What if the Bolsheviks hadn’t come to power in Russia?
The Bolshevik uprising was a coup d’etat, a power seizure. The masses were not involved in any way and, in fact, the general public did not know that anything was happening. If you read the newspapers from that time you find that the theatres were operating, there were concerts, and nobody knew what was happening. It was [just] a real power seizure. So I think if the Bolsheviks had not seized power in November 1917, the most likely scenario is that the military — the officers — would have overthrown the Provisional Government and probably established some type of military dictatorship for a while and eventually reinstated Tsar Nicholas II to the throne. I think that’s probably the most likely scenario.
Could the Bolshevik uprising have been stopped?
Well, I think if the Provisional Government that [the Bolsheviks] toppled had been more effective then, yes, it could have been. But the trouble was that the prime minister [Alexander Kerensky] was a weak leader and he didn’t know how to cope with the Bolsheviks. So it’s possible that if there had been a stronger leader then the Bolsheviks would have been stopped. But the leadership was weak and Russia had no experience in governing because they had so many years under an autocracy that they didn’t develop an effective [government]. Kerensky, whom incidentally I knew personally didn’t know how to stand up to Lenin.
Was there ever a turning point when the course of events could have gone either way?
The Provisional Government could have rallied the army [to stop the uprising]. In August 1917 there was a general [Lavr Kornilov] — a very effective and popular man — who tried to save the Provisional Government [by rallying the army].
But Kerensky disarmed the army [in fear of a coup from Kornilov] and armed the Bolsheviks [to defeat the army], so when the uprising began in November Kerensky had no one to help him. He really mismanaged the whole thing very badly. There were military people who realised the danger of Bolshevism and tried to stop it, and they wanted to help the Provisional Government, but [Kerensky] rejected their help and disarmed them. Kornilov sent troops to Petrograd, which was then the capital, and they were disarmed. And the Provisional Government armed his own opponents. So when November came the army just stood by and didn’t help.
Would Russia still have become a communist nation without the Bolshevik uprising?
Oh no, certainly not. The only support that the Bolsheviks had for communism at that time was that they wanted peace [from World War I]. The nation was quite tired of a war that wasn’t getting anywhere, and the Bolsheviks were the only party that advocated peace. And that’s what got them some support — not the communist [ideology]. Communism was never an [important] issue [for the Russian people].
What do you think Russia would have been like without communism?
Russia probably would have developed into what it is today — a kind of semi-autocratic and semi-democratic government. According to public opinion polls, Russians do not like democracy. They identify democracy with crime, anarchy and so on. And they like a strong hand — a strong ruler. So probably what you would have had is an autocratic regime with some civil rights and very likely private enterprise. They probably would have reinstated the monarchy in this semi-autocratic and semi-democratic regime. I think you would have had a parliament as you had before the war, before the revolution, which would have had limited powers although they would have had to approve the legislation, but the monarchy would have been very strong.
How would Russia’s relationship with the West have differed without communism?
I think [relations] would have been comparably better than they were under the communists. The Russian monarchy was on the whole friendly to the West, and learned a lot from it. It was not anti-Western [indeed, Tsar Nicholas II and King George V were cousins]. The anti-Western strategy and tactics were brought in by the communists because they wanted to communise the whole world, including the West.
Without a communist Russia would other nations like China still have followed suit?
I don’t think so, no. Russia provided a model and also provided support — so, for example, China wouldn’t have become communist if Russia was not communist. Communism was essentially imported from Russia and I don’t see that anywhere had anything like a [notable] communist party [before Russian influence].
Was communism important for Russia? Did it help the country develop in any way?
It was a disaster in every respect. Tens of millions of people perished. It’s true that they built up their industries, but the bulk of their industries were directed towards the military. And, as you can see today, after all these years of communism, Russia cannot export anything abroad except primary materials. You don’t see any Russian consumer goods; all the consumer goods that we import here come from China, not from Russia. [Before the Bolshevik uprising] Russia was developing very rapidly towards an industrial country. In the 1890s Russia had an industrial role and was leading in the world, and I think Russia would have become an industrial country without the communists. The communists industrialised but just in a military way. Under the communists roughly 25 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) went on military expenditure.
Would Russia still have had a civil war in 1918, and would they have entered World War II?
There would have been no civil war, certainly, and I think if there was no communism there probably would have been no World War II either, because this [conflict] broke out only because communists in Germany helped Hitler come to power, and in August 1939 Russia gave him carte blanche to launch a war against Poland, France and England. I can’t guarantee [there would have been no war], but, you know, the Russians certainly helped Hitler come to power. If the communists [in Germany] in 1933 had aligned themselves with the social democrats they would have won the elections [rather than Hitler’s Nazi party]. But Stalin ordered the communists in Germany not to collaborate with the social democrats, so they divided the opposition and Hitler won.
Without communism would Russia not have had figures like Stalin and Lenin?
There would have been no such dictatorship [and so no such dictators], Russia before the revolution was a semiconstitutional country, but there were no dictatorships.
The laws were obeyed and parliament had a right to veto legislation, but there’s no comparison between what happened before the revolution and what happened after.
If Russia hadn’t been losing to Germany in WWI, would the Bolsheviks still have seized power?
The Bolsheviks were [able to take power] not because people wanted communism but because they wanted an end to [WWI], and if [Russia] had won the war I think the communists would have had no chance. They brought in communism on an anti-war platform. Lenin was very careful not to propagate communism when he first came to power; he was just talking about peace, and when he made peace with the Germans a few months after seizing power it was very popular. But, you know, in the elections to the constituent assembly that were held in November 1917 when the Bolsheviks were already in power, the Bolsheviks only got one-quarter of the vote. They did not have widespread support around the country and to the extent that they had support it was on the platform of peace, not of communism. The majority [of the public] were for socialism — for regular democratic socialist parties that were not [in favour of] dictatorship and abolition of private property and so on [like the Bolsheviks were]. The [socialists] had the majority in the constituency general elections.
So would you say that communism was forced upon Russia and the rest of the world?
Lenin had a very clear goal, but he knew that he couldn’t establish a communist Russia without spreading communism worldwide, so his idea was to spread communism first through Europe and then the rest of the world, and he knew that communism in Russia alone could not work. Mao Zedong in China emulated both Lenin and Stalin, then [communism started] in North Korea, Cuba and so on, but it never became a worldwide phenomenon.
Would the Cold War with America still have broken out in the latter half of the 20th century?
No, there would have been no Cold War. The Cold War was the result of the desire of the communists to spread communism worldwide — and particularly to defeat the US as their main rival. I mean, before the Bolshevik Revolution relations between Russia and America were quite friendly. I think without the revolution relations would have been as good as they had been at least from the 18th century.
So overall, would Russia back then have been a better country without communism in your opinion?
I think that Russia was developing reasonably well before World War I. It had its problems — [for example] there were too many peasants and not enough land, but these problems could have been solved. When the Bolshevik party came to power they generally exacerbated all these problems rather than solving any of them.
And would Russia have been better off today if the Bolshevik uprising hadn’t happened?
Oh, it would have been much better off in my view — the mentality of the people would have been different. I think that Russians today are very confused about where they belong. They don’t feel they belong to the West, but they don’t belong to the East [either], so they’re isolated.
Without that Bolshevik Revolution telling them for 70 years that they are a unique people and that they are the future I think they would have been much more able to accommodate themselves to the world at large.