Marina Salandy-Brown writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
What to do about history? That is the question Russians have been struggling with. For people of my generation, the Russian Revolution is a defining point in 20th century history. It was the reason, in effect, that our young years were blighted by the balance of terror, as the very scary nuclear war dance between “the West” (mainly the USA) and Russia was known, until the collapse of communism in Russia in the 1980s.
Tuesday of this week was the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution that ended tsarist Russia and ushered in the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR), now no more.
For decades under Soviet rule, Russians would have the full and awesome might of the states’ military displayed to them — and the rest of the world — during the several hours of parading in Red Square on that public holiday.
Yet, there was very little for anyone to see on this November 7, which is no longer a day of celebration and national pride. Rather, there is the strong sense, corroborated by media reports, that Russia under Vladimir Putin finds itself in a bind, causing the President to describe the results of the Russian Revolution as “ambiguous” and even to ponder the merits of evolution rather than revolution.
I read that thousands of statues of Lenin, Bolshevik leader of the Russian Revolution, have been removed from public view. History has become the hostage of political power. For sure, if it were possible, the October Revolution, the excesses of Stalin and the oppression of Soviet people and states would be written off as fake in today’s world of post-truths. Why, when the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was one of the two most powerful entities in the world of politics, pitting itself against the power of Capitol Hill?
I imagine it is because Vladimir Putin is not the leader of the Communist Party but he is the man in power in Russia and it is clear that managing the official history of the USSR and the system of political organisation, from which he emerged, and the history of the everyday lives of the people of the USSR is a challenge.
For young people in the heady days of the end of empire as the world map changed with the forming of new independent states, Marx and Engels reasoning that poverty and the travails of the working class were flaws of capitalism itself, which exploited the many for the few, was eminently attractive.
Replacing it with communism where the people own the means of production and all share the benefits was a plausible alternative. S
o much that we practise in this country and elsewhere — free education for all, graduated income tax levels and even State ownership of public goods — are influenced by leftist political thought.
It is hard now to believe that the entire world was in the grip of a politico-philosophical war between communism and capitalism for most of the last century, one that promised to erupt momentarily and wipe us all off the face of the Earth.
The Soviet and the American fight for supremacy in the very hot Cold War that ended as abruptly as it started left many casualties from the proxy wars that were fought out all over the world, including in the Caribbean and Latin America. Cuba remains the most acute relic.
If there were no evidence, such as the Nobel Prize-winning dissident writing of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose unforgettable novels, such as One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich, revealed the horrors of Soviet forced labour camps, it would be easy to erase the long history of the millions of ordinary Soviet citizens who died of hunger, cold and abuse there.
Putin has condemned the Russian Revolution as a political tool and maybe it was, but it wielded a mighty blow.