Western Historians: Revolution of 1917 Is One of the Main Events of the 20th Century

22.01.2018

The Russian revolution of 1917, its legacy and influence on modernity became the subject of an expert discussion, held on January 18 at the Valdai Discussion Club Conference hall.

The leading foreign and Russian historians who took part in the discussion were unanimous in their opinion that the revolution is one of the main events of the 20th century, and it requires constant analysis, taking into account its particular historical significance.

According to Robert Service, Honored Professor of St. Anthony's College, Oxford University, Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, the October Revolution was a catastrophe that it is still hard to recover from.

Speaking about the causes of the revolution, experts compared it with the explosion that occurs when a number of factors converge. In Russia in that historical period the factors of the revolution were the legacy of 1905, class discontent, social problems and much more. The tense situation before the World War I was not only in Russia, but also in other European countries; the rights of many social groups of the population were infringed. The war made destructive all existing frictions and problems. As noted by Daniel Orlovsky, Professor of History and George A. Bouhe Research Fellow in Russian Studies at Southern Methodist University, it was a unique period of ups and downs, hopes and insanity. Robert Service also noted the incredible success of Lenin as a politician who was happy to write long articles, but was given the opportunity to go to Russia and implement his ideas.

Analyzing the role of key leaders of the Russian revolution, the experts noted their important role and ability to change the course of the historical process, and also called for not comparing them with each other, and not to argue about who was softer and who was tougher. According to Service, many Western historians compare Lenin with Stalin, but we need to talk about the Bolsheviks in general, about the ideas that united them. Lenin and Trotsky collected a country that was falling apart. And they did it at the expense of a bloody civil war. To remain Bolshevik, to preserve their ideas, Lenin needed to unleash a war on society.

Thus, the fundamental issue is not in people, but in what is communism. The Soviet Union was the first case of the emergence of a socialist system in a developed or developing state. This system crashed, but, according to Service, the widespread view in the West that the collapse of the Soviet Union means the unsuccessfulness of communism is quite primitive, because communism is successfully developing in one of the leading countries of the world - in China. In that country there is a dynamic capitalist sector, which, as believed in the West, is incompatible with communism. All this requires a careful analysis, the expert noted.

One of the most important consequences of the revolution and the events that followed it was the Cold War. According to Orlovsky, the revolution laid the foundation for the future confrontation between the West and the East. Experts expressed doubts that the fear of Western countries over communist Russia had serious grounds, especially given its relatively weak army in those days.

Undoubtedly, the 1917 revolution, the civil war in Russia, the struggle for power in the first years of the Soviet Union and the building of socialism completely transformed the political and socioeconomic systems of Russia and radically changed the direction of the country's development. Alexey Miller, professor at the European University in St. Petersburg, drew attention to the lack of a unified assessment of those events in modern Russian society and expressed the view that the revolution not only opened new doors, but also closed others. He stated that now one part of the citizens says that the revolution of 1917 opened the door to the creation of a great power, and the other believes that it closed Russia's doors to an economic miracle and didn’t allow Russia to become a part of democratic community.

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