Thursday, June 10, 2010
Why the October Revolution Failed
Here is the long-promised post on the reasons why, in my opinion, the October Revolution (the one that resulted in the creation of the Soviet Union) failed.
One of the things that today's Marxists have been particularly hard pressed to explain away is the utter failure of the Communist revolution that transformed the Russian Empire into the Soviet Union. The easiest explanation always insisted that the conditions for the revolution in the predominantly agrarian Russian Empire simply weren't right. Since the capitalism in that country had not reached the needed level of internal contradictions, the revolution was not supported by the needed level of class consciousness among the paltry numbers of proletarians. Today we know that this explanation is, at best, very limited and misguided. We have seen that in countries where industrialization occurred early and ran its course successfully capitalism has evolved in a way that allowed to reconcile the most glaring of the system's inadequacies without any popular need for a massive uprising.
In my opinion, the October Revolution of 1917 was destined to degenerate into massive terror, genocide, and totalitarianism because of the very nature of the social experiment that its leaders attempted to conduct. Simply put, communism relies way too heavily on things that are contrary to human nature. Social animals that we might be, we are still not collective animals. I believe that the history of the country where I was born proved this point once and for all. And, by God, have we paid a huge price to demonstarte to the world one of the central weaknesses of the Marxist project.
What the example of the Soviet Union has shown to the planet is that people simply will not work for something defined as "the common good." At least, not for any significant period of time. I know that nobody want to hear this but the simple reality of the matter is that when there is no private ownership of businesses, when there is no difference in monetary compensation for the quality of your job performance, what happens is that people simply stop working. They just do. No amount of propaganda (and the Soviet propaganda was absolutely amazing) is going to change this simple reality. When people stop working, then the only way to make them go back to producing anything is terror. This is why Stalin's industrialization required millions of people toiling away in concentration camps. This is why after the breakup of the Soviet Union, working for a regular salary was considered shameful and unprestigious in the former-SU countries. Many people preferred to live in complete and utter poverty to accepting well-paid employment that was offered to them. Of course, actually looking for a job was considered so shameful that it made people massively deppressed.
When I discuss this issue, the main objection that I hear to my view of things is that the Soviet people were somehow not evolved enough and that's why they didn't manage to understand the supreme value of working for the benefit of their colelctive (whatever that collective might be) instead of just for their individual profit. I insist, however, that the absolute majority of people - myself included - are still not evolved enought for that, and in all probability will never be. Take, for example, my attitude to research. If I were told that from now on my publications will appear under the collective name of my department and the rewards for publishing a lot will be given to the entire department, I have to confess that I would start publishng a lot less. I love research, adore my colleagues, and feel very attached to my academic institution. Nevertheless, unless it's mine, I simply don't need it. I remember feeling like that since I was a little child. When I was given a toy and told that it would belong to both me and my sister, I would always say that I prefer it to be hers. I notice the same attitude in my students. When they have to create a group project, unless I specify (many, many times) that the project will be graded based on individual performance, the quality of the project becomes extremely poor. As human beings, we need to know with a lot of certainty where "I" end and "they" begin. This is why children who do not have enough personal space in their childhood develop all kinds of neuroses as adults.
I would love hearing what my readers think about this topic.