Boris Kagarlitsky: ''After the revolution, national movements chose the Bolsheviks as the least of the evils''

Soviet dissident and sociologist about German money of the Bolsheviks, ambivalence of nationalists

Boris Kagarlitsky: ''After the revolution, national movements chose the Bolsheviks as the least of the evils'' Photo: Timur Rakhmatullin

25 October (in the Julian calendar) 1917 is considered to be a breaking point in history of Russia and even the planet. In an interview to Realnoe Vremya's reporter, political expert Boris Kagarlitsky, who is famous for his leftist views, told why the October events should not be considered as another revolution. The interlocutor of our online newspaper dispelled the myth about the 'German trace' and told how the Bolsheviks attracted representatives of nationalist movements to their camp.

October revolution is the cap

The Soviet historiography had a clear division into the February Bourgeois Revolution and October Revolution. Now people talk more about two stages of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Which point of view is closer to you?

Actually, it is two stages of one process. And the Soviet division was not as artificial as it was linked with political circumstances. The Soviet power had its own history of the events on 25 October 1917. And this is why these events needed to be pointed out as something separate and independent during the revolutionary process. But it is completely clear that, in fact, it was one of the stages. In addition, the very Bolsheviks perfectly understood it during the revolution and talked about the October coup without hesitation. And the very fight for power of the Unions started much earlier, not in October 1917. As far as we remember, it was in July 1917 when the first attempt of establishing the Soviet power was made without the Bolsheviks' leading role. Then the Bolsheviks were accused of a coup attempt and almost sent to the underground.

In any case, the division of the revolution into several stages was quite logical. So did it happen in France because the concept of the French Revolution appeared with hindsight. They had talked about several revolutions before. And every stage was defined not by a year but as one of the revolutions. For this reason, from a perspective of historical science, the division was not correct. We can probably say that 1917 October revolution was the peak, the culmination of the revolutionary process, but not an event standing aside from the others.

Mr Kagarlitsky, do you believe in the 'German trace' in the 1917 revolution?

The information that the German money was different and did not come from there is well known like the Bolsheviks were accused. Indeed, a company that, in fact, dealt with a legal traffic of German goods to Russia through Sweden was created by Parvus. A group of famous Bolsheviks worked in this company. This company worked completely legally, not only German but also Russian authorities knew about the character of its activity. The paradox was that it was beneficial for both sides. The task was to provide a commodity turnover between Russia and Germany despite the war. Quite big money passed through the company. And many Bolsheviks as top managers were entitled to have very high salaries. People who got high salaries just voluntarily and legally gave a big part of the money to the party's work. The Bolsheviks got this German money. In addition, by consent of Russian authorities. All these details are described in Vladlen Loginov's books Lenin In 1917 and Unknown Lenin.

And the idea of accusing the Bolsheviks of getting German money was born because it was completely open. These things were confirmed by documents and were never hidden. But then additional versions about some symbolic black cash that was given somewhere were made up. Then there were fake documents. It all is a lie, of course. Yes, some money came from Germany, but it came through completely open ways.

''When Yakub Ganetsky, who also worked in this company, received Lenin in Stockholm, they did not have money at all. They spent their last money to buy decent clothes to Vladimir Lenin who wore some Alp boots and old suit, so that he would come to Petrograd with a decent look.'' Photo: mirkultura.ru Ulyanov (Lenin) in the wig and with make-up

But there are also things that people usually try not to mention: other parties also got a lot of money, much more than the Bolsheviks did, through the Triple Entente. But this topic is not considered, whether this money was legal or illegal. A great number of politicians in Russia had foreign money. In this respect, the Bolsheviks were one of the most modest ones. From a financial and political perspective, the provisional government and its politicians got much more help from abroad than the Bolsheviks. The Anarchists were those who did not have any financial possibilities – either external or internal — they acted at their own risk. It explains why they had to steal and grasp valuable things, they just did not have another way of getting money.

It is seen in Loginov's books how little money the Bolsheviks had. When Yakub Ganetsky, who also worked in this company, received Lenin in Stockholm, they did not have money at all. They spent their last money to buy decent clothes to Vladimir Lenin who wore some Alp boots and an old suit, so that he would come to Petrograd with a decent look. He was bought a coat he wore for several years then, a good hat (there was not any cap). And all money was spent on it. After that, they went to ask money from Swedish Social Democrats. There was a very funny story. To just buy tickets for Lenin (they did not have the money even for tickets), they turned to the party administration with some of the Social Democrats. The party was on the side of Social Democrats. Addressing the head of the faction, one of the leftists said: ''Please, help Lenin and his friends reach Petrograd because these people will rule Russia in several months''. That head did not believe but gave the money. There was another curious moment. On the Russian border, Lenin was searched. What is more, not Russian but British officers did it. Englishmen searched him right on the Finland border, which shows the sovereignty level of Russia at that time.

Attractive Bolshevik project for national districts

Why did many national movements supported the Whites first during the civil war but switched to the Reds in the end? It is enough to remember Tatar activists.

Nationalist movements came from the liberal Cadets. And all bourgeois nationalist movements came from the Cadets or were ideologically close to them (like Tatar, for example) or from different people's SR movements, like it was seen for Ukraine and Belarus, or the right wing of Social Democracy (same Petlyur). Historically, all national movements were with either the Cadets or right-wing Socialists. Yes, ideologically, the Bolsheviks supported self-identification of peoples, but they were an uncomfortable party of this kind of forces because they were backed by a completely different social base – industrial working class and sympathising intelligentsia, who were 100% Russian-speaking. Even if they recognised the right to self-identification, they, in turn, were far from this national topic. Small bourgeois organisations cooperated with different nationalist movements more because they shared the social base in national districts. It is clear that all these parties with their ideological allies in Petrograd opposed Bolshevism after the October Revolution. On the other hand, nationalists used the country's crisis during the dissolution of the Russian Empire to create their own state or quasi-state. In this case, the takeover of the power by the Bolsheviks happened during the dissolution that had already begun. Precisely the Bolsheviks were in the centre – in the capital of the country, in place of the state power, and they had to fight for conservation of the central state. Any aspiration to leave the country was real opposition to the capital – the Bolsheviks who were already in this place.

But when the civil war started, it turned out that, on the one hand, some national projects could not be made real (there were not just conditions for a full-fledged national country). The White movement rose at the same time. It, in general, was the enemy of any national rights that the Orthodox great Russian state was against. In this situation, small bourgeois movements chose the Bolsheviks as the least of the evils. Some national rights would, undoubtedly, be respected and some types of national statehood, not necessarily those they had dreamt of first but any types, would be created in the state structure that was established by the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks accepted the friendship of these national movements for the same reason because they just needed to win the war and unite the country. They thought (and quite logically) that concessions to national movements were a logical and necessary price that was behind the conservation of one economic space. Such a deal was made, it was rational for both sides. In addition, it was effective. We know that the Soviet Union existed for more than 70 years. In other words, the country was united. And thank God, the Russian Federation still exists. The deal worked. Now talks about the time bomb, which was put under the USSR, too many concessions of the Bolsheviks to national movements or suppression of aspiration for freedom of national districts by the Bolsheviks are words of people who not only did not live then but have a vague idea of those political conditions and game rules that took place in the 1918-1920s.

In the 100th anniversary of the revolution, some people are afraid of a new coup. Has Russia reached this limit?

Not all people can like what I will say. We can say that now a revolution could greatly benefit Russia. But now as far as we see it doesn't begin. Revolution is a change of the development model, it not always means a change of the system. In this respect, there was not any revolution in Ukraine, no development model changed there. The problem is that our development model of modern Russia, which is based on feedstock, oligarchy, periphery, has run its course. It is backed by the use of the resources that left from the Soviet era. A more creating, more economic model of the economy and society needs to be created. It is impossible to do it without a revolution. The current elites are just not interested even if it is the time for changes, and maybe they are not so dangerous for them. In any case, they won't benefit them. Conditions for a revolution obviously ripe in Russia. But the very situation doesn't arise completely because the society did not understand how dramatic, dangerous its own position is.

''If the cultural and national autonomy in our country is held gradually, the status of the Tatar language in Russia will increase because the majority of the Tatar population is inside Tatarstan. And several regions will need to make the Tatar language as second official language, according to these rules.'' Photo: Maksim Platonov

We see that regions are becoming larger. Will the ideas of cancellation of national and territorial division of the country be accomplished?

I don't know what the Kremlin will make up. From a logical perspective, a partial change would be sensible. There is a famous Finnish model when a territorial division doesn't exclude a national autonomy when every region has a cultural and linguistic policy in accordance with the number of the population. When you have 5% of Swedish people in the region, the Swedish language is considered official. If there are more than 50% in the region, it becomes the first language and Finnish – second. If the cultural and national autonomy in our country is held gradually, the status of the Tatar language in Russia will increase because the majority of the Tatar population is inside Tatarstan. And several regions will need to make the Tatar language second official language, according to these rules. If we apply the Finnish system, several regions will need to speak the Tatar language.

By Timur Rakhmatullin