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Revolutions: locomotives of history or the response to challenges?

09 November, 00:00

My successor at the post of director of the Institute of History of Ukraine, professor Hennadii Boriak (I am tired of explaining to journalists that I do not hold the post since last year) asked me to write an article on the industrial revolution for the encyclopedia. At the same time professor Iryna Kolisnyk, who is in charge of one of the theoretical scientific journals at the Institute, received a request to write an essay on a revolution on the same theme, devoted to the history of the terms.

While working on these topics I constantly felt mutual contradiction of two concepts — Marxist and Toynbian. Should we look at the revolutions using Karl Marx’s framework? Or should we repudiate glorifying and stigmatizing the famous Marx’s opinion that the revolution is a locomotive of history, depending on the political views? Should we switch to another world-view system? I offer to use the “challenge-response” terminology, introduced by the glorious English historian Arnold Toynbee, which explains the dynamics of the historical process.

I decided to turn to the readers with my thoughts. The Day not so much informs about what happened as analyzes why it happened. Certainly, the newspaper is mostly interested in the events that happened to all of us, our parents and grandparents since 1917. This year marks the 93rd anniversary of the Communist revolution in Russia, which then included Ukraine. Marx’s concept about revolutions being the locomotives of history is not a theoretical abstraction for people who were born in the former Soviet country.


The October Revolution of 1917 was Bolshevik, as it gave the power to the Bolsheviks. The Soviets won, and together with them the Bolshevik party came to power.

After establishing one-party rule the Bolsheviks “privatized” the Russian revolution: all the political forces, which did not please them, were declared counter-revolutionary. The labor and military groups lost their right to change their deputies in daily councils. Then they had to vote for the candidates who were recommended by the Bolshevik commissars. The revolution dwindled into nothing after the Constituent Assembly was disrupted.

It took several months to spread the Bolshevik dictatorship from the capital to periphery. In spring of 1918 the Bolshevik party conquered most of the former empire and started realizing its own program of social economic transformations, which had nothing to do with the interests of any social stratum. The world had never seen similar transformations, but they were not a continuation of the Russian revolution. According to the methods of fulfillment, those reforms were “the reforms from above.” There were many reforms of that kind in Russian history since Peter the Great’s times.

The history books published in the Soviet Union asserted that the Bolsheviks completely realized the slogans of the revolution. Indeed, Lenin’s government terminated the three-year war and made a separate peace with Germany and its allies. The land was divided between the peasants equally. The armed forces, established by the Bolsheviks, thrice went to Ukraine in order to assert national Soviet-like statehood. But it was all surface. The Russian nations found themselves in the vortex of the civil war right after they got rid of the imperial one. By giving the land to the peasants the Bolsheviks made them a proletarianized labor force for many years. The people were attached to the collective fields by their passportless status and were made to work for the country on free workdays. It seemed that they created the sovereign national republics but in reality the leaders of the Bolshevik party built a centralized unitarian country.

The Bolshevik revolution was strange for the democratic and Soviet sides of the revolution. It seemed that the liberal and socialistic democrats, who formed the government, won the February Revolution stage. It seemed that the Soviets, who represented the masses, won the October Revolution stage. In reality the masses were doing the dirty work in both stages of the revolution. A small group of Bolshevik leaders won, thoroughly hiding their phantasmagoric plans from the nation and their own party. Rus-sian radicalism, caused only by internal factors, became a favorable ground for spreading Leninism, which was actually the revolutionary Marxism — the benign sickness of Western Europe of 1848-49.


The Communist revolution goes beyond the frames of a normal historical process. It appears not as a result of the previous development but as an idea in a human’s head — one who has the best intentions. Among the works of the Marxist founders, the speech of 24-year-old Friedrich Engels in Elberferd can be considered as the first mentioning of a brighter tomorrow: “The communist principle will be that of the future is attested by the course of development of all civilized nations, it is attested by the swiftly advancing dissolution of all hitherto existing social institutions; it is attested by common sense and, above all, by the human heart.” That is the opinion, where all the positives and negatives come from, which accompanied the building of communism in dozens of the countries. Let someone from the Communist Party of Ukraine speak about the positives, The Black Book of Communism has already told about the negatives. It was translated into tens of languages, and tells the fate of communism’s 95 million victims.

It is difficult to doubt that the dictatorial regime and the communist (officially socialist) management methods are inseparable from each other. However, the inseparability does not prevent them from being two separate phenomena. But the Soviet type of the dictatorship could establish anything, even an anticommunist, capitalistic management method (which we see now in the People’s Republic of China). When the communist regime, proving its economic inefficiency, exhausted all the natural resources of the Soviet Union, everything disappeared within months: the country, the party, the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance, the Warsaw Pact...

When an empire collapses, nations are born. The USSR collapse transformed the union’s republics into national countries, but each of them was on the verge of economic collapse and political chaos. The lifestyle change appeared to be extremely painful for the people, who were born and raised in communism. The dictatorship disappeared, people became free, but the country, which took care of everyone and everything every day, also disappeared. The events of 1989-91 should be considered as a revolution, but they were a collapse of a revolution. Nothing new appeared. Everything had to be started from scratch.

In order to prevent social catastrophe, the officials took care of establishing basic conditions for the survival of the unprotected strata. But all of them, starting with the president, took care of their welfare first. A long period of half-collapse and half-chaos in the Ukrainian economy was explained not so much by inexperience as evil will of the former high-ranking officials, who feverishly traded power for property. A great part of the economy was divided between several clans of oligarchs. The powerful financial-industrial groups appeared, combining technologically related enterprises and the banks.

While evaluating the market reforms, which started in 1994, we should take into account the following: none would be able to offer a rational method of privatizing plants and factories which had belonged to the country for three generations. Only the powerful financial-industrial groups, connected with the country and created on the basis of a supermonopolized noncompetitive economy, had a chance to break into world markets. But the fact is that the monopolistic unions kept profits for themselves, merging with the representatives of the executive and legislative powers.

After 2000 the economic situation in Ukraine stabilized and the population got used to the “wild capitalism,” which you cannot pass by while transitioning to a market economy. But this transition was threatened by protest revolutions.

The Orange revolution of 2004 is one of them. It is a social blast, which took place because of the situation connected with the presidential election. But the real reason was the deep disagreement of the Ukrainian citizens with the country they had to live in. The revolution turned high-ranking officials into populists but changed little in the country.

When Kyiv newspapers show photos of state officials, who wear watches that cost 12,000 monthly pensions, on the front page, and 850,000 Kyivites live below the poverty line, according to the officials of lower rank, we should expect a new social blast. Aren’t our politicians like Bourbons, who did not forget anything, but did not learn anything?

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