Is this the season of revolutions?
I have recently written something about that failed revolution, the Gunpowder Plot. I will say something more about it soon. There are at least two more revolutions to commemorate at this time of year. I mean, the end of October. Sorry I’m a bit late! You might think of the Reformation as a revolution in many ways. Its 500th anniversary was on the 31st October this year, in case you missed it, as I did. I will write about that before long. Better late than never, I hope.
What about the other revolution?
Yes. I’m talking about the October Revolution, when the Communists took over Russia in 1917 by “storming” the Winter Palace. Communists still regard this as a great achievement. There are others who see it as a disaster. Before expressing a view on that, I must point out that the fall of the Winter Palace was far less dramatic than you might believe. It was not well defended and it fell with little bloodshed when a handful of Lenin’s supporters broke in. Fake news is not new. The real bloodbaths came later.
Am I booing or cheering for the Russian Revolution?
For a long time, I thought the anti-communist rhetoric poured out by a lot of British and American politicians was a bit unfair. They tended to compare the Soviet Union with western democracies. They rightly pointed out that the standard of living was higher in the West than in the Communist bloc of Eastern Europe and Russia. That was after they stopped going on about democracy and human rights, but usually before opposing the Human Rights Act as “political correctness gone mad”.
What was unfair about that comparison?
In 1917 Russia was not a liberal democracy. Neither was it a capitalist country. It was a feudal autocracy. The tsars ruled through the nobility, who were implacably opposed to any move towards democracy or equality. As for the economy, it was similar to Britain in the Middle Ages only less efficient. Therefore, the vast majority of Russians probably were better off as a result of the Revolution. At least in material terms. As for democracy and human rights: most of them really did have “nothing to lose but their chains”.
How many revolutions did they have?
The thing I overlooked for a long time was that the October Revolution was the second one in Russia in 1917! The earlier one had removed the Tsar and had been relatively bloodless. It had resulted in a moderate socialist government led by Alexander Kerensky. He had tried to lead the country towards a political and economic system similar to those of most West European countries. We will never know if it would have succeeded. That government, not the tsarist one, fell as a result of the October Revolution.
Which Russian Revolution will you celebrate?