Saturday, September 5, 2009

Russian Power in the 1920s

At the moment, I'm reading a lot of Bruce Lincoln's excellent books on modern Russian history. Three of these books focus on the Revolution, or the time immediately preceding it or following it. That is to say, I'm immersed in Russia's experience with World War I, the February and October revolutions, and the Civil War. I suppose one of the questions that these books provoke is how Russia could possibly have remained a great power in the 1920s and 1930s after having survived these devastating experiences.

Stalin Speaks

I suppose the same question could be asked of any of the main belligerents in World War I, since they all squandered so much property, so many lives, so much wealth. But Russia obviously suffered most, and suffered most by an order of magnitude. And this of course was well before the Revolution itself destroyed what was left of the economy, before Germany robbed Russia of some of its border states, and before the Civil War re-duced the standard of living even further.

Palace Of Industry

There was a time when contemporaries believed Communism was responsible for raising Russia out of this desolation, but even acknowledging that slave labor and iron discipline and targeted investment might well have rescued targeted sectors of the economy, it seems that Communism could only have further retarded Russia's efforts to re-claim its Great Power status in the 1920s.

Plan's Progress

Admittedly, there is a precedent here, insofar as Russia overcome the Napoleonic invasions and seemed, in most observable ways, stronger than ever despite the dislocation and destruction and death that the French brought. Even so, I find it hard to explain Russia's reemergence in the 1920s. One might even wonder a related question: how is it that Russia could lose a war to the still-emerging Japan in 1904-05 but then fight both Austria and Germany, with some notable successes, during World War I.

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