Pipes 2 – Why did Lenin succeed?

storming of winter palace*

fait accompli . Who looked that one up?  There are great and complicated machinations at work in this chapter that I do not expect you to commit to detailed memory.  Even Pipes admits the complexity is too great for his short treatment here.

The long and short of it is that gaining power was as easy for Lenin as “picking up a feather”.  As the woman in the documents you will read (or have read) in class testifies to the “white” soldiers walked out and dropped their munitions.  There was no resistance.

There were three keys to this event which you should know in at least their basic form.  Failure of a major offensive in WWI, failure of the Provisional Government (PG) to hold an election, and the Kornilov affair, which you should know in the basic terms that Pipes lays down here.

Pipes makes a curious statement here that one, despite Lenin’s fears, cannot “betray” a revolution.  I think what he means here is that whereas there maybe be treasonous persons like a Benedict Arnold, a true revolution from below will have such power as to make their betrayal if not meaningless, than a mere bump in the road.

* a note on the image here.  I pulled it from another blog which noted it as the storming of the winter palace in the fall of 1917.  I noodled around a bit and found out there it is actually a still from Eisenstein’s 1926 film “October” and that the film sequence was actually modeled after the 1920 reenactment in which Lenin actually took place, not on the event of 1917 which was “far less photogenic” according to Wikipedia.  Another piece of evidence of why revolution was judged by many to be a great success!


Pipes Intro & Chapter 1 – Why did the Tsar fall?

pipes book cover

So here is your man Richard Pipes.  What do you think of him?  Its funny now, reading his book, published back in 1995 as he doesn’t know that since his lectures Putin has quietly closed those very same archives that were once, briefly open.

His assessment of the revisionists is really rather damning.  I don’t really think historians have to disagree with their elders, they just have to pursue different stories.  I do think some did buy into the Marxist history for political reasons though.

He also has some contradictions.  At one point he says the “muzhik” is quiet.  But then he says there is all this tension over land.  I do think political agitation from the intelligentsia was a huge reason for the Russian Revolution rolling as it did, and I do agree that it was not necessary nor predicted.

And then he has some interesting claims, like “only intellectuals can have universal grievances.”  What do you think he meant by this?

Also he mentions his work for the white house in 1982.  Who was president?  I need to give you all that 20th century presidential quiz don’t I?  What does this tell you?

What do you think?

Chapter 6 Resurrecting and Incorporating the revolution


In early 1941, just after the end of this chapter, the US state department asked Disney to do a “Good will tour” of South America which resulted in four films, including the one pictured above, in 1944.  The claim at the end of the chapter that WWII required closer collaboration between the two countries has good support from this evidence.

Also of course FDR’s tepid response to the nationalization of US and British oil companies, which in the hands of another leader in another time (Think Teddy R) may have resulted in military intervention, did not.  The threat of another general war in Europe and the rise of radical forces on the left and right through the Americas kept FDR’s response in check and ultimately pulled Cardenas out from his left leaning social reforms to a more centrist position.

His reforms made some great gains.  50 million acres redistributed, double the amount to date, a reformation of the political party, strengthening of labor unions and the nationalization of oil are the “quartet” of success under Cardenas for our authors.  Other, more humble success, such as many Mexicans enjoying their first beer or Coke also stand as evidence for author’s claim of the popularity and success of Cardenas.

Still the successes mask some failures.  The ejido, or collective farms, are compared to Stalin’s, do not provide ownership or wealth for the poor peasants, and their low output in part drives soaring food prices in the depths of the Great Depression.  Investors’ response to the nationalization of oil drives the value of the peso deeply down and politically we see the rise of a deeply conservative the PAN which will eventually unseat the revolutionary PRI party, albeit not until the election of 2000.

I did enjoy the authors’ efforts to put the Mexican Revolution in an international perspective.  For the Mexican government to give support to the anti-Fascist Republicans in the Spanish Civil war and to see an increase in communist and fascist interests in its own borders sort of reflects the US experience at the time with folks like Father Charles Coughlin (remember him?)    The Father of Hate Radio.

Finally I couldn’t help reflecting on this article from last year’s NYT.  The print edition headline is “Work Freed Her.  Then it Moved to Mexico.” The woman is from near where I grew up, in Indiana, in fact her daughter gets a scholarship to the university, Purdue, where my brother works.  But she is a high school drop out who landed a job in a factory at age 23 and I suppose thought she would work there forever.  She won’t.  The company sold the factory and moved it to Mexico where a worker she is training claims they will be able to hire six of him for what they paid her.  The relationship between these two countries and their people is more important today than ever IMHO.  Reading about the origins of those relations here i hope you realize, is a small first step to understanding them today.

Chapter 5 – forging a new Nation


Think of all the songs, flags and holidays devoted to upholding the USA’s national identity.  Think of Columbus day.  Columbus never heard of the USA when he died because it wouldn’t exist for 100s of years.  No one much noted the 100th anniversary of his first voyage in 1592,nor the 200th in 1692.  By the 400th anniversary the USA, and many new nations, like Germany, had created great heroic national histories, and in the USA Columbus emerged as part of that heroic march to freedom and democracy.

Think about that.  They created their own history. We (historians) have been trying to get out of that box for a long time.

Here, in this chapter, we see Mexico going through the same process.  Identifying their five martyrs, creating ballads and even inventing their own racial identity, the “cosmic race”.  They had to get all the people to identify as Mexican citizens first, Catholics, local identities and family in lower orders.  How do you identify yourself and why?

There is a lot lot lot going on in this little chapter.  But look at one story.  General Rodriguez.  Humble origins, smart, lucky, aligns with the right people, does the right things and by virtue, in part, of bringing wine making to Baja CA, he becomes wealthy and retires to La Jolla CA (according to Wikipedia) where he dies in 1967 just before the Olympic games in Mexico City 1968.  I think there’s an interesting IA in there somewhere.

Education and public art are a big part of this process and so here we are briefly introduced to Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and the educational reformer Vasconcelos.  There will be a test question on the impact of the revolution on art and education so pay attention here.

Don’t spend too much time on all the complex and interchanging alliances.  Keep your eye on your terms and as always…

Have fun!

Chapter 4 – the Violent climax of the revolution 1913-1920

pancho villa.jpg

So let’s take this one step at a time.  General Huerta generally seen as a return to Porfirio Diaz, though some historians have tried to redeem him, is not recognized by the new president of the USA, Woodrow Wilson, and finds himself forced to resign amid pressure from opposing forces, yet those forces soon split between the “Constitutionalists” (Carranza et. al., and the “Conventionists”, Pancho Villa et al).  Carranza will be recognized by the US, will move the seat of power to the port of Vera Cruz keeping important trade open during WWI, will wear down the opposition, but in the end finds himself gunned down after suggesting a political lackey to run instead of supporting his General Obregon’s presidential aspirations.  Along the way the “Jacobians” will help draft a new constitution, Pancho Villa will invade the United States, and the Spanish flu will ravage its way across the population.  That seems to be the broad strokes of chapter 4.

Many interesting stories and questions emerge here.  What is the role of women in the Mexican Revolution?  To what extent does the US and other foreign powers influence the revolution?   What difference would any of this make in the life of Mexican citizens?

The right to collectively bargain, to strike and to be paid overtime is a very practical and substantive difference in the life of a working family.  The right to own land is also pretty substantial and some would say also reigning in the power of the Catholic Church. What about women’s rights?  They fought on all sides in the revolutionists, the suffragettes in England and the USA have had some wins.  What about the women of Mexico?

Inquiring minds want to know.


Chapter 3 The revolution comes (and goes) 1910-1913

plan de ayala

So according to our authors, according to Diaz’s undersecretary of education, there were not one, but two revolutions going on in 1910.  Madero’s revolution was trumpeting democracy, and the other revolution he labeled as anarchy.  They pillaged, and murdered caused general disruption and they were the real revolution to fear.  “Defeating the insurgency (anarchists)  was of the greatest importance…(and he) believed it would require the co-optation of the political revolution (Madero) by granting its participants some access to power.”

This to me is the most damning statement in the chapter.  If Diaz co-opts Madero’s “revolution” which as you read few see as living up to its revolutionary promises, and Madero, under siege from left and right brings in Diaz’s old general Huerta, how revolutionary is it?  This is where the “fiesta of bullets” comes from.  Those in the real seat of power are never really representing the peasants, the agrarian forces behind Zapata.  Even after Huerta you have Carranza who as a “constitutionalist” is more of a gradualist.

Carranza and other middle class leaders had joined Madero because they had been denied political opportunities under Diaz. When it is obvious to the world that Madero has been co-opted by the old regime Zapata throws down the “plan of Ayala” to overthrow Madero.  Interesting to see it commemorated on a stamp.  I’d like to know when it was from.  Zapata is of course murdered by the government.  When and where does he become worthy of a stamp?

So according to flickr the stamp was issued in 1935 on the 25th anniversary of the plan, and 13 years after Zapata’s betrayal and murder. By 1935 had his reputation been so rehabilitated?  In 1934 Cardenas had taken power and as we will see in our student presentations,his is described as “the most radical phase of the post revolution social revolution”. (wikipedia) So by 1934-1940 has the revolution finally turned to really support the agrarian roots of Zapata revolutionaries?  We shall see.

Chapter 2 – the end of Diaz

rio blanco.jpg

This image is from the Rio Blanco strike.  The first hand account here claims hundreds of workers with wives and children were killed protesting their slave like conditions.  Like the Cananea strike, also mentioned here, Rio Blanco would be pointed to as one of the events the new middle class Mexican citizens would point to as evidence of the brutal oppressive regime that Diaz had become.

A few other points that stood out to me.

1 – Diaz maintained stability  by relying on the federal army, federal rural constabulary (police), state police and militias, private hacienda based forces, private security detectives, gun thugs, and then finally the Rangers from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.  Talk about a police state!

2 – With an average life expectancy of 30 and rural wages a quarter of what they were a century ago you have a large population in very bad shape undoubtedly clamoring for some real change.

3 – He says in the end though, the trigger was a magazine interview wherein Diaz promises Democracy and then forgets it only to throw himself the most lavish party possible while Madero rots in jail.   Hence with the tacit support of US government and business interests the Mexican revolution began.

If you lose the support of your biggest trading partner who you share a massive border with, have a large population in genuine crisis and you need a field of armies to keep things in control, well, your time is numbered.

On top of that members of the upper and middle classes were turning on him, significantly also calling the “mixed-race” mestizos the “real Mexicans” and then Madero rises out of the upper/middle class ranks and, again with tacit support of the US, takes power.  Diaz lost.  Why then, doesn’t the dust settle there?  Why Doesn’t Madero assume the presidency and establish democratic stability?