J. Ganzenmüller: Verheißung und Bedrohung. Die Oktoberrevolution als globales Ereignis

Verheißung und Bedrohung. Die Oktoberrevolution als globales Ereignis

Ganzenmüller, Jörg
Europäische Diktaturen und ihre Überwindung. Schriften der Stiftung Ettersberg 25
Köln 2019: Böhlau Verlag
281 S.
€ 35,00
Reviewed for Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists by
Jan C. Behrends, Leibniz-Centre for Contemporary History (ZZF), Potsdam

This volume analyzes international reactions to the Russian Revolution of 1917. The introductory essays by publisher Jörg Ganzenmüller and Gerd Koenen are followed by parts on the German left, on the genesis of Anti-Bolshevism, the reaction to the revolution in Europe and finally a section with essays about the impact of the Russian Revolution on the United States, China and Central Asia. Overall, the volume presents a series of different topics and regions on the European and global turning point of the Russian Revolution.

The introductory essays are followed by an analysis of the impact of the Russian Revolution on Germany. Bernhard H. Bayerlein argues that the perspective of a “German October” needs to be re-examined. The failure of a communist coup in Germany in 1923 had far reaching consequences – for Europe but also for the ambitions of the Komintern. The Stalinization of the German Communist Party from 1924 onwards was another result of the aborted “German October”. He shows how Stalin steered the party using both leftist radicalism and national populism as its rhetoric but failed to prepare the KPD for the Nazi seizure of power. Eva Oberloskamp discusses the travelogues of German intellectuals who visited the USSR. She shows how even bad initial impressions often led to positive reports and evaluations of the Soviet project.

The second part of the volume is introduced by Carsten Brüggemann who writes about the role of the Baltic German Max-Erwin von Scheubner-Richter in the establishment of National Socialism. Scheubner-Richter was killed in the infamous beer-hall-putsch of 1923 and was credited with having spread anti-Bolshevist attitudes in post-war Munich. He attempted to establish an anti-Bolshevist “White International” of nations. While staying close to Luddendorff, Scheubner-Richter also joined the Nazi Party in 1920. Brüggemann argues that he was never the key figure he had later been imagined to be. Rather, he remained a political outsider committed to the nationalist cause. Agnieszka Pufelska reconsiders the idea of “Jewish Bolshevism” during the Weimar Republic. She points to internal development like the short-lived Soviet republic in Munich that fostered the spread of the idea. Especially Ostjuden were perceived as agents of Bolshevism. Jews were not only held accountable for the Russian Revolution but also for the defeat of Germany and the introduction of a liberal order. The myth of the Jewish Bolshevik transformed Germans into victims of a Jewish onslaught. In the end, Pufelska argues, the anti-Semitism in “Jewish Bolshevism” was more important than the “Bolshevist” element.

The book’s third part considers the impact of the Russian Revolution on other European societies. Thomas Kroll explains how Bolshevism was perceived in France and Great Britain. Initially, the French as well as the British public were thrilled when the autocratic government of the tsar was toppled in February. The reactions to the Bolshevik coup in October were more negative. France and Britain were about to lose an important ally in their struggle with Germany. This led to the portrayal of Lenin and his party as agents of German power. Only much later, with the establishment of a communist party, did the myth of the Red October gain a foothold in France. In Britain, however, the support of Soviet communism remained on the very margins of political life. Hans Woller discusses the responses to the Russian upheaval in Italy. Even before the Word War, Italian society (not unlike Russian) was deeply divided. Woller explains the ambivalent reaction of the traditional Italian elites as well as the revolutionary enthusiasm of Benito Mussolini who – much like Lenin – believed in the interdependence between war and revolution. Still, as a nationalist he did not share Bolshevism’s internationalist approach. Overall, the Russian Revolution helped to accelerate Italy’s way into civil strife. The Hungarian Soviet republic is discussed by Julia Richers. The short-lived communist regime in Budapest has long been interpreted as the first export of the Bolshevik revolution. The author, however, claims that the Russian Revolution merely found an echo chamber in Hungary, a country with its own specific set of problems and political divisions at the end of World War I.

The final part of the volume addresses the global impact of the Russian Revolution. In America, the turmoil in Russia led to the “Red Scare” of 1917-21. While the Bolshevik revolution or immigrants from Russia never posed a danger to the political order in the United States, the persecutions and unrest of these years may rather be interpreted as a phase of conspiratorial thinking in American politics. Gotelind Müller discusses the relation of China to the Russian Revolution. Until today, China officially remembers the Bolshevik coup of 1917 as the first successful socialist revolution. The author shows how marginal Chinese communism was in 1918; still, in the long run, the relationship with Russia in all its up and downs became defining for the Chinese communists. The last essay of the volume is written by Gero Fedtke and deals with Central Asia’s Muslim communists. He describes how a first generation of Asian communists viewed the upheaval in Russia. The small intellectual elite in the area was looking for alternatives to the traditional society they lived in. Revolution, to them, was synonymous with progress. They did not only want to achieve change in Central Asia. Rather, their goal was to revolutionize the entire Orient. The revolution in Russia brought new chances of development for Central Asia. But in the end, it failed to end the colonial relationship between center and periphery.

The centenary of the Russian Revolution has brought a myriad of new publications on the subject. While most have focused on the territory of the former Russian Empire and on the international Communist movement, this volume explores the global significance of the Bolshevik seizure of power. Using Germany as a starting point, the volume discusses other examples and ends with the explorations of the US, China and Asia. While even more countries could have been included, the volume still manages to shed light on the impact of the events in Russia in different political and cultural settings. It succeeds in demonstrating that the Russian Revolution was much more than just a caesura of Russian history. While it put communism on the international agenda, the reactions to the revolution were important for the entire political landscape of the time and, indeed, of the 20th century. While offering many insights in the history of the first half of the 20th century the volume also demonstrates that we should continue reflecting upon the ways the Russian Revolution still shapes our world today.

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