This essay takes the October Revolution's centennial as an occasion to consider Soviet state practices in an international context. Many features of Soviet governance reflected an interventionist ethos that first arose in western Europe and subsequently informed programs of population management around the world. From this perspective, we see that Soviet methods of rule derived not from socialist ideology but rather from pre-existing state practices. Communist Party leaders used these practices to pursue ideological goals, but both ambitions to reshape society and the means to do so originated elsewhere. This comparative approach also highlights ways the Soviet case resembled that of other late-developing countries, where educated elites similarly relied on state interventions to transform their populations. For many of them, the Soviet Union offered an alternative model of socioeconomic advancement, albeit one based on extreme state violence.