Monday, January 21, 2008

Russian Revolution

The remarkable thing about the Russian Revolution is that Russia ends up a century later probably about where it would be if none of it had happened. Millions of deaths and a disrupted world later, it might never have happened.

A century ago, Russia had more political theory-mongers than any other country in history. It was infested with many varieties of anarchists, it had socialists beyond number, and there were armies of radical Christians, Tolstoyans and Communists. Stirred by all this progressive thinking, Russia shed an ocean of blood in the service of Karl Marx's theories.

Remarkably, that didn't make much of a difference. When it was all over, Russia ended up with a czar. Vladimir Putin, the 21st-century czar, may be nicer than Stalin or Czar Alexander III (who reigned from 1881 to 1894) and brighter than Nicholas II (1894 to 1917). But he's still a czar, with a czar's sense of infinite entitlement. Putin believes he deserves to rule Russia, and it appears that most Russians see things his way. Freedom of speech, for instance, is no more important to Putin than to Alexander III or Stalin -- and only a small minority of Russians appear to care.

That notion comes via Robert Fulford, after an encounter with Nina Khrushcheva, a political science professor in New York who happens to be Nikita Khrushchev's great-granddaughter.

Along the way, she pinpoints the reason the high hopes present alongside brutality in the Soviet Union quickly crashed into blanket totalitarianism. It was something the Russians had understood all along. They even had a name for it:

On the question of individuality and modernity, Nabokov represents one clear choice. For his opposite, look back to the dreamy, aimless hero of Oblomov, the 1858 best-seller by Ivan Goncharov. The protagonist (Oblomov) has inherited property that's decaying because he won't get out of bed to manage it. When the novel appeared, everyone agreed that it defined a pervasive element in the Russian character. A new word was born, Oblomovism. That was 170 years ago, but Khrushcheva makes it appear that a similar character type influences Russia today.

V.I. Lenin, organizing the new Russian economy in the name of the proletariat, discovered in the 1920s that many members of the proletariat weren't eager to work. He decided that Communism must squeeze the Oblomovism out of the Russian soul.