Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Weberian Approach To Revolution

Sheila Fitzpatrick’s The Russian Revolution is a short primer on the first two decades of the Soviet Union’s existence. The book is relatively uncontroversial but her thesis is worth looking at. She argues that we shouldn’t be quick to assume that the Revolution actually ended in 1917. According to Fitzpatrick, we should ask ourselves what a revolution really is before we assumed that the Soviet Revolution ended so quickly. If a revolution involves massive societal upheaval, the Russian Revolution lasted a very long time, with a brief interlude in the N.E.P. (New Economic Policy) Period. The Civil War, First Five Year Plan, Collectivization, Cultural Revolution, and the Purges, all involved widespread societal transformation, for better or worse.

For Fitzpatrick, as for Crane Briton in Anatomy of Revolution, a revolution has a natural life cycle. Revolutions are born explosively but eventually, and inevitably, zeal fades and turns into a search for stability. The concept is redolent of Weber’s concept of charisma, where leaders such as Mohammad are energetic, original, and intensely creative. But after the death of charismatic leaders the movements they found—Islam included—eventually lose this creativity and slowly turn into bureaucratic parodies of the founder’s vision.

Portrait Of Max Weber

In the case of Soviet Russia, Fitzpatrick believes that the 1917 Revolution essentially outlived Lenin and only burned itself out at the onset of World War II. If this is true, then the Soviet Revolution is truly unique. No Revolution—save perhaps the Chinese—lasted as long. And this, surely, is the real wonder of the Russian Revolution: how did the generation that authored it have enough vitality not only to overthrow an unpopular czar and competing Leftist parties, but also to mobilize for a massive modernization project, especially in the midst of cultural and political chaos. One is tempted to lump World War II into the revolutionary mix, but Fitzpatrick thinks the war came right at the moment when the Revolution had finally exhausted itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment