Archive for September, 2009

Dmitrii Medvedev and Permanent Revolution

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Since I’m working on Leon Trotsky, I was very excited to note in Johnson’s Russia List the claim that Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev, writing for, had called for “permanent revolution” in Russia.  I thought Trotsky was making yet another comeback, given Trotsky’s deep association with the concept of permanent revolution.

Sadly it turns out that’s not the case at all.  The claim that Medvedev was calling for a permanent revolution is precisely the opposite of what he actually said.

What Medvedev in fact said was that he wanted to disappoint (ogorchit’) those who wanted a permanent revolution.  Don’t believe me?  Read it yourself, either in Russian or English.  Medvedev’s point was that he wanted to avoid revolution, but instead push for political, economic, and bureaucratic reform in careful, graduated, evolutionary steps.

In keeping with last month’s theme of misquotation, I’d like to point out that Medvedev uses the term not as Trotsky (or indeed Lenin) actually meant it, but as Trotsky was much later vaguely and inaccurately interpreted.

The original idea is fairly straightforward.  What Trotsky called “permanent revolution” (permanentnaia revoliutsiia) was the idea that even when the proletariat was objectively weak, too weak to seize power in an orthodox Marxist revolution, it could ally with the bourgeoisie to overthrow feudalism, and then take advantage of that revolutionary moment to keep going and overthrow the bourgeois in turn to produce proletarian power.  So there’s nothing very permanent about permanent revolution, and Trotsky admitted that the term was something of a misnomer.

Of course, this permanent revolution is very close to what actually happened in 1917, which is what brought Lenin and Trotsky together.  They had independently converged on the idea of piggybacking the proletarian revolution on a successful bourgeois revolution–in Russia, there was no other way of making a proletarian revolution happen.  Lenin called the concept “uninterrupted revolution,” which is a better label, but the concepts are essentially the same.

So what does this have to do with Russia in 2009?  Not very much.  “Permanent revolution” has become a vague synonym for hard-core radicalism, and that’s how Medvedev seems to use it.  Evidently he hasn’t read much Trotsky.  Too bad.  Trotsky’s other key concept, of a revolution hijacked by the state apparatus in its own interests, might just be instructive.


Monday, September 7th, 2009

sharpeyedWhile Dave Stone has been hard at work generating new posts and site content, I’ve been working behind the scenes trying to make sure that his efforts don’t go for naught.

It turns out that over the weekend a nasty attack against WordPress-based blog sites (like TRF) was discovered by Lorelle on WordPress. According to reports, the hack exploits security breeches present in older versions of the blogging software. Bloggers who haven’t yet updated to the most recent edition of WordPress (2.8.4) should do so quickly. The download can be found HERE.

To all appearances we managed to catch things in time. I spent the better part of the weekend manually backing up the entire site and installing the new software. Readers of TRF shouldn’t notice anything different. In the off chance that you do, please drop me a note through the “Contact” page.



Pat Buchanan and the Russian military on World War II

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Noted political commentator and past Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan has weighed in on the origins of the Second World War, both at his own site and at

What’s striking to me is that Buchanan’s argument–that war could have been avoided had only Poland been more reasonable in dealing with Nazi Germany’s legitimate demands–is in its essentials identical to the case made by Russian Colonel S. N. Kovalyov a couple of months ago.

In Buchanan’s formulation,

The German-Polish war had come out of a quarrel over a town the size of Ocean City, Md., in summer. Danzig, 95 percent German, had been severed from Germany at Versailles in violation of Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination. Even British leaders thought Danzig should be returned.
Why did Warsaw not negotiate with Berlin, which was hinting at an offer of compensatory territory in Slovakia? Because the Poles had a war guarantee from Britain that, should Germany attack, Britain and her empire would come to Poland’s rescue.
But why would Britain hand an unsolicited war guarantee to a junta of Polish colonels, giving them the power to drag Britain into a second war with the most powerful nation in Europe?
Was Danzig worth a war? Unlike the 7 million Hong Kongese whom the British surrendered to Beijing, who didn’t want to go, the Danzigers were clamoring to return to Germany.

In short, the Poles should have surrendered Danzig, an ethnically German city, to the Germans rather than fight.

I’ve outlined the argument (as formulated by Kovalyov) and my objections to it before.  What Buchanan (and Kovalyov earlier) are omitting is the context of the guarantee to Poland against German aggression at the end of March 1939.  On 13 March 1939, Hitler had invaded and annexed the rump Czechoslovakia, rendering meaningless his claims to be reuniting German territories to the Reich.  Why trust him after that?

Book preview: Soviet photos online

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Foreign Policy has posted a nice collection of historical photographs, none of which I’d seen previously, from a forthcoming book by David King. Hat tip to Ralph Luker at Cliopatria.

Credit where credit is due

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Here’s a surprise–in the ongoing Russian preoccupation with falsification of history, it’s the supposedly liberal Dmitrii Medvedev who’s been complaining about falsifiers, and the supposedly authoritarian Vladimir Putin who’s said quite sensible things.  Writing in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza during his visit to Poland, Putin made a number of points which seem to me wholly correct: no country can claim clean hands in the 1930s.  We must all learn from history, but “exploiting memory, anatomizing history and seeking pretexts for mutual complaints and resentment causes a lot of harm and proves lack of responsibility. . . . The canvas of history is not a third-rate copy which can be roughly retouched or, following customer’s orders, modified by the addition of bright of dark tints.”

He specifically complains about those who attempt to whitewash Nazi accomplices (certainly a fair point), and argues that the road to World War II was a complicated one, beginning with the Treaty of Versailles and continuing through a host of events, including both Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.  He’s correct to mention, though his Polish audience may not have appreciated it, Polish cooperation with Nazi Germany in the partition of Czechoslovakia.

In sum, a remarkably sober and even-handed appraisal of the need for an honest look at history.  Let us hope Putin’s audience back in Russia pays attention.

UPDATE: Zbigniew Brzezinski likes the article, too.  THAT is striking.