Thursday, October 08, 2009

I Never Knew That! Scary!

Here's an interesting article from Kairos Journal. I never knew any of this. My education at Archbishop Wood High School and the University of Maryland completely missed this. All the documentaries I have seen, all the movies I have watched, all the news programs I have viewed, all the history books I have read, all the conversations that I have had with professors (I was a history major), nothing and no one ever touched on this. That's scary!

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The Progress in Russia Destroyed by Communism (1893 – 1914)

“In their presentation of prerevolutionary Russia,” wrote Solzhenitsyn 25 years ago, “many Western historians succumb to a persistent but fallacious tradition, thereby to some extent echoing the arguments of Soviet propaganda.”1 He was referring to the tendency to excuse the failures of Soviet Communism by contrasting them with the supposed legacy of economic backwardness and social stagnation inherited from Tsarist Russia. In reality, however, although it is true that, compared with much of Europe, Russia was late to develop economically or socially, the Communist Revolution of 1917 aborted the rapid economic and social progress which was taking place under the final phase of Tsarist rule.

“Before the outbreak of war in 1914,” Solzhenitsyn pointed out, “Russia could boast of a flourishing manufacturing industry, rapid growth, and a flexible, decentralized economy; its inhabitants were not constrained in their choice of economic activities, distinct progress was being made in the field of workers’ legislation, and the material well-being of the peasants was at a level that has never been reached under the Soviet regime.

Newspapers were free from preliminary political censorship . . . there was complete cultural freedom, the intelligentsia was not restricted in its activity, religious and philosophical views of every shade were tolerated, and institutions of higher education enjoyed inviolable autonomy.”2 This verdict, moreover, is echoed in the writings of another great student of Russian history, the late Professor Tibor Szamuely, who, like Solzhenitsyn, also served in the Red Army but was later imprisoned for “political offences.”3

According to Professor Szamuely, during 18 of the last 25 years before 1914, Tsarist Russia actually enjoyed the highest rate of industrial growth in the world and by 1913 was overtaking France as the world’s fourth largest industrial power.4 Between 1893 and 1913 her coal production increased five-fold, and her iron-ore and cast-iron production four-fold. Oil production, railway mileage, and grain production doubled. By 1913, Tsarist Russia held second place in the world in oil production and third place in railway construction and the manufacture of cotton. The country possessed a large skilled-labor force and stood in the forefront of world science in a number of fields, with two Nobel-prize winners.5

Nor was this all. As Professor Szamuely has described, in the two decades immediately preceding the revolution, Russia enjoyed full freedom of the press—censorship had been abolished and even Bolshevik publications appeared without restrictions—full freedom of foreign travel, independent trade unions, independent courts, trial by jury, a fairly advanced system of social legislation, etc. Tsarist Russia had a parliament, a Duma with MPs representing parties of every political shade, including the Bolsheviks. The authority of the Duma may have been more limited than that of Westminster but today, on the whole, pre-revolutionary Russia would be regarded as a model democracy . . .6

Some readers might rightly wonder why the details of this story have been so little known. One reason is that for much of the 20th century left-leaning Western academics and writers, even whilst deploring Soviet tyranny, glorified Soviet economic achievement as proof of the superiority of socialist models of development. For them it was all too convenient to swallow Soviet propaganda and to forget, if they ever knew, the economic progress and emerging democratic freedoms interrupted by the revolution.

Now that the facts are in,7 Soviet Russia with its history of economic stagnation and appalling political repression provides an object lesson of the terrible consequences for human society of abandoning the path of peaceful social reform. This story gives the lie to the socialist myth that Communism arose primarily in response to severe economic deprivation. The Bolsheviks were not the economic saviors of Russia, rather they were opportunists taking advantage of a political system weakened by government corruption and the First World War.8

Footnotes:

1 Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Mortal Danger: How Misconceptions about Russia Imperil America, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper Row, 1980), 15.
2 Ibid.
3 See for instance: Tibor Szamuely, Socialism and Liberty (1971; reprint, London: Aims for Freedom and Enterprise, 1977), and The Russian Tradition (London: Secker & Warburg, 1974).
4 To emphasize the rapidity of progress, 20 years earlier Russia’s industrial production had only been 1/3 that of France.
5 Szamuely, Socialism and Liberty, 6-7.
6 Writing in 1971, Szamuely added, “and compared with the 126 members of the United Nations Organisation as one of the 15 or 20 most liberal states in the world.” Ibid., 6.
7 See the excellent summary article in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History, s.v. “Russia” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).
8 Szamuely quotes the French author, Edmund Thery, who wrote in 1912: “if things develop in the major European countries as they have done between 1900 and 1912, Russia will towards the middle of the present century dominate Europe politically as well as from the economic and financial points of view.” Szamuely argues that: “had it not been for the revolution Russia would have achieved all this, and more—only without the superhuman sacrifices, with a decent European standard of living and with normal European democratic institutions.” Ibid. 7.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I'm sure the historians and law profs at the major schools (e.g., Maryland) know this information but choose to ignore it, because it doesn't serve their predetermined agenda. Call me a conspiracy theorist...