Bettelheim on Revolution from Above: The USSR in the 1920s


  • Paul M. Sweezy





The great Russian Revolution of 1917 is known as the October Revolution because it was in the month of October (by the old Russian calendar) that the Bolsheviks seized power in Petrograd and, soon after, in other major cities. The designation of course is an oversimplification. What happened in the cities was only one aspect of the revolution; the other aspect, far larger in scale and sweep, took place in the countryside with the seizure of the large estates and their division into millions of small holdings. This was one of history's greatest agrarian uprisings up to that time, and it sealed the fate of the old order in the Tsarist empire. The Bolsheviks, quite literally, were not represented in the countryside: theirs was an urban workingclass movement. And yet they were able to hold onto power at the center and to organize and lead a victorious struggle against the forces of counter-revolution, domestic and foreign alike, which fought tooth-and-nail for four long and bitter years to restore the status quo ante. The explanation of this apparent paradox is simple. The peasants knew that defeat for the Bolsheviks would mean the return to power of their age-old exploiters and oppressors. Only by waging a common struggle against a common foe could the gains of 1917-1918 be defended and secured.





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