2017 has been a year of important anniversaries. This month was the centennial of the October Revolution (by the old calendar), when the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the fledgling Russian Republic, after which it became the Soviet Union. The New York Times published a series of articles commemorating this revolution. Like many on the left, the writers of the Times see Lenin as a well-meaning idealist who accomplished some positive things. Russian-born writer Anatoly Karlin disagrees. His response was an article entitled, “The Real Lenin: Traitor, Parasite, Failure.”
This assertion will surprise most people – excluding, of course, that large portion of Americans who know nothing of history. We’ve been taught that the Soviet Union wasn’t that bad until Stalin came along. I knew better, having read more history than most. The rule of Lenin was brutal. Yet Karlin’s characterization of the man surprised even me.
First, there was the Red Terror, in which the Bolsheviks killed hundreds of thousands of people, many of them at random. Then there were their economic “reforms” that introduced the once-prosperous Russian nation to famine and pestilence. Despite these terrible mistakes, many Russians, even to this day, view Lenin as a patriot. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Lenin was the ultimate self-hating Russian. He hated the Russian people and their culture, from the Orthodox Church to literary icons such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. His Bolsheviks promoted Ukrainian nationalism in opposition to that peoples’ former Russian identity. They even wanted to replace Russia’s unique Cyrillic alphabet.
Before the Revolution, Lenin sided with the Germans. He suggested abolishing the Russian Army, which would have meant surrendering to Kaiser Wilhelm. It seems Lenin would side with anyone, as long as they weren’t Russian. Even his dreaded secret police the Cheka was dominated by Poles and Latvians.
Reading Karlin’s article reminded me in the scene in Warren Beatty’s 1981 movie Reds in which John Reed (the American Communist protagonist) watches in astonishment as Bolshevik revolutionaries incite an army of Central Asian Muslims to wage jihad against Russia.
Lenin ruled Russia for seven years of unmitigated disaster. As horrific as Stalin was (he killed millions in purges and artificial famines) at least “Uncle Joe” got rid of his predecessor and reversed Russia’s downward slide.
Was Lenin suffering from a pathological case of “white guilt?” If he were alive today, I believe he’d be a professor at an American university, teaching his students that every problem in the world is the fault of the United States and/or white people in general.
One more thing I learned from Karlin’s article is that a statue of Lenin is on display in Seattle, Washington. Though I’m opposed to removing statues and monuments – we must remember history, even when unpleasant – in this case, I might make an exception.
If you like history, you’ll enjoy my book Fidelio’s Automata, in which historical characters such as Edison and Tesla interact in a fictional adventure.