Socialist views on the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union Watch

Mr_K_Dilkington
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I am aware that contemporary socialist views often get confused by others with the Soviet Union and completely misrepresented. I want this thread to try and get to grips with what different socialists interpretations are of the Russian Revolution. So here are a few questions about the period which I think could help others understand the situation.

1. If Lenin had lived longer, how do you think the country would have been different? Why?

2. If Trotsky had triumphed over Stalin after Lenin's death, how would the country have been different? Why?

3. Why do you think the Party through Lenin and Stalin's rule was so extremely violent and repressive? Do you think it was necessary or do you think the revolution would have fallen apart without this authoritarian leadership?

4. What was the main reason(s) the Russian Revolution failed to produce a decent communist society?

5. If you advocate revolutionary Marxism, what would be different about the revolution you desire to stop it going the way of the Bolshevik Revolution?

If there are any other points people want to make, or questions they want to raise, feel free
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Alasdair
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Here are my, completely unacademic thoughts on the above:

1. Yes. Not neccesarily more 'liberal' (in the bourgeois sense), but I think probably nowhere near as random or paranoid.

2. Yes. In fact, I suspect the world might have been different. Much more massive intervention in the Spanish Civil War, no pact with Hitler, exporting the revolution, etc.

3. I think in the first years, it was a violent defence of the revolution that was under attack from all sides. It was really only after 1922 that Revolutionary Russia wasn't under constant threat from the outside. Stalinism is rather different - in two senses. First, things calmed down a bit in the late twenties and early thirties, and secondly because the purges of Stalinist Russia were largely influenced by Stalin's paranoia.

4. Outside pressures, the lack of political development of the Russian people, the failure to advance the revolution beyond the borders of Russia, and Stalin.

5. It would be global (no point in having one if there isn't a reasonable chance of there also eing a global one at the same time), and I obviously wouldn't want a Stalin/Napoleon figure...
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Gremlins
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I'm not really a socialist in the traditional sense, but oh well:

(Original post by Jay Riall)
I am aware that contemporary socialist views often get confused by others with the Soviet Union and completely misrepresented. I want this thread to try and get to grips with what different socialists interpretations are of the Russian Revolution. So here are a few questions about the period which I think could help others understand the situation.

1. If Lenin had lived longer, how do you think the country would have been different? Why?
No, Lenin was just as brutal as Stalin. Infact, I think anyone who had as much power as the guy at the top of the Soviet State would invariably do terrible things, either directly or indirectly. People aren't meant to have that kind of power.

2. If Trotsky had triumphed over Stalin after Lenin's death, how would the country have been different? Why?
I think Trotsky's "Obey or Die" quote sums up quite nicely my feeling that the Trots are just as bad as Stalinists, but because Leon got pwnd people are more sympathetic. Judging from what he did in the Civil War I think he'd have been pretty catastrophic tbh.

3. Why do you think the Party through Lenin and Stalin's rule was so extremely violent and repressive? Do you think it was necessary or do you think the revolution would have fallen apart without this authoritarian leadership?
Well, it started getting violent and repressive when a bunch of democratic socialists and anarchists turned out to be far more popular than the Bolsheviks. That's the reason the actual Soviets were either made powerless or shut down, and why the Ukraine got treated so badly. It may have started as uprising but it quickly became a coup by the upper echelons of the Communist Party.

4. What was the main reason(s) the Russian Revolution failed to produce a decent communist society?
The fact most of the decent communists either got killed or sent to labour camps?

5. If you advocate revolutionary Marxism, what would be different about the revolution you desire to stop it going the way of the Bolshevik Revolution
N/A, and I don't think revolutions are necessarily the way to go.
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Mr_K_Dilkington
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(Original post by Alasdair)
4. Outside pressures, the lack of political development of the Russian people, the failure to advance the revolution beyond the borders of Russia, and Stalin.
I'll try and address each of these points in turn, since I think they are quite interesting.

The outside pressures were clearly predictable to everyone before the revolution, the Bolsheviks knew that the imperial powers were going to oppose the revolution violently. A future Marxist revolution would also clearly face outside pressures. The activities of the United States over the past 60 years clearly demonstrates this. If outside pressures create brutal repression in a revolution, likely to threaten the aims of the revolution and the freedoms of the people, then this presents a big problem to much revolutionary theory in my opinion.

I'm no Marx scholar, and I realize that Marxists do not take everything Marx wrote as gospel, but Marx did think (at least at one point) that Russia would be a fine country for a revolution. He wrote to Vera Zasulich saying that Russia could reach socialism without going through the capitalist stage, mainly I think due to the strength of the village communes (does this not invalidate his idea of the historical stages through which societies must transition before reaching the next?). In what specific ways do you not think the Russian people were politically developed enough?

Many of the Bolsheviks had been banking on international revolution to sustain their own. It never really came close to coming to fruition in any of the main capitalist powers (depends how you consider the SDP and other labour parties though I guess) and it was not for the Soviets lack of trying. The Bolsheviks clearly miscalculated the desire for socialist revolution in the rest of the world, as a revolutionary Marxist, how can you be sure of the prospects of international revolution? Are you not playing a very dangerous game, relying on other societies to sustain revolution in your own country, especially having seen the disastrous consequences of those actions if the revolution does not spread.

The problem I have with just saying "Stalin," is that it does not explain anything. It does not explain how he got to wield such terrible power and how he held onto it for so long. Stalin did not kill tens of millions of people, he got others to do it for him. My assertion is that the Bolshevik power structure rewarded ruthlessness and mass murder, something Stalin was clearly very accomplished in, allowing for his rise to dictatorship. Something is very clearly fundamentally wrong with a structure that allows or possibly even encourages such a monsters rise to the top. It is fairly inconceivable that someone like Stalin could ever wield power in a more democratic capitalist society. I guess my counter question to you would be - Stalin rose to ultimate power in the Russian Revolution, if I was to back another Marxist revolution, how could you assure me that such a monster could never gain control of the revolution again?
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TheFriendlySocialist
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(Original post by Jay Riall)
1. If Lenin had lived longer, how do you think the country would have been different? Why?
It would've probably stuck with the New Economic Policy a bit longer, which might've averted the worse aspects of collectivization by building up the economy somewhat before the onslaughts of collectivization and industrialization. It's hard to guess - some argue that Lenin had become more moderate during his final few years and would have continued the NEP indefinitely, quite a few disagree. I find guesswork hard, but I'd say he would probably have tried to collectivize eventually, although he probably would've been a more pragmatic leader than Stalin and not have gone through with the mass forced resettlements & de-Kulakization.

[QUOTE]

2. If Trotsky had triumphed over Stalin after Lenin's death, how would the country have been different? Why?
Trotskyism was based a lot more on the traditional agrarian commune, so it would probably have been a lot more humane towards the peasantry. He might still have gone through with something similar to de-kulakization, Gremlins is correct in pointing out that Trotsky was about as nice to his enemies as Stalin was, with the exception that Stalin preferred to play with his food before he ate it.

It would still have had bad effects, though. Stalinism was horrible, but at least it allowed the country to industrialize rapidly. Which was useful, to say the least, in fending off the Germans two decades later.

Had Trotsky stayed in power, the Soviet regime might've been more humane, but it would probably have been wiped out by the Germans in 1941. There's no way a society based on agrarian communes could've taken on the Wehrmacht.

3. Why do you think the Party through Lenin and Stalin's rule was so extremely violent and repressive? Do you think it was necessary or do you think the revolution would have fallen apart without this authoritarian leadership?
During Lenin's rule it was justifiable, to some extent. We have to keep in mind that the Bolsheviks at one point had every Great Power pouring troops and money into the country to try and defeat them (i.e. the Americans and Japanese near Vladivostok, the British in the North and in the Crimea, etc...).

In 1917, it wasn't a choice between a democratic Russia and a Communist Russia - it was a choice between Russia or no Russia. The democratic socialists and anarchists Gremlins speaks of (the Social Revolutionaries) were popular, at first, but powerless. They wanted to continue doing things nobody wanted to do - i.e. continue the war against Germany.

Also, Kerensky's leadership quite simply didn't match Lenin's - the SRs were continously scrapping amongst themselves (their left wing ended up detaching and joining the Bolsheviks). Lenin was able to keep the party ideologically in line and prevent scraps amongst the top of the leadership (i.e. Trotsky vs. Stalin).

4. What was the main reason(s) the Russian Revolution failed to produce a decent communist society?
In my opinion, because

a. The system quite simply doesn't work, it concentrates too much power in the hands of careerists (Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernyenko), with only a few ideologues at the beginning (Lenin, Trotsky).

b. Stalin. In some ways, he helped, because he industrialized and thus enabled the USSR to fight off the largest and best-trained army the world has ever seen. Not bad for a nation which was 98% peasants in 1917.

However, I don't think I need to go into detail on the ramifications this had within the USSR itself. If one uses the old adage "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs", then I guess the omelette is the fact that Russia continued to exist - the eggs are the citizenry.

5. If you advocate revolutionary Marxism, what would be different about the revolution you desire to stop it going the way of the Bolshevik Revolution?
N/A - I'm no fan of revolutions in democratic societies, although I have no problem at all with overthrowing a repressive regime of any kind.
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Andy the Anarchist
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(Original post by Jay Riall)
I am aware that contemporary socialist views often get confused by others with the Soviet Union and completely misrepresented. I want this thread to try and get to grips with what different socialists interpretations are of the Russian Revolution. So here are a few questions about the period which I think could help others understand the situation.

1. If Lenin had lived longer, how do you think the country would have been different? Why?

2. If Trotsky had triumphed over Stalin after Lenin's death, how would the country have been different? Why?

3. Why do you think the Party through Lenin and Stalin's rule was so extremely violent and repressive? Do you think it was necessary or do you think the revolution would have fallen apart without this authoritarian leadership?

4. What was the main reason(s) the Russian Revolution failed to produce a decent communist society?

5. If you advocate revolutionary Marxism, what would be different about the revolution you desire to stop it going the way of the Bolshevik Revolution?

If there are any other points people want to make, or questions they want to raise, feel free
1) If Lenin had lived longer Stalin would have never come to power. Stalin and Lenin fell out in the last years of Lenin's life, particularly as a result of the Georgia affair. It was only the suppression of Lenin's Testament condemning Stalin after his death that kept him in the Politburo. The absence of Stalin would have meant no purges of the party, and industrialisation would have probably been delayed, with no equivalent of the 5 year plans.

2) Probably no purges on the scale of Stalin again, and a more internationalist take on development, with less paranoia about encirclement. Trotsky was however, an authoritarian, and I have no doubt that the Cheka would have continued to exist under Trotsky, and that local democratic organs (the soviets) would have remained emasculated.

3) It was violent for numerous reasons. Firstly, the particular Leninist notion of a vanguard justifies the imposition of a program on a population by force. Secondly, Lenin had centralising tendencies, and was intolerant of dissent, the violence was a means of quelling opposition (Krondstadt is a perfect example). Thirdly, it cannot be emphasised how much Russia was falling apart at the end of the First World War, the economy was destroyed, and multiple factions vied for power, in addition to the influence of foreign powers hostile to Bolshevism. During the civil war at least, the imperative was to secure a victory against the White forces at all costs, which inevitably led to excesses.

Regarding Stalin, the unpopularity of collectivisation combined with the short time scale meant that repressive measures were going to be inevitable if collectivisation was to be achieved in the given time. Furthermore, the fact that Stalin was a paranoid nutjob didn't exactly help matters, hence the purges which occurred.

4) Quite simply because the vanguard theory espoused by Marxist Leninism is incompatible with democracy, and because Lenin had to emasculate fledgling forms of democracy which had emerged in 1917 in order to achieve it. This, combined with the fact that Russia was extremely economically backward, and was subjected to hostile interference from foreign powers for the whole of its existence.

5) I'm not a Marxist, but it is my opinion that the embryonic forms of democracy which emerged in 1917 should have been allowed to flourish. The voting population was overwhelmingly in favour of socialism (with something like 75% of votes in the 1917 Constitutuent Assembly elections being cast for socialist parties) so it is highly likely that a form of socialism could have emerged by democratic means. This, when combined with the increasing levels of popular control within industry and within the army, in the form of factory committees and soldier's committees, would have allowed for progress towards a more egalitarian society.
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Adorno
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1. If Lenin had lived longer, how do you think the country would have been different? Why?
No. Partly because of the competing ideological backgrounds of the type of Marxist thought that existed in the Bolshevik Party. Leninism was no less authoritarian than Stalin and it is a convenient notion for many who baulk at the idea that revolutions of the kind initiated in 1917 will only ever be bloody. There are a few paths which might have opened up the Soviet Union to other ideas: Bukharin was perhaps better placed than Trotsky to take over and was by far the most "Leninist" of them all. Stalin's hosility to Lenin's ideas stretched back for several years - notably over the nationalism question and Trotsky represented an entirely different tradition to either Stalin, Bukharin, or Lenin. But, as Thomas Jefferson wrote of America's revolution: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is its natural manure". Lenin understood this but few from the liberal West would accept its premise even from the pen of Jefferson.

There are a few possibilities: the NEP would have lasted longer: directed by Bukharin and free of the influence of a revisionist like Stalin, I suspect that this market-orientated economy would have tamed some of the attitudes of the government but it would still have become conservative and reactionary. It is unlikely that the massive industrial leaps forward - particularly under the First Five Yeaer Plan - would have happened and as a result I think that the Soviet Union would have suffered from the Great Depression in a manner similar to some of the other nations along its borders BUT - and this is crucial - because it would not have been in a position to buy American manufacturing machines and to attempt to implement Fordism, it is probable that the impact of the Great Depression would have been somewhat different to its historical impact.

2. If Trotsky had triumphed over Stalin after Lenin's death, how would the country have been different? Why?
I don't actually believe that Trotsky would have triumphed. I think it more likely that the conservative (deliberate small-c) reaction to the revolution and Lenin's legacy would have continued in the form of Bukharin and there wouldn't have been a turn Left towards Trotsky and "Radical Marxism". Bukharin was much more scientific, market-orientated, and I think the clear choice in 1924 (or whenever Lenin died in this scenario).

Taking the question on its premise: Trotsky was just as paranoid and bloodthirsty as any of the leading Bolsheviks at this time - notably so as head of the Red Army during the Civil War. Trotsky has a reputation, largely of his own making, as a perpetual revolutionary; yet it was he who finally turned the Central Committee to agreeing the peace deal at Brest-Litovsk to end Russia's involvement in the Great War. It was he who brought in former Imperial officers to "advise" the Red Army during the Civil War and the war against Poland.

However, I do think that Trotsky would have sued for reconciliation and the Soviet Union would have been truer to the principles of the revolution than ever it was under Lenin or Stalin or could have been under Bukharin.

3. Why do you think the Party through Lenin and Stalin's rule was so extremely violent and repressive? Do you think it was necessary or do you think the revolution would have fallen apart without this authoritarian leadership?
It was violent and repressive because of the inherent tensions within Marxism and Marxist thought. Marx's theories are contradictory, incomplete, and derive from three important approaches: Radical Marxism, Romantic Marxism, and Scientific Marxism. Each had a different emphasis and different approach and the tensions between them all result in violence as a result of the competition to become the dominant. This is reflected in the central philosophical principle - which derives from Hegel - that Marx adopted for his theories. Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis. That dialectical approach feeds on tensions and ultimately - in human application - feeds on violence as the ultimate expression of tension.

I'm not convinced the word authoritarian is quite the right one there but no, I don't think the revolution would have fallen apart.

4. What was the main reason(s) the Russian Revolution failed to produce a decent communist society?
It failed to produce a decent communist society because it turned away from that aim when faced with a civil war. It failed because, despite it all, the people who lived in the Soviet Union were suffocated by a reactionary, deeply conservative bureaucracy which rendered things in dim shades of grey. Stalin was the synthesis of those forces. He was not the abberation, he was the expression of that bureaucratic, conservative tendency.

5. If you advocate revolutionary Marxism, what would be different about the revolution you desire to stop it going the way of the Bolshevik Revolution?
I don't advocate revolutionary Marxism because I don't agree with Jefferson or any of the radical marxists that violence is inherently necessary. And thus, for me, this is how you stop it going the way of Bolshevik Russia - no revolutionary violence and fewer revolutionary tensions!

(Original post by Jay Riall)
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emvard
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(Original post by Andy the Anarchist)
1) If Lenin had lived longer Stalin would have never come to power. Stalin and Lenin fell out in the last years of Lenin's life, particularly as a result of the Georgia affair. It was only the suppression of Lenin's Testament condemning Stalin after his death that kept him in the Politburo. The absence of Stalin would have meant no purges of the party, and industrialisation would have probably been delayed, with no equivalent of the 5 year plans.

2)Probably no purges on the scale of Stalin again, and a more internationalist take on development, with less paranoia about encirclement. Trotsky was however, an authoritarian, and I have no doubt that the Cheka would have continued to exist under Trotsky, and that local democratic organs (the soviets) would have remained emasculated.

3) It was violent for numerous reasons. Firstly, the particular Leninist notion of a vanguard justifies the imposition of a program on a population by force. Secondly, Lenin had centralising tendencies, and was intolerant of dissent, the violence was a means of quelling opposition (Krondstadt is a perfect example). Thirdly, it cannot be emphasised how much Russia was falling apart at the end of the First World War, the economy was destroyed, and multiple factions vied for power, in addition to the influence of foreign powers hostile to Bolshevism. During the civil war at least, the imperative was to secure a victory against the White forces at all costs, which inevitably led to excesses.

Regarding Stalin, the unpopularity of collectivisation combined with the short time scale meant that repressive measures were going to be inevitable if collectivisation was to be achieved in the given time. Furthermore, the fact that Stalin was a paranoid nutjob didn't exactly help matters, hence the purges which occurred.

4) Quite simply because the vanguard theory espoused by Marxist Leninism is incompatible with democracy, and because Lenin had to emasculate fledgling forms of democracy which had emerged in 1917 in order to achieve it. This, combined with the fact that Russia was extremely economically backward, and was subjected to hostile interference from foreign powers for the whole of its existence.

5) I'm not a Marxist, but it is my opinion that the embryonic forms of democracy which emerged in 1917 should have been allowed to flourish. The voting population was overwhelmingly in favour of socialism (with something like 75% of votes in the 1917 Constitutuent Assembly elections being cast for socialist parties) so it is highly likely that a form of socialism could have emerged by democratic means. This, when combined with the increasing levels of popular control within industry and within the army, in the form of factory committees and soldier's committees, would have allowed for progress towards a more egalitarian society.
And is that a positive or a negative thing?
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Andy the Anarchist
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(Original post by emvard)
And is that a positive or a negative thing?
Well I'm guessing that it wouldn't have involved the "Socialism in one Country" which Stalin advocated, and which was completely antithetical to Marxist principles. I imagine there would have been a slower pace towards industrialisation, and more reliance on revolutions in other countries.

So, insofar as there wouldn't have been the massive number of deaths which resulted from forced collectivisation in a short period of time, probably a good thing.
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emvard
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(Original post by Andy the Anarchist)
Well I'm guessing that it wouldn't have involved the "Socialism in one Country" which Stalin advocated, and which was completely antithetical to Marxist principles. I imagine there would have been a slower pace towards industrialisation, and more reliance on revolutions in other countries.

So, insofar as there wouldn't have been the massive number of deaths which resulted from forced collectivisation in a short period of time, probably a good thing.
Excuse me but every communist leader was for internationalism. Every single one of them, including Stalin. Internationalism was not just a compenent of Marxist ideology. It was something essential in "safeguarding" the revolution from interventions from Britain, France and the US. So if anything Trotsky would have been even more aggressive in Germany and would probably use a lot more force to start other violent revolutions across Europe causing even more deaths. Stalin, didn't take these risks. He abandoned the concept of internationalisation after the failed revolution in Germany because he realized that it was a very risk task. He wanted to consolidate power, industrialise and then start the process of internationalisation.

But Trotsky wanted to industrialise Russia as well. How would he go about doing that whilst maintaing a central authority which he felt was necessary in preserving the revolution? You can't seriously suggest that he wouldn't force people into collectives. He crushed all workers councils/movements (you acknowledge that too), he believed that workers should be put into the army under commands from the vanguard party and all in all there's no reason why people wouldn't starve to death under his leadership... And I'm not "blaming" the communists for mass starvations either. Their centralisation made it more possible for them to happen but it was still a common thing in Imperial Russia. It often happened.

So I'd think that they are pretty identical these two and Trotsky would probably be just another "light" Stalinist. Don't forget that Trotsky was very libertarian socialist in rhetoric (until the war so was Lenin) but very stalinist in practice. In fact, a great deal of the plans of the Soviet Union during the 30's, 40's,50's and so on were part of Trotsky's legacy. He contributed more to the Soviet Empire system than Stalin did. Definitely more.
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littleshambles
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(Original post by Gremlins)
I'm not really a socialist in the traditional sense, but oh well:



No, Lenin was just as brutal as Stalin. Infact, I think anyone who had as much power as the guy at the top of the Soviet State would invariably do terrible things, either directly or indirectly. People aren't meant to have that kind of power.



I think Trotsky's "Obey or Die" quote sums up quite nicely my feeling that the Trots are just as bad as Stalinists, but because Leon got pwnd people are more sympathetic. Judging from what he did in the Civil War I think he'd have been pretty catastrophic tbh.



Well, it started getting violent and repressive when a bunch of democratic socialists and anarchists turned out to be far more popular than the Bolsheviks. That's the reason the actual Soviets were either made powerless or shut down, and why the Ukraine got treated so badly. It may have started as uprising but it quickly became a coup by the upper echelons of the Communist Party.



The fact most of the decent communists either got killed or sent to labour camps?



N/A, and I don't think revolutions are necessarily the way to go.
:ditto:
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Andy the Anarchist
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(Original post by emvard)
Excuse me but every communist leader was for internationalism. Every single one of them, including Stalin. Internationalism was not just a compenent of Marxist ideology. It was something essential in "safeguarding" the revolution from interventions from Britain, France and the US. So if anything Trotsky would have been even more aggressive in Germany and would probably use a lot more force to start other violent revolutions across Europe causing even more deaths. Stalin, didn't take these risks. He abandoned the concept of internationalisation after the failed revolution in Germany because he realized that it was a very risk task. He wanted to consolidate power, industrialise and then start the process of internationalisation.

But Trotsky wanted to industrialise Russia as well. How would he go about doing that whilst maintaing a central authority which he felt was necessary in preserving the revolution? You can't seriously suggest that he wouldn't force people into collectives. He crushed all workers councils/movements (you acknowledge that too), he believed that workers should be put into the army under commands from the vanguard party and all in all there's no reason why people wouldn't starve to death under his leadership... And I'm not "blaming" the communists for mass starvations either. Their centralisation made it more possible for them to happen but it was still a common thing in Imperial Russia. It often happened.

So I'd think that they are pretty identical these two and Trotsky would probably be just another "light" Stalinist. Don't forget that Trotsky was very libertarian socialist in rhetoric (until the war so was Lenin) but very stalinist in practice. In fact, a great deal of the plans of the Soviet Union during the 30's, 40's,50's and so on were part of Trotsky's legacy. He contributed more to the Soviet Empire system than Stalin did. Definitely more.
Yes, collectivisation would still have happened under Trotsky, I'm just not sure that it would have been so rapid. It was Stalin rather than Trotsky who emphasised Soviet industrialisation as a counterweight to western encirclement.

Bearing in mind a lot of what I'm saying is conjecture, we don't know what Trotsky would have done because the nature of history is such that things only happen one way.

And again, I'm not a Trotskyite, it's undoubted that atrocities would have occurred under Trotsky (Krondstadt is a decent example of what Trotsky was capable of). I'm just not convinced that we would have seen anything like the systematic purges of Stalin, given that they seem to have been aggravated by Stalin's paranoia about potential subversion.
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littleshambles
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(Original post by Andy the Anarchist)
Yes, collectivisation would still have happened under Trotsky, I'm just not sure that it would have been so rapid. It was Stalin rather than Trotsky who emphasised Soviet industrialisation as a counterweight to western encirclement.

Bearing in mind a lot of what I'm saying is conjecture, we don't know what Trotsky would have done because the nature of history is such that things only happen one way.

And again, I'm not a Trotskyite, it's undoubted that atrocities would have occurred under Trotsky (Krondstadt is a decent example of what Trotsky was capable of). I'm just not convinced that we would have seen anything like the systematic purges of Stalin, given that they seem to have been aggravated by Stalin's paranoia about potential subversion.
I'm not sure. Stalin was a staunch advocate of the continuation of the New Economic Policy when Trotsky was firmly against it and wanted swift action "against" the peasantry. Stalin only changed his mind once the left opposition was safely out of the way.

I do think Trotsky was more driven by ideology and Stalin more by a desire for control, though.
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Mr_K_Dilkington
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Forgive me if I am off-base on this next point, I'm still learning a lot about Marxism.

Stalin is obviously a popular choice for what went wrong in the Soviet Union. Did Marx not believe that individuals were insignificant in history? I remember reading a book that said that Marx believed that Napoleon was insignificant in history, that someone would have filled his shoes if he had not existed since history is driven by great movements and classes, not by individuals. So either that theory goes completely out of the window (along with the idea that communism was inevitable imo), or the revolution was always going to end in mass murder, slavery and horror, with or without Stalin (or Lenin or Trotsky or anyone else).
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Andy the Anarchist
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(Original post by littleshambles)
I'm not sure. Stalin was a staunch advocate of the continuation of the New Economic Policy when Trotsky was firmly against it and wanted swift action "against" the peasantry. Stalin only changed his mind once the left opposition was safely out of the way.

I do think Trotsky was more driven by ideology and Stalin more by a desire for control, though.
I think it's very difficult to figure out what Stalin was actually in favour of during the leadership struggle, and what he adopted merely for the purpose of contrasting himself with his opponents.

(Original post by Jay Riall)
Stalin is obviously a popular choice for what went wrong in the Soviet Union. Did Marx not believe that individuals were insignificant in history? I remember reading a book that said that Marx believed that Napoleon was insignificant in history, that someone would have filled his shoes if he had not existed since history is driven by great movements and classes, not by individuals. So either that theory goes completely out of the window (along with the idea that communism was inevitable imo), or the revolution was always going to end in mass murder, slavery and horror, with or without Stalin (or Lenin or Trotsky or anyone else).
Bearing in mind that Orthodox Marxists (such as the Mensheviks) opposed the October Revolution on the grounds that Russia was not developed enough to proceed to socialism (it was still a semi-feudal society, for example) it's entirely possible for an Orthodox Marxist to say that what occurred regarding Stalin was a good example of what happens when you try to impose socialism on a society which hasn't reached the critical phase necessary yet (Marx believed that revolutions would happen first in the most industrialised countries, such as Germany and Britain). Marx didn't believe in total economic determinism, there was still scope for individual action, merely that this individual action was constrained by economic circumstances. Thus local variations according to circumstance are possible, they're just not totally free of prevailing social circumstances.
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Adorno
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(Original post by Jay Riall)
Forgive me if I am off-base on this next point, I'm still learning a lot about Marxism.

Stalin is obviously a popular choice for what went wrong in the Soviet Union. Did Marx not believe that individuals were insignificant in history? I remember reading a book that said that Marx believed that Napoleon was insignificant in history, that someone would have filled his shoes if he had not existed since history is driven by great movements and classes, not by individuals. So either that theory goes completely out of the window (along with the idea that communism was inevitable imo), or the revolution was always going to end in mass murder, slavery and horror, with or without Stalin (or Lenin or Trotsky or anyone else).
You're not off-base at all: Marx did consider the individual less significant (not insignificant by any means) than the momentum of history driven by classes and movements. His famous line that men make history but not necessarily in circumstances of their own choosing points strongly to his collectivist rather than individualist mode of history. And, indeed, many (western) marxist critiques of the Soviet Union turn not on Stalin but on the society that existed in the Soviet Union and its social pressures and antagonism between the classes in Soviet society. It is liberal and conservative commentators from the West - driven by a "great man of history" approach - who focus in on Stalin and the other leaders. The turn to look at social history in the Soviet period is one of the great, great benefits of the revisionist school.
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Adorno
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#17
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#17
(Original post by Andy the Anarchist)
(Marx believed that revolutions would happen first in the most industrialised countries, such as Germany and Britain). Marx didn't believe in total economic determinism, there was still scope for individual action, merely that this individual action was constrained by economic circumstances. Thus local variations according to circumstance are possible, they're just not totally free of prevailing social circumstances.
That's actually not 100% true. By the end of his life, Marx had come to focus on Russia as the site par excellence for potential revolution precisely because it was so strongly authoritarian. Indeed, when he died his notes were taken over by Russian facts and figures rather than German and British ones. And Marx was not alone in that either, the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville had presciently argued in his Democracy in America that the two leading powers of the next century (i.e. the 20th) would be America and Russia. He wrote that in the 1830s!

It is convenient to dismiss Marx's late realisation about Russia but it sure makes for a fascinating twist. Sure, the Bolsheviks considered Germany to be fundamental to success of world revolution but most C19th commentators came, eventually, to focus on Russia rather than Western Industrial Powers as the cradle of revolution.
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Mr_K_Dilkington
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#18
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(Original post by Adorno)
That's actually not 100% true. By the end of his life, Marx had come to focus on Russia as the site par excellence for potential revolution precisely because it was so strongly authoritarian. Indeed, when he died his notes were taken over by Russian facts and figures rather than German and British ones. And Marx was not alone in that either, the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville had presciently argued in his Democracy in America that the two leading powers of the next century (i.e. the 20th) would be America and Russia. He wrote that in the 1830s!

It is convenient to dismiss Marx's late realisation about Russia but it sure makes for a fascinating twist. Sure, the Bolsheviks considered Germany to be fundamental to success of world revolution but most C19th commentators came, eventually, to focus on Russia rather than Western Industrial Powers as the cradle of revolution.
So the "stages" theory of Marxism (societies must go roughly feudalism > capitalism > socialism) is not an absolute? I was always told that this strict, necessary progression was central to Marx's theory of historical materialism. Doesn't Russia being able to "skip" the capitalist stage and industrialize under a socialist revolutionary state contradict this?
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Adorno
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#19
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#19
(Original post by Jay Riall)
So the "stages" theory of Marxism (societies must go roughly feudalism > capitalism > socialism) is not an absolute? I was always told that this strict, necessary progression was central to Marx's theory of historical materialism. Doesn't Russia being able to "skip" the capitalist stage and industrialize under a socialist revolutionary state contradict this?
It's a little more complicated than that: the capitalist stage relied heavliy on a bourgeois revolution and it was this which Marx saw in Russia because it had brought an end to serfdom in 1861 (thereby heralding the end of the strict feudal mode of production) and y'know he also states in the Communist Manifesto that nations outside of the advanced industrial powers might experience different paths towards communism. Marx's theories are inherently contradictory, to be sure, but in essence historical materialism refers to the base-superstructure model with economic relations as the fundamental base upon which society turns rather than the strict progression of society from one mode of production to another. Bourgeois revolutions, after all, rely heavily on the workers to bring the massive overhaul of the system that they require. Marx felt that a Russian bourgeoisie wouldn't last in power that long and so the proletarian revolution would be fairly quick in succession...
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Andy the Anarchist
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#20
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(Original post by Adorno)
That's actually not 100% true. By the end of his life, Marx had come to focus on Russia as the site par excellence for potential revolution precisely because it was so strongly authoritarian. Indeed, when he died his notes were taken over by Russian facts and figures rather than German and British ones. And Marx was not alone in that either, the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville had presciently argued in his Democracy in America that the two leading powers of the next century (i.e. the 20th) would be America and Russia. He wrote that in the 1830s!

It is convenient to dismiss Marx's late realisation about Russia but it sure makes for a fascinating twist. Sure, the Bolsheviks considered Germany to be fundamental to success of world revolution but most C19th commentators came, eventually, to focus on Russia rather than Western Industrial Powers as the cradle of revolution.
Yeah, but the thing is that Marx wasn't 100% consistent in his thought anyway (hence the debate over Young Marx vs Old Marx). I'd like to see how Russia being the first country to experience revolution ties with his theory of dialetical materialism (assuming that he held to his theory of capitalism whereby a revolution would be triggered when accumulation of capital under capitalism would eventually reach a stage in the most developed forms of capitalism whereby it was a necessity for workers to revolt due to their dire economic circumstances).

The use of Russia as a the first stage for the proletarian revolution has always struck me as a Marxist-Leninist concept, as opposed to an Orthodox Marxist one. Certainly it seemed to be Lenin and not Marx who was convinced that a vanguard could jump stages in development to go straight from feudalism to socialism.
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