MUNICH — This revolution, it seems, is destined for oblivion.
The Bolshevik Revolution, a hundred years ago, is not being celebrated in Moscow where it happened. The Putin regime would rather draw its legitimacy from the country’s costly victory in the “Great Patriotic War” against the Nazis.
Most of the monuments to Lenin that dotted the cities of what was then the Soviet Union have been taken down. The man who murdered his way to power and established a dictatorship tragically mimicked by others is now mentioned only with a little embarrassment.
In Berlin, the other day, I heard faintly familiar music from a distance as we emerged from a church transformed into a fashionable restaurant. Filipinos will find converting a church into a restaurant a scandal. But in this case, doing so seemed practical. What else should one do with a nice old edifice when there is no priest and no parish?
At any rate, as the noisy motorcade moved closer, we realized the “Internationale” – anthem of communist movements everywhere – was being loudly played. Mounted on three small trucks where tableaus of Russian Red Army troops circa 1954.
This was a motorcade apparently by old-line communists commemorating the anniversary of Lenin’s revolution. These are people who still mourn the collapse of the Soviet Union and are nostalgic for the German Democratic Republic along with its notorious secret police.
What was interesting, I thought, was that they invoked scenes from the Great Patriotic War instead of the 1917 uprising. They were not celebrating Lenin or, gosh, Stalin. Like the obedient cadres that they are, even their commemoration of their revolution’s centennial followed the “tone at the top” in Moscow.
At any rate, people took notice of this motley group of three trucks and about 30 participants only because of the loud music they played. With participants wearing Red Army costumes, this could have been mistaken a motorcade of clowns. Perhaps it is.
Recall that it was German intelligence that smuggled Lenin back to Russia. The Germans thought the rabble-rouser would stir up enough trouble to force Russia to back out of the war. Little did the Germans expect this little devil would actually maneuver his way brutally through the turbulence and actually take power.
Much less did anyone expect that Lenin and his wild bunch would emerge the icon for revolutionaries the world over. They would not only mouth the nonsense Lenin passed off as revolutionary theory. They would also mimic his murderous streak, justifying common crime by some imagined majestic goal.
The New York Times, in its Nov. 8 issue, published a brilliant essay by Simon Sebag Montefiore titled “Imagine the Russian Revolution never happened.” Montefiore authored two noteworthy books, The Romanovs and Stalin: the Court of the Red Tsar. His third book, the novel Red Sky at Noon, is forthcoming.
The essay, part of a series about the history of 100 years of communism, tried to imagine how the world might have evolved had Lenin failed. It is provocative exercise on what might have been.
There were several attempts to assassinate Lenin on his path to power. There was nothing inevitable in his capture of the state. The Russian Revolution was a complex process involving many forces and contestants. They simultaneously negotiated and murdered each other. Lenin emerged at the top because he was the most cynical and certainly the most murderous.
The regime he helped assemble was guised cleverly as the weapon of the working classes. But it was really nothing more than a recycled version of the existing despotic state presided over by the deposed Tsar and his cronies. That characteristic was surely exhibited during the time of Stalin and then now, with Putin in charge.
The fraud about “dictatorship of the proletariat” notwithstanding, Lenin’s supposed strategy for consolidating despotism inspired others. It certainly inspired Mao Zedong and a band of murderous radicals in Cambodia called the Khmer Rouge.
If the Russian Revolution did not happen, the Chinese Revolution might probably not have happened as well. Both events produced tyrannies that, in turn, caused the deaths of millions.
If neither happened, the Cold War would not have occurred. The wars in Indochina, by-products of the confrontation between the superpowers, would not have happened. Again, millions of lives might have been spared.
The Iron Curtain would not have divided Europe for decades. The development of this continent might have been very different. Millions of Europeans might have been spared the many torments the Cold War brought.
Certainly, Adolf Hitler would not have happened. The Nazis were propelled to power by fear of the Soviet Union.
If the Cold War did not happen, there would be no such thing as North Korea. The Stalinist tyrant who now threatens all of us with his nuclear toys would not have happened.
Montefiore exercises his imagination to try and picture how the world might have been if Lenin and the Bolsheviks did not take power. Conflicts, to be sure, would have happened – although along different lines of contestation. Certainly, the history of the 20th century would be very different.
The sad fact, however, is that Lenin and the Bolsheviks did happen. The 20th century turned out to be the bloodiest episode in human history. Much of the bloodshed was due to the ideological confrontation forced by Leninism.
Much as everyone might try to play down the Lenin and the curse he wrought on all humanity, the fact remains he happened. He brought all the calamities humanity can never live down.