March 01, 2012

The Outcasts Join Forces



The Outcasts Join Forces
The Germans and Russians negotiate at Rapallo. From left: Unknown man, German Chancellor Joseph Wirth, Soviet Commissar of Foreign Trade Leonid Krasin, Commissar of Foreign Affairs Georgy Chicherin, Soviet diplomat Adolf Joffe.

The bolsheviks were not simply out to overthrow the Russian tsar. Their ultimate goal was world revolution. This goal was driven not only by a desire to do the world the favor of giving it the perfect political system, but also by Marxist theory, which saw the working class as the main force for revolution. Once the tsar and the bourgeois government had been defeated, the “dictatorship of the proletariat” would need to establish its rule. There was one problem, however. In Russia in 1917, the proletariat constituted an insignificant percentage of the population.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Russian industry was developing at a rapid pace, but not everywhere. Cities like St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Warsaw (which was part of the Russian Empire until 1918) had a huge number of factories, but there were whole provinces where heavy industry was a foreign concept. Furthermore, Russian workers were not the sort of force that Marx envisioned. They did their jobs like any worker, but all their dreams, goals, and hopes were tied to their native villages, where, in most cases, their wives and children were waiting for them. In the summer, such workers would often leave the city and head home to help their families bring in the harvest. The children of these worker-peasant hybrids also often left for jobs in the city, but continued to maintain ties with their villages. Thus, not only were there very few workers in Russia, but most of them had peasant mindsets. And peasants, from the point of view of Marxist theory, were just members of the petit bourgeoisie and hardly a force for revolution.

Why this digression into Marxist theory? In order to appreciate the decision-making and actions of the young Soviet regime, it is important to bear in mind the theories that guided them, or at least were supposed to guide them.


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