The Last Years of the Soviet Empire: Snapshots from 1985-1991

By Vladimir Shlapentokh; Neil F. O'Donnell | Go to book overview

GORBACHEV'S GLOBALISM: THE WORLD
REVOLUTION IN REVERSE FEBRUARY 1989

This snapshot brings together three ideas seen in earlier snapshots: the Soviet
Union's technological retardation, the Soviet people's desire to catch up to
the West, and Gorbachev's calculated exploitation of these two issues. Un-
fortunately for Gorbachev, however, simply identifying a current problem
and setting a goal for the future were not enough to bring about real change,
only real frustration.

As strange as it may seem, with his "new thinking," his strong determination to establish cordial relations with the United States of America, and with the opening of Soviet society to the West, Gorbachev is actually reviving ideas, in their newest and most improved form, that were dear to Lenin and Trotsky when they cherished their dream of a worldwide socialist revolution.

The devotion of Lenin and Trotsky to the notion of worldwide revolution is frequently associated with their determination to make the world a better place via the establishment of a global communist society. Such an interpretation of the Bolshevik's dedication to world revolution, however, is a blatant simplification. In fact, Lenin and his colleagues sought revolution in other countries, primarily in Western Europe and North America for other, more self-serving, reasons.

It is well known that the Russian Social Democrats, the so-called mensheviks, strongly opposed the October Revolution, arguing that in an underdeveloped country such as Russia, revolution could only lead to a new despotism. Lenin rejected the defeatism of the mensheviks and promised that, following a victory in the October Revolution, Russian proletarians would be succeeded by workers in all of the world's developed countries. Lenin argued that, with the help of the world proletariat, Russian Bolsheviks would then be able to transform their technologically backward society into a highly industrialized socialist society able to catch up with and eventually surpass the West.

It was painful for Lenin, and indeed for all Russian Communists, to realize that their vision of support from the workers of Europe and America had failed. It was in this atmosphere of despondency and confusion that Stalin came into power after Lenin's death, advancing a theory regarding the creation of socialism in one single country.

This theory, with its emphasis on "the capitalist encirclement," ultimately justified almost all of Stalin's policies. By the end of his rule, Stalin asserted

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