April 18, 2004


TV archive unlocks myth of revolution (TIM CORNWELL, 4/15/04, The Scotsman)

IN OCTOBER 1917, when the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, sailors in the port of Kronstadt formed the vanguard of the revolution. They overran the cruiser Aurora, bombarded the Winter Palace, stormed the building and handed it over to the Bolsheviks.

Four years later, 900 of those same sailors were executed by firing squad after they rose up against the Communists and the Red Army. Thousands of others were dispatched to the Gulag prison camps.

Now their story is to be used by the TV company WarkClements as the narrative spine of a two-part documentary promising to "unpack" the myths of the Russian revolution and the lethal battle for power that followed.

Storm in the East will argue that Russia should never have had a Socialist revolution in 1917, that the Bolsheviks were a fringe party, and that "the revolution was an exercise in capturing and maintaining power at all costs".

Alan Clements, the managing director of the company, described yesterday how it took two years to secure financing for a project he has wanted to do for 21 years, ever since he studied the subject at the University of Glasgow.

"It has been a long-haul putting together the funding, a labour of love," he said. "The thesis will be quite controversial, but at least thought- provoking.

"People tend to believe that Lenin was this cuddly guy and Stalin made it all bad. Historically there are a lot of people on the Scottish left with that view, certainly when I was still at university, and that can't be justified."

This was the singular fact that Mikhail Gorbachev failed to comprehend. He mistakenly believed that when the state loosened its grip on public discourse people would criticize the direction in which Stalin took the otherwise glorious revolution. In effect they'd be perfecting flaws. Instead dissidents were just waiting to shred the reputation of Lenin and of the Revolution itself. They thereby delegitimized the entire concept of the USSR.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 18, 2004 9:02 PM

I am not a Russian studies expert, but I do have some familiarity with Russian (and Soviet) history. My personal take on Lenin is that he was willing to compromise anything except his grasp of power.

Most readers may know that the Bolsheviki (means majority) were actually a minority in the socialist movement in Russia. They were able to use their interpretation of the agreed rules for the meetings to exclude the Mensheviki (means minority), and grab the top posts for themselves. Lenin was a skillful political infighter.

Posted by: Henry IX at April 18, 2004 10:42 PM

The "Bolshevik Revolution" was more accurately the Bolshevik Coup in an existing revolution. Kind of like if the Jacobins had managed to stay on top in the French Revolution.

And if Lenin was "willing to compromise everything except his grasp on power", what about that Georgian street thug who succeeded him?

Posted by: Ken at April 19, 2004 1:00 PM

Stalin was a true Leninist. He took the unglamorous position of Party Secretary, which gave him access to the organizational structure. He spent the early years subtly shifting things about so that when Lenin died, Stalin's people controlled all the key levers of power. Stalin out-organized the other Bolsheviks just like the Bolsheviks out-organized the other participants in the overthrow of the Czar.

The historical lesson seems to be, if you're trying to set up a self-ordered society and there's an armed, clever radical - kill him and his followers.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at April 19, 2004 2:03 PM


Rather, "if you're trying to set up a self-ordered society" you aren't. Societies are ordered.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2004 2:58 PM

>The historical lesson seems to be, if you're
>trying to set up a self-ordered society and
>there's an armed, clever radical - kill him and
>his followers.

Most of the Bolsheviki had done prison time courtesy of the Okhrana -- the Tsar's secret police. But the Okhrana let them live.

When the Bolsheviki took over, they made sure that their successor to the Okhrana -- the Cheka/OGPU/NKVD/MVD/KGB/whatever it was renamed this week -- never made the same mistake. They NEVER let even an imagined potential enemy live, so there would be no "Bolsheviki" to ever take over from them.

Posted by: Ken at April 19, 2004 7:01 PM

You guys, Orrin excepted, are channeling Richard Pipes. That's fine, I read him, too.

So why do we need a TV documentary? These observations are hardly novel.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 19, 2004 10:19 PM


You don't believe them despite having read about them. You think Bolshevism was popular. And few have even read them.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2004 11:02 PM

I believe tsarism was unpopular. No question about that.

Bolshevism was popular among the people who benefitted from it, which was quite a lot of people for quite a while.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 20, 2004 7:22 PM