I Wanna Be Literated #188

I Wanna Be Literated #188

Thursday, 26 July 2018

October Song
by Paul Le Blanc

(Haymarket Books)

I’ve read a lot of books on the Soviet Union and the Bolshevik victory, good and bad, and it’s about time a book like this came along. October Song is essentially a detailed account of how the events after the October revolution led to the totalitarian and authoritative state of the Stalinist era. Be forewarned: this book feels longer than it is because of the dense subject matter, so it’s not for people who are easily distracted. Spoiler alert: I am easily distracted. So, several times I had to go back a couple pages and reread what I had missed because LeBlanc is constantly building his case for what led events to transpire the way they did.

LeBlanc lets the reader know from the very beginning that his leanings are rather Bolshevik friendly, so we can expect him to cut Lenin and Trotsky some slack for their brutal actions. But, his main argument is this: the Soviet experiment failed because it got off to bad start which laid the foundation for the shit show it turned into. And how did it get off to a bad start? Because as soon as they came to power, the Bolsheviks were presented with isolation from other countries, a crippling civil war, and a lack of revolution from other developed countries (i.e. Germany, though with the revolutionary spirit notorious in France one wonders why they didn’t focus on that country more. The answer: Marx predicted Germany and the Bolsheviks were too orthodox to think any different). And being strict Marxists, they couldn’t possibly fathom non-Marxist solutions to their problems and this led to a lack of ingenuity on their part.

The Bolsheviks have been criticized for many of their actions which I have been curious to hear more about. Like the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly so soon after their victory (LeBlanc argues that the makeup of the constituent assembly no longer represented the party membership in the Soviet union), the importance of the Revolutionary vanguard (which, as I understand it, is a political party able to move the masses towards a certain political goal, which the non-Bolshevik/LSR elements were incapable of, and even Martov found the revolution repulsive), and the argument that the red terror was much less severe than the white terror they were fighting. Also discussed were the peasants who were skeptical of the Bolsheviks and had to be goaded with capitalism to play along with the system (i.e. the NEP) and the unfortunate lack of modernization of farming in the country which just led to more trouble. Also the idea of the Kulak and their taking the blame for everything that was going wrong with the economy, which the Bolsheviks admitted was a mistake. So the conclusion is that the circumstances at hand caused the Bolsheviks to retreat from their original plan because they couldn’t use Marxism just as a building-off point for their society and stubbornly stuck to what Marx had to say on everything.

LeBlanc’s book was much more enjoyable than I had anticipated (thanks to the pacing, and the fact that I’m just a sucker for the Russian Revolution) and answered many lingering questions I had about the tragedy of the Bolshevik experience. It’s an important piece in the puzzle piece of the October Revolution.

Get it here.

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