October 1917 Revolution: a View from the 21-st Century

On November 6, 2007 the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Institute for the Humanities and IT held the All-Russian conference«October1917 Revolution: a View from the 21-st Century». The organizers timed the conference with the 90-th anniversary of those memorable events which still evoke a great interest among all those who are not indifferent to Russian history.

Prominent Russian scholars— historians, lawyers, political scientists, and economistst as well as IGUMO faculty and students took part in the conference. The participants had different and sometimes diametrically opposed points of view.
The work of the plenary session was presided over by the Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Professor G.Mesyats, Doctor of Engineering; the Director of IGUMO Assistant Professor M.Volynkina, Ph.D.(law); the IGUMO Deputy Director for Research Professor Y.Antonyan, Ph.D.(law); the Senior Staff Scholar of the Institute for Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences V.Buldakov, Ph.D.(history) and the Vice-President of the First Professional University, Senior Leading Expert of the Analytical Council of the State Duma Committee for CJS Affairs and Relations with Compatriots, Professor V.Voronov, Ph.D.(history).

Opening the plenary session of the conference the co-chairperson of the Organising Committee M.Volynkina pointed out that the evaluation of the October Revolution of 1917 and its consequences for Russia still remains a controversial and sensitive topic provoking disputes and conflicts in the society. However, the history of any country is not to be rewritten and should be treated with utmost attention and care and without bias. Hence, while making arrangements for the conference the Orgaising Committee deemed it necessary to give the floor to scholars having diverging views on the events of 1917.

Then the audience was addressed by the Leading Expert of the Analytical Council of the State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs and Relations with Compatriots, Professor V. Voronov, Ph.D(history) who congratulated the participants of the conference on its opening on behalf of the State Duma Committee for Education and Science and wished it great success.
The main reportTheRevolution and the Historical Memory was made by the Senior Staff Scholar of the Institute for Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences V.Buldakov, Ph.D.(history). He said that evaluating the place of the October 1917 Revolution in history from a theoretical viewpoint one may say that it continued the liberation trend set by the Great French Revolution. The tragedy of the Russian Revolution of 1917 lay in the impossibility of realizing the social ideals, dreams and goals of different social strata rather than in the situation in which the winners and the losers found themselves.

From the Soviet experiment which set the people and the state at variance the imperial power emerged victorious. However that doesn’t mean that new Russian history should be written as if the past did not exist. In history no lessons are useless, it is just that some people are incapable of understanding them.

In his welcoming speech the Chairman of the Organising Committee, Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Professor, Academician G.Mesyats, Doctor of Engineering took a statist stance. Avoiding extreme views on the events of October 1917 he appraised the main periods of Russian history since the revolution. In his presentation he characterized the period from 1917 till the 1950s as contradictory: on the one hand, the state had managed to lay down the foundations of the military-industrial potential and the Soviet people had won a victory in the cruelest war of the 20th century, and on the other, the society had suffered from the Red and White terror during the Civil War, famines, mass repressions and the ravages of World War II. Later the Soviet society lived through a period of rapid industrial growth as well as scientific and cultural advancement. It was then that the USSR became a superpower. The Revolution of October 1917 had a great impact all over the world, only Russia was unable to profit by its lessons and draw the right conclusions which led to the crisis of 1990s. Today the main power goal of our government and society is the revival of Russia as a great and mighty power.

The Deputy Director of IGUMO Professor Y.Antonyan, Ph.D.(law) in his reportTheOctober Coup dEtat as a Return to the Darkness emphasized that such an event of world-historical importance cant be explained if one does not try to understand its causes and nature, its essence and meaning and define its ethical value. According to Professor Antonyan, in October 1917 the power in Russia was seized by a group of criminals whose morality and ideology were radically different from those of the civilized world and from universal values. The revolution let loose the basest and darkest human instincts and desires, set free the forces of evil and destruction which had hitherto been controlled and restrained by the social environment and by man himself. For many years to come the economy remained at a standstill, the great culture which had been admired by the whole world was trampled underfoot, the corruption of the peoples morals continue and the mass annihilation of people as well as hostility and hate became the norm of relationships. This happened not only in Russia but also in a number of other countries such as Germany, Italy, China, Cambodia, Iran, etc. This tragic period in Russian history set Russia back to those distant and bloody times when all questions were decided by force when the word of the chieftain was law and those who disagreed were eliminated. The Chief staff scholar of the Institute for the World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences Professor V.Sheinis, Ph.D.(economics) spoke in his reportThePlace of the October 1917 Revolution in History: a View from the 21-st Century“ about whether the revolution was inevitable or not. He said that The October 1917 Revolution was a natural result of the events leading up to it though their outcome could have been different. The power was seized by the most radical socialist party of which the majority of the Russians had never heard of as little as six months or a year before.

The October 1917 Revolution which had far-reaching effects worldwide was nevertheless a dead end in historical development. However that doesnt mean that the nations which made up the USSR wasted the seventy odd years that passed between the revolution and the Soviet collapse. Under Communism the country was modernized, the largely agrarian nation was industrialized, the illiterate populatution became well-educated.

A vast schientific and technological potential though excessively military-oriented was created. And last but not least, the whole world could see what an exorbitant price in terms of human lives was paid for this modernisation.

The Dean of the Rusian Studies Faculty of the Social Science Institute, the Director of the Russian University of Peoples Friendship Centre for Russian Studies I.Chubais, Ph. D. focused on the possibility of the revival of the Russian spiritual idea in his presentation 1917 as a Breach in the Continuity of Russia History. How to Return to Russian Identity.

He said that historically the Soviet Union was not a successor of the pre-revolutionary Russia. The Soviet Union had been different in both form and content, which had caused Russia to lose its identitity. Thats why the October 1917 Revolution had been a major setback for Russia.

The First Deputy Director of Moscow Central Archive Directorate M.Gorinov, Ph. D.(history) in his report entitledTheRussian Revolution and the Rhythm of Crises in Russian History emphasized that the October 1917 Revolution really occupies an important place in history. It was indeed the Great October Socialist Revolution as Soviet historians called it. It was great because it paved the way for the technological spurt which turned Russia into one of the two world superpowers. It bore the name of October Revolution because according to the Julian calendar used in Russia at the time it took place in October. It was socialist in nature because it cleansed Russias age-old autocratic communal collective way of life of the evil of capitalist inequality. One should also remember that the state – or the vertically integrated power structure if we use present day terms has always been the driving force of Russian history which enabled the country to concentrate vast resources in order to achieve economic and technological spurts(thetime of Peter the Great, Stalins modernization, etc). However this driving force suffers from an intrinsic defect, an original sin of sorts. The thing is that under ordinary circumstances when the situation is not critical, the officialdom promotes not those who deserve it but not creative people but time-servers, Vicars of Bray. The bureaucratic machine throws out everyone who is brilliant and original.

After a short break the conference turned into a round-table discussion which enabled the participants not only to listen to the other presentations in accordance with the programme but also to actively exchange opinions.

Wrapping up the work of the conference the participants decided unanimonsly that although a single resolution hadnt been adopted, the discussion had been useful for the representatives of all the schools of thought.