In order to gauge whether Bolshevism failed in the Soviet Union, we must identity the goals of the Bolsheviks and whether those goals were indeed attained. The Bolsheviks sought to instigate revolution, create a new and equitable society by redistributing the means of production and finally propel the Soviet Union (and the world) into a utopia that they envisioned.
The Bolshevik revolution itself goes against the Communist grain because of the manner in which it took place. While revolution is a post-condition for class consciousness in the works of Marx and Lenin, the Bolsheviks took power through a coup of limited appeal. Clearly, Lenin and his party did not catalyze a revolution, but imposed it upon the people.
The creation of an equitable society can be regarded, by and large, as a partial success. This is because the Bolsheviks quickly and efficiently tore down the old order and all its associated inequalities. While this end was used a pretext for mass terror by nearly all the Soviet regimes, the killing and uprooting can be seen as class-blind. What emerged in the new order was a system where people succeeded to a great degree on how well they played the system rather than on where they were born. The means of production were wrested from the hands of the few and genuinely belonged to all the people. It is true that an oligarchy came to dominate Soviet power and that that this new upper class controlled the instruments of power and ensured that the state worked in essence for them. However, it cannot be overlooked that a person from the working classes could join this oligarchy without much hindrance. Powerful elites are part and parcel of any state and the Communists must be excused for their presence. In all, the masses did have control over the flawed means of production.
Bolshevism’s greatest failure in the Soviet Union was that it was unable to bring out its much-promised utopia. It certainly wasn’t denied any chances to accomplish this. It always had the sheer power and energy to constantly change the structure of the state and indoctrinate people as it wanted. Yet, the Soviet Union hardly managed to feed its populace and offer it a standard of living comparable with the West’s, even after nearly seven decades of frequent trial and error. In fact, the Communists’ pre-revolutionary roadmap hardly panned out. For one, the state continues as a monolithic entity and actually bulked up in size and involvement. Considering that Lenin considered the state to be a transitory and doomed entity, this seems especially jarring. The New Communist Man never showed up, but was instead supplanted by a fearful and cynical population.
We must not, however, forget the successes that the Soviet Union enjoyed. In spite of the tremendous strife that it went through, it was able to constantly produce science and technology of the highest caliber. It managed engage the West in a Space Race and a Cold War. There were times when it even outshined the West in terms of viability. The drastic transformation that it brought about of a peasant society into a modern, industrial one was so impressive that the world’s youth and many statesmen paid attention. However, Communism and the Soviet Union were built on greater goals. The Soviet Union was supposed to be the harbinger of a new utopia and the stepping stone of Communism in its shot at global domination. These lofty and ambitious goals were never reached and therefore it must be concluded that Bolshevism failed in the Soviet Union.
Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich. What is to be done? Dover Publications, 1987.
Pipes, Richard. A Concise History of the Russian Revolution. Vintage, 1996.
Teo-lohi said: "this is good, but it ignores a crucial divergence between bolshevik practice and marxist doctrine. according to marxism, there is a series of revolutions from feudal to capitalist and from capitalist to socialist. a bourgeois state lays the foundations for a socialist one. the bolsheviks tried to go straight from a feudal ancien regime to a socialist state. i think lenin himself, at least in his earlier writings, believed a bourgeois revolution was necessary before a proletarian one. of course, he totally ignored this in practice. perhaps this was because lenin believed russian capitalism was much more developed than it was, and therefore riper for socialism than it was in reality."