Faith Hillis, Assistant Professor of Russian History at the University of Chicago and author of Children of Rus’: Right-Bank Ukraine and the Invention of a Russian Nation. Her most recent article is “Intimacy and Antipathy: Ukrainian-Russian Relations in Historical Perspective” published in Kritika.
Andrew Weiss, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he oversees research in Washington and Moscow on Russia and Eurasia. His most recent article is “Putin the Improviser” in the Wall Street Journal.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
Ninety years ago the Bolsheviks took power. Or, really it was given to them. The Bolsheviks hardly took nothing that the masses in Petrograd had been trying to give them since July. The antiwar protests against the Provisional Government’s military offensive became bloody, Lenin went into hiding, the Bolsheviks went underground. The masses threw the ball to the moderate socialists, but they dropped it. Then enter Kornilov. The Russian Right strikes back but is driven off by a mostly Bolshevik dominated Red Guards. Kerensky and his Government was bankrupt. The SRs and the Mensheviks did exactly how Eisenstein did in October. Peering out cracks in the windows and doors watching the revolution march past them.
Between July and November 1917, the Bolsheviks grew in membership, electoral, and political support. The Bolsheviks, I think Alexander Rabinowitch once wrote, rode a wave of discontent into power.
Lenin’s small band of revolutionaries had ballooned from 24,000 in early 1917 to 390,000 in March 1918. This gave them a potential cadre to pull from and, more importantly, target their slogans, propaganda, and other forms of agitation. The Bolshevik Party became a small mass organization in a very brief period. Moreover, this new membership comprised workers and soldiers–the revolutionary vanguard in Lenin’s eyes.
Membership wasn’t the only indication of Bolshevik popularity in the countries’ centers of power. Bolsheviks were capturing increasingly winning soviet elections. A graph of Petrograd Soviet returns shows a steady Bolshevik rise. Shortly after Kornilov, the Bolsheviks became the majority. I guess that bolshevik finally meant something. More importantly, notice the SR collapse. By the Constituent Assembly, the Bolsheviks had around 50 votes. The minority parties were too fractured to form any opposition; a chronic problem that led to their defeat two years later.
In Moscow, the Bolsheviks peaked later. The September 24 election to the Moscow soviet wielded around 70 votes. Their closest competition, the Kadets, had a paltry 38 or so. By November, the Bolsheviks had tailed off a bit with 50 votes with the Kadets making a surge. Moscow was polarized between far left and tolerable right. The SRs, Mensheviks, and others had collapsed. Moscow was a two horse race.
The Bolsheviks were riding a democratic wave to power. If political parties in the center aren’t enough evidence, the next electoral returns were the Constituent Assembly shows a similar pattern. The elections totals show the following: SRs 38 percent; Bolsheviks 23.7 percent; Kadets 4.8 percent; Mensheviks 3.3 percent. But these totals become meaningless when you look at the Bolsheviks support in Russia’s power centers. The Bolsheviks carried Central Russia, the West, and tied with the SRs in the Northwest. The SRs were popular in the Black Earth and Siberia. Read: peasant. In Kursk Province the SRs got 82 percent of the votes. And it is likely that SRs were the only party peasants even knew. SRs and their protogenes had been agitating the countryside for years. As to their popularity in Siberia, in addition to aforementioned, don’t forget many of them were exiled there.
Perhaps the most important number on this graph is for the army. The Bolsheviks and SRs were neck and neck. But not really where it mattered. This graph of votes from the Western Front show the Lenin and his bunch carrying a landslide with 66.9 percent of the votes. The SRs were nothing at 18.5 percent. As for the Mesheviks and Kadets, who cares? With control of garrisons through Trotsky’s baby, the Military Revolutionary committees, and about half the army, you have power.
But does this mean the Bolsheviks came to power democratically? Well, first that depends on what you mean by democracy. If it means popular, well the Bolsheviks were popular. No, they didn’t have a straight majority. But they had the mass popularity where it mattered. The calls for the Soviets to take power had been cried since the July Days. Their voices became a fever pitch after Kornilov. “All Power to the Soviets!” And the Bolsheviks heeded their call.
People will probably scoff at the idea that the Bolsheviks came to power democratically. I asked my students what they thought when I taught these figures to a class on the Russian Revolution. “Do these voting returns say that the Bolsheviks came to power democratically?” I asked. Silence. Then one of my students blurted out, “It is if you consider it like our Electoral College.”
I hadn’t thought of that before.Post Views: 605
By Sean — 10 years ago
My latest piece for The eXile is now online. Here is an excerpt of “The Myth of the Democratic Model“:
Stanford poli-sci prof and Commissar of Transitionology, Michael McFaul, is quiet no more. After a few years of relative reticence, McFaul, once known as the most gregarious cheerleader for the Yeltsin regime, was smoked out of his academic hole by Time’s recent crowning of Vladimir Putin as the “Person of the Year.” McFaul’s first response was a comment in Slate titled “Putin? Really?” The second was a lengthy quasi-academic condemnation in Foreign Affairs called “The Myth of the Authoritarian Model.” In the Slate piece, McFaul said that Putin’s accolade “most certainly doesn’t ‘feel right,’ and most certainly doesn’t feel like journalism.”
The fact that Time‘s decision doesn’t “feel right” to McFaul shouldn’t surprise avid eXile readers. What doesn’t “feel right” to him is the possibility that “as political freedom [in Russia] has decreased, economic growth has increased.” This is what McFaul has dubbed the “myth of the authoritarian model,” which he argues is based on “a spurious correlation between autocracy and economic growth.” After all, giving Putin any credit for anything except being a mini-Stalin, the second coming of Hitler, or simply a fire breathing hydra, is an affront to academic political correctness.Post Views: 346
By Sean — 12 years ago
Though the following has little do with Russia, (though one might think of it in terms of the Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy forced down historians’ throats in the Soviet period), it concerns my profession and thus my livelihood. The state of Florida has passed and Jeb Bush has signed a bill banning “revisionist” history from Florida public schools. New York University professor Jonathan Zimmerman takes the bill to task in a column in the LA Times. Essentially, the bill prevents the teaching of “revisionist or postmodernist viewpoints of relative truth.” American history is not to be taught as “constructed,” but based on historical “facts.” Forget that these nimrods in the Florida Legislature haven’t a clue about what they are talking about. I don’t think passing intellectual judgments on philosophy and complicated historical methodologies should be left to legislators. But references to such charged terms like “postmodernism” and French post-structuralism are enough to incite fear in those who are trying to protect the sanctity of American history. By sanctity, I mean a history that not only tells the story of the powerful in historical terms (usually a history where white, wealthy males are the primary historical agents), but more importantly reproduces their hegemony in the present. The rich and powerful’s right to rule is thus naturalized in history. The only role for history is, as Althusser suggested, to “reproduce the means of ideological reproduction.”
History in Florida public schools is not taught so students can challenge how there are many pasts, and a multiplicity of understandings of them. They are taught that there is a singular historical narrative for America. This of course is the worst aspect of “revisionism” in that it’s state sponsored. In addition, as Zimmerman cogently points out the bill is based on a misconception about the history of the historical profession:
“Ironically, the Florida law is itself revisionist history. Once upon a time, it theorizes, history — especially about the founding of the country — was based on facts. But sometime during the 1960s, all that changed. American historians supposedly started embracing newfangled theories of moral relativism and French postmodernism, abandoning their traditional quest for facts, truth and certainty.
The result was a flurry of new interpretations, casting doubt on the entire past as we had previously understood it. Because one theory was as good as another, then nothing could be true or false. God, nation, family and school: It was all up for grabs.
There’s just one problem with this history-of-our-history: It’s wrong.
Hardly a brainchild of the flower-power ’60s, the concept of historical interpretation has been at the heart of our profession from the 1920s onward. Before that time, to be sure, some historians believed that they could render a purely factual and objective account of the past. But most of them had given up on what historian Charles Beard called the “noble dream” by the interwar period, when scholars came to realize that the very selection of facts was an act of interpretation.
That’s why Cornell’s Carl Becker chose the title “Everyman His Own Historian” for his 1931 address to the American Historical Assn., probably the most famous short piece of writing in our profession. In it, Becker explained why “Everyman” — that is, the average layperson — inevitably interpreted the facts of his or her own life, remembering certain elements and forgetting (or distorting) others.”
As one UCLA historian said to me when I told him about the law, “Isn’t revising history our job!?” Indeed. I wonder if American historians will have to one day perform the American equivalent to Soviet historians’ “Lenin sandwich” to get around the censors. For those who don’t know what the “Lenin sandwich” was, it was when Soviet historians in the 1960s and 1970s would begin and end their works with a quote from Lenin to evade censors and basically write decent histories in-between.
Such is the present strength of anti-intellectualism in American political culture. To think I thought all these tired debates about “revisionism”, “postmodernism,” “relativism,” and historical “facts” were sorted out in the 1990s. God I hope that this isn’t a sign of their return, especially since the above terms have been so watered down and popularized that they hardly retain any of their former intellectual rigor.Post Views: 232