Readers Write In #114: The Russian Revolution, Chapter 8 – An Unsavory Convergence

Posted on November 16, 2019


(by G Waugh)

Introduction, Preface, and Chapter 1 are here.

Chapter 2 is here.

Chapter 3 is here.

Chapter 4 is here.

Chapter 5 is here.

Chapter 6 is here.

Chapter 7 is here.

One of the most important reasons for me writing this series has been my curiosity to find out why in the 20th century both the ‘Satanic’ Right Wing and the ‘Messianic’ Left Wing treated the masses the same way even though their visions were completely different. Through my 6 year old journey with History, I found this question to be extremely intriguing to explore and unravel, and in the upcoming pages I will try my best to get to the root of it.

Theoretical Foundations of the Right:
To find out what underlies the Right wing of the political spectrum, we shall have a look at Nordicism, a racial theory propagated by the Nazis. This theory is strongly built upon the foundation of the inherent supremacy of the White/Nordic/Aryan Race and a strong belief that a society is ‘just and natural’ only if it obeys the ancient immutable laws of survival. Just like how the lions are at the top of the food chain in a jungle, the Aryans have every right to dominate and enrich themselves at the cost of the lesser races. The lesser races are called so, because they are made of inferior traits such as deceit, stealing, shabby appearances and the like, and contact of the superior races with them shall result in contamination leading to loss of ‘racial purity’. If there emerges a condition where intermingling of races is inevitable (as in capitalism), a complete purge of the lesser races is recommended and according to ancient laws, such acts of ‘ethnic cleansing’ are completely justified.

As you can see, the Right envisions a future ‘utopia’ where domination of a social group over the other is the law of the land, in fact of that of Nature, and a society which has unequal access to resources is not only inevitable but also essential for the betterment of human society. People who possess a strong belief in these values, who consider contrarian beliefs as nothing less than ‘sacrilege’ and hence remain impervious and hostile to them, are often called
‘fundamentalists’. Every society which is under flux, at a given instant of time, shall possess both Right-wing or Conservative elements and a completely antithetical set of Left-Wing elements whose mutual interaction or conflict is what we call the progress of human civilization. The Church of the 15th century which strongly abused Copernicus for his Helio-centric model of the Universe can easily be classified as the Right Wing of the medieval Europe while modern inventors like him who challenged traditional belief systems with scientific explanations can be labelled ‘Progressive or Left Wing’.

Needless to say, the colonial ambitions of the Industrial West were strongly bolstered by Right Wing beliefs and the enslaved peoples of Africa and Asia were also made to believe in them. Similarly, the religious orthodoxy of these slave nations were also for the most part, either unmoved by the colonial excesses or fully supportive of it. The very passive role of the Hindu Right in India’s struggle for independence serves to exemplify this.

Theoretical Foundations of the Left:
Karl Marx, on the other hand envisioned a future where there is virtually no exploitation of one man by the other, where each individual identifies himself with the rest of the society and where one’s aspirations and needs exist in perfect harmony with that of the whole. We call such a future a Communist Utopia where no man is considered to be above the other. Marx was heavily inspired by the Paris Commune experiment of 1871 and wrote extensively about its relevance to contemporary society. His writings spread during the early 20th century and set off movements across the world both in the Industrial West and the colonised South.

The ruling classes all over the world whose domination was sanctified by Right Wing theories had enough reason to feel alarmed. India’s freedom fighters of the pre Gandhian era such as Dadabhai Naoroji, Motilal Nehru were directly influenced by international progressive movements which propelled them to construct a comprehensive critique of colonialism whose foundations rested not wholly on sentiments of nationalism, but very substantially on the economic motives underlying imperialism. These leaders were instrumental in the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 which in a few decades was to turn into one of the largest mass organisations in the world. In 1927, Brussels in Belgium hosted a conference known as the League Against Imperialism that consisted of leaders of various colonised nations coming together to challenge Western hegemony in Asia (Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s delegate) and Africa in a single, unified voice. The League was organised and supported by Communist Russia and in many ways, it served as the precursor to the Non Aligned Movement of 1961 that brought most of the erstwhile colonies under one umbrella.

Leninism vs Marxism:
Communist regimes of the 20th century, it can comfortably be claimed that they were all authoritarian in various degrees, from the mindlessly brutal Stalin’s regime to a moderately oppressive one in Tito’s Yugoslavia. Hence, even someone who has strong communist inclinations are pushed into the conclusion that both communism and totalitarianism are inseparable. However one must remember that since most of the countries of the last century turned communist under strong Soviet influence and had to rely on dictators like Stalin for their survival, repression was pervasive in all countries. This enables us to immediately assume that communism could have been more palatable world over had the Soviet Union not been too intrusive into the affairs of other countries. But it really was not as simple as that.

Pol Pot, the communist leader of Cambodia murdered millions of citizens during his brief period of rule (1975-79) without even an iota of logic. It must be remembered that there wasn’t a considerable influence of Soviet Union during the construction of Communist Cambodia and hence very less reason to turn brutal. China too presents a very interesting case where Mao, the founder-leader of the country even though he was considered a theoretician and an independent thinker akin to Vladimir Lenin, on whom the influence of Stalin could only be negligible, also remained a tyrant during most part of his rule. His experiments like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, though they had noble motives ended up swallowing the lives of millions of citizens. At the root of these experiments, the devilish intent to succeed was exacerbated by a complete disregard for human lives. More cases such as Romania, Poland, East Germany, Ukraine present similar phenomena though levels of repression vary greatly in each one of them.

So we finally see that a communist system, as far as it has existed has thrived only under conditions of violence and repression and this leads us to question even the legitimacy of the Marxist doctrine itself. Marx, in his writings had vouched for a brief ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ during the Socialist phase of the Revolution. By dictatorship he meant the rule of the working class over the propertied classes which would rearrange the production relations of a society for the better. Marx also had assigned the leadership of the Revolution to the Communist Party which was to serve as the ‘vanguard of the proletariat’. The Party was supposed to educate the masses, radicalise the trade unions, peasant organisations and finally lead the struggle against the propertied classes.

But when we look into what happened in Russia, we find that Lenin had actually done the reverse. Firstly, the term ‘dictatorship’ was taken literally and the phrase ‘vanguard of the proletariat’ horribly misinterpreted. The ‘vanguard of the proletariat’ actually meant a group of individuals who best represent the versatile interests of the working classes which determine the pace and the direction of the Revolution. A leadership which does not take into account the aspirations of the proletariat has no right to call itself ‘the vanguard’. This naturally means that the Communist Party, the sole representative of the working classes, must function democratically, encourage debate and sufficiently decentralize authority. But what Lenin had created was a coterie of top party members whose elitism was strikingly manifest in what was called ‘democratic centralism’. The party elite or the Politburo took decisions on their own, passed orders downward and forced party members to comply. Dissidents were persuaded repeatedly to accept the party line or to leave the organization altogether. The Politburo had so much condescension for the populace that it believed that the masses had no minds of their own and that it was its bounden duty to educate and guide them to a better future.

Democratic Centralism which was an integral part of Leninism was hence a horrible distortion of Marxist theory. This kind of practice was propagated to all the satellites of the USSR and other countries as well. Once Stalin assumed power, he applied the theory rigorously on the Soviet society and harvested gruesome consequences. In the process, he also weakened the Politburo by concentrating power into himself and left his successors to inherit the same.

Origins of Tyranny:
Hitler during his formative years had immersed himself in dubious theories of racism and by the time he ascended to the top of the Nazi party, he was already a convinced right-winger. He believed in the distorted interpretations of Nietzsche and Darwin and had wanted to cleanse the society of the taints of inferior races. He sincerely hated Marxism which had vouched for universal brotherhood and felt that it was completely against the Order of Nature. People like Hitler who in some ways are indoctrinated by theories that sound like the ‘ultimate truth’ psychologically are inclined to believe firmly in their own ‘superior’ intelligence. Their delusions are so strong and intoxicating that they tend to consider others ignorant and sometimes even superfluous.

A similar comparison can be drawn to left wingers who have taken a plunge into Marxist theory. Marxism, as it is widely observed, is a remarkably scientific theory that interprets the whole of human history in a meaningful way and gives you the tools to change its future course. It is true that Marxism opens your windows to a wide variety of disciplines that any Marxist scholar will find it difficult to disembark from the extremely liberating journey. Honestly out of my personal experiences, I strongly feel that Marxism does provide you with a vision of the ‘ultimate truth’ and it is quite natural that young, fertile minds are instantly smitten by it. However the biggest problem arises when one unwittingly considers himself the Chosen One to realise Marx’s vision of Communist Utopia just like how mythological texts sometimes excite an unsuspecting mind into a fit of fanatic euphoria.

It is precisely at that moment, the Marxist reader turns into a fundamentalist by becoming impervious to any kind of contrarian beliefs. It is true that our reader has lofty intentions to bring peace and prosperity to one and all, in contrast to his right wing counterpart who believes in the validity of a fractured society, but that doesn’t make him any less a fundamentalist. Any kind of fundamentalism instantly breeds intolerance and expects abject surrender of the rest of the world towards it. When liberals like us have no compunctions in calling right-wingers as ‘bigots’ and ‘fascists’, it is ironic to note that we do not display the same readiness to brand Marxist supremacists like Lenin, Stalin with the same tags. When a particular group considers itself higher than the rest of the society and seeks legitimacy of its authority on account of it, it must be labelled ‘fascist’ even if its intentions are supposedly noble. And, any kind of fascism, be it religious or intellectual in this case, inherently harbours a contempt towards the innocent masses which morphs soon into despotism whose consequences are everywhere to see.

Revolution sans people:
To call what happened in the Soviet Union a Revolution is a mild exaggeration. Only a phenomena which marks a significant breakaway from the past state of things and sets the course of human history on a transformative journey can be called a Revolution. To bring such a massive transformation, the role of the masses becomes primary and indispensable. A political revolution is not a term that can be used to describe a mere change in the national leadership of a country. What happened in Russia was nothing more than a shifting of power from the traditional Czar dynasty to a clique of ambitious individuals headed by Lenin. Though the Soviet Union succeeded in breaking the centuries-old feudal system of land ownership which in itself was quite a phenomenal change, there was no significant transformation in the lives of peasants and farm workers for the better. The State had appropriated everything that belonged to the peasant and forced him to serve in the same capacity as before.

It must be remembered that the Russian masses were supportive of Lenin’s movement solely because it was the only group which offered ‘Land, Peace and Bread’ to the oppressed masses. Lenin had promised to end Russia’s participation in the war, distribute the land to the tiller and eradicate poverty. The common masses knew nothing about Marxism and the collectivism it espoused. The peasants and workers had not shed their communal and religious identities and had no intention to work for the construction of a Socialist state. And as far as I know, Lenin had not popularised much of Marxist ideals and visions to the masses and his intentions were clear to his party men alone. The most important reason why I detest calling the Russian case a
‘Communist Revolution’ in the strictest sense of the word, is because the majority of the masses did not in any way acquire a progressive or a radically altered mindset. Every attempt to restructure the society on certain ideological lines came only from above and those who did not fall in line had to be coerced into it. Had Russia moved along the strictly Marxian sequence of Capitalist, Socialist and Communist phases, there would have been no reason for coercion. Such a society undergoing a gradual metamorphosis under the guidance of a dynamic Communist Party would have acquired the necessary radicalism to break away from its past and hence would have pledged overwhelming support for a Revolution. Most importantly, in such a case the move towards a revolutionary transition would have come from below with the Party acting solely as its guide and strategist.