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Muting the Trumpets of the Bolshevik Revolution

November 01, 1987|Roy Medvedev | Roy Medvedev, a Soviet citizen, is a historian whose works have been published in the West.

MOSCOW — In a few days our country and its friends in the world will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Not so long ago, these jubilees and anniversaries were an occasion for loud praises, high-flown slogans, a careful glossing over of defects and decorating of unpleasant truths. And today the propaganda talks about the great importance of the revolution and successes of the Soviet people.

But we see almost nowhere a festive holiday mood and do not hear the sound of trumpets. On the contrary, from the very beginning of the jubilee year the criticism of defects that gradually embraces more and more aspects of social life is growing even louder.

We are learning not only of large-scale alcoholism and home-brewing but also of the spread of prostitution and drug use, of big numbers of auto accidents and industrial accidents. We are reading about the abuse of power, both in Moscow and in small towns, about corruption among highly placed officials, about the development of Mafia-like structures in many cities, regions and republics.

The persistent attempts to stop this wave of criticism, unusual for our country, and to remind people of the jubilee nature of the year and pride in our heroic history are heeded by very few people. So the criticism of the negative phenomena continues widening and deepening. Criticism also touches that part of history in which various kinds of falsifications became customary.

In the literature of the jubilee year, these themes have become prevalent: Stalin's repressions and the terror of the 1930s; mistakes and crimes during World War II and postwar years, and fallacious methods of collectivization and neglect of Lenin's principles for his New Economic Policy.

In less than a year, the Soviet press, cinema, theater and literature have found a new image. The renaissance in culture has outrun developments of the economy, technology and science, making up an important part of the perestroika proposed by General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev. His proposals are being received with different attitudes from different people and groups. The line of division between opponents and supporters of perestroika is passing through all layers of the population and through all political and public institutions.

People are beginning to doubt the promises of those who possess the power and are refusing to wait for a "revolution from above." It is impossible to live as before; it is impossible to govern as before.

The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 was accompanied by unprecedented enthusiasm, with both hopes and expectations of a better life. The first decrees of the Soviet government were on peace and on transferring land to the peasants. But within a year, the cruel Civil War--White and Red terror--and the practice of appropriating surplus crops by seizing food from peasants raged in the country.

Ending of the Civil War again renewed the enthusiasm and expectations. In 1920, in ruined Russia, Lenin said with confidence at the Congress of Youth that the young people sitting in front of him would not only build a communist society but would actually live under communism. All Bolsheviks who surrounded Lenin were sure then of a rapid victory for a world communist revolution.

The reality was more severe. We know now that the majority of the Bolsheviks surrounding Lenin were physically destroyed during the years of the Stalin terror. The majority of the youth of the 1920s fell on the battlefields of World War II that devastated Europe. Progress--for the Soviet Union and for humanity--was achieved at too large a price and the bright horizons of communism were difficult to see through the barbed wire of Stalin's concentration camps.

Still, the victory over fascism revived many hopes. Speaking to the public in 1945, Stalin promised not only to restore quickly the ruined economy but in 15 years to triple the prewar output of industry, catching up with and leaving behind the capitalist countries.

However, we had not only successes but new disappointments and tragedies. Turned into a military superpower, the Soviet Union was still behind the Western countries in economic and scientific-technological fields. We still had a long way to go to achieve abundance and democracy.

Years passed and we heard from Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev the promises of plenty. In 1961, the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party declared that in 10 years the Soviet Union would surpass the United States in economic terms, and in 20 years, the basis for a communist society would be established.

These promises were not fulfilled and we managed to catch up with America only in the area of nuclear and missile arms.

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