A CURIOUS couple of things popped up on my Twitter feed recently while I scrolled endlessly to fend off the boredom of lockdown. Apparently the boredom had got the better of some others too, as tributes to a particular Soviet-era leader trickled down the screen as I continued to swipe up.
As it happens, Vladimir Lenin’s 150th birthday would have been this year on April 22. The infamous figure, born in 1870, was the first Premier of the Soviet Union, a revolutionary Marxist and leader of the Bolsheviks.
Perhaps ‘Marxist’ would be the wrong word for him. After all, the term Leninism spawned from old Vlad’s twisted interpretation of Karl Marx’ political philosophy. Not that Marxism is much better, mind you. But Vladimir Lenin being championed as a messiah of socialism, with the kind of rap sheet that should make even the most devout socialist squirm, is incomprehensible.
Lenin was hell-bent on a violent revolution instead of any sort of peaceful progression towards a socialist state, which was supported by the Mensheviks, and believed in the authoritarian supremacy of the party with a strong leader.
When Marx said that the ‘dictatorship’ of the bourgeoisie would give way to the ‘dictatorship’ of the proletariat, Lenin took this literally. It was a dictatorship he desired, and a dictatorship was what he would achieve when the Bolsheviks hijacked Russia in October 1917.
Following the February Revolution earlier that same year in which the monarchy was ousted and the Tsar abdicated, a very young proto-democracy was born. This revolution was the result of a long culmination of frustration at the autocratic monarchy and the poor treatment of the poorest in society, the peasantry, and a massacre of protesters known as Bloody Sunday.
The newborn republic would last just eight months before the Bolsheviks took control in what was called the October Revolution, a ‘revolution’ that would more aptly be described as a coup d’état as the Bolsheviks refused the result of the following election and banned opposition parties, branding them “counter-revolutionary”.
“Democracy was just born in Russia and murdered in the crib by the October Revolution”– Svetlana Alliluyeva, daughter of Lenin’s successor Joseph Stalin.
Lenin, as the leader of the party, now had total control. With some sections of the Russian population still holding on to some sentiment for the royal family, he feared that there may be resistance against his party, and so he secretly ordered the murder of the former Tsar and his family.
In July 1918, Lenin’s men visited the house where the royal family were staying. The Tsar and his wife were shot. However, because the men assigned to do Lenin’s bidding were heavily drunk and their excessive shooting was making too much noise, they were ordered to finish the job by using their bayonets to murder the Tsar’s five children. When they realised that the children were not dying from this quickly enough, they began to shoot again.
Before the brutal murder of children was ordered by Lenin, his party had implemented a policy of decossickisation. This policy demanded the execution of an entire ethnicity of people, the Cossacks, simply for being opposed to the new Soviet regime. In March 1918 alone around 8,000 Cossacks were killed. In total, it is estimated that up to 500,000 people were murdered by the Bolsheviks during the decossickisation.
Lenin had approved genocide.
“Carry out mass terror against wealthy Cossacks, exterminating all of them; carry out merciless mass terror against any and all Cossacks taking part in any way, directly or indirectly, in the struggle against Soviet power”– Bolshevik order to local branches of the party.
Simultaneously, the civil war between the socialist Reds and conservative Whites raging in Russia since the Bolsheviks seized control of the state produced both the Red and White Terrors.
The Whites, opposed to brutal Soviet control and the Bolshevik’s deeply unpopular ceding of territory to Germany after pulling out of the First World War, began to imprison and execute socialist supporters.
The Reds responded in kind to this, as well as an assassination attempt on Lenin’s head, with mass systemised executions and internment of those deemed ‘enemies of the revolution’. Lenin gave the order from his hospital bed, giving the Cheka – the Bolshevik’s armed secret police force – total free reign to commit atrocities.
Both terrors have death estimates as high as the hundreds of thousands, most of which were civilian. The civil war itself claimed upwards of 10 million lives.
The internment and forced labour of those deemed to be counterrevolutionary at Lenin’s orders gave rise to an early form of concentration camp, the gulag.
Within two years of the first gulag being set up in 1919, there were 84 of them in Russia. Lenin set the stage for the millions who would be incarcerated, and die, in the torturous prisons Joseph Stalin greatly expanded in the decades following.
Of course, Lenin was no stranger to being imprisoned himself, but unlike the horrific conditions his dictatorship forced upon others without trial, he was exiled to Siberia where he lived with his wife and was able to spend plenty of time hunting and honing his politics. He even kept a maid during this time, whom he kept chained under the stairs and paid one ruble a month. How socialist.
Treating the worst off in society so poorly was something Lenin would continue when he was in power, with a policy of requisitioning in place, justified by ‘war communism’ following the Great War, the poorest peasants were forced to give up all of their grain, and the peasants who were relatively well-off and had excess were branded ‘kulaks’.
The consequences of failing or refusing to provide the grain demanded by the Soviets’ quotas were characteristically brutal. The peasantry made up 80% of the population at this point, leaving millions starving. Being branded a ‘kulak’ was effectively a death sentence. When peasants stood up to the government during the Tambov Rebellion, some were put down using poison gas.
Of course, after the Bolsheviks’ disastrous handling of the economy alongside one of Russia’s intermittent droughts caused unprecedented famine, Lenin decided to amend his approach and introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP). This new policy effectively reintroduced free markets to small and medium enterprise in the country. An element of capitalism unsurprisingly immediately improved the situation. Massive amounts of aid from the USA also helped. So much for socialism.
The NEP is something many give praise to Lenin for to this day, but it takes a large dose of sheer ignorance to give credit to the man who was responsible for the starvation of so many simply for reverting to a system that socialists harbour so much hatred for.
He has also been praised for introducing state-funded schooling to all children – if they hadn’t already died as a result of his regime that is – however, as an example, free schooling was available in Scotland 27 years before the October Revolution. Britain was rather far from what anyone would describe as socialist at that point in time. To say Lenin’s particular ideology was deserving of praise for this is quite simply nonsense.
The leadership of a man like the one described in this article is not particularly surprising either. Lenin accepted German bribes during WW1 to return to Russia and destabilise the country, then proceeded to have his favourite henchman “the wonderful Georgian”, otherwise known as Joseph Stalin, stage an armed bank robbery to fund the party when German money ran out.
“Man can be corrected. Man can be made what we want him to be”– Vladimir Lenin to Ivan Pavlov
To Vladimir Lenin, ordinary people were little more than clay to be moulded or discarded as he desired. He destroyed democratic workplace soviets. He destroyed freedom of the press days after promising to uphold it. He destroyed freedom of speech and assembly. He destroyed everything his fans supposedly hold so dear.
Lenin’s legacy is nothing to be celebrated. His legacy is Stalin. It is Mao. It is the tragic death of millions upon millions in the name of socialism and communism.
Perhaps the plastic proletariat of today, in all their unbridled narcissism and astronomical self-righteousness, should think twice before proudly toting the hammer and sickle, a symbol which should evoke a similar reaction of revulsion as the swastika.
And I, for one, can’t think of anything more embarrassing than referring to anyone unironically as ‘comrade’.
Featured image credit: wikiwand.com