Actual Images of the Russian Revolution of 1917: Dynamics and Perspectives

The following paper was presented at the conference “After the End of Revolution: Constitutional Order amid the Crisis of Democracy,” co-organized by the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute and the National Research University Higher School of Economics, September 1–2, 2017, Moscow. For additional details about the conference as well as other upcoming events, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

It is important not only to analyze the legacy of the Russian Revolution of 1917 from the point of view of historical science, but also to bear in mind its impact on the modern information and ideological processes. Discussing the Russian Revolution has become a way to think and talk about today, and different approaches to the discussion correspond to different views on modernity and different political ethics. There are five approaches to the evaluation of the Russian Revolution in the ideological space of today: the classic liberal, the neoliberal, the Western left, the Russian left, and the traditionalist approach.

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A View of the Future and the Social Tradition

The following paper was presented at the conference “After the End of Revolution: Constitutional Order amid the Crisis of Democracy,” co-organized by the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute and the National Research University Higher School of Economics, September 1–2, 2017, Moscow. For additional details about the conference as well as other upcoming events, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

Today is the time when we get to discuss our future together. This is a rare occasion that may or may not occur every hundred years. For once, we now have Russians, Americans, and Europeans sitting in one boat and considering together how to pass the rapids without capsizing. Steering out of the impasse where we have been driven by the global crisis requires clear thinking and direct, candid dialogue, i.e., the return to the “direct statement” culture. And this is exactly the way in which I will take the liberty to speak. I term the manner of speaking plainly in scientific discussions as “intellectual diplomacy.” And there are times when it is capable of achieving greater results than the combined efforts of the foreign ministries of a number of countries of the world.

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Russia’s Many Futures

The following paper was presented at the conference “After the End of Revolution: Constitutional Order amid the Crisis of Democracy,” co-organized by the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute and the National Research University Higher School of Economics, September 1–2, 2017, Moscow. For additional details about the conference as well as other upcoming events, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

Russia will have many futures because it has had many pasts. Three aspects in particular stand out in any discussion of Russia’s future. The first is what Marxists used to call the “present political conjuncture.” In other words, the fate of Russia is inextricably linked with the broader developments in global political practices. It is within this framework that one needs to consider the “post-revolutionary” character of Russia. Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika (restructuring) began in 1985 soon after his accession to the Soviet leadership, but the great ebb tide of emancipatory socialism had begun long before. The post-war Keynesian and welfare state consensus had already begun to unravel with the end of the long post-war economic boom in 1970 and the move to flexible exchange rates in August 1971 as Richard Nixon moved away from the Bretton Woods system of pegging the dollar to gold. The 1970s saw the first moves toward financial liberalization, and Margaret Thatcher’s election in May 1979 signaled, as Eric Hobsbawm put it in September 1978 in a famous article in Marxism Today, that the “Forward March of Labour” was halted. The election of Ronald Reagan in November 1980 further indicated the beginning of an offensive against the ideology and geopolitics of revolutionary socialism. In its place the gathering wave of the neoliberal transformation of capitalism transformed the relationship of state to society, the character of work, and the understanding of citizenship in advanced capitalist societies.

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The Rise of the Illiberal Elites

In the wake of the Brexit vote and the 2016 American presidential election, the idea began to circulate that we were witnessing a trans-Atlantic, populist “revolt against the elites,” which had spontaneously arisen from populations whose concerns had, for too long, gone unheard by those in power. Longstanding economic problems regarding income disparity and wealth—left unaddressed by both sides of the political spectrum—are indeed among the most pressing issues that we currently face. But as has been observed, the first half-year of the new U.S. presidential administration, with one of the wealthiest cabinets in American history, calls into question the validity of the “populist” interpretation in the U.S. context. The failure of this theory has in turn exposed a gap in our ability to conceptualize what actually happened during the U.S. election, what is unfolding before us, and how we got here.

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Now Available! Ellen Hinsey's Mastering the Past

New from Telos Press: Ellen Hinsey’s Mastering the Past: Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe and the Rise of Illiberalism. Order your copy in our online store, and save 20% on the list price by using the coupon code BOOKS20 during the checkout process.

Over the last decade Ellen Hinsey has traveled across Central and Eastern Europe researching a critical shift in the European political landscape: the rise of illiberalism. A quarter of a century after the changes of 1989—and as former Soviet sphere societies come to terms with their histories—the specters of populism, nationalism, extreme-right parties, and authoritarian rule have returned in force. Through a series of eyewitness reports, Mastering the Past offers an insider’s view of key political events, including the 2012 Russian elections, the Polish presidential plane crash in Smolensk, and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s vision for a new Hungary. Hinsey explores the darkening hour of European politics with an incisive mind and an eye for detail, recording the urgent danger that illiberalism represents for the new century.

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Now Available for Pre-order: Ellen Hinsey’s Mastering the Past

Mastering the Past:
Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe and the Rise of Illiberalism
by Ellen Hinsey

Over the last decade Ellen Hinsey has traveled across Central and Eastern Europe researching a critical shift in the European political landscape: the rise of illiberalism. A quarter of a century after the changes of 1989—and as former Soviet sphere societies come to terms with their histories—the specters of populism, nationalism, extreme-right parties, and authoritarian rule have returned in force. Through a series of eyewitness reports, Mastering the Past offers an insider’s view of key political events, including the 2012 Russian elections, the Polish presidential plane crash in Smolensk, and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s vision for a new Hungary. Hinsey explores the darkening hour of European politics with an incisive mind and an eye for detail, recording the urgent danger that illiberalism represents for the new century.

Continue reading →