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
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.
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.