As states go, the Soviet Union died young. It also never made it to where it really wanted to be: communism.
The first socialist state – and empire, and then superpower – did not die innocent or, actually, without achievements. It has left humanity a rich record of stifling bureaucracy, ideological mulishness, and, last but not least, a legacy of tyranny and oppression, at first manically bloodthirsty and then (mostly) depressingly drab. But it also left us – almost hidden in plain sight – the imprint of its crucial contribution of eliminating the scourge posed by Nazi ideology. It's a fact abused for propaganda, but it's still a fact.
The centenary of 1917 brings home just how short the life of that country so ambitious, so failed, and so consequential really was. While its mythical birthday is only a century ago, it has already been more than a quarter century since its death. Middle-aged professors – like this author – who teach about it can remember it, but most of their students cannot. This simple fact must have consequences for how we think about the Soviet system, which the October Revolution of 1917 spawned.
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Tarik Cyril Amar is an Associate Professor of the Soviet Union, Russia, and Ukraine at Columbia University.