2018 – Is the Revolution Over?

This article is an excerpt from Smith’s Almanack (2018).

By: Austin Smith

In late April 1918, Vladimir Lenin said, “In the end, countries will coalesce into a great socialist federation or commonwealth — seventy-five or one hundred years.”* I don’t believe at this point that it will be a controversial statement to say that, with less than a year left, that isn’t going to happen. But was that definitely the case when Lenin said it? Was the course of Marxism and Leninism pre-ordained at that moment? It wasn’t as if Lenin was posturing; this was said in a private conversation. He wasn’t “out of his mind;” in the same conversation he correctly predicted the Kaiser wouldn’t last the year. But of course he was not a future-seer. How long this revolution would go on without him was not his to know.

Lenin, at that moment, could not have predicted how poorly the proletariat revolution would go in the other countries across Europe. In Germany, as the First World War ended, the bourgeoisie “lucked out” when the country was proclaimed a republic before the communists could assert too much influence, and the “spartacists” were violently suppressed. How could Lenin have foreseen the violence with which the “middle class” and even the workers would resist the revolution throughout Europe, with what vehemence they would speak of “communists”? The “Fascist” movements that grew as the influence of the kings waned were certainly a troubling development for the Comintern (communist international). While the actual politics of Mussolini’s Fascists, Hitler’s National Socialists, and Sima’s Iron Guard were quite different from one another, they all shared a hatred for the communist party. By the late 1930s, with General Franco having crushed the republican resistance (who were supported by the Soviets) in Spain it seemed as if the USSR would remain alone in its “capitalist encirclement.” Perhaps the revolution was already finished.

Of course, the worst was yet to come. Neither Lenin nor anyone in the 30’s (save perhaps Hitler himself) could’ve conceived of the brutality of what might be considered the death-knell for international communism, the Second World War. One might, with the benefit of hindsight, look back and think it obvious that in the duel between superpowers the relatively untouched United States would win out against a country that had just lost some 30 million people (9 million soldiers killed {2-3 million of whom were prisoners}, 11 million civilians exterminated {1.3 million of whom were Jewish}, 8 million starved, 3 million used as slaves and then killed.† And that doesn’t even count the 500,000 Tartars, 500,000 Volga Germans‡ and sums of Cossacks, Volksdeutsher, Muslims, and all others deemed untrustworthy during the German invasion who were deported by the Soviets and forced into labor camps or killed, nor those who were murdered in Stalin’s purges). Such massive losses would account for 10% of the current United States population (it was perhaps 14% of the Soviet population then), and combined with the facts that most who died were young men, and that massive amounts of equipment and farmland were also destroyed during the war, it seems a miracle that the Soviets could remain a superpower at all.

Indeed, as the war neared its close, Soviet influence extended only as far as the Red Army could take it. In Western Europe, after heavy losses of manpower and equipment, it found itself butted up against a wall of troops it could not pass through with a guarantee of success. Despite communists gaining ground in Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia, the US (relatively fresh as far war was concerned) and its allies had them caged in. In Korea and Vietnam they rattled this cage, but even though the US ceded ground it was clear that any significant advance would be checked. The fact that in Vietnam the number of communist casualties was more than double that of US and allied casualties⁑ should have been enough to give pause, and the Americans had only left, they were not defeated.

Yet, there was hope for the revolution. The Soviet Union and its rising ally China were still formidable opponents with room to consolidate and expand their influence with cooperation. But this idea, and the last possibility for a worldwide dictatorship of the proletariat, died when the actual dictators got in the way. The communist nations publicly broke with each other. Tito’s communism would be different from Stalin’s, and Mao’s different from Khrushchev’s. There would not be a unified front, and any dreams of coalescing would be put on hold. The communist sphere had reached its zenith, and it would only recede.

Still, had it really taken that long for the end to be near? Had not the spirit of communism died when it became a dictatorship? Some would argue that it wasn’t always, and didn’t always need to be, that way. The principles of communism aren’t meant to be those of dictatorship. Were Lenin (whom, we should not forget, organized the killing of thousands and said “Do you really think that we can emerge victoriously from the revolution without rabid terrorism?”) and Stalin (who ordered the murder of 500,000 and starved millions more) just flukes that could be overcome? Those many other party leaders, who eventually agreed to Lenin’s decisions, or allied with Stalin to oust Trotsky, or accepted their death sentences out of loyalty to the party, obviously thought that things would turn out better. Most only realized the blood they had waded into when it was too late. While history has shown us that it is the unfortunate place of such naïve and idealist men to be taken advantage of by the ruthless and the tyrannical.

But the real end can be traced even farther back. In 1918, two weeks before Lenin spoke of “seventy-five or one hundred years” the Red Army murdered hundreds of members of anarchist groups. Murders like this had happened before to different groups, and they would continue. The idea of a revolution that could elevate everyone’s lives had been abandoned swiftly. And now, in April 1918, Lenin was admitting that rapid communization would be difficult, and the régime would need to make concessions “for the moment” in order to keep pace with the world (concessions which, when revoked under Stalin, led to the starvation of thousands). In that moment when Lenin spoke, the revolution had already been undermined, and a struggle for power had taken its place. In that moment, as Lenin spoke of the future of communism, the revolution was already dead.

* Williams, Albert. Journey Into Revolution – Petrograd 1917-18. 1969 pg. 283

Ellman, M. Maksudov, S. Soviet Deaths in the Great Patriotic War: A Note. 1994

‡ Werth, Alexander. Russia at War: 1941-1945. 1964 pgs. 474 and 763

Encyclopedia Britannica (the official estimates of 200,000 South Vietnamese military deaths and 60,000 US military deaths compared to 1,000,000 North Vietnamese military deaths actually bring the ratio closer to three or four times as many).

⁂ Additionally consulted: Keith Gessen. How Stalin Became Stalinist. 2017. The New Yorker Magazine.

My History with Role-Playing Games

A few years ago I had never played a Role-Playing Game, but I’d definitely heard about them all of my life. I’d almost gotten to play a game of D&D 4th edition with a friend in school, but it looked too complicated and he/we didn’t find anyone else who wanted to play. I was still interested, but I didn’t feel like I had the energy, time, or money to invest in games with complicated systems that were in 350+ page books that I couldn’t get in any local store (I hadn’t access to Amazon yet). But I was aware of and in some cases a part of the RPG culture for most of the time I can remember.

Fast-forwarding to 2014, when I had moved out, and had been a part of a fairly successful board gaming group for a few years, I was investigating more possibilities of games to play, going in every direction that seemed interesting. At the time Dungeons & Dragons was going through a re-brand with D&D Next, which was soon being released as 5th Edition (which is just called Dungeons & Dragons on the books for some reason). It seemed to be created and marketed in such a way as to attempt to attract new players (but don’t all new editions do that?). It seemed that there would be no better (foreseeable) time to get into the game; the starter set had just come out and there was no convoluted supplements, expansions, or errata to deal with. And if I was going the get myself and a group of people interested in playing that starter set seemed like the best bet, so I ordered one.

I was quite surprised when it arrived (after a bit of a problem with the USPS) that even with my general knowledge of the subject and excited-ness to learn the book was hard to get through. Even this 30-page mini version of a 350+ page book was incredibly boring to read. I couldn’t believe that this product that was created for, and marketed toward, new players seemed so unfriendly to those new players. And after trying and failing a few times to read the starter rules I shelved it. But not before I looked up a few “simple” “1-page” RPGs online. I gave them a once over and thought maybe I’d play them, and if they went over well I’d take another look at D&D (at least I understood the little ones). But in the end my excitement had waned enough that I just put them in the box and forgot for a while. The box sat on the shelf unused. Occasionally I would think about playing one of the smaller games but it always seemed to be in the wrong place. For more than a year I barely looked at and RPG.

But then, when I was moving again, my games were getting shuffled around and I wanted to pick a core set of games to keep in a location where I could play them. In general I picked one game per genre and on a whim I put the only Role-Playing Game I had into the mix. I never got the play it with that group, and I probably wouldn’t have, considering I didn’t finish reading how to play myself, but I though maybe one of those smaller single-page games would hit the table at some time. Even still, just having it around and visible again piqued my interest once more. But, once again, I started looking at the smaller RPGs that were easily accessible and inexpensive. I went to see if any of them had been updated and amazingly some had been, and new ones (at least ones I hadn’t seen before) were floating around. I downloaded some more pages, organized them and started reading the more thoroughly. I really liked how much game was being put into these little packages. And that I could create the world I wanted to play in with them and didn’t feel restricted to what the games’ creators had come up with because of the structure of the game. I do know that I could do something similar with D&D, and create my own world, but when reading about the game or starting to play, the focus on (very) high fantasy and magic is obvious and very difficult to shake. I personally am more of a medium fantasy type of guy and games almost don’t exist in that category, preferring to go from Conan straight to Lord of the Rings. I liked being able to shape the world how I wanted it to be, and even with such tiny games (usually 1-page +”expansions”) I could still take the mechanics I liked and keep them in, throwing out or changing the other “suggestions” the game offered at my leisure. In fact the smaller size made it easier to do that, as I didn’t have to comb through hundreds of pages to find potential inconsistencies.

But still I couldn’t find the perfect one for me. I combed through forums, blogs, and RPG websites to find as many as I could and printed out the best ones (I’ve got 22 currently in the binder) and starting to look more seriously at the systems that were “universal” or just of a somewhat different theme. And there are a lot of good ones out there, but they still didn’t feel quite right. 1-page didn’t seem long enough for me, there needed to be a little more depth to the system, but 10 or more pages was more than a “simple” system could handle; at least I didn’t want to read that much for something I had to print off myself and seemed like it should be flushed out a bit more into a small book. I wanted something in-between. The “universal” games were generally longer in rules, but lacked the focus and mechanics shaped by the scenario that the “themed” games had (RISUS being a great example here). It seemed I wanted something like the “Dead Simple” RPG system. One that was essentially the same from game to game, but had various tweaks with each of the different themes to make it work.

After hours of searching and not finding just the right thing I wanted I got the great(?) idea to create my own system. That way I could control how everything worked and make it, if not the perfect system, just that much closer to the game I really wanted. I had jotted down a few notes previously about how I would’ve liked to improve RPG systems, so went back to those notes and started revising them. I found that with a little tweaking I got something workable in my head, and then that amazing thing that happens when you’re working on a project started happening; things just started to fall into place. The more I worked, the ideas just fit together and kept coming. Of course, this comes with the less-than-amazing part where I have to write it all down. And as I started doing that I found that the project quickly grew in scope. What I had envisioned as a simple “5-page” game that I might go back to and add a few things later became (first a little more squished to keep it 5 pages and) something that looked a lot more like a full game. Not one of the modern 300-pagers but closer to the “classic” home-printed, staple-bound games. Suddenly I had 5 pages of rules, 5 pages of game master guide, 5 pages of monsters, and then extra stuff about potions, spells, hirelings, stores and more. And suddenly I needed more games to research how they handled different gameplay aspects. I didn’t want to copy but I also didn’t want to flail about blindly for mechanisms or balancing. So I looked into a newer, smaller systems I could easily get my hands on to compare, most notably Chris Gonnerman’s Basic Fantasy RPG.

And after a few weeks of working on it I found out about a local RPG group starting up in my area (a rare thing in a small town) and I was able to join and start playing a game. (I had played several single sessions and playtested my system before so I wasn’t a complete n00b) It was D&D, but as it turns out that system is a lot more fun to play that it is to read the rules (I did have a good general idea of how to play before going in, just something I picked up from the internet and the video circles I watch in). It also gave me an excuse to purchase the rulebooks, which actually have way more fascinating information that the starter kit books but are still not excitedly written. Everything was stacking up. I had both smaller and larger systems to use as comparisons and I was working through what was now to become my RPG system and various “supplements”. I called it RPG LTE: Swords and Sorcery for various reasons, but mainly because I thought it was a good name and one that is expandable with other RPG LTEs to come in the future.

My plan was to finish up the “core rules” in three 5-page parts (consisting of: Game Rules, Game Mastering, and Monsters) and then follow that up with several single page supplements and a small book of this “beta” that would be available in limited quantities (I have already printed books with a PoD service, but I had no idea that would be the easiest part). That got all muddied up as I finished most of the final supplements before finishing the “monster” section (when creativity calls, sometimes you gotta follow it). So I printed the beta book and have had it along with several of my other books at the art shows and cons I attend. And, after a few more tweaks, I gave the beta a “soft” release on my website a few weeks ago, to which this is the follow up, and there will soon be a “hard” release with a post that is more focused on the game itself and what it is trying to accomplish.

That’s been my “journey” so far, and I’m sure it’s far from over. Hopefully as I continue to acquire, play, and work on RPGs I can keep this story going, learn more, and have fun indefinitely. It’s always hard, especially in this day and age where people do so much, to get a good role-playing group together and even harder to keep it together. But actually getting the games played, and exploring the world as well as the mechanics is a great experience, and one I will hopefully have many more times, with many more systems in the future.


Game Review – Civilization Revolution (iOS, Windows Phone)

(Note: the NDS version of the game is similar to the mobile phone versions, but I have not played it and thus don’t know the differences. The console version is from what I can tell, completely different. This is also not a review of the more recent Civilization Revolution 2)

Civilization Revolution is a video game by Firaxis Games, made for consoles and mobile devices as opposed to the PC, where the game series usually resides. I have the iOS version of the game, so that’s what I’ll be discussing. The game uses touch controls, and is more similar to Civ IV and predecessors than Civ V and successors, though a bit toned down.
photo-32 photo-33
The gameplay is understandable to any who have played a Civ game. It isn’t as complex, but it gets the job done. The game is played on a randomly-generated map divided into squares (not hexes like Civ V). The squares are either land or water, and contain various resources. Players play as various civilizations (Romans, Zulu, Chinese, etc…) or more technically (an all-seeing, all-people-commanding, forever living god in the form of) a famous leader from that civilization (Napoleon, Cleopatra, Montezuma, Etc…) and compete against other civilizations to either: be the first to conquer all other capital cities; make the most gold and build the world bank; have a lot of culture and build the United Nations; or develop all of the technologies and reach Alpha Centauri. They can build cities and then buildings in those cities to give them bonuses, or use the cites to build units to make other cities, trade with other cities, explore the world (there are artifacts that can give one bonuses), or wage war on other civilizations or barbarians.
photo-34 photo-35
Cities themselves are only one square on the map for the purposes of combat, but can grow and influence an area around them, using resources to increase the food or production of a city. All of the various units have their own abilities, movement, and strength that can be upgraded after winning battles. Getting more technology allows one to build more advanced and stronger units. Land units can’t cross water in this version, but they can get in ships and be transported to various other places. Air units can’t land on ships, but can fly over mountains (among other things). There are various terrain benefits and deficits on the land, but they are relatively simple.
photo-36 photo-37 photo-38
Unlike other versions of Civ, units do stack, meaning in theory an infinite amount of units can share the same square. The tech tree, also, while still there, has much less nuance than in the PC versions of the game. After meeting other civilizations, the player can also interact with the other leaders. This almost always leads to nothing, as they never have any knowledge. It looks like there was a much more ambitious inter-civilization interaction ability planned, but unfinished. At least in my version, the only way the player and other Civs interact is by going to war or stealing cities with culture. And nothing really seems to influence when others will go to war with you more than you just being in their way or the strongest player. Combat is also simplified: it is unit vs. unit (or army vs. army if units combine {3units of the same type to one army. They can’t be split after joining and die as one unit}), and one unit will be destroyed. The victor can be injured, but has a maximum of three hit-points and this decreases as tech becomes more advanced. A warrior has three hit points, a horseman two, but a tank or an infantry only has one. And a final, glaring difference between this and the PC versions is the nukes. One can only build one nuclear weapon, but it will destroy an entire city (except a capital) and all of the units in it, and in the 8 squares around it. I think that maybe being able to build two would be more fun, but I can see why they made the choice as it simplifies the nuclear aspect of the game, and being able to build multiple city-crushers might break the game.
photo-39 photo-40 photo-41
The overall control is nice and intuitive. Some of it does need explanation, and getting into very specific city controls can require some menu navigating, but this is handled very well on default, and even on the hardest difficulty level I have completed the game many times without even thinking about messing with the default city settings. Units move easily, selectable options on what to build or what technology to research are large and easy to click or scroll through. Scrolling through stacked units can be a pain if there are quite a few (10 or more) but that rarely comes up, since units can be combined into more powerful armies. Looking around the map and plotting future courses for ships is also easy. The only real navigation problem comes with nuclear weapons, which can technically fire all over the world (I believe), but are difficult to launch past the screen they are created on (zooming out only helps a little).
photo-42 photo-43 photo-44
Even with all of the simplifications, though, it’s still quite a complex and long game for phone play, and a full game will generally take several hours and most of your battery. It is possible to save multiple games (though I have yet to get mine to work: that’s my problem and not at all related to the game) and I would recommend that. Though if one can’t save, like me, or only wants to complete one game at a time, the game does a very good job of always loading up right where it left off. The game seems fairly processor-intensive and my phone does get hot while playing, and the game has at several points crashed on me. I’m running an older phone and the game brought me right back to where I was, so the problem was understandable and I couldn’t really get mad. The graphics and animation are generally nice and smooth and well defined. I’m not the biggest fan of the cartoon-y look, but it gets the job done and I’ve never really like Civ’s graphics anyway, nor have I played it for the graphics.
photo-45 photo-46 photo-47
In the end this game does a great job of being “Civ on the go”. The empire building, invasion, and growth aspects are still there while trimming some of the things that would make some people more frustrated or confused with the larger game. I find that while I wish there was more depth at times, I’ve definitely kept coming back for more and I can certainly see how adding much more would make it an mobile-unfriendly game. It works well as a game, runs well on the platform, and is a great introduction into the Civilization series. If the games seem interesting I would certainly recommend this one both as a starting point or one to look out for.


Table Topics Chit Chat 4 #7-8


1. If you could change one event in history, which one would you choose?

2. Would you rather endure a hurricane or an earthquake?

ANSWERS By: Austin Smith

1. None, because I have no idea what changing that one even would do to the rest of the timeline. Maybe preventing Hitler from being chancellor causes the entire world to be blown up by nuclear bombs. I don’t want to risk it.

2. I have a feeling more of my possessions would be salvageable and there would be an easier exit path in an earthquake. And if I do die I’d rather not drown.

Speak Your Mind 170 #846-850


1. Have you ever lost a fingernail or a toenail?

2. Do you think rich people are happy?

3. What do you think about adoption?

4. What month would you most like to be married in?

5. What is the most fun thing you have ever done in history class?

ANSWERS By: Austin Smith

1. Yes, I believe I have lost one of both, but they didn’t quite fall off, they more were smashed.

2. Yes, but not all.

3. I think that people willing to adopt are great people and that the people who might have left their children for adoption are irresponsible.

4. Probably July, because my birthday is also in that month and it’s a nice summer month.

5. When I was not doing history and just drawing.