The Russian Revolution, 1917-1945

By Anthony D’Agostino | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
The Fate of the Revolution

How should we regard the regime of High Stalinism as displayed in the great terror? Was it a natural and inevitable outgrowth of the Russian revolution? If this regime was inherent in the nature of the revolution, why was such a vast terror required to attain it? Why did it have to devour such a large number of victims, with the most prominent leaders of the revolution and the civil war at the top of the list? These were not questions that could be discussed in the Soviet Union. Merely expressing any thought on this plane would have subjected you to attack by one of the “heroes of denunciation,” someone who might not understand your motives, or who might have it in for you because of some slight, or who might want your job or your wife or husband, or might need to settle some other score, or advance his own qualifications as a hunter of “wreckers” and “Trotskyites.”

Nor, curiously, was the question of the terror in the revolution one that much exercised the minds of contemporary observers in the West. They concentrated on matters closer to home: the persistence of the depression and the strife between left and right, the rise of the fascist powers who attacked Abyssinia, marched into the Rhineland, intervened in the Spanish civil war. In this perspective, Stalin’s Russia was a kind of beacon of hope, an alternative model to depression and unemployment, a planned economy that seemed to have solved the problem of growth, a nation that began to be seen as the only serious potential counter to fascist expansion. It almost passed without notice that it was also as grinding a tyranny as any in the world.

Leftists, socialists, pacifists, students of the history of the revolution, and other thinking people might be considered cranks for raising

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