So now I have a special treat for you. Two of my readers, first Lyttenburgh, and then Ryan Ward, both of whom are history students, have an opportunity to give their (often opposing) points of view on this important issue, namely the role played by V.I. Lenin in Russian history. Lyttenburgh, who has previously posted on my blog on issues of American cultural supremacy, got his mss to me first, so he goes first, although Ryan was not far behind, and I hope to get his (Ryan’s) piece up tomorrow.
So. here, without further ado, is Lyttenburgh’s approach to this issue, and to this controversy. This is Lyttenburg speaking now:
On comrade Lenin and the atomic bomb
Upon hearing what Putin said about Lenin, and how he characterized his role in the further development and the ultimate fate of Russia, I couldn’t help but think of Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] himself, of his own words, said out clear and loud during the 70th anniversary UN session: “Do you understand what you have done?”.
People in Russia still talk about it. RuNet has become a Civil War re-enactment battleground between the new Reds and Whites. Western Free and Independent Press ™ already descended on this event like a murder of crows upon a battlefield.
Various people standing on different ideological or political positions are now attacking Lenin, the Great October Revolution and, with them, the entire USSR. They ultimately question the role of Lenin and the Bolsheviks during one of the most hard and crucial periods of Russian history. “Question” here means “denying anything positive”. People doing that are of 2 types: the only anti-Sovietists [yalensis: in other words, people who hate the Soviet Union but not Russia herself], or the Russophobes masquerading their true feelings towards Russia, its history and people.
These “doubting” people participating in this lively discussion of Comrade’s Lenin role and his actions as the head of the Soviet State, unleash a barrage of attacks, mainly consisting of half-truths and misconceptions. They are doing it as fiercely and relentlessly, as German artillery at Verdun. These people insist on the exclusively destructive role of the Bolsheviks in Russia – that they had “destroyed” the Russian army via their insidious agitation, and then “stole” an “assured” Russian victory over Germany and its allies. They claim that for Russia the defeat was off the table by late 1917, because (according to them) the frontline was so stable – and that there was no real need to sign the “treasonous” Brest-Litovsk peace. Finally, they propagate the myth that even after that from 1918 onward nothing really threatened Russian statehood and, thus, Lenin and his Bolsheviks
On my part, I offer this small contribution to this debate in hope that something good will come out of this nation-wide discussion after all. That it will serve as a crucible, which would purge all schlag from peoples’ heads, put there for the last 25 years and demonstrate to the powers that be (and certain non-systemic elements) where Russian citizens sympathies really lie.
Who and how ruined Russia in 1917?
For any student of history it’s always important to stay coolheaded and not to allow one’s sympathies and biases to cloud the judgment, or to avoid some things outright. No – let’s discuss them! Bolsheviks surely were agitating soldiers participating in the so-called Great War (in Russia it’s been also called “German War”) to lay down their arms and stop killing each other in this unjust and imperialist war. But not only were they agitating the Russian army, they were agitating soldiers in all fighting armies to do exactly that – and, in fact, there is hardly any “Bolshevik connection” to one of the largest mutinies of the First World War – French mutinies of 1917. But you know what? These uber-evil, baby-eatin’, priests-shootin’, intelligentsia-exilin’, private property-stealin’ Bolsheviks… did not destroy the Russian army! It wasn’t them!
And you know who was that? Why, it was all thanks to the shy and conscientious intilligents (and also bourgeoisie and nobility) members of the thread-bare legitimate Interim Government – plus, of course, also thanks to the fedora-tippin’, champagne-sippin’, coffee-houses rantin’ revolutionary bohemians of the Petrograd Soviet (nearly 100% of them – men’shevik’s and eSeRs), who did everything in their power to obstruct the government while receiving a hefty gesheft from participating in political rallies and blathering their way from day to day – without accomplishing anything.
If we are to name the first and most destructive event, which ultimately destroyed the Russian army as a fighting force, then we should look no further than the Order №1 of the Petrosoviet (1 March 1917), which its deputies agreed upon with the bourgeois (yes, bourgeois – that’s an absolutely correct term to describe them) Interim Government. This order introduced the “democratic elections” of the officers by the soldiers, soldiers themselves now could form (even on the frontlines) their own quasi-Soviets – committees – with vast authority over them, plus the corporal and death punishments were abolished. Honorific forms of address to officers were also abolished – as well as performing of the military salute and coming to attention in the presence of officers. One of the authors of this Decree №1, men’shevik Iosif Goldenberg said in March 1917:
“Order №1 is not a mistake – it’s a necessity… The very same day when we “made the Revolution”, we also understood, that if we won’t ruin the old army, it would destroy the Revolution. We didn’t doubt: we decided in the favor of the later and employed – I’m claiming that openly – an appropriate measure”.
So, who is more fitting to the “fifth column” mold? Lenin and his Bolsheviks or… this?
And now, a little bit of context.
Imagine that – by February 1917, the Russian army held on the eastern front about half of all German divisions. In 1916 Brusilov’s offensive managed to somehow improve the situation on the South-Western front – before Romania ruined it all by entering the war on Entente’s side and loosing nearly immediately. In Caucasus the Russian army was successful against the Turks. Things were holding – but barely. There was an urgent need for some real reforms and society’s restructuring, otherwise the situation would be unsustainable in the long run. The situation within the country was depressing. After 3 years of war the prices on all goods in the Russian empire had increased 3-4 times. For comparison – in France the price hike after 3 years of war was only by 70%.
And then came the Interim Government – and fucked it all up. Them – not Lenin and Bolsheviks. During their glorious reign these proto-liberasts managed to screw over what little that still remained of the Russian economy, already suffering from the war. During 1917 prices increased 4 times AGAIN. The value of the ruble fell by 4 times. This government couldn’t manage to collect taxes starting from the summer of ’17. Their solution? Why, print more money, of course! And, naturally, take more, and more, and MORE credits from our faithful “allies” – under the promise to participate further in this bloodbath.
And that’s what they did – for the money. Already on 6 March the Interim Government announced that it (read – poor sods in the trenches) will continue the war “till Victory!”. April 20 saw the release of “Milyukov’s note”, named that after the Foreign Minister and leader of the liberal party of Kadets Pavel Milyukov. Here Milyukov on behalf of the Interim Government reaffirmed once again his willingness to keep Russia in the war and be faithful to its “allies”. And even when on 22 May the Commander of the German Eastern front prince Leopold of Bayern radioed an offer to begin peace talks – the Interim Government rejected it. After all, they were “loyal” in a sense of the word – they stood bought.
I also remind people, that in May 1917 Kerensky was a Military Minister in the government. That after a deliberate sabotage known as the Order №1 (for which also voted members of his own party – the eSeRs) the Russian army in just a couple of months became demoralized and virtually uncontrollable. Fraternizing of Russian and German soldiers became commonplace, officer’s orders were often ignored. Hell – frontline soldiers often forbade the artillery to shell enemy’s trenches, because it would be not “nice” – or just because they didn’t want for the Germans to shell them back.
Everything was ready for a colossal military disaster to break out – and sure enough it did. Staying out of the war was out of the question with such a democratic and warmongering bourgeois government. Another time-honored Russian tactic – simulation of huge activity while doing exactly nothing – was also impossible since the imposition of the political officers – commissars – loyal to the Interim Government and tasked with pursuing governmental objectives in the military units. And our gallant “allies” themselves won’t allow such unseemly things to happen. They held the strings to the purse which kept the Interim Government floating and they demanded another Big Push. And them, our “allies”, were always glad (just like in the early 19th c.) to fight bravely “to the last Russian”.
The summer offensive of 1917 ended in complete disaster just 2 weeks after its beginning. After the Germans broke through the Russian frontlines on 6 July in the area of the town of Tarnopol (now – Ternipil of the Best Ukrajina) and the new, “Revolutionary Army”, which Kerensky had previously morally motivated during his lectures and political rallies held along the frontlines just in May, simply broke and began withdrawing in a complete disarray. The number of deserters (deserting with their army-issued rifles in hands and as much ammo as they could take) skyrocketed. But, hey – it didn’t matter at all! Russian “republican” government just yet again did its duty to the “grateful allies”, by managing to attract to their front another 16 German divisions! Tally ho!
After that the front-line was sooooo incredibly stable that on 20 August the Germans took Riga – which, if you look at the map, was in dangerous proximity to the capital – Petrograd. The frontline proved itself one again “stable” when on 1 October the Moonsund naval battle ended with the sinking of the battleship “Slava” and the destroyer “Grom” – and later that month Germans did capture Moonsund islands just off the Estonian coast. On October 20, a mere days before the October revolution, new Military Minister in Kerensky’s cabinet Alexander Verkhovsky said: “We can’t fight any more. The pull of the Army to the peace is undefeatable right now. Thus, the only thing we must do now – to sign a peace with Germany. This will allow us to save the country from a catastrophe”. But, as we know, “democrats” of the Interim Government were loyal to their allies – they stood bought. Even despite the fact that by now they’ve lost all respect of the people, they were continuing their chant – “War till Victory!”. Verkhovskiy resigned the following day in disgust.
Bolsheviks and rapidly disappearing Russia.
The Eastern front did indeed became “relatively stable” in 1917 only by the mid November, after the October Revolution and when the new government of the Bolsheviks reached out o the Germans and said out loud – let’s sign an armistice. This little thing happened after the “Decree on Peace” – which called all fighting countries to sign the universal peace without annexations and contributions.
And – again – let’s not leave aside some “hard” topics”. Let’s talk about Brest-Litovsk. When the peace talks began on 9 December 1917, the situation in the whole of the country looked grim. The Bolsheviks inherited this situation – not created it. There was no army – thanks to the Interim Government and men’shvik Soviets. The country couldn’t physically fight anymore. Were the German conditions hard? Yes! But about 80% of the territory that Germans claimed as their new “own” had not been controlled by the central government anyway – like Poland, Baltics or the Ukraine. Hard, harsh – but survivable terms.
Brest-Litovsk had been signed in 3 March 1918, and then – a Czechoslovakian revolt broke out. By May 1918 Bolsheviks lost control of the territory from Urals to the Far East. Now, without the territory behind the Urals, without anything western than Pskov, without Southern Caucasus and Finland, “Russia”, so to speak, shrank to its borders of, say, 16th century.
And then it became worse – the Volga region had been lost. Here, the “crème de la crème” of that era’s “handshakability”, true giants and titans of Russian liberalism (no irony here – they were a real thing, not like the so-called “Russian liberals” of today), former Constitutional Assembly deputies decided to create their own state within Russia, aka the Committee of Deputies of the Constitutional Assembly (КомУЧ) – thus shrinking Russian territory even more. The very existence of Russia as unified and functioning state became threatened.
There is one fundamental historical document that any self-respecting historian studying early XX c. Russia absolutely must read. I’m talking about a note, written by a former Minister of the Interior P.N. Durnovo in February 1914. Here, he predicted with amazing accuracy what would happen in the event of a Russian-German war. Durnovo also prophetically noted that no one of the existing political parties in Russia really represents its people and they won’t be capable to lead the people in the case of the imminent Revolution. He then named one true enemy, threatening the existence of Russia – not just the Russian Empire, but Russia as the independent state.
It was the Anarchy:
The complete and total collapse of all basic institutions of the state and society.
And in 1918 onwards such a threat was real. Due to the general ruin and destruction resulting from the war and revolutions some basic elements of everyday life were unraveling really fast. Some particular people like to badmouth (to put it mildly) Bolsheviks for the Prodrazverstka and the Military Communism system of requisitions. But do they have any idea what happened at that time in the former Russian Empire? The relationships between the city and the countryside collapsed completely. In the spirit of the free enterprise and the Invisible Hand of the Market ™ peasants (especially – kulaks) simply refused to sell the grain to the cities on “unfavorable conditions”. Which usually meant – starving city population while demanding outrageous sums of money. Can you imagine how damaging to the very structure of society was that?
Besides Reds and Whites, various foreign Intervents and local Nationalists, a constant feature throughout the Civil war, had become various gangs and warbands – not just Makhnovtsi, or the “Revolutionary Seamen” [see youtube video, above] hi-jacking entire trains and travelling across the country to establish their “Anarchic Order” – or even a short lived “army” of the uncrowned king of Odessan gangster Mishka the Jap. All sorts of gangs ruled the vast gaps existing in between the little authority that still remained, not interested in any particular ideology. It all actually began while the Interim Government pretended to be a something, with the hike in criminal rate (thoughtful liberals abolished the Police and Gendarmerie coupled with the wide amnesty… uhm, yay!) and peasants, angered at the constant delays in deciding the “Land Question” capturing the nobles’ land for themselves – and pomesh’iks fighting back.
It was a maddening scenario of the “War of All against All” finally brought to its unholy conclusion.
Alternatives to the Soviet Bolshevik Russia… or the lack of them.
It might come as shock to many anti-Sovietists, but the Bolsheviks and Lenin were the only real alternative to the constantly spreading anarchy and the annihilation of the state. And they did that – they saved their country after 4 years full of constant battles and very difficult political decisions. The Bolsheviks had a large base of supporters ready to carry out their orders and, when a time was really tight, to endure all hardships and put their trust into them.
“But what about numerous Bolsheviks enemies? Surely, they represented a viable alternative to them and their evil ways!” – claim anti-Sovietists. Usually they say things like that either due to lack of any concrete knowledge about the Russian Civil War and the forces participating in it, or due to their deep-rooted ideological indoctrination, preventing them from seeing clearly.
In 1918 by the most conservative estimates on the territory of the former Russian empire sprang at least 20 “governments” with the pretensions to be the One and Only True One. One of such governments was already mentioned “ComUCH” in Volga region. It was a liberal and democratic dream come true – a government of well-educated professionals, members of mainly liberal parties (plus men’sheviks and Right eSeRs, by that time virtually indistinguishable from them), who had a tint of legitimacy on them by often being a big-cities residents and/or formers of the short lived Uchredilovka.
ComUCH’s political program could be summed up as “For Everything Good and against Everything Bad”. Officially proclaimed were all basic democratic liberties. No persecution of the church and the faithful. 8-hour work day and permission to form trade unions. Finally – full recognition and respect to the private property and private enterprises. Naturally – no requisitions from the populace. A true ideological opposite to what was happening at the time under the godless Bolsheviks! In August, they managed to capture Kazan – and with it large supplies of arms, ammos, medicine, but, most important of all, the gold of Russian Empire. Surely, with such auspicious beginning, they could not lose!
But it all went crushing down. Nearly immediately. Because the capitalism and free entrepreneurship were allowed a full and unrestricted reign the prices for the grain in Volga region – one of the most fertile breadbaskets of Russian Empire – hiked 5 times. Just because rich landowners (kulaks and pomesh’ik) felt that they can demand that much. Or, oftentimes, noble lands were mortgaged to the bank – sometimes, foreign bank from one of Entente countries. Naturally, these lands could not be divided by the villagers, who already heard about Lenin’s “Decree on the Land” – but they did it anyway. And because the cites still needed food – as well as it needed ComUCH’s army – a wave of illegal requisitions swept the countryside. In some cases soldiers used artillery against villages, which refused to hand over their grain to them.
And what about the official “government”, those “aristocrats of the spirit”, people, who were head and shoulders above those, whom they ruled over? They were helpless and just looked impotently on the chaos, ruling over all around them. When their own military couped them after just 4 months of their brand of liberalism running wild, probably, everyone sighted with relief.
But what about the Whites, who generally replaced such “democratic” governments everywhere by the end of 1918? They didn’t have even a tint of their legitimacy – all of their authority came literally from a barrel of the rifle. Sure, at first they were seen as true bringers of order, a new force, that could bring a stability and act as the antithesis to both bumbling liberals and the bloody Bolsheviks. Their call for the “United and Undivided Russia” seemed to signify a desire to fight for the restoration of the country.
Instead, military juntas established by the Whites were even less stable than what came before them. The level of factionalism, lack of discipline, constant jockeying for power and warlordism were a constant and unredeemable feature of all of them. Yes, at first, when all of them were volunteers-only armies they proved themselves an effective and deadly fighting force – especially against non-existent (yet) Soviet military. On the peak of general Anton Denikin’s “career” as the “Commander of Russian Armies of the South” he controlled a gigantic territory – at least 42 millions citizens, access to the seas, all the grain from Kuban and Novorossiya, coal from Donbass and oil from Baku, plus the assistance and supplies from the Entente. The “Supreme Ruler of Russia” Admiral Kolchak held the enormous territory from the Ural mountains to Kamchatka, he held the golden reserves of Russian empire, he was propped by Czechoslovakian corps plus by American and Japanese intervention expeditionary units. In 1919 it seemed that the days of the Bolsheviks were numbered. That any moment now this or that White Army will march into Moscow unopposed.
But they also failed. Not only did they fail to defeat the newly created Red Army – they themselves became so corrupt and ineffective, that the large White Movement was all but dying in just one year of its “success”. Territories under their control become true realms of terror – with constant looting, pogroms, requisitions and everything that became known as the “White Terror”, which in its scale and brutality often surpassed the over-hyped Red Terror. Even kulaks dreaded the approach of the Whites. In their inflexibility, they were loath to even discuss the “Land question”, preferring instead to give back to nobles their lands and estates, often already “communized” by the peasantry. Such actions were answered with punitive expeditions and mass whippings – and executions – of the “revolting” peasantry. Yes, bankers, gentry and capitalists were supporting the White movement – but they were too big on demand and too little on actual support. Surely, they were not rushing to join White Army ranks.
And despite their declared support for a “United Russia” the Whites demonstrated time and again their moral flexibility in that question. Some of them like ataman Krasnov openly allied themselves with the Germans. A number of Cossacks still loyal to him and other pro-German commanders would later emigrate and then join ranks with Hitler, when he invaded the Soviet Union. Other White generals stood loyal (i.e. “bought”) to Entente. But this time they were offering more and more to them – concessions and monopolies on virtually everything that still remained useful and salvageable in a dying Russia: gold, from the imperial reserves, entire industries – everything to secure the aid and official recognition from the West. In 1920 the Whites fell so low, that they officially allied themselves with Pilsudski’s Poland. This even was not exactly popular among already factious White movement. A significant number of them openly defected to the Reds (while others defected to Poland). Even members of Romanovs dynasty now in emigration were incensed by this move. The Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich (who lost his brothers to the Red Terror) openly voiced his desire to see the Polacks beaten by the Red commander Budyonniy.
In the end the White movement degenerated into yet another bunch of warbands, spreading nothing but chaos, destruction and anarchy in their wake. It’s rather telling, who were some of the last White Commanders – Baron von Ungern, whose warband was more like an apocalyptic cult straight out of “Mad-Max: Beyond Thunderdome” style dystopian future, and Bułak-Bałachowicz, a serial traitor, who used the newly independent Baltic countries as a staging ground for his destructive raids deep into the Soviet territories, and who later launched from Polish territory an attempt to “liberate Belarus” , which became a 3 week-long orgy of murders, pogroms and boiling people alive.
Putin said in his original statement
that “Lenin placed a nuclear bomb under the foundation of Russia”. Wrong – but Lenin was responsible for the fact, that we got the atomic bomb later on, saving us from a very glum fate this early on, in an already heating up Cold War. It was Lenin and his Bolsheviks, thanks to whom we got an Academy of Physics and Chemistry of the USSR, which produced amongst its alumni such famous scientists as academicians Kharitonov, Ioffe, Kapitsa, etc. Go ahead and compare the number of higher education institutions in czarist Russia in 1914 to what the USSR had accomplished by 1940. The Bloody Bolsheviks, who loved nothing better than to pwn mercilessly some rotten ntyuligents (as we are told), these barbarians, who physically annihilated “the Elite of the Nation” (said with screeching falsetto, to show all the outrage) somehow managed unexplainable things! In 1914 there were 91 higher education centers – in 1940 there were 817. That’s 9 times more. And while in the Blessed Nicholaist Russia there were at that moment 114 000 students receiving higher education, in the godless country-wide gulag (as we are told… repeatedly) they numbered 811 700.
I’d like to end my take on Lenin’s role in Russia’s fate by quoting some people, whose opinion on him even the most hardcore anti-Sovietists can’t help but note – his enemies.
Nikolai Berdyaev (exiled by Lenin via “philosophers’ steamship”): “Lenin – a typical Russian man. Lenin was made from a single piece, he is solid … In 1918, when Russia was threatened by chaos and anarchy … he called for elementary things – for work, for discipline, for justice, for knowledge and learning, for the positive construction … He stopped the chaotic disintegration of Russia. In this he has similarities to Peter [the Great]” («Истоки и смысл русского коммунизма», Глава VI, 1938)..
Victor Chernov (eSeRs cheif ideologist, chairman of the Constituent Assembly and one of ComUCH leaders): “Lenin was a great man. Not only the greatest man in his party – he was its uncrowned king, and deserved that. He was its head, its mind, one might even say its heart, if he and the party did not accept the obligation to be heartless. Lenin had a powerful but cool intelligence. Intelligence that was ironic, sarcastic, cynical. For him there was nothing worse than sentimentality… For him, it was something frivolous – a hypocrisy, “the priest’s chatter.” Politics meant to him strategy and nothing else. The desire to win – the only commandment for him. The will to power and uncompromising implementation of the political program – that’s the only virtue. Doubt – the only crime” (“On the death of Lenin”, 1924).
Karl Kautsky (no comments): “You have to be crazy not to recognize the greatness of Lenin. To gather back into one single coherent state structure Russia – steeped in anarchy, beset on all sides by the counter-revolution, exhausted to the death – an achievement the likes of which can hardly be found in the history” (“On the death of Lenin”, 1924).