George Walford: Revolution

Richard Pipes helps to dispel the fog of misunderstanding and misrepresentation that makes revolution look like nothing more than spontaneous mass upheaval. [1] He notes that the French revolution, first of the modern ones, did not use the word until fifteen months after the fall of the Bastille, but the Russian revolutionaries “travelled with Baedekers,” using the word decades before the event. The implication of intent rather than spontaneity grows with further investigation. Lenin’s destruction of Russian institutions, his elimination of the kulaks and the independent press, his installation of ‘Red Terror’ and of political commissars in the Red Army, were calculated moves, intended to smash any base that might serve the counter-revolutionary movement his theory told him was bound to¬†occur. “The accumulation of experience by professional revolutionaries means that for the past 200 years each successive revolution has been less spontaneous and more engineered.” Both in Russia and in France it was the intellectuals who undertook this engineering, turning popular rebellion into conscious, aim-governed, manipulated revolution.

Pipes confmes himself to these two instances, but his perception holds also for China, Cuba and other revolutions bringing communist movements to power. He leaves us, however, with the problem of accounting for the presence of these revolutionary intellectuals who do the engineering, for they are not themselves products of the revolution they claim to lead. Pipes notes their presence in Russia decades before the revolution, and in Britain today, with no indications of imminent revolution perceptible, we have our own communist movement.

[1] “The Inexhaustible Problem”, TLS 19 May 89

from Ideological Commentary 44, March 1990.