BOOKS / Second Thoughts: Don't blame Lenin for Stalin: Christopher Hill looks back on his study of the Russian Revolution (Penguin, pounds 6.99)
Saturday 15 January 1994
The Foreign Office, with government approval, had set up a powerful committee of academics to consider wide-ranging schemes for regular exchanges of students between the two countries. The Cold War put an end to all that: it became unfashionable and in some quarters dangerous to one's reputation to say anything good about the USSR. The end of the Cold War makes possible both a restoration of better relations between England and Russia, and a reassessment of Lenin and his revolution.
In writing the book I made a point of drawing parallels between the 17th-century English Revolution, the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917. In England after 1660, and in France after 1815, there was a severe reaction against the preceding revolutions; but 1688 in England and 1830 in France showed that there was to be no restoration of the old regimes.
The ideas of the English Revolution survived to form the basis of the 18th-century European Enlightenment, notwithstanding the horrors of England's subjugation of Ireland under Cromwell. Despite the Terror, the ideas of the French Revolution swept the world.
The initial ideas of the Russian Revolution - the equality of men, women and nations, the right of everyone to work and to have a fair share in the distribution of the wealth they produce, the undesirability of an idle leisure class - some of these ideas were lost to sight in Soviet practice, but they retain their validity. They will be remembered when the lies and perversions of Stalinism are forgotten - especially in the Third World.
As Mao Tse Tung said of the French Revolution, it is still too early to assess the Russian Revolution properly. But already we can be sure that the Gadarene rush to imitate the worst features of Western capitalism cannot last in Russia. Unemployment, soaring prices, lack of social security, gross inequalities of wealth, uncontrolled national and racial hatred, violent crimes against property and the person - all these are already making many look back nostalgically to the better aspects of the Soviet regime. Only when stability finally comes will it be possible to arrive at a fair assessment of Lenin and his revolution. It is important not to fall into the trap of blaming Lenin for Stalin, whatever links we may see between the two.
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