Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ethics of Revoluntionaries

It seems as if one of the biggest historical problems with the Revolution of 1917 is whether or not the revolutionaries--the original ones--were ethical people or not. This may be an unanswerable question, but it's hugely important if one is to apply the lessons of 1917 to the present day.

Paul Axelrod

Was the Revolution an ethical project or not? It's hard to know how to begin approaching this question. Of course, historians can probably now at last agree that the actual effects of the Revolution were negative. The Purges and Stalin's abuses and the Gulag Archipelago and Hungary and Prague cast grave doubt on the legacy of the Revolution. And the negative consequences of the Revolution were no longer even debatable after the final and complete collapse of European Communism.

But obviously most of the revolutionaries could not have known what would follow their attempt to dismantle the Old Regime. And the Old Regime--especially as depicted in Bruce Lincoln's books--was the embodiment of darkness at the time. The legacy of serfdom, the corrupt cabal of people who surrounded the incompetent royal family, the antisemitism, the nationalism that led to participation in World War I--all of it had to go.

One way of getting a grip on the question of ethics is comparing Lenin or Trotsky to Churchill. Who, at the time, would have seemed more or less ethical? The men who stood for Land, Bread, and Peace--despite their undemocratic leanings--or the man who systematically supported colonialism and militarism and capitalism over a long period of time?

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