Having recognized the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we now need to turn to another milestone: Yesterday, November 7, was the 100th anniversary of Russia’s Communist Revolution.
That is to say, November 7, 1917, was the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. There were other uprisings and insurrections, but that is the day the hard core Communists, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, took over the nation.
The Russian Empire became the Union of Soviet Socialists Republics, which led to a series of other revolutions, conquests, and overthrows: The People’s Republic of China, Eastern Europe, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, and revolutionary movements around the world.
The United States and other democracies engaged in a “cold war”–which became “hot” in Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere–with the Communist bloc. The Soviet strongman Nikita Khrushchev promised that “we will bury you.” That is, Communism was the inevitable outcome of the historical dialectic, the inevitable next stage, after bourgeois capitalism collapses due to its internal contradictions. At the time, even many cold warriors wondered if Khrushchev might have been right.
Communism–with its collectivism, totalitarianism, and command economics–rejected religion, individual liberties, and “bourgeois morality.” Thus unencumbered and motivated by ideological self-righteousness, Communism was responsible for the deaths of some 100 million human beings.
And yet, it was Communism that collapsed due to its internal contradictions. What the Bolsheviks started in 1917 ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Today the only purely Communist countries are North Korea and Cuba, with China, Laos, and Vietnam enforcing a Communism with capitalist elements.
But is Communism over? Might it be coming back?
The New York Times published an article by Oxford historian David Priestland looking back with some nostalgia over the century of Communism. In his article, What’s Left of Communism, he plaintively asks, “Today, more than a quarter-century after the collapse of the U.S.S.R., is a fourth incarnation of Communism possible?”
He laments the split between old-style Marxists, with their focus on class conflict and economic equality, and the post-Marxists who are more concerned with race, gender, and identity politics. But he has hope:
We are only at the beginning of a period of major economic change and social turmoil. As a highly unequal tech-capitalism fails to provide enough decently paid jobs, the young may adopt a more radical economic agenda. A new left might then succeed in uniting the losers, both white-collar and blue-collar, in the new economic order.
The article and its publication by the nation’s most prominent newspaper demonstrates that Communism remains thinkable, that lots of people still think it is a great idea.
Certainly, the rise of the avowed socialist Bernie Sanders is good news for Marxists. As is the movement in the Democratic party to purge its corruption by veering to the hard left.
The end of the Cold War may mean that there is no longer a self-conscious opposition to Communism and its various facets. Nor is there much of a self-conscious ideology of freedom to counter it. In this climate, perhaps Communism could be reborn.
Besides, Chinese Communism may be a variety that actually “works” economically. As China grows in power and influence, countries–perhaps even our own–may well emulate its system of allowing economic prosperity in the context of total government control.
Certainly on university campuses we are already seeing what the old Marxists would call the “vanguard,” the advance implementation of the Revolution before the Revolution actually happens. Scholars speak of “interrogating” texts and historical figures in language that recalls the Secret Police and the gulags. Dissenters from the political collective are charged with thought crimes and sentenced to re-education camps.
And that there is so little reaction against the leftist totalitarianism on university campuses suggests that the “bourgeois” order that pays the bills really has become decadent, impotent, and ripe for takeover, just as Communism predicts.
Maybe Communism will bury us after all.
Illustration by নীলাব্জ (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons