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At the moment of the Socialist Revolution (or coup d'état) in October/November 1917 Russia was still mostly an agrarian society, whereas Marxist theory predicted Socialist revolutions in developed capitalist economies, such as France, Germany, or Britain at the time. Marx and Engels themselves conceded that the developed tradition of the village commune in Russia allowed for a possibility of a direct transition to Socialism/Communism, provided that the simultaneous Socialist revolution takes place everywhere in Europe. The Bolsheviks early after the revolution also believed that they could survive in power, only if the Europe-wide revolution takes place sufficiently soon - see, e.g., the discussed between Kautsky and Trotsky/Lenin around Terrorism and Communism.

However, did Bolsheviks take any active steps to encourage a European revolution or even lead it? By this I mean fomenting civil unrest in Europe, supplying money and arms, and likewise?

The only thing I am aware of is the negotiations leading up to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which Trotsky tried to use as a propaganda platform. This is however a long shot, compared to the meticulous planning and forceful actions that they took to carry out the revolution in Russia.

Clarification
I am interested in the period after the revolution, before adopting Socialism in one country policy (after which fostering revolution became mostly a method of promoting Soviet national interests.)

Update
Hungarian Socialist Republic mentioned in the comments seems like a promising lead, but the Wikipedia article only states that Bela Kun took orders from Lenin, but doesn't explain why Kun would listen to Lenin and whether Russian Bolsheviks provided any material, organizational or political help - in fact, they even refused to sign a treaty of alliance.

Overall, I would appreciate, if people post complete answers rather than try to give links or one-sentence answers in comments, which violates SE policies.

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    – MCW
    Oct 26, 2023 at 10:20

2 Answers 2

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The Bolsheviks did not "foster" any revolutions in Europe, and were not in a position to contribute meaningfully to ones that did occur anyway in the post-war wave of Socialist revolutions across Europe.

It's important to understand that the October revolution was actually a coup. The Bolsheviks were totally out of touch with the sentiment of the people in February 1917 and flailed to fill the power vacuum that formed afterwards. They didn't really get better at seizing the moment in subsequent iterations - all Bolshevik-backed Socialist takeovers would take the form of coups rather than revolutions (Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War, and post-war Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, etc).

After the October coup, there were years of civil war - critically not just against supporters of the deposed government, but against Tsarists, Socialist-Revolutionaries, anarchists, independence movements in former colonies of the Russian Empire, and Allied intervention troops. The government of Soviet Russia did support Red formations in the breakaway regions (including European ones such as Finland, the Baltics, Ukraine, etc), but they were more a part of the overall Russian Civil War than separate revolutions.

There was a brief moment during the war when Lenin believed that the Red Army could march all the way to Warsaw and beyond; the second World Congress of the Comintern had delegates from organized Socialist parties in Europe and was intended to prepare them for collaboration with the Red Army once it arrived. But later that year the Poles crushed the Red Army and these plans came to nothing; no revolution had occurred.

Russia was devastated by these wars and the "War Communism" policy of seizing whatever the army needed from the peasants. It had no money and arms to spare. By 1921 Lenin's strategy to consolidate power was not to export the revolution, but to fix his own country with the New Economic Policy. If Marx said that only capitalist nations could successfully transition to socialism and then communism, the USSR would "speed run" through the capitalist stage under the guidance of the vanguard party.

There were opportunities for the USSR to intervene during the wave of post-war unrest - notably in Italy, Hungary, and Germany. But the Soviet reaction was extremely tepid: the Politburo blocked Trotsky from going personally, only a few Party members were sent to Germany in support of the 1923 revolution, and the uprising there failed spectacularly.

By 1924, Lenin was dead. Stalin seized on a quote from Lenin's speech at the 1919 All-Russia Trade Union Congress to advocate for what became known as "Socialism in one country":

I know that there are, of course, sages who think they are very clever and even call themselves Socialists, who assert that power should not have been seized until the revolution had broken out in all countries. They do not suspect that by speaking in this way they are deserting the revolution and going over to the side of the bourgeoisie. To wait until the toiling classes bring about a revolution on an international scale means that everybody should stand stock-still in expectation. That is nonsense.

By 1928, the Great Break with the NEP had established Stalin's vision for the country as the one that would stick.

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  • +1 Why didn't they try similar coups elsewhere in Europe? There is also something that puzzles me about the coup (although it may fall beyond this question): they needed a force to carry it out. Coups usually rely on an army or an extended combat organization (like Brown shirts for Nazis) - it seems that Bolsheviks could not rely on anything other than political agitation (Full disclosure: I am in the process of reading Pipes.)
    – Roger V.
    Oct 25, 2023 at 13:58
  • There's a whole rabbit hole of reasons for why color-shirts could organize in Italy, Germany, etc but Communists could not. Communists themselves would tell you that this is because Fascism is Capitalism's immune response to Communism, and we certainly do see, for example, German Freikorps fighting revolutionaries alongside state forces.
    – SPavel
    Oct 25, 2023 at 14:03
  • I agree with that. However, Bolsheviks did need a loyal striking force in order to carry a coup - if we assume that they had no popular support (I am not arguing for Bolsheviks, simply trying to understand the mechanics behind the revolution.)
    – Roger V.
    Oct 25, 2023 at 14:05
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    I don't think we can assume Communists had no popular support. We can see by the volume of labor action that there was certainly support - if not for Marxism-Leninism specifically, then for socialist policies in general. But during the 1917 coup the Bolsheviks already had access to the halls of power, as a large party in the Duma, and were busy organizing Red Guards formations since spring 1917.
    – SPavel
    Oct 25, 2023 at 14:33
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It's unclear what the asked-about time frame is but since it seems you want to limit the question to Lenin's time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Army_invasion_of_Georgia

The Red Army invasion of Georgia (12 February – 17 March 1921), also known as the Georgian–Soviet War or the Soviet invasion of Georgia, was a military campaign by the Russian Soviet Red Army aimed at overthrowing the Social Democratic (Menshevik) government of the Democratic Republic of Georgia (DRG) and installing a Bolshevik regime (Communist Party of Georgia) in the country.

Georgia is in Europe, albeit not in Western Europe.

Like I said in a comment, one cannot make a neat distinction between exporting revolution and incorporating lands in the USSR.

Please no "but it belonged to Russia before" Putin-style comments.

Somewhat ironically,

The People's Commissar of Nationalities Affairs, Joseph Stalin, who by the end of the Civil War had gained a remarkable amount of bureaucratic power, took a particularly hard line with his native Georgia. He strongly supported a military overthrow of the Georgian government and continuously urged Lenin to give his consent for an advance into Georgia. Soviet leadership had established a right to succession, but the precedence of the cause of socialism above national self-determination meant it was a flexible policy, and subject to debate. The People's Commissar of War, Leon Trotsky, strongly disagreed with what he described as a "premature intervention", explaining that the population should be able to carry out the revolution. Pursuant to his national policy on the right of nations to self-determination, Lenin had initially rejected use of force, calling for extreme caution in order to ensure that Russian support would help but not dominate the Georgian revolution; however, as victory in the Civil War drew ever closer, Moscow's actions became less restrained. For many Bolsheviks, self-determination was increasingly seen as a diplomatic game which has to be played in certain cases.

And since Georgia had a peace treaty with the USSR and was recognized internationally, the USSR had to come up with a pretext:

According to Moscow, relations with Georgia deteriorated over alleged violations of the peace treaty, the re-arrest by Georgia of Georgian Bolsheviks, obstruction of the passage of convoys to Armenia, and a suspicion that Georgia was aiding armed rebels in the North Caucasus.


As I see got some downvotes, sure color me thick, but perhaps some think that by "a European revolution" necessarily meant a simultaneous one, but although Lenin would have perhaps preferred if that were to happen somehow like that, he hardly considered it the only way, even in 1915

A United States of the World (not of Europe alone) is the state form of the unification and freedom of nations which we associate with socialism—about the total disappearance of the state, including the democratic. As a separate slogan, however, the slogan of a United States of the World would hardly be a correct one, first, because it merges with socialism; second, because it may be wrongly interpreted to mean that the victory of socialism in a single country is impossible, and it may also create misconceptions as to the relations of such a country to the others.

[...] the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone. After expropriating the capitalists and organising their own socialist production, the victorious proletariat of that country will arise against the rest of the world—the capitalist world—attracting to its cause the oppressed classes of other countries, stirring uprisings in those countries against the capitalists, and in case of need using even armed force against the exploiting classes and their states. A free union of nations in socialism is impossible without a more or less prolonged and stubborn struggle of the socialist republics against the backward states.

So yeah, expansion by subversion/revolution plus war of the already socialist countries against the rest can easily be read into that as well.

And, yeah, if I also need to say this, a bit later Lenin started to emphasize that revolutions are more like to succeed in the periphery, where capitalism was weaker (contra Marx). E.g.

Lenin’s worldview shifted the revolutionary socialist struggle to the semi-peripheral countries of the East. In the Political Report to the Ninth All-Russian Conference of the Communist Party on 20 September 1920, he pointed out that, when account is taken of the population of the colonial areas, ‘seven-tenths of the [world] population, given a correct policy, would back Soviet Russia’ [...] He anticipated revolution spreading to oriental countries such as China. ‘[S]ubsequent revolutions in Oriental countries, which possess much vaster populations in a much vaster diversity of social conditions, will undoubtedly display even greater distinctions than the Russian Revolution’ (Our Revolution (16/17 January 1923))

So that's entirely consistent with subverting or conquering Russia's near-abroad first, revolutions in Asia etc. Not waiting/hoping for the miracle revolution in the advanced capitalist countries first or necessarily investing many resources in that. Which doesn't mean no resources were allocated at all for that, see the Comintern.

The total Comintern budget for 1922, as drawn up by the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, was 2,950,600 gold rubles. With a rate of exchange of 10.5 gold rubles the equivalent of $5, the budget was approximately $1.4 million in 1922 dollars ($19.1 million in 2012 values). Allocations to different parties ranged from 500,000 gold rubles to the Germans ($3.3 million in 2012 values), 352,800 ($2.3 million in 2012 values) to the Americans, and 327,600 ($2.1 million in 2012 values) to the Czechoslovaks, down to 196,560 ($1.3 million in 2012 values) to the British and 155,763 ($1 million in 2012 values) to the Italians. The budget rose and fell over the years. In 1925, the Comintern was allocated 4,180,450 gold rubles. In 1938, however, the Politburo approved the ECCI’s budget of only 1,342,447 gold rubles.

Also see Stalin's pre-WW2 military adventures/support e.g. Xinjiang 1934 or 'Red' (Republican) Spain. 'Socialism in one country' didn't mean no support whatsoever for revolutions elsewhere.

And perhaps as prototyped in Spain (albeit it rather failed there), Stalin later pushed what's been called "revolution by degrees" i.e. creating broad leftist coalitions that would take power with minimal Western objections, in order/hope to have Communist assert themselves among these later on. This, of course, like in Spain, worked better when there was Soviet military involvement/presence, as it would happen in Easter Europe after WW2.

The records of Stalin’s conversations with European Communists and the OMI’s instructions to the European Communist Parties to establish that by spring 1943 the Kremlin had developed and begun to execute a consistent political strategy designed to establish Communist-dominated coalition regimes in Eastern Europe in the near term and, over the longer term, to foster the development of the Communist movement in Western Europe. As regards Eastern Europe, the strategy was not a response to Western initiatives in the sense of being a defensive reaction to Anglo–American intrusions into the Soviet sphere. Chronology alone precludes that. [...]

[Stalin's] policies during and after World War II amounted to “National Bolshevism”—the use of the Soviet state as an agent of revolutionary change. Stalin himself said as much in 1940: “The action of the Red Army is also a matter of world revolution.”

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  • Geirgia is in Europe, because it aspires for membership in EU. Otherwise, it is sandwiched between Russia and Turkey - and for the purposes of this question Russia is considered distinct from Europe. Furthermore, Georgia used to be a part of the Russian empire, so it is not Russia only to the extent that the Bolsheviks early encouraged separatism. Finally, the OP explicitly talks about the necessity of revolution in developed capitalist economies - Georgia wasn't one either.
    – Roger V.
    Oct 26, 2023 at 4:47
  • @RogerV.: perhaps you should read more of what Lenin actually wrote. I added a quote from him. He doesn't say in there anything about the "the necessity of revolution in developed capitalist economies". Oct 26, 2023 at 5:07
  • It is quite explicit in Lenin's response to Kautsky in the cites Communism/Terrorism debate. According to McLellan there was an extended debate among the Bolsheviks, with Stalin characteristically coming on the wrong side and later adopting what was essentially a trotskyist position as his own.
    – Roger V.
    Oct 26, 2023 at 5:43
  • @RogerV.: I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, but it's up to you back up your claims with quote in your Q. Anyhow, you can see that Lenin at times had other visions of how the world will become socialist. Oct 26, 2023 at 5:49
  • @RogerV.: All I see in wikipedia is that "Trotskyists often claimed and still claim that socialism in one country opposes both the basic tenets of Marxism and Lenin's particular beliefs that the final success of socialism in one country depends upon the revolution's degree of success in proletarian revolutions in the more advanced countries of Western Europe." So that's attributed to Trotskyists, not to Lenin. Oct 26, 2023 at 6:10

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