So what, apart from the Machiavellian plans of men like the German General Erich Ludendorff (who would later back Hitler against the Bolshevik menace he had personally unleashed), explains Lenin’s rise as dictator? It is, Solzhenitsyn suggests, precisely his dogmatism, his unshakeable sectarian certainty of the rectitude of his actions. In a Russia whose liberal intelligentsia knew only one thing for certain — there are no enemies to the left — there was no coherent party representing moderate reform. The sane and prudent modernizing minister Pyotr Stolypin, who serves as the tragic hero of Solzhenitsyn’s entire epic, had years before been murdered and his supporters ousted from power. The tsar’s regime was defended only by the bigoted, timid, or venal, while those who demanded reform were so insatiable to dethrone him and wipe clean the slate of Russian history that no radical on the left could ever seem dangerous. So Alexander Kerensky, who formed the Provisional Government after the abdication of Nicholas II, did little to hamper Lenin’s obvious moves toward seizing military power. When less radical socialists looked at their more fanatical colleagues, what they felt was not prudent fear, but a kind of bad conscience—almost as if their moderation were proof of cowardice. Readers of Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic will recognize this psychological pattern, remembering Leonard Bernstein hosting murderous, anti-Semitic Black Panthers at his posh New York apartment. Throughout the 1970s, left-wing European elites would show the same indulgence toward the Red Brigades, the PLO, and the Baader-Meinhof Gang, as Michael Burleigh documents in Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism.
In a time of roiling confusion, power fell to the man with a plan and a cult possessed of absolute, dogmatic certainty — a man whose vision of transformation was so absolute and simplistic that it could be squeezed into vulgar pamphlets, regurgitated as war chants, ingested like a stimulant, in much the same way that Hitler’s fathomless radicalism would trump the lesser passion of other, more rational German nationalists. To use a visual metaphor: the hammer and sickle or the swastika are much simpler for the untalented to scrawl in slum graffiti than more traditional emblems of more complex political systems, such as the Prussian or Austrian eagle. Ideologies crafted by bitter sectarian intellectuals to appeal to the street toughs and envious layabouts would actually displace political philosophy throughout the West in the wake of the First World War.
The numberless crimes and final collapse of the Soviet Union did not, alas, entirely discredit the political philosophy that it faithfully put into practice. Nearly no one today still believes in Marx’s utopia — a loss of faith that saps some of the fanatical energy that once infused communism. To anyone honest, it is clear what Marxist movements produce when they come into power: a statist, pseudo-egalitarian bureaucratic behemoth that manipulates the masses it keeps ignorant, and grants wealth to those with power. In other words, something like Mussolini’s Italy — or Castro’s Cuba, or Chávez’s Venezuela, or Jong-Un’s North Korea. What Marx called dialectical materialism, put into practice, boils down to what in 1984 Orwell called oligarchical collectivism — the concentration of money and power in the same hands, which are thus insulated from competition in the marketplace or the public square. This is what Marxism generates, as surely as Fascism generates racial hatred and war. And yet some people still support Marxism, albeit in a watery “critical” or “revisionist” form that evades, they hope, the bloodstains collected by that ideology. Ninety years after the Ukrainian famine, eighty years after the Purge trials, twenty-five years after the KGB opened its torture archives, it is time to stop making excuses for such people. They know what they’re asking for. Apparently, it’s what they want.
Jason Jonesis a producer in Hollywood. His films include Bella, Eyes to See, and Crescendo. Learn more about his human rights initiatives at www.iamwholelife.com.
John Zmirak is the author of The Bad Catholics Guide to the Catechism. His columns are archived at The Bad Catholic’s Bingo Hall. This column is from Jones’ and Zmirak’s upcoming book, The Race to Save Our Century (Crossroad, 2014).