Soviet Union’s did not – we might forget that we have walked the same path and arrived at the same destination.

The Soviet Union began by attempting to build a future that could not exist: universal prosperity could not be planned. As the idea of that shining future faded, Russia sought shelter in a past that never existed, a myth of pan-Slavic virtue, harmony and plenty. The argument that justifies Crimea, that justifies Donbas, is not an argument – it is the absence of an argument. It is the argument that arguments do not matter. That ideas do not matter. That what matters, is where we are, and right now, we are here.

But the America of the NRA and Black Lives Matter – or the Britain of UKIP and Grenfell Tower – are not the lands we told the Soviets we were building. They are not the lands we told ourselves we were building. And we, too, retreat from future into past. We elect governments on the basis that government is the problem, not the solution. We cleave to leaders who base their politics in the absence of policy. And we, too, fight wars because we can.

I’m in danger of sounding like an activist, rather than an academic — but I have tried, briefly, to make two arguments. One is that the process that has led to the politics we observe and dislike in Russia is not distinct from the process that has led to the politics we observe and dislike in the west. But the second is that we need to have arguments. As social scientists, what we want from this is to be provoked into finding our own new universalities, our generalizable conclusions drawn from methodical observation and rigorous analysis.

For those of us who study politics, these past few years have also been a time of retreat into particularism – into methodological exceptionalism, if you will. Rational choice. Realism. Constructivism. As a discipline, whatever your preferences, your foundations have been shaken. The politicians tell us our nations have had enough of experts, and we are duly, maybe ritually indignant – but in our quieter moments, we, too, wonder about our usefulness. The evisceration of idealism that enables both Putin and Trump afflicts us, too.

Maybe the time for quiet moments has passed. Maybe we can raise the volume a bit. Maybe we can turn the tide back towards the universal, towards understanding something about the other in ourselves and the self in our others. Wouldn’t that be revolutionary?

This text is adapted from a keynote address delivered at the British International Studies Association Conference on “1917 in 2017: Russia’s Unfinished Revolution” on 17 November 2017, in London.

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  1. Patrick Donnelly


    Germany was tempted to attack USSR, by Western investments to that end. Once it was obvious that their attack was failing, Japan was squeezed into war, allowing Germany to call for rescue by declaring war on USA!

    Russia won. USA won. Japan was taught to obey….. except they kept Plutonium.

    1. nonclassical

      ..”western investments” (and more) documented here: David talbot, “The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government”

      “Dulles’ decade as the director of the CIA (and prior, WWII OSS) – which he used to further his public and private agendas – were dark times in American politics. Calling himself “the secretary of state of unfriendly countries”, Dulles saw himself as above the elected law, manipulating and subverting American presidents in the pursuit of his personal interests and those of the wealthy elite he counted as his friends and clients – colluding with Nazi-controlled cartels, German war criminals, and Mafiosi in the process. Targeting foreign leaders for assassination and overthrowing nationalist governments not in line with his political aims, Dulles employed those same tactics to further his goals at home..”

      1. WobblyTelomeres

        A very good book, that. Dulles’ involvement in the Warren Commission is something everyone should be aware of.

      2. Vatch

        Patrick Donnelly said:

        Germany was tempted to attack USSR, by Western investments to that end.

        Does the book about Allen Dulles explain what those Western investments were prior to 1941? Dulles’s period in the OSS and the CIA could not have influenced Germany’s past actions. I apologize if this is answered in the Youtube video; I didn’t have time to watch it.

        1. nonclassical

          Sir-excellent detailed perceptions; you will need read Talbot’s book, wherein you will find Dulles working with Wall Street banks – investors – investments, Germany, over decades. (and so much more):

          “The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government”

          The video is only one of Talbot, but perhaps best summation…he is also available on youtube on “Concord book club” discussion with readers of his book.

        2. jsn

          As Sullivan & Cromwell private attorneys, the Dulles brothers saw to it that parent cross holding companies of their foreign clients all shared copy rights, patents and intellectual property prior to hostilities including particularly Italian and German corporations. It was the individuals controlling these international share holdings the brothers most identified with, Nazis and Facists specifically. Krupp and IGFarben were two of JF Dulles top prewar clients.

          When Truman found out, much latter, he considered it treason.

          1. jsn

            Allen Dulles was similarly involved with Italian utilities.

            By the time Truman found out, though, the Cold War was already on and the brothers were nothing if not anti communists!

        3. Vatch

          Okay, thanks. That makes more sense. I’m not surprised that Wall Streeters worked with the Nazis and Fascists. Ford and Standard Oil also worked with them.

          I’m still a little skeptical about the claim that Germany was tempted to invade the USSR by Western investments. The Western investments helped to enable the invasion of the USSR (as well as the earlier invasions of Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, and other countries), but the Nazis were already hostile to the Soviets.

          Many of the early Nazis had previously been members of the Freikorps, and fought against German Communist revolutionaries in late 1918 and in 1919. They also fought against Bolsheviks in Latvia (as well as against non-Bolshevik Latvians). It’s possible that if there hadn’t been communist uprisings against the Ebert Social Democratic German government, the German nationalists of the 1920s wouldn’t have been so fixated on the Soviets. The German revolutionaries were inspired by the Soviets, who had overthrown the previous revolutionary government. The German communists wanted to do the same thing.

          1. nonclassical

            Sir-Churchill triangulated Germany through spy intel, Europe, Japan, to turn on Russia-take impetus from Britain. British government was ready move, Canada. When Stalin was finally so informed, he could not tolerate Churchill. Spy in Japan who provided “intel” Japan would invade from East if Germany invaded, West, was brought back to Germany and disposed of, though British intel officer attempted save. It was this “intel”, when delivered Stalin, convinced him move 2-3 million troops from East to West, in full winter gear, to turn tide against German invasion…which still took months. “Intel” also created “trust” – understanding between FDR – Stalin.

            We are likely all aware Churchill believed Germany – Russia should be allowed destroy each other, as he blatantly observed. Stalin also held against Churchill, foot dragging on launching western front, promised long prior Normandy…

            As for banks, observe as noted, Sullivan and Cromwell, “Brown Brothers – Harriman” (“Harriman” = George Harriman W Bush)…can be traced back to General Smedley Butler – his own observation:

            “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

            Following Brown Bros. (long considered CIA banking ops) one arrives at Dulles. Brown Bros. Harriman absorbed by Deutche Bank leading to 911; follow name Alan “Buzzy” Krongard (within “Crossing the Rubicon”, Michael Ruppert) to “puts” placed against United and American Airlines…subject of much denial.



          2. Reini Urban

            > I’m not surprised that Wall Streeters worked with the Nazis and Fascists. Ford and Standard Oil also worked with them.

            Wrong. The US investments into them brought them to power after all. Without the backing of the industry the fascists would have stayed another obscure radical party under 30%.

            Also the US knew exactly what the fascists and the german industry were after. Invading Russia. In the 30s already. The US oil partners gave the germans a free license to produce chemical diesel, because Germany had no oil reserves. This oil was only needed to invade Russia, to get rid of the dangerous bolshevik ideas which were rising in Germany. For this the Americans demanded the majority on the IG Farben board. Out of 7 directors 4 were Americans.
            The US was pretty successful in hiding all those facts. Blaming the Nazis after they decided to support Britain and not Germany anymore was a major counterintelligence effort.

            1. jsn

              Yes, and Allen & John Dulles were representing Standard & Ford who had mutual board members with Krupp & Farben from before and continuing after Hitler’s ascent.

  2. ambrit

    I would add to this by mentioning Lamberts’ Mantra; concrete and material benefits for all.
    The three ‘big’ revolutions of the Twentieth Century provided some concrete, material benefits to the ‘masses’ of their regions. Russia in 1917 promised and produced an economy, no matter how shaky, that was seen to be for the betterment of the people. Until Stalin reverted to Oriental Despotism as a working plan, the USSR built roads, waterworks, sewers etc. The people saw their revolution at work for them. Likewise, in Germany, Hitler put the people to work, building autobahns etc. Harnessing the humiliation of the nation to the building of a German ideal State was Hitlers genius. If he had stopped there, he would be remembered today as a ‘great leader.’ In America, Franklin Roosevelt used the power of the State to put people to work, building roads, dams, forests etc. There are still remnants of the New Deal projects around. I know of two WPA Federal Art Project murals in ex Post Office facilities here Down South. Roosevelt arguably saved Capitalism from itself, a revolutionary outcome in and of itself.
    No one of sane mind denies that history can run backward. However, the people have tasted the forbidden fruit of material security. Nothing gets people more riled up than realizing that something that they have enjoyed as a ‘usual thing’ is being taken away.
    An anecdote from work to the point. Our regional manager is an ambitious person. Fair enough that, but the workers are viewed as expendable ‘things’ to be used. People are not as stupid as the average “overlord” class functionary seems to think. We know the ‘game,’ so, when this manager came through the store a few weeks ago, with a gaggle of ‘friends’ and assorted sycophants en train, she was heard by several floor workers to be bragging to her group about her recent vacation to the Virgin Islands. This did not go down well with the workforce. Indirectly, this manager has reduced enthusiasm for the work, and depressed efficiency in the store. All to make herself look good to her perceived peers. Despite the starvation wages, is it any wonder turnover is so high here?
    Rant In Peace.
    Just a thought for Thanksgiving: instead of pardoning a turkey, why not pardon school debts? That would be revolutionary thinking.

    1. vlade

      er.. Re Russian revolution for betterment of the people – well, some.

      Ukrainians died in their millions in the enforced famine (which is still a source of much angst and anger between Ukraine and Russia, and some of the real roots of the east-Ukraine separatist movement).

      In fact, the Russian economy was going downhill after the revolution until Lenin (yes, Lenin. If he was anything, he was a pragmatist, which is interesting trait he shared with Stalin, and I think FDR too) moved in 1921 (at which time the USSR’s economy was in horrendous state with large anti party demonstrations in Moscow, famine, Kronstand rebellion etc.) to the “New Economic Policy” – which was classified as “state capitalism”, and include a form of “free market”, and even was looking to attract foreign investment!

      Sort of not dissimilar to the current China experiment (Deng Xiaoping acknowledged it as “the most correct model of socialism”). It even had it’s own noveau riche similarly to the NR in China these days (which was one of its political problems with the hardcore party)

      The interesting bit is that Stalin supported this vs Trotsky, but once he took power and got rid of him, he actually reverted to what Trotsky was advocating and thus NEP ended in 1929.

          1. Katsue

            As I understand it, Stalin didn’t quite go in for full-on Trotskyism. For one thing, he left the trade unions intact. And the collective farms once implemented were part of a quasi-market system, rather than just straightforwardly requisitioning grain at gunpoint.

      1. Thuto

        Russia/USSR looking to attract FDI pre-91?? Are you sure? Wasn’t it the perpetually inebriated Boris Yeltsin that opened up Russia to free market capitalism on the advice of US economic reform consultants? And, as Michael Hudson has alluded to here, as a sovereign currency issuer, Russia funded its domestic expenditure obligations without ever needing to tap international financial markets pre-91 (and only the arms race put a strain on this capability). I’m struggling to see why they would seek to attract FDI (which, in all likelihood would have had to come from the adversarial west). Maybe you can provide some clarity??

        1. vlade

          Last concession was rolled back in 1930. The concessions were specific to the NEP (1921-1929), and were one of the four pillars of NEP.

          See for example:
          Кунин В. “Концессионная политика в Советской России (1923—1929 гг.) Вестник Московского ун-та. Сер. 6. Экономика. 1993
          Translation of the title is “Concessions politics in Soviet Russia (1923-1929) .

          If you want it from the horse’s mouth (report written by Lenin in 1921):

          which includes para like (bolding mine):
          “The New Economic Policy means substituting a tax for the requisitioning of food; it means reverting to capitalism to a considerable extent—to what extent we do not know. Concessions to foreign capitalists (true, only very few have been accepted, especially when compared with the number we have offered) and leasing enterprises to private capitalists definitely mean restoring capitalism, and this is part and parcel of the New Economic Policy; for the abolition of the surplus-food appropriation system means allowing the peasants to trade freely in their surplus agricultural produce, in whatever is left over after the tax is collected—and the tax~ takes only a small share of that produce. The peasants constitute a huge section of our population and of our entire economy, and that is why capitalism must grow out of this soil of free trading.”

          1. Thuto

            I see, so although capitalism was at odds with their ideology, the demographics of the population made partially reverting to it somewhat unavoidable. And, as an aside, I suppose a tax made sense in place of surplus food appropriation (one can imagine this becoming a logistical and enforcement nightmare in the long run). Thanks for your clarification.

            1. vlade

              The appropriations were really hated – it wasn’t a tax (percentage of what you grow/get), it was really appropriation – all taken, and then redistributed. Which was of course rife with corruption, special interests etc. etc.

              There were literally hundreds of peasants uprising in 1920/1921 in Soviet Russia because of that, and it got as far that peasants just simply refused to plant anything as a form of protest.

              1. vlade

                As in it wasn’t “surplus food” – it was all of production taken, and if you tried to hide anything, you run a (very high) risk of being shot as a saboteur.

          2. Thuto

            This is even more interesting now that I think of it. If the last concessions hadn’t been rolled back, the next 6 decades (1930-91) of the Soviet communist project might have looked very different to how things actually played out (possibly weakened and dismantled from within by this state sanctioned infiltration by foreign capitalists, kinda like how NGOs do it nowadays). I suppose the radical and increasingly isolationist outlook that underpinned the rolling back of the concessions “saved” the Soviet project, allowing it survive for the next 60 years.

            1. Vatch

              Saving the Soviet project was not a good thing. Many millions of people died during the 1930s thanks to the Soviet project.

              1. Thuto

                Hi Vatch, I merely put forward a possibility (that the soviet project might have been saved by the concessions being rolled back) without making a moral judgement on/attributing any goodness to this act of “saving” (although judging by your quibble with my comment you did that on my behalf). Of course you’re right that many lives were lost under Stalin, my comment in no way diminishes this fact.

      2. hemeantwell

        (at which time the USSR’s economy was in horrendous state with large anti party demonstrations in Moscow, famine, Kronstand rebellion etc.) to the “New Economic Policy” – which was classified as “state capitalism”, and include a form of “free market”, and even was looking to attract foreign investment!

        You make it sound as though what the USSR was experiencing up until the NEP was a freely contrived “experiment” in communism that was failing and had to be replaced with “what works.” You leave out the impact of Russia’s disastrous involvement in WWI, which had already produced severe dislocations and shortages in the economy, and then the following disaster of the civil war, with millions more dead, the flight of many of the technicians of the capitalist economy and their replacement by untrained workers, forced grain requisitions that contributed to a breakdown of the worker-peasant alliance, and the distorting effects of the eventually necessary Red Terror. And then, of course there was foreign intervention. These trials surrounding an attempt to establish a novel economic order were something capitalism, lurching from symbiosis with feudal society to rampant expropriations once it got in the saddle, never faced. They shouldn’t be treated as a kind of background noise that we can screen out as we assess the workings of an economic model. They directly impacted on its constituent parts.

        1. vlade

          Sorry, but I believe you’re showing your biases.

          I said that the economy in 1921 was in shambles, which is fact (and you acknowledge it).

          I did not say, or imply, what was the reason – because there were multitude, and it’s very hard if not impossible to separate them. I could say that a large number of people in the Soviet Russia then felt the party WAS the reason, and that was the reason Lenin adopted NEP. Without it, I believe it’s likely that there would be another revolution, this time against the party (see Kronstadt). But that still does not start to explain how it got there, and to an extent it confirms the good old time-inconsistency bias (people blaming those who are in power, not necessarily those responsible). But that was NOT the point of my response.

          The point was that the claim of the previous poster that “Russia in 1917 promised and produced an economy, no matter how shaky, that was seen to be for the betterment of the people” is wrong.

          Soviet Russia did improve situation of some people over time (the groups most affected were children and women, especially younger women, and with these groups the improvement was extremely dramatic), but at the same time brought extreme suffering and death to millions (of its own citizens). It would be even silly to start comparing suffering of Americans under their own government in 20th century vs. USSR citizens (because it wasn’t just Russians) during the same time.

          It was only from mid sixties (two generations and tens of millions dead, internally and from WW2, after the revolution) when the situation started to improve, but that was against the background of hugely improved situation of people in the USA in 1950s/60s (which was arguably a golden age for the US in the 20th century).

          Ironically, it was later in the century when the two systems started do converge..

            1. nonclassical

              …but if we want see western involvement in “the reasons”, need view Truman evisceration of FDR – his VP Henry Wallace warnings of what would happen (cold or hot war) if not for FDR promises to Stalin of $10 billion war reparations for 20-30 million dead defeating germans, bringing Russia into world trade-equal status.

              Rather, said “war reparations” constructed “Marshall Plan” = rebuilding Europe.

              Importantly British – Churchill involvement – triangulation of U.S. vs. Russia further persuaded vehemently anti-communist Truman (backed by James Byrnes-MIC enabler, as Eisenhower-MIC- warned, next administration) to void FDR – Russian war reparations. Truman was “chosen” and manipulated to replace Wallace (who appeared win re-nomination first night) at dem convention 1944, as malleable neophyte, knowing FDR would not survive 4th administration…

              1. Vatch

                . . . FDR promises to Stalin of $10 billion war reparations for 20-30 million dead defeating germans, . . .

                Let’s not forget that Stalin helped to start the European portion of WWII. The Molotov – Von Ribbentrop non aggression pact enabled the Soviet invasion of Poland. Three weeks later, the Soviets invaded the eastern half of Poland, as well as the Baltic and Moldavia/Moldova. Later came their disastrously incompetent invasion of Finland in 1939-1940.

                Some say that Stalin had to agree to the non-aggression pact, to protect the USSR from an imminent German invasion. I doubt that Hitler was prepared to invade Poland in 1939 without an assurance that the Soviets would not become involved. And even if Hitler was prepared to do so, why would have have been so confident? It’s rather simple: Stalin had destroyed the upper levels of leadership of the Red Army in the purge of 1937-1938. As a result, lower ranking officers were rapidly promoted, and the training of new recruits was handled poorly. In the early years of WWII, the Red Army suffered from Stalin inflicted wounds.

                1. rkka

                  “Some say that Stalin had to agree to the non-aggression pact, to protect the USSR from an imminent German invasion. I doubt that Hitler was prepared to invade Poland in 1939 without an assurance that the Soviets would not become involved.”

                  Colonel-General Franz Halder, Chief of the German General Staff in August 1939, was confident of defeating the Polish armed forces before the Soviets could intervene, and of defeating that Soviet intervention.

                  What Hitler feared was Western intervention while German forces were massed in the East. Stalin wasn’t in charge of that.

                  What Hitler thought the Pact would do for him was to reduce the chance of Western intervention, by depriving the West of an effective Eastern Front. Adolf got an ugly surprise on the evening of 25 August, when the British government ratified its alliance with Poland. Adolf cancelled the attack on Poland, scheduled for the very next day, 26 August, because he feared that the alliance meant that the British & French would take military action in the West, where Adolf had taken huge military risks. Field Marshal Manstein attributed Germany’s rapid conquest of Poland to 2 factors:

                  1) The German high command had taken enormous risks in the West in order to mass forces vs Poland.

                  2) The Western allies took no action to exploit that risk.

                  What the Pact did do was ruin Adolf’s previously sterling reputation as an anticommunist. Here’s a British commentator at the time:

                  “For all the other acts of brutality at home and aggression
                  without, Herr Hitler had been able to offer an excuse, inadequate
                  indeed, but not fantastic. The need for order and discipline in Europe,
                  for strength at the centre to withstand the incessant infiltration of
                  false and revolutionary ideas – this is certainly no more than the
                  conventional excuse offered by every military dictator who has ever
                  suppressed the liberties of his own people or advanced the conquest
                  of his neighbors. Nevertheless, so long as the excuse was offered
                  with sincerity, and in Hitler’s case the appearance of sincerity were
                  not lacking over a period of years, the world’s judgement of the man
                  remained more favorable than its judgement of his actions. The faint
                  possibility of an ultimate settlement with Herr Hitler still, in these
                  circumstances, remained, however abominable his methods, however
                  deceitful his diplomacy, however intolerant he might show himself of
                  the rights of other European peoples, he still claimed to stand
                  ultimately for something which was a common European interest, and
                  which therefore could conceivably provide some day a basis for
                  understanding with other nations equally determined not to sacrifice
                  their traditional institutions and habits on the bloodstained altars
                  of the World Revolution.

                  The conclusion of the German-Soviet pact removed even this faint
                  possibility of an honorable peace.”

                  Lord Lloyd of Dolobran “The British Case” Eyre & Spottiswoode Limited.
                  London, 1939, pgs 54-5, with a preface by Lord Halifax, the Foreign

                  Chamberlain himself mentioned this in his speech of September 3, 1939:

                  “For twenty years Herr Hitler has been the world’s foremost opponent of Bolshevism. He is now its ally!”

                  So were it not for the Pact, there may well not have been a British declaration of war on Germany, and Nazi Germany would have been able to conquer all of Poland, occupy the Baltic States, and launch Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet border of 1938.

                  1. Vatch

                    Thanks for your detailed reply. I’m still skeptical, though. As soon as Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in March, 1939, in flagrant violation of the Munich Peace Agreement, the British and the French knew that a war with Germany was approaching.

                    And the fact remains that Stalin invaded six sovereign nations in 1939. Part of your comment shows that the non-aggression pact with the Soviets really did help enable Germany’s invasion of Poland:

                    Adolf got an ugly surprise on the evening of 25 August, when the British government ratified its alliance with Poland. Adolf cancelled the attack on Poland, scheduled for the very next day, 26 August, because he feared that the alliance meant that the British & French would take military action in the West, where Adolf had taken huge military risks.

                    The non-aggression pact was signed on Aug. 23, but the fact that the Aug. 25 pact between Britain and Poland caused Hitler to vacillate suggests that if there had been no non-aggression pact, he might have hesitated even more. Of course we’ll never know for sure. Historical “What ifs” are fascinating, but always speculative.

                    1. rkka

                      “Thanks for your detailed reply. I’m still skeptical, though. As soon as Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in March, 1939, in flagrant violation of the Munich Peace Agreement, the British and the French knew that a war with Germany was approaching.”

                      Not Neville Chamberlain.

                      “The non-aggression pact was signed on Aug. 23, but the fact that the Aug. 25 pact between Britain and Poland caused Hitler to vacillate suggests that if there had been no non-aggression pact, he might have hesitated even more.”

                      Hitler was determined to invade Poland in the late summer of 1939, Pact or no.

                      The point is, it was Ribbentrop’s signature on the Pact that outraged the very British anticommunists who were the main advocates of Chamberlain’s concept “Germany and England as two pillars of European peace and buttresses against communism”

                    2. Vatch

                      Not Neville Chamberlain.

                      I disagree. In October, 1938, Chamberlain had a pathetically naive attitude towards the Nazis, but this changed in March, 1939, when the Nazis seized the rest of Czechoslovakia.


                      Prime Minister Chamberlain felt betrayed by the Nazi seizure of Czechoslovakia, realizing his policy of appeasement towards Hitler had failed, and began to take a much harder line against the Nazis. Amongst other things he immediately began to mobilize the British Empire’s armed forces to a war footing. France did the same.

                      Additionally, the Anglo-Polish Military Alliance was signed on Match 31, 1939. The later Aug. 25 agreement was just frosting on the cake. Whether the Soviet Union was neutral or not, once Germany invaded Poland, it was inevitable that France and Britain would intercede. If Chamberlain had wavered, there probably would have been a no confidence vote in the Parliament.

                      Aside from all this, let’s not forget that Stalin invaded 6 countries (Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Finland and Romania) a few weeks to several months after Hitler invaded Poland. When a nation invades 6 nations within a period of several months, it’s a major act of war. Stalin helped to start the European portion of WWII. (I can’t help but think about Bush, Cheney, and Iraq.)

                      Incidentally, the victorious Red Army performed incompetently in Finland (in great contrast to their performance against the Japanese in Mongolia earlier in 1939). This was likely a result of damage done by the earlier purge of the senior officers of the Red Army.

                2. nonclassical

                  Vatch-also involved was Britain, who recently rejected their pact with Japan, and signed with Poland…but had no ground troop power to uphold poorly considered pact, Poland…only sea power. Hitler knew this…

                  If you choose read regarding treaties leading to WWII, I have found Patric Buchanan’s book illuminating, notwithstanding author reputation;

                  “Churchill, Hitler, and “The Unnecessary War”: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World”


                  Among the British and Churchillian errors were:
                  • The secret decision of a tiny cabal in the inner Cabinet in 1906 to take Britain straight to war against Germany, should she invade France
                  • The vengeful Treaty of Versailles that mutilated Germany, leaving her bitter, betrayed, and receptive to the appeal of Adolf Hitler
                  • Britain’s capitulation, at Churchill’s urging, to American pressure to sever the Anglo-Japanese alliance, insulting and isolating Japan, pushing her onto the path of militarism and conquest
                  • The greatest mistake in British history: the unsolicited war guarantee to Poland of March 1939, ensuring the Second World War

      3. larry

        What is really unfortunate is that Lenin died when he did, before his time, as he appears to have been thinking less autocratically. Unfortunately, neither Trotsky nor Stalin were. After all, Trotsky was the creator of the NKVD, so don’t expect too much.

        1. Vatch

          Trotsky may have helped Lenin create the Cheka, which was a precursor to the NKVD (but not the direct precursor: the GPU and the OGPU came between then). But wasn’t Trotsky more involved with the creation of and organization of the Red Army? The NKVD itself originated in 1934, after Trotsky was out of the government and in exile.

      4. Sid_finster

        It wasn’t just Ukrainians. Even speaking of the Ukrainian SSR, the famines of the 1930’s hit largely Russified oblasts and villages at least as hard as the more ukrainianized.

        BTW, this gets Ukrainian nationalists seriously butthurt, even though the most nationalist parts of Ukraine were not affected, and the future Nazi collaborators were none too bothered by the famine at the time.

        The nation was something too important to let people get in the way.

        1. Vatch

          Ukraine and Kazakhstan suffered the worst in the famine of 1931-1933. Yes, Russian areas such as the lower Volga basin and the Kuban suffered badly, but there were also a lot of ethnic Ukrainians in these areas, as the Soviet census of 1926 showed. I pointed this out two days ago:

          As for your comment about some of the future Nazi collaborators not suffering during the famine: that’s because many of them lived in Poland at that time, and there was no famine there. Stepan Bandera lived in a part of Ukraine that became Polish territory after WWI. His initial terrorist acts were against Poles, not Soviets.

      5. David May

        Yes, Stalin was a very bad man. I think we all know that already. It’s like a Pavlovian response with some people: mention Russia or Communism in any context and the immediate response is “but famine in the Ukraine!” It’s as if every time anyone said the word Capitalism, the immediate response would be “but famine in Ireland!”. These are indeed important events, but not the focus of this article.

    2. cnchal

      . . . so, when this manager came through the store a few weeks ago, with a gaggle of ‘friends’ and assorted sycophants en train, she was heard by several floor workers to be bragging to her group about her recent vacation to the Virgin Islands.

      Classic behavior from a narcissist. The point was to be overheard bragging. Whether the extra attention garnered is good or bad, makes no difference.

      1. Arizona Slim

        I can’t help thinking about something that one of my former bosses liked to say:

        “She’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.”

    3. visitor

      The three ‘big’ revolutions of the Twentieth Century provided some concrete, material benefits to the ‘masses’ of their regions.

      Upon reading “the three ‘big’ revolutions” I thought you would discuss the Russian, Mexican and Chinese revolutions — but except for the first one, you delved on the Nazi coup (its qualification as a revolution is debatable) and FDR (which was in no way a revolution as it never overthrew or intended to upend the existing socio-political order).

      I should read more about the Mexican revolution, since it is a bit nebulous to me what concrete material benefits were brought to Mexicans in its immediate aftermath.

      1. ambrit

        Good catches there. The Mexican Revolution is not high profile, but did drag Mexico up out of the sixteenth century. Think the PRI and labour unions and anti-clericalism. Graham Greenes’ “The Power and the Glory” lays the latter out well. Mexico has a national health system that those who have interacted with it say is superior to Americas’. The Narcos are a byproduct of the American “War on Drugs.” As with every significant war since 1945 that America has undertaken, America is losing. Maybe the Mexican people can return the favour of the Wobblies during the Guerra Contra Diaz and send organizers and arms North to help the Norteno peasants throw off the shackles of an entrenched and increasingly oppressive Oligarchy. Read about the Magon brothers for some insight into the ideological underpinnings of the essential Mexican Revolution.
        The Chinese Revolution can be considered as a continuation and expansion of the Russian Communist Revolution, as differentiated from the Kerensky Governments’ feeble try at ‘regime change.’ Despite the bloody and violent events of the latter half of the Twentieth Century in asia, the ‘Sleeping Dragon’ is awakening. The ‘Emperor Mao’ saw to that.
        The Nazi rise to power was predicated upon the mass of the German people, if not whole heartedly endorsing, then at least tacitly accepting a revolutionary ethos. The Deutches Volk became supreme, supplanting the Herrenvolk. That is a social revolution. It is the German peoples misfortune that they replaced one set of gangsters with another.
        FDR on the other hand managed a soft revolution in that he ushered in the New Deal social welfare state against the wishes of the American Oligarchs of the day. Like Bismark before him, FDR understood that Robber Baron Capitalism was digging its’ own grave. No vibrant society can exist without a healthy and contented populace. Mini societies can struggle along, but are always vulnerable to larger and more ruthless societies. Only when intra party conflicts are regulated and pacified can small groups breath easy. The alternative is fortified enclaves. Galts Gulches are little more than bolt holes for their denizens. Under such conditions, ‘things’ can always degenerate into the dystopias of “The 120 Days of Sodom.” De Sade was a nobleman of the terminal generation of the ‘Ancien Regime’ of France. His lifes’ moral is that unfettered power and privilege leads to unimaginable horror. “Apres moi, le guillotine.”
        Time to take the food out of the oven. Tryptophan will be my swan song today.

      2. JohnnyGL

        Nationalizing the oil industry was the biggest, longest lasting legacy of the Mexican Revolution. It scared the crap out of Standard Oil and the US robber-barons.

        I wonder if there’s an argument to be made that the Mexican Revolution had more effect on the US elites than the Russian Revolution. But for the Cuban Revolution (later on), it was probably the biggest event in the Western hemisphere for some time.

    4. Anonymized

      Oriental Despotism? Please stay away from Orientalist nonsense. It’s not as if the West is free of authoritarian leaders and the so-called East (however you want to define it) has no people pushing for equality. This attitude has been used to justify all kinds of nasty things, starting with colonialism and continuing up to modern day calls to destroy China, North Korea, Syria, whatever. After all, if authoritarianism is part of their nature then these people should be ruled by naturally enlightened Western rulers.

      1. ambrit

        I get your point but argue that Russia has a long and intimate connexion with the East. The Golden Horde and associated asiatic groups ruled what is now Russia for hundreds of years. What after all is Aleksandr Nevskys’ myth about if not that dynamic. Then, the Teutonic Knights appear to terrorize the already weary peoples. The shadowy half brother of Doctor Zhivago in Pasternaks eponymous novel is portrayed as of mixed blood.
        So, how shall we resolve this?
        Elitist Despotism versus Collectivist Despotism?
        I had to laugh at your locution, “naturally enlightened Western rulers.” It does sound like a classic oxymoron.
        The trick that elites play on the ‘masses’ is to convince the ‘masses’ that authoritarianism is in the ‘masses’ best interests.

      2. Oregoncharles

        Oriental Despotism is a technical term from Wittvogel for a certain type of autocracy. The initial examples were “hydraulic” – that is, huge centralized irrigation systems. Egypt, Mesopotamia. Those systems centralized power; the water was crucial, more so than anything else, and required a lot of management. The argument was that the centralization led to god-kings – who could do no wrong as long as the water flowed.

        It’s generalizable – for instance, I claimed that it explained Burma’s rapid return to despotism after the end of British rule – under ideological cover of “socialism.” Burma is a classic case, built around a single river. The Willamette Valley would be, too, without modern technology that, in this case, decentralizes the system – though the Bonneville Power Authority has disproportionate importance. Plus, of course, it’s part of a larger entity.

        The point is the impact of economic centralization, and I think Wittvogel developed it precisely as a stick to beat the Communists with. That, and not the “Orient,” is the link with Russia, which was plenty despotic through all of its history but did not have centralized irrigation systems. Communism centralized economic and political power into the same hands; that led very quickly to despotism – Stalin.

        I like the idea because it’s highly functionalist, a direct line from livelihood to social and political arrangements. But in the Russian case, tradition has at least as much to do with it.

  3. The Rev Kev

    The Russians have not completely forgotten the 1917 Revolution. One way they are covering it is a twitter account that presupposes that people back then had twitter and would post their thoughts (
    Perhaps that revolution had a greater effect than is normally attributed to it. I had never thought about it before but would FDR have been able to push through his New Deal if there had been no revolution? What if, and I am just saying, if FDR had told his fellow American elites that they could try to stop his reforms to the capitalist system but that if there were no reforms, that they could meet the same fate as their Russian counterparts.
    That revolution was only about 16 years before remember, so perhaps FDR pointed out to them that if there was no reform that they too could end up as smears along a brick wall. Has any historian assessed what would have happened to America if all reforms had been killed and it was ‘business as usual’? One of these big “what-ifs” which would make a great story.

    1. Arizona Slim

      I am sure that quite a few of the American elites were aware of what happened to the Romanovs in the basement of the Ipatiev House.

      1. ambrit

        I have the feeling that you are giving the ‘elites’ too much credit for deviousness and ‘sinister plotting’ ability.
        Some few elite individuals saw the danger, I agree, but as a class, preserving their privileges and positions blinded them to all else.

        1. John Rose

          Those “few elite individuals,” though, could have been enough to give FDR the cover he needed to get the reforms through. It is always as issue of “enough,” not either/or.

          1. ambrit

            To be useful, a tipping point of ‘elite’ opinion should be defined. I’ll admit deficiency here.
            Also, the “few elite individuals” do not necessarily have to be members of a coherent elite class structure. Variables come in all shapes and sizes.

    2. nonclassical

      ..what FDR appeared “point out” to moneyed elite involved awareness and public exposure of who, how, where, when, 30’s great depression involved, exposing publicly through “Pecora Commission”…those exposed (and subsequently legislatively regulated) had the sword of Smedley Butler whistle blowing regarding:

      “The Plot to Seize the White House: The Shocking True Story of the Conspiracy to Overthrow FDR” (by Jules Archer) to fear. This was yet another (parallel 2007 economic disaster) attempt by Wall Street to take over – control “the people’s” democratic process of government. It intended nothing less than placing Wall Street CEO to run economy, on auspices this was too complex for political leadership…(fascism-authoritarianism), leaving FDR as figurehead only:….(American Liberty League=parallel today’s “tea party”..)

  4. Thuto

    Re: “winning” the cold war.

    Triumphalism begets exceptionalism begets the “spreading of democracy” in the form of cluster bombs raining down from the sky.

  5. Disturbed Voter

    Russia went from a pre-modern despotism to a modern despotism. An attempt was made to scientifically accelerate the industrialization that was already underway. This is more parallel to Japan, than to the US. The US has always been the junior partner of the British Empire. Under Soviet Communism, pseudo-science flourished, because it was top-down, not bottom-up, and agendas were driven by political opportunism, not by pragmatism. Russia remains somewhat of a despotism, though more beneficent than that of Stalin.

    1. nonclassical

      …”Disturned Voter” describes dynamics, Adam Curtis’ BBC documentary, “Pandora’s Box”:

      “PANDORA S BOX is another groundbreaking documentary from British Documentary maker Adam Curtis. Subtitled A fable from the age of science, this six part series examines the consequences of political and technocratic rationalism.

      The episodes deal in order with communism in the Soviet Union, systems analysis and game theory during the Cold War, economy in the United Kingdom during the 1970 s, the insecticide DDT, Kwame Nkrumah s leadership in Ghana during the 1950-60 s and the history of nuclear power.”

      (available youtube, and amazon)

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Barrington Moore in his The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy argues that the Britain, the US and France were bourgeois revolutions, that Germany and Japan were top-down reactionary capitalist which led to fascism, and Russia and China were peasant revolts.

      1. flora

        Brings this to mind:

        “We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.” -FDR

  6. Eustache De Saint Pierre

    Stalin & Mao very obviously largely killed their own, the British Empire primarily through the East India company killed countless Indians through policies which caused famines, & goodness, or perhaps badness knows how many Chinese due to the forced importation of opium.

    In the case of the the current empire. I have read estimates of around 20 million since WW2 which in itself led to the death of around 60 million, following the previous dust up largely limited to military deaths.

    The above perhaps being the top of the hit parade for us natural born killers, but the means & systems vary. & as with that so far ultimate badass killer the ” Black Death ” for the majority it seems, we have to sustain a great many cracked eggs in order to occasionally make a half digestible omelette – although for most of history, the result of butchery has only been the production of various sized piles of runny broken shells.

    1. Sid_finster

      How many died in the Bengal Famine of 1943-44?

      However many, all those deaths were entirely preventable.

      And that is just the first western Allied atrocity in WWII to come to mind.

    2. jsn

      Beginning this essay with Wilsons Amerikkka as the counterpoint to Russian Bolshevism as competing heirs to Western Enlightenment really does frame away most of what was most destructive in the era being described.

      While Russia’s dead in the period were mostly Russians, an epic internal tragedy, the larger West mostly exported its systematic mayhem, enslaving colonials and killing them through wealth extraction rather than famin or civil war, though engaging increasingly with the latter up to the present in the colonies.

      The Western capitalist system has at least been better to its internal constituency, with a number of glaring exceptions, and less so as time passes.

  7. David

    The main effect on the West of the Russian Revolution (or on elites, anyway) was fear. At the beginning this was fear of a similar popular uprising elsewhere, leading to repression and the growing influence of both traditional and radical parties of the extreme right. Later, it was fear of social change – the modernist, scientific society with modern art, atonal music, secularism and emancipation of women – the end of Christian civilization as it had always been known. After WW2 it was fear that the role played by the Communist parties in the resistance in occupied Europe, as well as the unimaginable sacrifices of the Russian people, would bring Communist governments to power in France and Italy. Only this fear was enough to persuade elites to set up welfare states and planned economies, and so guarantee full employment. After the end of Communism, of course, such concessions were not necessary.
    The counterfactual speculation about how the Soviet Union might have turned out if it had not spent much of its existence rebuilding after two apocalyptic wars, and arming itself to death for fear of a third, is interesting, but in the end secondary. As AJP Taylor correctly noted, it was not the practice of Communism which terrified western elites, but the theory.

    1. Sluggeaux

      This is also my take-away from the discussion. The American “worker’s paradise” of 1950-1980 was the byproduct of elite fears of Eastern European freighters off-loading Kalashnikovs for distribution by the AFL-CIO.

      After Nixon’s opening to China, it became clear that Communism was the paper tiger, and that worker-whippings could resume. American elites had no more fear — until the rise of Black Lives Matter. It remains to be seen whether the current counter-revolution against wage-earners will succeed. The GOP tax plan and the surveillance state appear to have been designed to smack down those who did not inherit their income.

      1. nonclassical

        Sir, “opening of China” was quite other history than commonly conceived, consisting of Kissinger’s realization of 1968 Russian sub K-129, with which Russian KGB intended fire nuclear missile upon Hawaii, intel-triangulating U.S. and China. Kissinger advised Nixon use intel to provoke further split between Russian communists – Chinese communists, and create “opening” for U.S. interests with China:

        This operation described in full, “Red Star Rogue: The Untold Story of a Soviet Submarine’s Nuclear Strike Attempt on the U.S.”:

        “Navy veteran Kenneth Sewell, drawing from newly declassified documents and extensive confidential interviews, exposes the stunning truth behind an operation calculated to provoke war between the U.S. and China”

        Sub was raised by 2nd Glomar Challenger (Howard Hughes), taken to Oakland warehouse for reconstruction and inspection:

    2. Craig H.

      > Only this fear was enough to persuade elites to set up welfare states and planned economies, and so guarantee full employment.

      The part that most interests me about the gobs of government benefits is that after the war the place was packed with young men who were experienced soldiers. Not many slack video game types.

  8. financial matters

    To me this article seems to reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the forces at work and seeks to continue the popular neocon/neolib mantra that Putin/Russia and Trump are bad.

    “”The evisceration of idealism that enables both Putin and Trump afflicts us, too.

    Maybe the time for quiet moments has passed. Maybe we can raise the volume a bit. Maybe we can turn the tide back towards the universal, towards understanding something about the other in ourselves and the self in our others. Wouldn’t that be revolutionary?””

    A few points that I think are more pertinent.

    In Syria Russia has pushed back successfully against another US sponsored regime change and has helped unite the Arab world. It is also working with China to promote useful economic projects rather than trying to undermine these projects.

    Trump was a reaction against a strong neocon/neolib alternative. He was elected because of a growing movement against the formation of an increasing precariat.

    1. Whiskey Bob

      I agree. This article ignores the context that the US was pushing against Russia and led it on its path in history.

      Russia during the USSR days had to adopt authoritarian policies like the Iron Curtain, censorship of the press, the secret police, and the like to minimize the effects of capitalist subversion that was guaranteed to occur (and it did) against a socialist state that threatened to undermine them. It was also why the Bolsheviks consolidated political power because they knew any divisions between communists would provide an opportunity for capitalists to seize for their own agenda.

      In this way, when the US looks into Russia, they do see a mirror of themselves. A mirror of how their policies of warfare, either hot or cold, led to pessimism and distrust. To the author’s credit he understands the existence of this feedback loop between the US and Russia. However, he does fully not understand where it came from as the capitalists would not tolerate the socialist/Communist vision in the first place.

      The struggle then changed with the fall of the USSR. Russia converted to capitalism, but the initial help from the US led it into disaster. Millions died as privatization took place and oligarchs robbed the public for their private gain. Putin came to power and reigned in the liberals and ogliarchs and correctly distrusted the US. The Cold War transitioned to NATO vs Russia/China/Iran. Distrust of the US led to Putin being somewhat authoritarian.

      The case of the US going down a similar path is probably due to capitalism itself. Before FDR and the New Deal, capitalism was more exploitative during the Gilded Age. The threat of socialism and communism perhaps made Keynesianism seem like a more viable alternative for capitalists as it maintained their place of power. With the rise of neoliberalism, capitalism was given another chance to revert back to exploitative conditions with new propaganda to justify it.

      1. nonclassical

        Sir, Russia was promised during agreements with “big 3” during WWII, $10 billion war reparations for 20-30 million dead defeating Germans (by FDR), and military and political control-influence of Eastern Europe, through which they had been invaded by Germany…

        The “iron curtain” definition was provided in speech by Churchill, and involved triangulation of Russia vs. U.S.:

    2. nonclassical

      FM, agree with general thesis; however, “neolibs” you describe need historical documentation:

      “The term neoliberalism was coined at a meeting in Paris in 1938. Among the delegates were two men who came to define the ideology, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Both exiles from Austria, they saw social democracy, exemplified by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the gradual development of Britain’s welfare state, as manifestations of a collectivism that occupied the same spectrum as nazism and communism.

      In The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, Hayek argued that government planning, by crushing individualism, would lead inexorably to totalitarian control. Like Mises’s book Bureaucracy, The Road to Serfdom was widely read. It came to the attention of some very wealthy people, who saw in the philosophy an opportunity to free themselves from regulation and tax. When, in 1947, Hayek founded the first organisation that would spread the doctrine of neoliberalism – the Mont Pelerin Society – it was supported financially by millionaires and their foundations.

      When the term re-appeared in the 1980s in connection with Augusto Pinochet’s economic reforms in Chile, the usage of the term had shifted. It had not only become a term with negative connotations employed principally by critics of market reform, but it also had shifted in meaning from a moderate form of liberalism to a more radical and laissez-faire capitalist set of ideas. Scholars now tended to associate it with the theories of economists Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and James M. Buchanan, along with politicians and policy-makers such as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Alan Greenspan

      The movement’s rich backers funded a series of thinktanks which would refine and promote the ideology. Among them were the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies and the Adam Smith Institute. They also financed academic positions and departments, particularly at the universities of Chicago and Virginia.”

      1. nonclassical

        Here is historical documentation of “neocons”, and who specifically they are (including signatories):

        The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) was a neo-conservative think tank (1997 to 2006) that had strong ties to the American Enterprise Institute. PNAC’s web site said it was “established in the spring of 1997” as “a non-profit, educational organization whose goal is to promote American global leadership.”

        PNAC’s policy document, “Rebuilding America’s Defences,” openly advocated for total global military domination. Many PNAC members held highest-level positions in the George W. Bush administration. The Project was an initiative of the New Citizenship Project (501c3). [1]

        In 2009 two of PNAC’s founders, William Kristol and Robert Kagan, began what some termed “PNAC 2.0,” The Foreign Policy Initiative.

  9. financial matters

    Russian-Chinese Eurasian development

    “”Moreover China has gained permission from Russia to offer settlement services in RMB in Moscow through the China ICBC bank. Thereby China and Russia have effectively bypassed dollar risk in their mutual economic investments.

    All of this development, building up a new economic geography across the countries of Eurasia is a stark contrast to what Washington has done since September 2001. According to a new study by the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, Washington has spent a staggering $5.6 trillion on wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan since 2001, more than three times what the Pentagon has claimed in official estimates.

    Imagine the United States instead had spent $5.6 trillion on rebuilding America’s rotted $8 trillion infrastructure deficit in roads, rails, water, electric grids– what a boost for the American people and for the world it would be. They might even imagine peaceful cooperation in the emerging Russian-Chinese Eurasian development, a true win-win for the world.””

    1. Sid_finster

      But how would we build an empire? How would our oligarchs enforce their will on other countries at gunpoint if we go around wasting money on healthcare, infrastructure, education and jobs?

    2. knowbuddhau

      I’m glad you mentioned that study, thanks.

      That $5.6T sum is something I think about all the time. I look around and imagine how enriched daily life would be by fabulous parks, schools, roads, and a genuinely sustainable energy system, among so many others. How much less needless suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, maybe, or COPD (the two diseases killing my parents slowly).

      As ambrit said, us mopes ain’t so stupid that we don’t know what’s up when we see $5.6T spent on wars that only make necessary more wars for comic-book insane schemes for perpetual global dominance, but then are told we can’t have nice things here at home. Well, at least present company.

      Reminds me of a recent Counterpunch article: Looking for a Glass of Water and a Place to Shit. (Huh. That article leads off with a quote from Ramzy Baroud (a tweet?) that puts the BU study number at $3.6T. So I went to the WI site to find the article. No luck. Followed your link, found the link – Firefox says it’s unsecure: uses an invalid security certificate. The certificate is not trusted because it is self-signed. The certificate is not valid for the name The certificate expired on Friday, October 06, 2017, 2:58 PM. The current time is Thursday, November 23, 2017, 8:51 AM.

      So I’m adding a temporary exception. Just fyi.)

      The WI study’s title is: “United States Budgetary Costs of Post-9/11 Wars Through FY2018: A Summary of the $5.6 Trillion in Costs for the US Wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and Post-9/11 Veterans Care and Homeland Security.”

      And how much have we spent just since ’08 on Wall Street’s little indiscretion? A December, 2011 CNBC article cites a UMKC study:

      Recently, a pair of PhD students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City tried to assess the total size of the Fed’s commitments—not just loans made, but asset purchases as well. The bottom line: a Federal Reserve bailout commitment in excess of $29 trillion.

      That figure has, in turn, been criticized by economist James Hamilton who argued, incredibly, that the Fed’s bailout commitment under one facility was zero because all the money was paid back.

      The same CNBC article goes on to give Randall Wray a long rebuttal to that absurd claim. Didn’t expect that.

      Six years later, the total is at least 34.6 trillion dollars. But we can’t afford real health care, free lifelong education, or a genuine, sustainable economy built on world-class infrastructure?

      From the Counterpunch article:

      Imagine if you will that the U.S. had instead put $3.6 trillion into measures to improve infrastructure around the world. It has been estimated by the UNDP that to give the entire world fresh water and sanitation would cost half a trillion. That leaves $3.1 trillion for further projects. Now what would the U.S. have gained by being the country known for giving the entire world a glass a water and a place to shit? Think on it.

      Even if we’d gone “all in,” $3.6T would be about 10% of what we’ve spent on criminal wars abroad and legalized looting at home. I see in these numbers political elite madness of mythic proportions.

      And in ambrit’s bragging manager we see a person living a life outside-in. It doesn’t matter that her passage through a space draws so much energy that people are literally impoverished in her wake. She’s sounding all the right notes. In another age, she’d be bragging about the preparations for her pyramid.

      (BTW, that age didn’t end well for Egypt’s elite. A pharaoh whose name escapes me broke with tradition and had the oral rites of passage that assured his entry into heaven carved in stone instead, so there’d be absolutely no risk of failing to achieve immortality. His queen wanted the same. But only the pharaoh was divine. Well, he relented, and that lead to every elite demanding the same privilege. Pretty soon, even commoners (the horror!) demanded it. The democratization of divinity led to the collapse of that order.)

      It’s not a novel observation, just more evidence that elites of every age get used to the noblesse part, to the exclusion of any sense of oblige. They blithely saw away at the very branch they stand on, but do it with the latest technology, so it’s all good. Not too long ago, I was offered time in a seaside condo in Mexico in lieu of pay for part-time work as a vacation rental caretaker – in NW Washington state. The absurdity! It burns!

      1. ambrit

        I’d have thought that you could get all of the deep sea fishing you want in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. No need to hitch hike down to Mexico to get a little fishing in!

  10. artiste-de-decrottage

    “The Soviet Union began by attempting to build a future that could not exist: universal prosperity could not be planned.”

    That claim is a bit bold, isn’t it. The author seems to be all knowing to state this with such finality. I can see the pointy horns of neoliberalism lurking behind his academic aura.

    Disappointed to see such a fluff, shallow discussion on such a monumental event that impacted history. I guess its point is that all the revolution boils down to today is that it led to Putin in Russia and Trump in the “west” and the narrative of America vs Russia. What dreck. I’m going to look up the author to make sense of this.

  11. Jeremy Grimm

    The 1917 Russian Revolution had significant impacts on the West as many of the comments above describe and nicely elaborate. However after a several of readings of this post I am not sure what to make of Samuel A. Greene’s word hash on the subject.

    It begins with —
    “Failed utopias lead to the death of idealism, and the likes of Putin and Trump are symbols of this process.” and continues on in similar style. Putin and Trump as symbols of the death of idealism is more than a little simplistic to me.
    “Bolshevism … was … about more than Russia, perhaps about more than modernity.” What does that assertion mean?

    Near the end of this post there’s the assertion:
    “The Soviet Union began by attempting to build a future that could not exist: universal prosperity could not be planned.” — no less beggared than the few other somewhat intelligible assertions in this post. Stealing a phrase from financial matters — this assertion is little more than a “popular neocon/neolib mantra”.

    And in closing a beautiful close:
    “As social scientists, what we want from this is to be provoked into finding our own new universalities, our generalizable conclusions drawn from methodical observation and rigorous analysis.”

    To me there just isn’t much to argue with, agree with — or grasp from this post.

    1. ambrit

      Behold! A perfect academicese word salad! Will you have it with Galts’ Gulch Dressing or Potemkin Village Dressing?

  12. Anonymized

    I think this analysis is ignoring the impact of the widespread looting that the West did to Russia in the 1990s. After that trauma, it’s no wonder that the people turned to the perceived safety of an authoritarian leader. “[T]he politics we observe and dislike in Russia” are a direct outcome of that time.

  13. Massinissa

    So apparently he dismisses the independence claims of the people of the Donbas by saying they have ‘no argument’.

    Ok then…

  14. Steven

    Apart from the suggestion that we in the West take a look at ourselves, there is much not to like in this piece. It could easily have appeared in that neo-liberal rag Foreign Affairs. Just a few examples (there were lots more I could list on request).

    To begin with, it would have been more productive for Western readers to look at WWI – which started in 1917 for the U.S. – than the Bolshevik Revolution. It was the beginning of what Wm. Engdahl aptly described as A Century of War. Since then science and technology have been increasingly applied to destroying life rather than making it better. That’s what happens when you leave the rewards of human progress in the hands of psychopathic ruling elites.

    Then there was all that ‘pie in the sky’ stuff, e.g.

    The argument that justifies Crimea, that justifies Donbas, is not an argument – it is the absence of an argument. It is the argument that arguments do not matter. That ideas do not matter. That what matters, is where we are, and right now, we are here.

    So, if the Russians had engineered a coup in Mexico that brought to power a party bent on exterminating or driving out the American ex community there, the U.S. would say “That’s all right. Even though you violated international law with that coup, it is “ideas” like respect for it that matters, not “where we are, and right now”?

  15. Anonymous

    Fear of Communism was widespread in Europe in the immediate post-Revolution period. See Germany reaction to Bolshevik threat and Hungary as well. Rise of Naziism was in part due to fear of foreign threats, in addition to the obvious domestic distress exacerbated by reparations payments that US, UK and other representatives said would cause social distress and upheaval. Nazi and Communist elements ruined Europe, resulted in millions of dead. JFK and Krushchev were on record wanting peace and they got killed for their aspirations.

    1. nonclassical

      ..well said; it is however difficult to decipher how true it was – Hitler’s ambition to reconstitute Austro-Hungarian empire? These, and other questions coalesce and are dealt with (Hitler believed he could bring Britain to his cause) here, in amazing form:

      “The Essential Hitler: Speeches and

      (perhaps most interesting is how Hitler gained industrialist backing, allowing him defer payment for military hardware, thereby creating economic turnaround-popularity)

      “1932 1945, a four-volume set, this 850 page abridgement is arranged by topic: I. Introduction and personal notes; II. Chronology; III. Hitler s ideology (general, race, Jews, religion); IV. Hitler’s state (state and government, party and state, society people and function); V. Hitler s economy (public/private, major works); VI. Art (fine arts, buildings); VII. Army and state; VIII. War and diplomacy; IX. Road to war; X. Press; XI. Major speeches; and XII. Conclusions. A topical index is included. There is no other abridgement of Hitler’s Speeches and Proclamations, 1932-1945. There is no larger commentary or more extensive notes. -Standard reference book on the Third Reich -Highly acclaimed by the international community -Carefully researched and documented -Outstanding commentary by Domarus, noted historian -Commentary places events in context and clarifies Hitler’s ideology
      ‘An invaluable reference tool.’
      Aaron Kornblum, Holocaust MuseumM

      This title abridges the four-volume English translation of Domarus’ magnum opus, organized topically. It is in release concurrently with a new eBook The Complete Hitler: A Digital Desktop Reference (978-0-86516-658-5) of the entire original work in English and German in searchable PDF format. The four volume Hitler: Reden 1932 bis 1945 – Kommentiert von Einem Deutschen Zeitgenossen (978-0-86516-329-4) and its English translation Hitler: Speeches and Proclamations 1932-1945 – The Chronicle of a Dictatorship (978-0-86516-228-0) are also in release now from Bolchazy-Carducci. Library note: Recommended for collections in American History, Military & War, Politics, Reference, Scholarly, Translation, World History. Comment: These products are based on the classic research of Max Domarus contained in four English and four German volumes.”

  16. Scott

    Imagine the effect that the American Revolution had on the Bolsheviks? For that matter imagine the effect of the American Revolution on the working people of France?
    You were singled out for execution & the gulag if you were competent, educated, and then of a family that had owned the land of their families and the peasants.
    The C.S.A. that essentially existed as part of the US Union was itself Stalinist before Stalin was robbing banks.
    The US kept absorbing people leaving Europe because of failing systems of privation and fear.
    Only one Nation gets to be Rome.
    Russia has been accelerated on the path of Privatization by their adoption of the Washington Consensus capitalism via shares of the nation issued to all with corresponding sales before maturity by the forever kept in what is called here in the US now the “Precariat”.
    Say it is that there are 600 thousand people in the West & Russia that are not trapped in the system that is Oligarchic, as being of the Oligarchy and those favored by the Oligarchy.
    To be found you just go plane spotting.
    There are reasons the precariats of the world want to find & limit, or even eradicate the real allied who make the dreams of freedom, all that in the Bill or Rights more enforced all through to the UN ’76 Covenant on Civil & Political Rights.
    The League of Nations failed, & the UN is failing.
    In so many ways the US passed the pinnacle of its power when its
    economic warfare against Russia for Crimea and land access to the Black Sea is closer to reality hit its high as Merkel let the Germans be hurt for Russsian Natural Gas.
    Since then Russia, wants to really be united with its natural allies, US Oligarchy. That is what the election of Trump looks like to me.

  17. Oregoncharles

    .” Russians began to see in their American mirror something unattainable, but also something undesirable, and retreated from universalism into particularism, an insistence on a special path, a uniquely Russian civilization.”

    That was true all along. Despite their utopian ambitions, the Bolsheviks quickly proved far more Russian than Marxist. Stalin bore a marked resemblance to Ivan the Terrible; in that context, Lenin looks like one of the better czars. And they insisted on claiming ALL of the territory of the Russian Empire, as the Chinese Communists have done.

    Any anthropologist would have predicted that; the ideology proves a thin skin over the culture.

    And how does all that apply to Wilsonian Democracy? Well, we’re living it.

    1. ambrit

      As I like to consider, Wilson was a quintessential Ivy Leaguer. In direct descent from the Olde Guard, back to the Mythological Puritans. I still have my copy of Webers’ book lying around the bedroom somewhere.

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