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Soviet Politics 1917-1991

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Mary McAuley

`It would be hard for students new to the study of modern Russian politics and history to find a more useful starting-point for approaching Soviet communism.' Political Studies    `A clear exposition of 74 years of Soviet power, as … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: Mary McAuley
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
1 review about Soviet Politics 1917-1991

A political history of three revolutions

  • Dec 19, 2003
Rating:
+3
Given that at least three revolutions have taken place in the Soviet Union during the time frame of this book, 123 pages does not seem enough to adequately cover them. The first was of course in 1917, toppling the monarchy and bringing the Bolsheviks to power, the second was in the 1930's and was twofold. An internal struggle took place within the party, where all Bolsheviks who had at some point stood in opposition to Stalin were liquidated. The second component of this revolution was the rapid industrialization of the country. Done by literally starving millions of peasants to death, the best estimates are now that over 20 million people perished in the struggle. The final one was the most amazing, where the Soviet Union and its' external empire fell apart, literally overnight and almost without bloodshed. All three of these revolutions are examined, with conclusions that many will disagree with.
There is little to dispute about how the Bolsheviks were able to take power in 1917. As a consequence of Russian involvement in World War I, the country was prostrate, starving and still illiterate. The Bolsheviks were the only group with a simple agenda and the determination to carry it out. While they were essentially a splinter party, so were all the others, so they were able to dominate in a situation where it should not have been possible. Their simple agenda of "peace, land and bread" is the epitome of a simple political slogan that all could understand. As the author points out very well, while the Bolsheviks had the most intellectual leadership, they were by far the most adaptable, which is how they were able to emerge victorious.
Even after he has been dead for a half-century, it is still difficult to analyze the rule of Joseph Stalin. To many, he was a paranoid madman, and yet it is sheer folly to consider him to be only that. He was a masterful, ruthless politician, a man who understood the simple political dictum of divide and conquer as well as anyone ever has. McAuley will be accused by many as an apologist for Stalin in her treatment of his actions, but she is quite correct in pointing out at least the possibility that he may not have had a choice in some of the things he did. Her examination of Stalin is honest, in that the brutality and murders are acknowledged, but the basic question of whether there was any other way that the country could be rapidly industrialized is at least asked. We in the west tend to forget that industrialization in Western Europe and the United States took several centuries and large numbers of people perished. The civil war fought in the United States was largely based on the conflicts between an industrial north and an agrarian, feudal society.
The weakest part of the book is the last revolution, where the Communist party and Soviet Union ceased to exist. Written in 1992, there was not yet sufficient distance between the events and the book to allow for the proper perspective. Nevertheless, there are some fundamentally accurate themes put forward. Distilled down, the Soviet Union had for years been in economic and political stagnation, with few new ideas being put forward in either area. While change was necessary and inevitable, without the threat of significant force being applied to maintain it, the Soviet Empire could no longer stay together. As was the case in 1917, when a country suddenly goes from having only one political party to many, the body politic tends to splinter into a large number of groups, where the party members generally show very little loyalty. Once again, a determined individual, in this case Boris Yeltsin, was able to overcome significant odds and rise to power. McAuley explains all of this well, describing the rapid demise of the Communist party by pointing out that it was due to a very slow rot, and collapsed under its' own weight.
The rapid rise, brutal history and equally rapid decline of the Soviet Union is one of the most intriguing stories of the twentieth century. Being part of human history, it has internal political components, which are often ignored by western historians. McAuley adds a significant piece to the historical record, raising some questions that should be considered by anyone trying to make sense of how it all happened.

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