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Anderson P Two Revolutions Russia China NLR 2010feb

Anderson P Two Revolutions Russia China NLR 2010feb

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Published by: kmbence83 on Feb 03, 2010
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new left review 61
jan feb 2010
perry anderson
Rough Notes
f the twentieth
century was dominated, more than by anyother single event, by the trajectory of the Russian Revolution,the twenty-first will be shaped by the outcome of the ChineseRevolution. The Soviet state, born of the First World War, victor inthe Second, defeated in the cold replica of a Third, dissolved after sevendecades with scarcely a shot, as swiftly as it had once arisen. What hasremained is a Russia lesser in size than the Enlightenment once knew,with under half the population of the
, restored to a capitalism nowmore dependent on the export of raw materials than in the last days of Tsarism. While future reversals are not to be excluded, for the momentwhat has survived of the October rising, in any positive sense, lookssmall. Its most lasting achievement, huge enough, was negative: thedefeat of Nazism, which no other European regime could have encom-passed. That, at any rate, would be a common judgement today.The outcome of the Chinese Revolution offers an arresting contrast. Asit enters its seventh decade, the People’s Republic is an engine of theworld economy, the largest exporter at once to the
, Japan and theUnited States; the largest holder of foreign-exchange reserves on earth;for a quarter of a century posting the fastest growth rates in per cap-ita income, for the largest population, ever recorded. Its big cities arewithout rival for commercial and architectural ambition, its goods soldeverywhere. Its builders, prospectors and diplomats criss-cross the globein search of further opportunities and influence. Courted by former foesand friends alike, for the first time in its history the Middle Kingdomhas become a true world power, whose presence reaches into everycontinent. With the fall of the
, no formula to describe the turn of 
nlr 61
events it signified became so canonized as ‘the collapse of communism’.Twenty years later that looks a touch Eurocentric. Viewed in one light,communism has not just survived, but become the success story of theage. In the character and scale of that achievement, of course, there ismore than one—bitter—irony. But of the difference between the fate of the revolutions in China and Russia, there can be little doubt.Where does the explanation of this contrast lie? Despite the world-historical gravamen of the question, it has not been much discussed.At issue, of course, is not just a comparison of two similar but distinctupheavals, otherwise unrelated in their different settings, as in theonce familiar pairing of 1789 and 1917. The Chinese Revolution grewdirectly out of the Russian Revolution, and remained connected with it,as inspiration or admonition, down to their common moment of truthat the end of the eighties. The two experiences were not independent of each other, but formed a consciously ordinal sequence.
That tie entersinto any consideration of their differing outcomes. To explain these, inturn, involves reflection at a number of levels. Four of these will be dis-tinguished here. Firstly, how far did the subjective political agencies of the two revolutions—that is, the respective parties in each country, andthe strategies they pursued—differ? Secondly, what were the objectivestarting-points—socio-economic and other conditions—from whicheach ruling party set out on its course of reform? Thirdly, what were theeffective consequences of the policies they adopted? Fourthly, which lega-cies in the
longue durée
of the history of the two societies can be regardedas underlying determinants of the ultimate outcome of revolutions andreforms alike? Since the
has outlived the
, and its future posesperhaps the central conundrum of world politics, the organizing focusof what follows will be China, as seen in the Russian mirror—not theonly relevant one, as will become clear, but an ineludable conditionof the rest.
i. matrices
The October Revolution, famously, was a swift urban insurrection thatseized power in Russia’s major cities in a matter of days. The speed
Isaac Deutscher’s remarkable essay ‘Maoism—its Origins and Outlook’ (1964)remains the starting-point for any consideration of the relationship between therevolutions:
Ironies of History
, Oxford 1966, pp. 88–120.
61of its overthrow of the Provisional Government was matched by thecrystallization of the Party that accomplished it. The Bolsheviks, number-ing no more than 24,000 in January 1917, on the eve of the abdication of Nicholas
, had mushroomed to somewhere over 200,000 when theytoppled Kerensky’s regime nine months later. Their social base lay inthe young Russian working class, which comprised less than 3 per centof the population. They had no presence in the countryside, where over80 per cent of the population lived, having never thought to organizeamong the peasantry—any more than had the Social Revolutionaries,though the
s enjoyed an overwhelming rural following in 1917. Suchrapid victory, from a still narrow ledge of support, was rendered possibleby the shattering of the Tsarist state by German hammer-blows in theFirst World War—military failure detonating mutinies that dissolved itsrepressive apparatus, the February Revolution leaving only the shakiestlean-to of a successor authority.But if power was taken easily in this vacuum, it proved hard to hold.Vast tracts of territory fell to German occupation. Once Germany wasitself defeated in 1918, ten different expeditionary forces—American,British, Canadian, Serb, Finnish, Romanian, Turkish, Greek, French,Japanese—were dispatched to help White armies crush the new regimein a bitter Civil War that lasted till 1920. At the end of it, completing thedestruction wrought in the World War, Russia was in ruins: famine inthe villages, factories abandoned in the towns, the working class pul-verized by the fighting and de-industrialization of the country. Lenin’sParty, its social base disintegrated or absorbed into the structures of thenew state, was left an isolated apparatus of power suspended over a dev-astated landscape: its rule now associated with the miseries of domesticwar rather than the gifts of peace and land delivered after October.The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that, by a supreme effort, itbrought into being covered the larger part of the former Russian empire.But, the first modern state in history to reject any territorial definition, theemergent
laid no claim to patriotic pride or national construction.Its appeal was international: to the solidarity of the labour movementacross the world. Having taken power in a huge backward country,whose economy was overwhelmingly agrarian and population largelyilliterate, the Bolsheviks counted on revolutions in the more developed,industrial lands of Europe to rescue them from the predicament of aradical commitment to socialism in a society without the preconditions

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