Reflections on the Revolution in Russia

1917 makes a strong case for being one of the most significant years in the twentieth century.  The First World War was raging across Europe, the US entered the war, and most importantly, Russia went through two revolutions that would change the political landscape of the world for most of the century.  Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik Party took power from the Czar with the goal of implementing Marxist socialism on the former monarchy.  The Russian people were scared, confused, and battered from years of war against Germany.  This semester, in addition to Political Science 101, I am taking History 318: Europe 1870-1945, and the motif of revolution is very present in Europe’s history in this timeframe.  A sweeping change from old, conservative monarchies eclipsed Europe, and many of the monarchies were subsequently replaced with communism, fascism, democracy, and more.  However, some stand by tradition and see that sometimes the new is no better than the old.

Vladimir Lenin, Leader of the Bolsheviks in Russia

Vladimir Lenin, Leader of the Bolsheviks in Russia

Many revolutions tend to cause confusion amongst the people as the government that they’ve known is replaced with the unfamiliar, and aside from the Russian example, we also see this through Edmund Burke’s work, Reflections on the Revolution in France.  This book is a conservative criticism of the French Revolution of 1789.  Burke calls the people of France to “see what is got by those extravagant and presumptuous speculations which have taught your leaders to despise their predecessors” and points out that “all men have equal rights; but not [rights] to equal things”.  By combining the conservative support of the French monarch ousted in the revolution with some liberal values, Burke is able to make the strong, practical argument that although life under the monarchy wasn’t ideal, it may still have been better than life in a country torn by revolution and weak leadership.

This same argument is easily applied to life in Russia post-revolution.  In between the two revolutions, Lenin led troops who had defected from the army through St. Petersburg and took control through a coup.  This obviously caused unrest, and on a broader scope led to the centralized control of the new Soviet Union which according to Prof. Brian Porter Szucs (Prof. of History 318) here at Michigan, increased Russia’s output greatly but decreased wages considerably for Russia’s workers.  Like any policy change we have today, there were winners and losers as a result of the Russian Revolution just like in France after the revolution.  Burke would have likely had the same view on the Russian Revolution as he did on the French one, and perhaps more so in that the change in Russia was so large and unlike anything the world had ever seen.

Portrait of Edmund Burke

Portrait of Edmund Burke

The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the French Revolution of 1789 are easily compared in that they were the perhaps the most significant revolutions of their time.  They each had benefits and detriments for different actors, but that is always the case with revolutions.  However, as Burke points out, sometimes life under the predictable norm can be better than the new unstable leadership.  This is further seen in modern incidents such as the Arab Spring, as Egypt went through multiple revolutions in a short span.  From these examples and Burke’s writing, there is the prevailing moral that comes from the status quo.  If nothing is done, than the status quo (whether good or bad) will not change.

Jonathan Hyman – Section 8

Post 4 – Course Connections


One thought on “Reflections on the Revolution in Russia

  1. As someone who typically finds revolutions and civil wars resulting in massive structural change good things, this post was an interesting read. It’s always important to remember that the result of most revolutions were long, painful periods of disorganization, further revolutions and general chaos. The French and Russian revolutions are huge examples of that- after the initial revolutions both governments experienced continued that caused a lot of problems for a lot of people. Your contemporary example of the Arab Spring also points this out. I initially wholly disagreed with Burke, but now I see the reason in following the ‘predictable norm’ and the fault in experimental reasoning.


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