Lessons from the Russian Revolution | COMMENTARY

“A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”

Vladimir Lenin’s words still resonate 100 years to the month after the beginning of the Russian Revolution in 1917. The belief in communism (socialism) was the lie perpetrated first by Karl Marx in the 19th century, which culminated in the Bolshevik Revolution, beginning in St. Petersburg, Russia. Karl Marx’s theory would alter world history and cause a ripple effect extending to the present day.

Marx’s theory was based upon absolute certainty. He predicted that the bourgeoisie (the capitalists) would overthrow the aristocracy. The proletariat (the oppressed workers), in turn, would overthrow the bourgeoisie.

The “dictatorship of the proletariat” would immediately follow. Marx and Lenin believed that workers were too ignorant and uneducated to rule a nation. They needed to evolve to a higher state. In the meantime, they needed to be educated and trained by their leaders. Eventually, “this dictatorship of the proletariat” would wither away to utopia where there was no government and no social class.

Marx’s prophecy seemed to play out in Russia in 1917 exactly as he predicted. On March 15, 1917, Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate the Russian throne. This was due to his mishandling and mismanagement of both his government and the war against the Germans (World War I).

The Duma (the Russian Parliament) was left in charge of the country. They wanted to continue the fight against the Germans, which by this time was in the early part of its fourth year. The people were angry, war-weary, disillusioned with their government and starving.

Lenin, who had been living in exile in Switzerland during the war, saw the conditions in Russia as his opportunity to seize power. He went to the German embassy in Switzerland and made them a daring proposal. Allow Lenin and his fellow Marxist Bolsheviks to return to St. Petersburg and he would overthrow the Duma, take over the government and withdraw Russia from the war. This would end the two-front war and the stalemate the Germans had been fighting since the beginning of the war in August 1914.

The Germans, figuring they had little to lose and much to gain, agreed to Lenin’s plan. He and his 100 followers arrived in a sealed train in St. Petersburg on April 16, 1917. Lenin promised the people “peace, land and bread” — the end of the war, land to the peasants and bread for their starving bellies.

In a relatively bloodless coup he took power as absolute dictator and immediately pulled Russia out of the war. Marx’s prophecy seemed to be fulfilled with remarkable accuracy.

The Soviet Union (the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) formed from these Bolshevik revolutionary roots was to endure until it collapsed under its own weight in January 1991. The “dictatorship of the proletariat” did not wither away as Marx had predicted, but instead had gotten stronger. Bourgeois capitalism won this epic battle that spanned nearly 74 years.

In the end, Marx’s prophecy had been shown to be a lie and a delusion.

There are several lessons to be learned from this epic period of history for us today:

1. Theories based upon absolute certainty are to be deeply distrusted, whether they are communist or capitalist, progressive or conservative.

2. Just because bourgeois capitalism won its battle against Marxist socialism, it does not mean that capitalism has all the answers. The fallacy of absolute certainty applies as much to capitalism as it did to Marxist-Leninist doctrine.

3. Nothing that endures for 74 years is entirely wrong. Marx and Lenin understood that the government has an obligation to care for its citizens — all of them, not just the wealthy and the elites. Lenin used that understanding to seize power in Russia and topple the democracy. It happened in Russia. It could also happen here.

The wealthy American elites must be smart enough to avoid Tsar Nicholas’ mistake of not caring for the poor and needy in their country. Government stupidity does not just reside with the Soviet Union. It can and does reside with our government in Washington, D.C.

Lenin was wrong: “A lie told often enough becomes the truth,” but only in people’s perceptions, not in reality.

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