I’ve never had much interest in Leon Trotsky or Trotskyism, but serious discussions by sensible people about his life, politics, rise and fall, and global impact are rare. Trotsky’s legacy has been hijacked by a myriad of kooks and cultists. This often bastardized and farcical legacy of one of the Russian Revolution’s most important figures, makes Christopher Hitchens, who identifies himself as a Trotskyist, and Robert Service talking Trotsky a gem in and of itself.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Boris Nikolaievich Yelstin is dead. Many are sure to evaluate his legacy over the coming days and years. Almost universally hailed as “democratic” in the West, Yeltsin’s rule was a complicated mix of democracy, authoritarianism, oligarchy, theft, corruption, crime, and gangster capitalism. It was a time of hope and fear for the average Russian. Gone was the authoritarianism of the Soviet system, but that vacuum also produced an uneasy feeling of what came next. A spirit of democracy quickly filled that vacuum only to flutter out as “western” democracy became associated with the utter destruction of the Russian social and economic base. Time doesn’t permit to cite the relevant statistics on the precipitous collapse of the standard of living in the 1990s.
Yeltsin, among many things, will be remembered for standing on a tank in Moscow thus preventing counter-revolution, bombarding the White House with tanks, shaking his tail feather during his election campaign, arriving to Berlin drunk, and playing tennis.
Yeltsin will also be remembered for the Chechen War. It was hardly a “small victorious war,” as he and his handlers hoped. Russia’s defeat led to a brief d?tente between Moscow and Grozny in the form of a quasi-independent, though not internationally recognized, Ichkeria.
Yeltsin will be remembered for introducing the world of Vladimir Putin. A virtually unknown figure in 1999 when he became Prime Minister, Putin was originally viewed in Russian oligarchic circles as a manageable bureaucrat who would rule in their name. He wasn’t and what Russia looks like today is very much a result of Putin’s efforts to tame the oligarchy. In this sense, present day Russia is also in part laid in Yeltsin’s lap.
Lastly, in thinking about Yelstin’s presidency, one can’t help make analogies to the 1920s. Also an economically chaotic and socially disastrous yet politically and culturally vibrant time, the 1920s was the hope for a new, democratic Russia. Small “d” democracy was too squashed in the 1920s resulting in Stalin. Stalin, like Putin, was also viewed as manageable by the Bolshevik oligarchy. This underestimation ushered in their demise in the Terror of the 1930s.
While I reject any comparison of Putin to Stalin, the similar historical trajectory of the 1920s and 1990s can’t be denied. Chaos begot stability, but stability came with the cost of crushing of democracy. In my view, it is Yeltsin’s role in this historical echo that will stand out as his most enduring legacy.
Obituaries on Yeltsin abound. Here is a tentative list.
More obituaries and analysis are sure to follow in the coming days.Post Views: 154
By Sean — 3 months ago
Guest: Yuri Slezkine on The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution.
By Sean — 10 years ago
By Maxim Gorky
Novaya Zhizn, No. 174
November 20, 1917
The socialist ministers released by Lenin and Trotsky from the Peter and Paul Fortress went home, leaving their colleagues M. V. Bernatsky, A. I. Konovalov, M. I. Tereshchenko, and others in the hands of people who have no conception of the freedom of the individual or of the rights of man.
Lenin, Trotsky, and their companions have already become poisoned with the filthy venom of power, and this is evidenced by their shameful attitude toward freedom of speech, the individual, and the sum total of those rights for the triumph of which democracy struggled.
Blind fanatics and dishonest adventurers are rushing madly, supposedly along the road to the “social revolution”; in reality this is the road to anarchy, to the destruction of the proletariat and of the revolution.
On this road Lenin and his associates consider it possible to commit all kinds of crimes, such as the slaughter outside St. Petersburg, the destruction of Moscow, the abolition of freedom of speech, and the senseless arrests–all the abominations which Pleve and Stolypin once perpetrated.
Of course, Stolypin and Pleve went against democracy, against all that was live and decent in Russia. Lenin, however, is followed by a rather sizable–for the time being–portion of the workers; but I believe that the good sense of the working class and its awareness of its historical tasks will soon open the eyes of the proletariat to the utter impossibility of realizing Lenin’s promises, to all the depth of his madness, and to his Nechaev and Bakunin brand of anarchism.
The working class cannot fail to understand that Lenin is only performing a certain experiment on their skin and on their blood, that he is striving to push the revolutionary mood of the proletariat to its furthest extreme and see–what will come of this?
Of course, he does not believe in the possibility of the victory of the proletariat in Russia under the present conditions, but perhaps he is hoping for a miracle.
The working class should know that miracles do not occur in real life, that they are to expect hunger, complete disorder in industry, disruption of transportation, and protracted bloody anarchy followed by a no less bloody and gloomy reaction.
This is where the proletariat is being led by its present leader, and it must be understood that Lenin is not an omnipotent magician but a cold-blooded trickster who spares neither the honor nor the life of the proletariat.
The workers must not allow adventurers and madmen to heap shameful, senseless, and bloody crimes on the head of the proletariat, for which not Lenin but the proletariat itself will pay.
Does the Russian democracy remember the ideas for the triumph of which it struggled against the despotism of the monarchy?
Does it consider itself capable of continuing this struggle now?
Does it remember that when the Romanov gendarmes threw its ideological leaders into prisons and hard-labor camps, it called this methods of struggle base?
In what way does Lenin’s attitude toward freedom of speech differ from the same attitude of a Stolypin, A Pleve, and other half-humans?
Does not Lenin’s government, as the Romanov government did, seize and drag off to prison all those who think differently?
Why are Bernatsky, Konovalov, and other members of the coalition government sitting in the fortress? Are they in any way more criminal than their socialist colleagues freed by Lenin?
The only honest answer to these questions must be an immediate demand to free the ministers and other innocent people who were arrested, and also to restore the freedom of speech in its entirety.
Then the sensible elements of the democracy must draw further conclusions, they must decide: is the road of conspirators and anarchists of Nachaev’s type also their road?
Published in Maxim Gorky, Untimely Thoughts: Essays on Revolution, Culture and the Bolsheviks, 1917-1918, Yale University Press, 1995, 85-87Post Views: 159