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The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki

Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Georgi Derluguian (New York University Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)

The Soviet Revolution of 1917: Did It Make a Difference?

One hundred years after the famous events in Petrograd, we do not even seem to know what to call it. A revolution, a coup, a failure? Today the assessments are still typically informed by politics, philosophy, or even religion. Let me suggest an alternative reconstruction based on the theories of social science: the historical sociology of revolutions, the economics of state developmentalism, and the world-systems analysis of geopolitics and geoculture. The Soviet revolution (a better name, as I would argue) started in 1905 and lasted until 1945. It was surely a uniquely Russian contingency and, judged on its own terms, a colossal failure to achieve freedom for the workers and peasants of Russia. Yet, at the grand plane of the evolution of human societies, the Soviet revolution also belonged to a major historical trend towards the democratization of modern societies. In world terms, paradoxically, it was a huge success. Looking back and ahead from October 2017, where does this analysis locate Russia now? And what about the prospects of the whole world?