Posted: March 18th, 2023
Russian and Chinese Revolution
In 1917, a tremendous revolution took place in Russia. The causes of this violent outbreak had deep roots in a tormented past, when the czardom tried more and more to impose its power, by obliterating people’s free will and personal liberties. Nevertheless, the Russians also adopted Western technology, and a small society of educated Russians began to see things differently. Amidst the intellectual elite, with democratic and humanitarian views, there was a group of more radical people. The latter adopted and made propaganda for theories like nihilism, anarchism and the well-known Marxism-Leninism.
Under Alexander II, the serfs emancipated, thing which made peasants dissatisfied because of their now harder economic condition. This emancipation in 1861 led to an urbanization, during which most peasants moved to city and began to feel the oppression of the rich. The exploited working class was, of course, a very fertile soil for the radical ideas that circulated at that time. Thus, at the very beginning of the 20th century, Russia had many contrasting political circles: the nobles and the priests wanted a continuity of the czar’s autocracy, the capitalists craved for a constitutional monarchy, the bourgeois formed a group which finally became the Constitutional Democratic Party, while the workers and the peasants constituted the main part of the Socialist Revolutionary Party.
In regard to the Chinese revolution, things were a bit different. At the end of the 19th century, many people began to manifest their desire to purge the Qing Dynasty and institute a more democratic political regime, such as the ones in the United States or France. These ideas didn’t come from nothing, as most of the revolutionaries were established in other countries and when they returned, they brought along new modern concepts. Two such defiant organizations were Furenwen, led by Yang Quyun and created in Hong Kong in 1890, and Revive China, led by Sun Yat-Sen and instituted in Honolulu in 1894; they both had as crucial aim to raise money in order to support the revolution. In 1895, Furenwen and Revive China fused in Hong Kong under the name of Revive China, thus achieving more power to act.
In 1985, after the first Sino-Japanese War, more and more students began to leave China for Japan, until the number of Chinese students in Japan reached the fabulous sum of 20,000. Given these conditions, the young intellectuals received new radical ideas and started to propagate them by means of publications and different instituted societies, having in view the outbreak of a democratic revolution. They represented one of the supports of what was called the Xinhai Revolution. Nevertheless, its strength consisted in other elements too, such as intellectuals that returned from abroad, members of different organizations, overseas Chinese, soldiers of the new armies, middle-class people and peasants.
On November 1, Yuan Shikai, one of the high military officials, was designated as prime minister of the emperor’s cabinet. Revolutionaries thought he was to be elected as president and they tried to persuade him to give up this function, so they could elect him as president of the republic. On November 16, Sun Yat-Sen, a political leader who is often referred to as the ‘father of modern China’, announced the revolutionary government that he would appoint Yuan Shikai as the first president. Later on, a sustaining group came to Shanghai to organize a central government. At the beginning of 1912, on January 1, Sun Yat-Sen proclaimed the setting up of the Republic of China in Nanking and he became its temporary president. Hence, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty abdicated and the Republic of China evidently replaced this dynasty, which governed China for 268 years.
Let’s go back to Russia now. After the civil war in 1918-1920, which ruined the country, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was established in 1922. It was the first state whose theoretical foundation was built on Marxist socialism, an economic and political philosophy that communism is set up on. During the Stalin Era, the Russians draw the first Five Years Plan (1928-1932). This Plan was actually designed to map the entire economy of Russia for the next five years to come. It imposed harsh conditions. Ironically, the peasants were the unhappiest, because they had to give up their farms and become members of the new institutionalized farms, where they had to share their work and goods with others. There were some farmers who refused to join these collective farms, but they were drastically punished. Most of the insubordinates between them were unconditionally sent to Siberia.
Later on, Khrushchev constituted the decentralized industry, because he wanted things to run smother and faster, without the current impediments from the central bureaucratic authority. A great number of ministries were dismantled. In what concerns the agriculture, Khrushchev established lots of wheat plantations on the former empty lands from Asian and Siberian Russia, thing which led to a bigger amount of manufactured products. He also reduced the taxes that collective farmers had to pay for their small, private cultivations. But social negative aspects restraint people’s freedom, such as the fact that, in 1957, Boris Pasternak, now a famous writer, couldn’t receive the Nobel Prize because his well-know novel, Doctor Zhivago, somewhat criticized the negative aspects from the post-revolutionary Russia.
Under Brezhnev too, there were lots of writers and artists, the intellectual elite in general, who manifested their disapproval in what concerns the poor quality of lifestyle and the low access to various resources in Russia. Of course, as one can imagine, they were treated with violence and cruelty by the government, many of them being sent in exile, in very hostileconditions of emprisonment. Nevertheless, as L.S. Stavrianos affirmed in his Global Rift: The Third World Comes of Age, the life of the rich has much of its bases on the very cheap work hand and resources in impoverished countries; our modern, comfortable life is facilitated by the very cheap resources in poor countries, such as natural resources, man-made products, energy, and, in the first place, a tremendously low-cost working hand.
In 1985, another thing happened in Russia: that which is often called ‘perestroika’ or restructuring. This was a measure imposed by Gorbachev, in order to create a new society, to give the taste of a little bit of freedom to the existing society. In truth, he tried to reinforce the Russian economy by letting information and products flow freely. He didn’t actually succeed, and the troubles in the country continued and even increased. In 1991, on August 23, Yeltsin disestablished USSR and the countries within it began to declare their independence.
The situation in China is considerably different, if we only take into account the breakdown of the revolution and the washout of the aspiration for a real democratic socialist regime in China. In his book, Stavrianos provides a detailed analysis about the reasons for this failure. On one hand, the Western imperialism obliged China to modernize very fast, when the latter didn’t have the proper social conditions. On the other hand, Russia sacrificed Chinese masses only in its interests, without paying attention to people’s will. Russia wanted to gain a new ally, embodied by China.
In China, the monarchy, which lasted 2,000 years, was replaced by a new state, in the form of a republic with democratic ideals that had never been accomplished. The Chinese communist philosophy, called Maoism, is derived from the theories of the Chinese communist leader, Mao Zedong; his theories have been described as an alternative to the Marxist-Leninist concepts. But this philosophy had also its own original properties, such as the fact that it put a stress on peasants, not like Marxism, which emphasized the power of the working class in what concerns the so-called democratic revolution.
Another aspect within the communist China is the fact that the human condition was very poor and the resources to which people had access were dramatically limited. As I have shown before, Stavrianos thinks that this poor condition of the quality of life in pauperized countries is somehow a pillar for the comfortable, no-worries life of the people in the first world.
In conclusion, Russia and China built up an entire complex revolutionary system which challenged and often ruined the newly established states, from all the points-of-view: economic, politic, social and intellectual; their systems had similarities and lots of differences, as I have proved in my essay.
L.S. Stavrianos. Global Rift: The Third World Comes of Age. Morrow, 1981.
Harold R. Isaacs. The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1951.
Don C. Price. Russia and the Roots of the Chinese Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974.
David Ludden. Modern Inequality and Early Modernity: A Comment for the AHR on Articles by R. Bin Wong and Kenneth Pomeranz. http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ahr/107.2/ah0202000470.html
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