A Tale of Two Revolutions

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A hundred years ago, in the early hours of November 7, 1917, the Bolsheviks grabbed power in Petrograd.  Within weeks they took advantage of Russia’s collapsing political and social structure to impose control over the country’s heartland.  The result of the coup was a tragedy of world-historical proportions.  A vibrant, flourishing culture (see “Remembering the Old Russia,” Breaking Glass, September) was destroyed amid a bloodbath 100 times worse than la Terreur.

In the preceding quarter-century Russia had undergone rapid modernization.  On the eve of the Great War she was the world’s fourth-largest economy, her annual growth rate comparable to that of China after Deng’s reforms.  Her railway network exceeded 50,000 miles, and her gold reserves were second only to Britain’s.  Her wheat harvest had doubled in the two decades preceding 1913.  That year Russia had the lowest direct taxes in Europe, four times lower than those of France and Germany, one eighth of the British rate.  Real incomes had increased sixfold between 1893 and 1913.  Workers’ rights, public health, and literacy were improving accordingly.  Of some 150,000 new book titles published worldwide in 1914, over one fifth of them were published in Russia—as many as in Britain, France, and the United States combined.  Paul Valéry called the late empire one of the wonders of the world, which, despite its modernity and unlike Western Europe, still retained a Christian outlook.

The leaders of Wilhelmine Germany feared that Russia’s growth would turn her into Europe’s hegemon.  As Fritz Fischer established in his 1961 Germany’s Aims in the First World War, the Kaiserreich military and political elite engineered the crisis after Sarajevo to wage a “preventive” war and thus preempt Russia’s rapid economic, demographic, and military rise.  The same people actively helped Lenin et al. on their sealed train journey from Zurich to Petrograd three years later, thus sealing Europe’s destiny (as well as their own).

The revolution that ended monarchy in March 1917, leading to its Bolshevik sequel eight months later, did not come because the material condition of Russian peasants and workers was unbearable, or because the war was going badly.  The weakness of Nicholas II, the role of his unstable wife, the influence of Rasputin—all were on balance peripheral.  The revolution came primarily because Russia’s political and intellectual elite had lost its faith, focus, and nerve.

The most significant trait of the Bolshevik terror during the civil war and in the ensuing decades was the promotion of a quasi religious forma mentis based on anti-Christian zeal, and the parallel insistence on the creation of a New Man divorced from his ancestors, his naturally evolving communities, and his culture.  As Trotsky wrote in 1924,

Man will make it his purpose to master his own feelings, to raise his instincts to the heights of consciousness, to make them transparent, to extend the wires of his will into hidden recesses, and thereby to raise himself to a new plane, to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman.

Today, Russia is in recovery, while America’s dominant elites are gripped by a rather similar kind of madness.  Abroad, ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia has been pursuing conventional, national-interest-based policies, while the United States has pursued global hegemony.  “History has called America and our allies to action,” George W. Bush announced in his Leninist 2002 State of the Union Address.  “We’ve come to know truths that we will never question.”  The same principle has been reiterated enthusiastically in Obama’s Reagan-plus “vindication of the idea of America,” and reluctantly by Trump in the aftermath of his defeat by the Swamp.

At home, Russia is emerging as the last major European country that remains true to its roots.  America is enthusiastically destroying monuments—Confederates today, the Founders tomorrow.  Russia is unencumbered by obsessive self-examination.  America’s elites have used allegedly enlightened and progressive ideas and ideals to create a plethora of isms, and to promote a complex Cultural Marxist paradigm of unlimited grievances and victimhood.  Just like the Bolsheviks, they judge all things not on the grounds of their legality, legitimacy, or natural morality, but—as per Charlottesville—strictly on the basis of their ideological contents.

The Bolsheviks were evil; but they were also blinded by their own notions of imminent world revolution, and thus unable to resist the state-rebuilding force of Stalin’s “socialism in one country.”  Their heirs in today’s America are demonstrably more dexterous in Gramscian terms, but just as criminally insane: Quos deus vult perdere, dementat prius.  Their citadels—the media and academia—are literally beyond redemption.  It would be in the American interest for the flyover-country deplorables to develop a strategy of permanently excluding them from the nation’s political and cultural scene.       

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