The Unimaginable Revolution: 1917 in Retrospect

Johann Pall Arnason
2018 Historicka Sociologie  
The essay takes off from current controversies about Communism, and on the relative weight of its cultural, political and economic components. The discussion then moves, in light of recent historical scholarship, to problems of conceptualizing the revolutionary process that gave rise to Soviet Communism. A strong emphasis is placed on the singularity of the Russian revolution, and on the limits to general theories of revolution. Hasegawa's revised work on the February revolution of 1917 is
more » ... ion of 1917 is discussed at some length, and his interpretation of that event as an interaction between popular and liberal forces is accepted. The following months saw the emergence of multiple revolutionary movements, but also the strengthening of an organization and an alternative leadership with a project different from the main currents of the revolution, but capable of conquering power through a selective mobilization of revolutionary forces. The presuppositions of Bolshevism are analyzed, as well as the implications of its victory. The essay finishes with reflections on Stalinism and its roots in the revolutionary process. As the "end of history, " celebrated around the turn of the century (surely one of the flimsiest delusions of all times), gives way to a re-enactment of the cold war, it seems appropriate to reflect on background implications of the shift. The resurgence of the cold war imaginary, massive enough to confuse and aggravate a conflict structurally different from the supposed paradigm, is a complex phenomenon irreducible to any main actor or impulse. The present paper will not deal directly with its unfolding impact [for a recent judicious discussion, see Legvold 2016] . But to grasp the broader context, we need to reconsider both presuppositions and prompting circumstances of this recent -and very muddled -reawakening to history. Rethinking Communism The vision of an end to history, or more precisely a definitive triumph of "liberal democracy" over all conceivable alternatives, was based on strong assumptions about a certain counter-history having run its course. More important than anything else was the belief that not only had the Soviet Union disintegrated, but the Soviet model had departed from the scene, suffered a total collapse, and its history could be written as "the past of an illusion" [Furet 2000; the English translation unjustifiably replaces "past" with "passing, " thu suggesting an ongoing process, whereas Furet was unequivocally talking about a past ■ ESSAY
doi:10.14712/23363525.2018.42 fatcat:d4phpbdqpzewnlkmxevr777ewe