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The Rise and Fall of Communism in Russia

The Rise and Fall of Communism in Russia

Robert V. Daniels
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 494
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  • Book Info
    The Rise and Fall of Communism in Russia
    Book Description:

    Distinguished historian of the Soviet period Robert V. Daniels offers a penetrating survey of the evolution of the Soviet system and its ideology. In a tightly woven series of analyses written during his career-long inquiry into the Soviet Union, Daniels explores the Soviet experience from Karl Marx to Boris Yeltsin and shows how key ideological notions were altered as Soviet history unfolded.The book exposes a long history of American misunderstanding of the Soviet Union, leading up to the "grand surprise" of its collapse in 1991. Daniels's perspective is always original, and his assessments, some worked out years ago, are strikingly prescient in the light of post-1991 archival revelations. Soviet Communism evolved and decayed over the decades, Daniels argues, through a prolonged revolutionary process, combined with the challenges of modernization and the personal struggles between ideologues and power-grabbers.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13493-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Revolution, Modernization, Socialism—Baselines of Modern Russian History
    (pp. 1-14)

    Since 1991, historians have been monumentally challenged to explain the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communist rule in Russia. But a deeper problem, less often addressed, is the real nature of the Soviet system that was finally swept away. Understanding the convulsions of the recent past in Russia is impossible without an answer to this question, which in turn demands reconsideration of a century of tumultuous history.

    The astonishing events of 1991 implanted an almost universal stereotype about the fallen regime. It is considered, in Russia as well as abroad, to have been a seventy-four-year experiment that failed, or...

  5. PART I. Marxism and Leninism

    • CHAPTER 1 Marx and the Movement of History
      (pp. 17-33)

      Marxism was one of the most remarkable systems of social thought to emerge in the nineteenth century, not least because it incorporated the most outstanding historical and philosophical premises of its day. It was an attempt to analyze and explain the whole of history—or the whole of Western history—scientifically. It incorporated the new economic and technological interests of the century, emphasizing the conditions of ordinary life. It was optimistically evolutionary, a cyclical variant of the faith in progress, complete with an eighteenth-century heaven-on-earth at the end of the line. Finally, it was an attempt to use the scientific...

    • CHAPTER 2 Fate and Will in the Marxian Vision
      (pp. 34-41)

      Marxism is shot through with dualism, notwithstanding the assertions of both its exponents and its critics that it is a “monistic” philosophy. To begin with, there is the dichotomy of theory and practice, of scientific (or pseudo-scientific) analysis and revolutionary action. Until well after the Russian Revolution, Marxists everywhere were convinced that they had scientific proof of the objective inevitability of the proletarian revolution, while at the same time they worked with energy and dedication in their Marxist parties to bring this event about. The logical contradiction between a determinist philosophy of history and the vigorous conduct of political action...

    • CHAPTER 3 Lenin as a Russian Revolutionary
      (pp. 42-51)

      To what extent did Lenin, the Bolshevik movement, and the Soviet regime embody the philosophy of Marxism? Or to what degree were they instead products of Russian history? It can be argued that Lenin radically transformed his Marxian heritage, both in substance and spirit, in the direction of the ideas espoused by the Russian revolutionaries who preceded him. Notwithstanding the Bolsheviks’ Marxist language, the Russian Revolution was shaped by Russian beliefs, and it yielded an intrinsically Russian result—all deceptions of terminology to the contrary. It was not Marx’s revolution, but Lenin’s.

      Lenin was of course a Marxist—a fervent...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Bolsheviks and the Intelligentsia
      (pp. 52-58)

      There is a well-established historical consensus on the nature of the Russian intelligentsia and the distinctive part it played in bringing on the revolution. Typically, the nineteenth-century Russian intellectual was detached from practical affairs, committed to some sort of abstract doctrine, and morally alienated by the autocracy and class privilege. This reaction reflected the cultural precociousness of Russia’s Westernized upper class, contrasting with the frustrating backwardness of the government and the economy. Educated and sensitive Russians had nowhere to turn except to theory.

      The cultural cleavage between this theorizing elite and the toiling masses left enduring traces—for example, in...

    • CHAPTER 5 Lenin’s Vision: The State and Revolution
      (pp. 59-68)

      In virtually all quarters, Lenin’sState and Revolutionis accepted as the core of his doctrine of revolution and the proletarian dictatorship. It was even used as evidence in the 1948 trial of the leaders of the American Communist Party for conspiring to overthrow the government. And to Soviet commentators no less than to their most bitter adversaries,State and Revolutionset up the premises from which Soviet reality was considered to be the logical conclusion.

      Yet in fact,State and Revolutionis a work conforming neither to Lenin’s previous thought nor to his subsequent practice. It stands as a...

  6. PART II. The Bolshevik Revolution

    • CHAPTER 6 Russia and Revolution
      (pp. 71-82)

      Revolutionaries are often denounced for believing that the end justifies their violent means. But great revolutions are not usually begun deliberately. “A revolution can be neither made nor stopped,” remarked Napoleon in his St. Helena exile.¹ Revolutions stem from complex causal patterns of situational proclivities and triggering mechanisms, a confluence of ultimate and immediate causes. Intentional action by revolutionaries does not usually succeed at all, but only leads to abortive coups and futile acts of terrorism. In the rare instances where a major revolution is actually initiated by a deliberate coup (for instance, in China in 1911), the revolution may...

    • CHAPTER 7 Revolution from the Inside: Trotsky’s Conception of the Process
      (pp. 83-92)

      Leon Trotsky was unique among revolutionaries in articulating a broad theory of the nature of revolution, pari passu with his own political career. Much of what he had to say, especially after the Soviet regime was established, was polemical or self-justifying. Nevertheless, he was making a serious effort to understand the events in which he was involved and by which he was ultimately destroyed. Coming to terms with the peculiarities of revolution in Russia, Trotsky transcended the limitations of his Marxist faith and step-by-step approached the conception of revolution as a long but interconnected process of political and social struggle....

    • CHAPTER 8 The Bolshevik Gamble
      (pp. 93-104)

      The Bolsheviks’ accession to power in Russia was neither entirely deliberate nor strictly speaking a seizure. It was a step-by-step ascent in the partial political vacuum that was revolutionary Russia. The so-called insurrection of 25 October/7 November was really just an incident in this process, and it transpired under circumstances of very confused intention.

      Like the other great revolutions of history in their early phases, the Russian Revolution that began with the fall of the tsar in February 1917 led to a nearly complete breakdown in national authority. As the political scientist C.W. Cassinelli observed, the normal exercise of political...

    • CHAPTER 9 Left Communism in the Revolutionary Era
      (pp. 105-116)

      It is not often appreciated that in the early revolutionary years Communist doctrines, ideals, and oratory were honestly and intensely believed by many in the movement. Revolution, of course, devours its children, and none were consumed more completely than the people most devoted to the revolution’s original aims. Memory of these true believers is dim, but a backward glance at their efforts and aspirations helps to put the subsequent evolution of Soviet Communism in a more accurate perspective.

      “Left Communism,” to extend generically the factional label used in 1918, was a more or less continuous tendency throughout the formative years...

    • CHAPTER 10 Russian Revolutionary Extremism
      (pp. 117-126)

      Every great revolution has ended in some sort of dictatorship. Why, though, should the revolutionary process develop in this manner, and how may the features of the earlier stages of a revolution contribute to the dictatorial outcome? In the Russian case, this problem is central in understanding the connection between 1917 and 1928, why the thermidorean NEP failed, and how the character of the Russian Revolution paved the way for Stalinism.

      Once a revolution has undergone an extremist phase, it is difficult to avoid some form of postrevolutionary dictatorship. The experience of extremist dictatorship and terror becomes part of a...

    • CHAPTER 11 The Militarization of Socialism in Russia
      (pp. 127-139)

      Was the Soviet Union “socialist,” as the revolution shaped it? And if so, was socialism exclusively defined by its Soviet form? The great French sociologist Emile Durkheim had a broader conception: “We denote as socialism every doctrine which demands the connection of all economic functions, or of certain among them, . . . to the directing and conscious centers of society.”¹ It is thus more fruitful to ask what type and degree of socialism developed in the course of the Soviet experience and what philosophical background and historical circumstances might be invoked to explain its form.

      If indeed the Soviet...

    • CHAPTER 12 Bureaucratic Advance and Social Lag in the Revolution
      (pp. 140-154)

      Thanks to the peculiar nature of the Russian Revolution, Russia leaped ahead of the capitalist world toward bureaucratic forms in its political and economic institutions, while society at large lagged behind the capitalists or even regressed. Neither anomaly can be accounted for in the usual theoretical perspectives. Soviet society cannot be classified either with the First World of industrial capitalism or with the Third World trying to rise out of precapitalist, traditional ways; it was distinctly the Second World, overdeveloped in some ways and crudely underdeveloped in others. This contradiction has left an intractable legacy for post-Communist reformers, whose task...

  7. PART III. The Left Opposition between Lenin and Stalin

    • CHAPTER 13 Socialist Alternatives in the Crisis of 1921
      (pp. 157-166)

      Socialism, broadly considered, was the heart of the revolutions of 1917. It was a faith or a goal all across the center and left of the 1917 political spectrum. But this socialism was more a spirit than a structure. Russian revolutionaries of whatever party affiliation embraced socialism not as a projected set of institutions but rather as a utopian antithesis to present reality, as an ideal way of life toward which their society could be led or pushed.

      Marxism did not help to clarify the meaning of socialism. Subscribing to the doctrine of the natural march of events from capitalism...

    • CHAPTER 14 The Left Opposition and the Evolution of the Communist Regime
      (pp. 167-179)

      The hallmark event of the mid-1920s in the Soviet Union was the running controversy between the leadership of the Communist Party and the movements of protest collectively known as the Left Opposition—the “struggle for power,” as the standard accounts label it. These opposition movements during the era of the NEP reflected step-by-step Stalin’s rise to power, and they are a key to understanding the evolution of Stalinist Communism together with the issues that still arise in discussions about the history of the Soviet system. With the destruction of the Left Opposition, basic alternatives were closed, and the peculiar Stalinist...

    • CHAPTER 15 Trotsky on Democracy and Bureaucracy
      (pp. 180-188)

      Trotsky was a man of baffling paradoxes—staunch prerevolutionary enemy of Leninism, its most ardent champion in the revolution and in the civil war, ultimately the devil figure in the political theology of the postrevolutionary regime. Yet to many minds, he has appeared only as the revolutionary master of ceremonies, the civil war commander, the firebrand of international revolution, the Stalinist before Stalin, perhaps deserving of his fate. These images miss a major part of the real Trotsky, as much as, say, impressions of Lenin or Bukharin based only on their records during the War Communism era would neglect how...

    • CHAPTER 16 The Left Opposition as an Alternative to Stalinism
      (pp. 189-196)

      Western historians, like Soviet writers during the first years of glasnost, have often looked on Trotsky and Trotskyism not as an alternative to Stalinism but as its forerunner. In that view, Stalin won in a purely personal struggle for the leadership role. This interpretation overlooks the distinctive sources and premises of the Left Opposition, as compared with both the Leninist and Stalinist leadership of the Communist Party, and neglects the development of this movement during the first decade after the revolution.

      Between 1923 and 1927, the Left Opposition strove to alter the direction of national policy, which it thought ruinous...

  8. PART IV. Stalinism

    • CHAPTER 17 Foundations of Stalinism
      (pp. 199-209)

      The word “Stalinism” was not used under Stalin, though “Stalinist” (stalinskii) appeared frequently in connection with his proclaimed triumphs. He always insisted, as did his successors, that the system he built was the realization of the socialist society predicted by Marx and Engels. This assertion went uncontested not only by the Stalinist Left but by most commentators on the right, who gladly cited the horrors of Stalinism as proof of the perniciousness of Marxist doctrine or even of socialism in general.

      Rejection of Stalinism by the Left outside of Russia was long impeded by ideological commitment to Marxism. As long...

    • CHAPTER 18 Stalinism as Postrevolutionary Dictatorship
      (pp. 210-220)

      As François Furet observed about the French Revolution, the revolutionary experience is replete with ironies and surprises—“a very great event that took a bad turn.”¹ Nothing really happens according to the intentions of the people who thought they were leading the process at each stage, and even less according to their announced self-justification. As Hegel said, we make history blindly and realize the meaning of our actions only when it is too late to alter the consequences. This is true even for Marxists, who thought they were implementing the scientific laws of history.

      Postrevolutionary dictatorship has been recognized by...

    • CHAPTER 19 From Distributive Socialism to Production Socialism
      (pp. 221-226)

      What distinguished Marxian socialism from all other forms was a theory of how socialism was to come about: as the natural consequence of the historical laws of class struggle and revolution that Marx thought he had discovered. As to the specific characteristics of the future socialism, Marx was always advisedly vague; he added little to the hopes and plans of the Utopian Socialists of the generation preceding him. Marx’s socialism was utopianism with a difference: The earlier ideal of a stateless collectivism with complete distributive justice was reinforced with a sophisticated theory of social and economic development. Marx was the...

    • CHAPTER 20 Stalin’s Cultural Counterrevolution
      (pp. 227-243)

      The Russian enigma was largely a product of the preconceptions into which the outside world customarily forced the observed facts of Soviet life. Not the least serious among such a priori distortions was the assumption that the affairs of the Soviet government were guided by a fixed system of ideology. Both the fixity and the guidance are in fact highly questionable.

      Nowhere was change as sharp in Soviet Russia as in the field of ideological pronouncements and intellectual work. Changes of this order in the various fields of mental activity have all been noted abroad, but usually such awareness has...

    • CHAPTER 21 Stalinism and Russian Political Culture
      (pp. 244-253)

      In the 1970s “political culture” emerged as one of the most widely invoked concepts in the interpretation of Soviet affairs. Acknowledging how depths of the past pull on the surface of the present, the notion makes a salutary contribution to balanced understanding of the character of the Soviet system and its behavior.

      But generalities about Russian tradition and national character are not enough to demonstrate how the cultural legacy of the remote past may continue to affect the politics of the present. One of the best efforts yet to identify concretely the substance of Russian political culture, as well as...

    • CHAPTER 22 Stalinist Ideology as False Consciousness
      (pp. 254-265)

      Belief in Marxism as the inspiration and plan that guided the development of Soviet-style socialism ever since the revolution of 1917: This is the central myth of Stalinism. With the abandonment of old orthodoxies in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, Marxism was accordingly adjudged a failure, by many Russian intellectuals as well as by outsiders.

      This conclusion suffers from the fallacy in its major premise. It was not Marxism that failed under Brezhnev, since Marxism had not really guided the Soviet Union for more than half a century before. It was not Gorbachev but Stalin...

    • CHAPTER 23 Was Stalin Really a Communist?
      (pp. 266-272)

      In the light of his record, was Stalin really a Communist? The question may seem absurd. Was the Grand Inquisitor really a Christian? This is not just semantic hairsplitting over the degree of difference that may have distinguished Stalin from the progenitors of the Bolshevik movement. It is the question whether the evil of Stalin and Stalinism flowed inexorably out of the essence of that movement, or whether it was injected by a megalomanic personality who, abetted by intractable circumstances, usurped the movement and turned it in an essentially different direction, albeit still dressed out in its original language.


  9. PART V. Reform versus Bureaucracy, from Khrushchev to Brezhnev

    • CHAPTER 24 Khrushchev and the Party Apparatus
      (pp. 275-283)

      In the power vacuum created by Stalin’s death, there was a certain parallel with the succession to Lenin. As with Lenin, much of Stalin’s authority passed away with him—the authority of the man who relentlessly piloted the Soviet state through the “second revolution” of collectivization and intensive industrialization and on to the relative stability of the totalitarian order, the authority of the man who liquidated every other political leader not fully dependent on him, the authority of the man who was increasingly glorified over two decades as a new prophet of the Marxist faith and the greatest intellect in...

    • CHAPTER 25 Khrushchev and the Intelligentsia
      (pp. 284-294)

      Up to the 1980s, experience, institutions, and culture all conspired to lock the political life of the Soviet Union in a vise of postrevolutionary despotism. Yet major developments had transpired in Soviet society that by fits and starts activated contrary elements of the Russian tradition. These forces were embodied above all in the Russian intelligentsia, the representatives, if you will, of Edward Keenan’s turn-of-the-century Westernizing “aberration.”¹

      In Russia, prerevolutionary and postrevolutionary alike, the intelligentsia was the key to reform. It was the principal constituency for reform under Khrushchev, though neither the leader nor the class had the staying power to...

    • CHAPTER 26 The Fall of Khrushchev and the Advent of Participatory Bureaucracy
      (pp. 295-306)

      The study of Soviet politics was always beset by peculiar problems. It was the study of a system based on a commitment to a dogmatic ideology that manipulated this ideology to conceal rather than advertise its fundamental political realities. Soviet practice was at variance with Soviet theory almost since the revolution itself—notably the ultrademocratic classless ideal versus the totalitarian bureaucratic actuality. Official Soviet statements and studies were no direct reflection of Soviet reality. Therefore, Soviet politics had to be studied indirectly, by inference and conjecture from the contrived statements and bits of information that reached the outside student. This...

    • CHAPTER 27 The Central Committee as a Bureaucratic Elite
      (pp. 307-316)

      In the 1960s and 1970s, a multitude of works reflecting the encroachments of the behavioral revolution on the precincts of Kremlinology addressed themselves to the analysis of the Central Committee of the CPSU as an institutionally defined elite.¹ In good behavioral style and with much statistical sophistication, these works explored the educational and career backgrounds of Central Committee members and probed the channels for “recruitment” or “co-optation” into that body.² They weighted the “representation” of functional entities such as the party apparatus, government bureaucracy, military, intelligentsia, and such, as well as various geographical regions and social groups, in the makeup...

  10. PART VI. Gorbachev and the End of the Communist System

    • CHAPTER 28 The Generational Revolution
      (pp. 319-338)

      The Twenty-seventh Congress of the CPSU, held at the end of February and the beginning of March 1986, marked the end of an era. Not only had the Soviet Union gone through an unprecedented series of leadership changes, with the successive deaths of three national chiefs in less than two and a half years, the replacement of a whole generation in the bureaucratic elite was consummated as well. These experiences, however, did not yet constitute a crisis for the Soviet political system. Indeed, the continuity of the real mechanisms of power in the Communist Party was powerfully reaffirmed by events...

    • CHAPTER 29 Reform and the Intelligentsia
      (pp. 339-355)

      Two decades after the debacle of reform under the aegis of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union reached another opening in its political life. This time the opportunity for change was presented not merely by the demise of a leader wedded to cultural orthodoxy and control but by the passing of an entire generation of leadership brought up in the school of Stalinist postrevolutionary self-justification. With Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, and their age-mates, the party and government officialdom that as a group had been growing old in high office since World War II began rapidly to die off or invite removal for...

    • CHAPTER 30 Gorbachev’s Opportunity
      (pp. 356-360)

      Zdenĕk Mlynař, ideological secretary in the Prague Spring government of 1968 and Gorbachev’s university roommate in the early 1950s, remarked as perestroika was getting under way that it would be politically risky for the cause of reform in the Soviet Union to reopen questions of the past.¹ Gorbachev started out by saying the same thing. Yet no genuine and durable reform of the Soviet system could have been accomplished without a fundamental reexamination of the relation of this system to the historical past that generated it, including its origins in the Revolution of 1917.

      The Soviet regime came eventually to...

    • CHAPTER 31 Gorbachev and the Reversal of History
      (pp. 361-371)

      By the end of the 1980s, it had become obvious to all but the most obdurate skeptics that the reforms initiated in the Soviet Union under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev represented no mere tinkering with the Soviet system but an attempt at fundamentally redirecting what had manifestly become an obsolete political and economic structure. Whether the effort would succeed against the resistance of conservatives and amid conditions of economic crisis and nationality ferment was another matter, as was the question how and why Gorbachev managed to undertake such a radical reform to begin with.

      Gorbachev clearly did not conceive...

    • CHAPTER 32 Soviet Federalism and the Breakup of the USSR
      (pp. 372-380)

      The collapse of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the liquidation of the Union itself in 1991 are generally regarded both in the former Soviet republics and in the West as triumphs of democracy and national self-determination. These views are at best oversimplifications. The breakup of the Soviet Union was above all a failure of federalism. Soviet federalism had always been spurious, but the circumstances of the era of perestroika might have overwhelmed even the best-conceived federal experiment.

      The great impediment to successful federalism in the Soviet Union was itself the original reason for the adoption of a...

  11. PART VII. After the Fall:: Reflections on the Soviet Experience

    • CHAPTER 33 The Revolutionary Process and the Moderate Revolutionary Revival
      (pp. 383-389)

      The startling series of events in Russia following the advent of Gorbachev and perestroika in 1985 generated a multitude of interpretations from every political direction. A new revolution, as Gorbachev himself maintained? A counterrevolution, as the few diehard Communists alleged? A “transition to democracy” on the Latin American model, as Western aid-givers hoped? Or a new “Time of Troubles” opening the way to a new authoritarianism and a new tsar, as pessimistic Russian liberals suggested? Russian politics after 1985 cannot be fully understood apart from the country’s tortuous revolutionary experience going back to 1917. In turn, the Russin Revolution has...

    • CHAPTER 34 The Communist Oppositions and Post-Stalinist Reform
      (pp. 390-399)

      Does the history of the Communist oppositions in the first dozen years of Soviet rule have any meaning today? Is the experience of those opposition movements of any value in reconciling democratic politics, social justice, and the realities of Russian life? Or has the story of the oppositions, since the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communist Party rule, become merely an antiquarian curiosity, irrelevant to the choices that Russia debates for its post-Communist future?

      Encompassing all the waves of criticism in the Bolshevik/Communist Party that resisted decisions and policies of Lenin and of the leadership that succeeded him, the...

    • CHAPTER 35 Past and Present
      (pp. 400-409)

      Time marches on, and history marches with it. The past never stays in the same place.

      Does an epochal and astonishing event therefore require the reconstruction of the entire history leading up to it? Not necessarily, if that history has been worked up in an open fashion receptive to all the possibilities, and not merely to demonstrate the inevitability of the previous arrangements in the manner of the “Whig interpretation of history.” In the real world, to be sure, surprising changes can compel recognition of past potentialities that conventional conceptualizations may have neglected. But it is equally possible for such...

    • CHAPTER 36 The Grand Surprise and Soviet Studies
      (pp. 410-418)

      When Communism collapsed in 1991, was the academic pursuit known as “Sovietology” invalidated because it failed to predict that epochal event? This proposition has come to be accepted even among people who used to practice that occult art themselves but have since been at pains to disown it. However, the question assumes too much. It has to be broken into a series of more specific queries in order to grasp the impact of 1991 on the study of Russian/Soviet affairs. What was “Sovietology”? What, in actuality, was “Communism,” and what is meant by its “collapse”? Finally, was there a failure...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 419-464)
  13. Index
    (pp. 465-481)