As you will notice in this post, very few of my posts have their own titles and there are more, shorter, posts. For this set of posts I was instructed to respond more to previous bloggers and threads.
In class I defined a “revolution” as a moment when authority as such seems to break down, and people start to challenge a wide range of ideas, institutions, political hierarchies, and social norms that had seems unassailable and self-evident beforehand. Use the assigned documents to discuss whether this was in fact happening in 1917 in Russia. Based on what you read in those sources, can you think of any other historical moments that seemed to generate a similar explosion? BaPorter
Posted November 13th
Many posters use the phrase ‘true revolution’ which I believe can be a misleading phrase. If the word ‘true’ is being used to verify Professor Porter Szucs’ definition of a revolution as truth then I have no qualms. If, however, it is being used to describe the sentiments of those revolting or the actions of the population as a whole then it is a loaded word. The reasons behind the revolution were hardly uniform and this can be seen from the fact that the spark of the revolution was discontentment over bread and the final outcome was the fall of the Tzarist regime and the start of ‘Socialist Rule.’ Another important fact is that the number of people that took part in the revolution is small compared to the national population of Russia. Although there was undoubtedly popular support for the revolution, as can be seen from the fact that many different parts of society were involved, ranging from factory workers to soldiers, it is necessary to remind ourselves that this revolution was not an uprising of 90% of the population. Perhaps 90% of the urban population but Russia was 80% peasantry. These people were removed from the urban movements for freedom and therefore were not directly involved. Also, not everyone in the city was engaged in the revolution. The best example of this is in the ‘Witnesses to the Russian Revolution’ document where at the end Gorky comments on a gardener who asks ‘what’s that [the revolution] got to do with me?’ (p256)
Despite the revolution having a dubious beginning and unknown motivators MariaCLiu makes the point that a revolution is not just a ‘single moment’ but is instead a ‘process of creating something new.’ I would, therefore, argue that although the October/November Revolution established the Bolsheviks as the main political power, the revolution was not a ‘true’ revolution until the agrarian population became involved – most notably through the rebellion against the Kulak class in 1928. It can also be argued that Lenin did not have the revolution as ‘true’ because it was not complete. In ‘State and Revolution’ Lenin states that “the first phase,” that of abolishing the “narrow horizons of the bourgeois right,” (p225) had been accomplished in November but “phase two” had not yet been accomplished. Lenin states that “we do not and cannot know” (p225) when this second phase or “Higher phase of communist society” (p224) might occur. When calling the Russian revolution ‘true,’ therefore, it is important to clarify what ‘true’ is describing and from which point of view we are basing our judgement.
Posted Saturday November 26th
‘There is no such thing as a revolution…You haven’t got a revolution that doesn’t involve bloodshed.’Although these words were spoken by Malcolm X in 1963 I felt that it was a very apt opening to this post about the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, encompassing two weeks worth of lectures. ‘The Russian Revolution…how did they bring it about? Bloodshed.’ Malcolm used the arguable ‘successes’ of the French and Russian revolutions as justification for the instigation of a violent black revolution in America in the 1960’s. The use of violence and terror in the revolution and afterwards in the Soviet Union is a contentious topic and it is important to avoid broad statements concerning the relationship between Marxism, Communism and violence. As mentioned in lecture Lenin ‘captured’ the revolution. He was neither the motivator nor the organiser, but he positioned himself best to harness its power and engage his own agenda. Some might say that Lenin died at an opportune moment for both himself and Stalin. Lenin’s rule could, arguably, have been turned out much like Stalin’s totalitarian regime but due to his early death he is remembered as the ‘father of Bolshevism.’ Suny claims that Lenin and Trotsky ‘worked hard to justify revolutionary violence’ and thereby condoned the use of terror to control a population. Lenin’s own writing, however, states that ‘a standing army and police are the chief instruments of state power,’ that ‘the need for violence against people in general…will vanish altogether’ and that society will exist ‘without violence and without subordination.’ It can be argued that this was Lenin’s idealistic, yet deluded, desires for a communist society and that his practices veered from these beliefs. Although that may be true it is difficult to prove that any ‘terror’ that existed under Lenin was part of a predetermined plan. Stalin, however, took Marx’s necessity of a violent revolution to a new extreme with the use of terror. Thomas West’s article quotes Marx and Engels as saying that ‘once we are at the helm, we shall be obliged to re-enact the year 1793,’ the year of the Jacobin ‘reign of terror.’ He claims that Lenin and Stalin ‘conform to the essential Marx’ and that Lenin was the ‘kindred spirit’ of Marx. West’s grand conclusion is that ‘despotism and wholesale violence… [is] because of the high ideals of Marx, Lenin and Stalin,’ and that is necessary to ‘call a spade a spade.’ This polarised interpretation is a dangerous stance to take when attempting to analyse the progression of Russian from revolution through the end of the USSR. West’s argument seems to suggest that from the start of Russian interpretation of Marx, a reign of terror where millions of people would die was inevitable. When condensed as such, most people are able to see that it is unreasonable to take such a stance without taking into consideration all of the changes in personnel, power and ideals that occurred. Stalin’s creation the cult of personality and the theory of the enemy enabled him to retain power. As mentioned by other bloggers, however, these policies cannot be viewed as direct consequences of the Marxist ideal of abolishing class struggle and decreasing capitalist practices.
Posted December 3rd
The previous blogger raises a point that I think it easy to overlook as historians. As people who have lived, for the majority, in times of peace and in countries where freedom of speech is a constitutional right it might be easy for us to ask a question along the lines of “why didn’t the German population do something?” Unfortunately this phenomenon is most easily described by the age old clichés of ‘it’s easy with hindsight’ or ‘hindsight has 20/20 vision.’ We might think that it would be the easiest actions morally and rationally to stand up to an oppressive regime considering that we have never had to do so. In fact, given people’s propensity for self-preservation, the rational thing to do was to remain passive. Whether the threat of death was real or not, based upon the arguable strength of the Gestapo, it was enough to make people worried about their welfare and the well-being of their families. When discussing regimes such as Stalin’s and Hitler’s, dystopic novels such as 1984 and Brave New World are brought up as an attempt to understand the overarching power of the government. Although the protagonists’ desire for self-perseveration decreases as the novel progresses, it must be remembered that this is a fictionalisation. These types of people certainly existed in both Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany but the majority of the population would have been following their natural instincts to survive. By arguing that the German people were acting out of basic human nature to survive I am not attempting to condone or justify their actions. I am hoping that we, as fellow human beings, might begin to empathise with the rational actions of millions, despite the horrific outcomes their passivity enabled.
Posted December 4th
To what extent the German population is directly culpable for the atrocities carried out by the Nazis is a challenging and somewhat provocative question. There have been many arguments over the years ranging from German ignorance to full German knowledge and a national conspiracy. Rather than getting involved with these arguments, an interesting view point to consider is the difference between the active and passive accessory to the Nazi atrocities by the German population. In a previous post I suggest that the ‘passive’ nature of the German population was due to the human instinct of self-preservation. Saldern raises another aspect of German passivity stating that the ‘barbaric system’ was only made possible through the ‘passive acquiescence of the overwhelming majority of the German people.’ This is in direct reference to the fact that the private sphere of Nazi Germany remained intact through the ‘strong integration’ and ‘toleration’ of the Nazi regime by women. (Crew p.150) This passive acceptance is, however, only one aspect of the arguable German culpability. The active involvement by many of the population in denunciations to the Gestapo meant that, as zbergs states, the German population ‘had become a police force amongst themselves,’ while kiurre states that ‘the willingness of ordinary Germans…facilitated’ the Gestapo in strengthening and securing the Nazi regime. Mallmann and Paul take a strong stance on the German population’s involvement in the regime claiming that it was the denunciations that ‘kept the machinery of terror going’ (Crew p. 173) and that it was a ‘matter of free will’ (Crew p.180) for the German citizens. Stating that is was free will might be easy with hindsight given the now known inefficiency of the Gestapo. As mentioned earlier, however, the desire for self-preservation, would overwhelm most people’s supposed ‘free will.’
Posted December 10th
As I’m sure everyone will agree, this week’s blog entry might be one of the hardest ones to write. This is in part due to the fact that finals are around the corner but more significantly due to the fact that this, in my mind, is the most disturbing topic of the entire course: mass murder.
MariaCLiu and Nick Clift (previous posters) both make interesting arguments about the potential reasoning behind the seemingly willing involvement of ‘ordinary’ Germans in the massacre of millions of Jews, more specifically 1,500 in the space of one day at Jozefow. I found this particular article difficult to stomach and even more difficult to make notes on however there are a few points that I managed to pick out. As other bloggers have mentioned, it is not entirely certain what personal justification each man had for his actions and Nick Clift directly quotes the fact that in post war interviews the role of anti-Semitism remained ‘virtually unexamined.’ Nick Clift mentions the men’s concern for ‘their career and reputation’ and interestingly Crew, in his abstract of the Browning article, states that the men were did not act through fear of punishment but were ‘motivated by relatively mundane considerations’ or by a ‘perverse male peer group pressure’ whereby opting out was ‘an act of cowardice.’ (301) We’ve all heard of, and been warned against, the dangers of peer pressure and it is chilling to think that something that supposedly confronts us everyday, especially at college, could be part of the reason being the ‘initiation to mass murder’ that the massacre of Jozefow was.
As mentioned above it was ‘male peer group pressure’ and after a very brief google search, about the involvement of women in the Milgram and Zimbardo Experiments, it does not seem that women were represented in significant proportions. Is this failing of human nature a specifically male aspect or is it merely due to the fact that it was mainly men who participated in physical murder? As previous week’s readings have shown, women had their own part to play in the massacres inflicted by the Nazi regime and it is difficult to judge whether it was on the same scale of importance as the role played by men.
At the start of this post I stated that this week’s topic is challenging. This is one of many historical topics where I am unsure of my own opinion but it is the most difficult to come to terms with. As historians should we use facts, figures and educated guesses to justify or condone horrific actions or do we say that the massacres committed by the Nazi regime were a unique concurrence of passivity, fear, active pursuit of ideology and an insane ruler? There will always be debate on this topic with a definite answer never being established and this is an important part of what history is. All that can truly be agreed on is what hanspm said in the conclusion of his post about the Wannsee Conference, that ‘human consciences will forever remember and adhere to the Holocaust slogan “Never Again.”’
 Message to the grassroots – Detroit, MI, November 10, 1963
 ibid p.215