A plethora of anniversaries is arriving in Russia. This month marks the 90th anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917 and the 25th anniversary of the death of Leonid Brezhnev. Next month will see the 15th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s disintegration. Only by understanding that first event, however, can we understand the others.
The October Revolution has always had many critics. The Russian philosopher Ivan Shmelev named it “the great beating of Russia.” Vasily Rozanov called it “The Massacre of Russia.” Countless authors view it as a tragedy that broke the flow of history and destroyed Russia’s best people.
But the October Revolution also has its apologists, for whom it marked the beginning of a new era in history, a breakthrough to freedom from a world of slavery and oppression, a salvation for Russia and Europe, and a source of hope for Asia and Africa. According to this view, there was no conspiracy, but a great social revolution that, by virtue of a powerful internal logic, brought to power workers, peasants, and the Bolshevik party, which represented their will.
For the majority of Russians who grew up in the Soviet system, there is truth in both views, but no place for ultra-radical criticism of the October Revolution and other aspects of socialist life in the 20th century USSR. The revolution is not only history for many people; it is also a part of life and consciousness. Of course, this does not excuse those who refuse to listen to reasoned analysis about our country’s past, but Russians will not accept glib rants.