Can the communist revolution be blamed for the violence of the USSR?

Obviously communists claim that there was a "counter-revolution", so for the sake of the question, let's assume that Communism is not Stalinism.

One way to answer the question, is asking if something similarly tragic would have occurred without the communist revolution. Philosophically speaking, if the movement toward communism, by definition of dialectics, cannot vivify the barbarism of capital.If so, then the tragic failure of the revolution, and seizure by stalin, cannot be shown to be because of its perniciousness!

  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because, as written, this seems like a history question. – Dave Apr 12 '17 at 15:43
  • In history is quite impossible to consider "scientifically" what-if scenarios. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Apr 12 '17 at 15:48
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA it is a bit scifi, i agree – user25714 Apr 12 '17 at 15:50
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    @Dave why not migrate then ?? seems like a philosopher may have something to say on barbaric tendencies, how they relate to democracy etc. – user25714 Apr 12 '17 at 15:50
  • @user3293056 as far as I know, there isn't a way for regular users to migrate a question from here to History. – Dave Apr 12 '17 at 15:53

As some of the comments point out, this question seems mostly historical in nature, and arguing over "what-if" scenarios is shaky ground. However there is a possible philosophical reply to it based on the Frankfurt school view of history.

In the comments you say: "[...] seems like a philosopher may have something to say on barbaric tendencies, how they relate to democracy etc."

Horkheimer in "The End of Reason" and Adorno and Horkheimer in "Dialectic of Enlightenment" argue that "barbaric tendencies" - or more specifically dictatorships, fascism, etc... - are the logical end result of the Enlightenment doing away with myth and religion and leaving instrumental reason as the only remaining value. In the "End of Reason", Horkheimer states:

Reason, in destroying conceptual fetishes, ultimately destroyed itself. [...]

When even the dictators of today appeal to reason, they mean that they possess the most tanks. They were rational enough to build them; others should be rational enough to yield to them. [...]

Whoever desires to live among men has to obey their laws—this is what the secular morality of Western civilization comes down to. … Rationality in the form of such obedience swallows up everything, even the freedom to think.

And then, writing with Adorno in "Dialectic of Enlightenment", he states:

Enlightenment, understood in the widest sense as the advance of thought, has always aimed at liberating human beings from fear and installing them as masters. Yet the wholly enlightened earth is radiant with triumphant calamity. Enlightenment’s program was the disenchantment of the world.* It wanted to dispel myths, to overthrow fantasy with knowledge. [...]

What human beings seek to learn from nature is how to use it to dominate wholly both it and human beings. Nothing else counts. Ruthless toward itself, the Enlightenment has eradicated the last remnant of its own self-awareness. Only thought which does violence to itself is hard enough to shatter myths. [...]

On their way toward modern science human beings have discarded meaning. The concept is replaced by the formula, the cause by rules and probability

For Horkheimer and Adorno, "barbaric tendencies" are a consequence of the Enlightenment and the triumph of rational and scientific thinking. Deprived of meaning by the removal of myths and religion, yet provided with awesome technological means through science, human societies have nothing left to do each other than violence and attempts at domination through the tools that reason has provided them with. Reason itself lead to an irrational desire dominate.

Horkheimer and Adorno's ideas are dense and complex, besides Marxist theory, they include ideas from Freudian psychology, Nietzsche, social commentary, greek mythology, art and even music theory in their approach.

But I will try to give a simplified summary of their thought with regards to your question:

  • The Enlightenment made reason (i.e logic and empirical knowledge, the scientific world view, etc...) the main human values.
  • This was supposed to be a good thing, since it freed people from dogmas and superstitions, but instead it had a negative effect.
  • Reason slowly destroyed mythology and religion, and all other sources of meaning, until eventually only reason remained.
  • Reason by itself cannot provide any meaning, reason is just a tool - in this sense reason "destroys itself" and becomes irrational.
  • Modern 20th century man, has all the tools of science and technology, but no longer has any meaning or values, because those have all been destroyed by reason.
  • With meaning and values removed by reason, man reverts to his primitive instincts to try to dominate other men and use violence whenever he feels like it, except that now he has all the tools of modern industry and technology to do so.
  • This is what leads to oppressive dictatorial states like Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia, the holocaust, the gulags, etc...the root cause of this goes all the way back to the Enlightenment, not the Russian revolution or the economic conditions that prevailed in Germany after WWI or anything like that.

For them, Hitler and Stalin were just too sides of the same coin. In Russia there was a communist revolution, in Germany there was none, yet the end result was the same: Murderous totalitarian states, concentration camps and gulags.

So to answer your question directly: What happened in Russia would likely have happened anyway, Bolshevik revolution or not, because the same thing happened in Germany, where there was no communist revolution.

Some things should be noted:

  • Horkheimer and Adorno were themselves Marxists who started out as part of the Frankfurt school in the 1920s, which was trying to answer the question: "Why has there not been a communist revolution in Germany yet?" - the subsequent events in the 1930, WWII and the Holocaust lead to their later thoughts on the subject.
  • The Frankfurt school were occasionally known as Western Marxists, because they wanted to disassociate themselves from "Eastern" Soviet Marxism, which they saw as violent and dictatorial. For them, there was still some valuable lessons to be learned from Marxism, even after all that had gone down in the U.S.S.R. Marcuse and Habermas are later well known representatives of this school. In the 60s they became known as the New Left.

  • Horkheimer talks more about this in his later "Eclipse of Reason", but I haven't read it, so I can't quote it directly.

  • couldn't quite follow the reasoning therein, how it supported your (or an alternative) conclusion, but thanks for the reply it was interesting – user25714 Apr 12 '17 at 17:37
  • @user3293056 can you point out a section, I can try to clarify? H & A are very dense and challenging reads. – Alexander S King Apr 12 '17 at 17:42
  • i could follow the words, and obviously i'm gonna be somewhat unaware of context, though you did a good job of contextualising them, thanks :-) issue i had is that the the paragraph starting "so to answer" could i think be linked to the preceeding more explictly. that would be amazing! – user25714 Apr 12 '17 at 17:51
  • @user3293056 I added some clarifications to try to explain the sequence of ideas, and also added another note at the end to provide better context with regard to Marxism in general. – Alexander S King Apr 13 '17 at 15:59
  • thanks, the last of the new bulletpoints does a good job of linking the conclsuion to your authors -- thanks! – user25714 Apr 15 '17 at 19:07