The Communist Red Terror At 100, And Lenin At 150

by Venu Gopal Narayanan - May 23, 2020 12:21 PM
The Communist Red Terror At 100, And Lenin At 150Lenin 
  • The only thing the Communists offer are — Red Terror or tyranny borne of dictatorial tendencies, and a failed economic philosophy based on absence of rationality.

    Boiled down, the Red Terror was a spectacularly gruesome episode of genocidal proportions, designed and conducted by Lenin to secure his seat, and whose horrors linger still.

This year marks the 150th birth anniversary of VI Lenin, the founder of the Communist era.

As expected, there was an outpouring of tributes in the Liberal press. D.Raja, leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI), wrote a stirring piece urging us to learn from the visionary.

But like most such efforts, Raja too, only managed to ‘look London and talk Tokyo’.

Instead of proof on the continued relevance of Lenin (and his Marxist economic theories in combating capitalism), Raja’s arguments were restricted to vague, rhetorical broadsides against Hindutva, fascism and upper-caste oppression.

Where one would have expected a lucidly-scripted précis of Lenin’s views on monetary or fiscal policy, which Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman would then have had to adopt on the weight of its logic, Raja’s principal offering was a long bleat on minority victimhood.

Similarly, his interpretation of the epidemic’s economic consequences was a concern, that some people were spreading fear in the name of religion.

What did that have to do with economics, epidemic management, or Lenin?

But rhetoric, however impassioned, is no substitute for genuine tribute. Surely we can do better.

And if we are to truly applaud Lenin, then we must go beyond dialectics, and do so on merit.

Luckily, the summer of 2020 offers us precisely such an opportunity, for it also coincidentally marks one hundred years of Lenin’s principal contribution to the human experiment: the apogee of the Red Terror.

That may seem like a plonking statement, straight out of a Stephen Potter book on one-upmanship, since the list of paradigmatic achievements attributed to Lenin is a fairly long one.

There is his sojourn in Samara, for instance, where, amidst colorful onion-domed churches by the banks of the Volga, with the smell of chocolate around, Lenin wrote his socialist scriptures at a tiny public library overlooking a cobblestoned street.

Or the revolution of 1917 itself, which later changed the world for a while. Or the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, when he pulled Russia out of the Great War, so that he could start a few of his own — like using MN Roy to topple the British in India, and a civil war with the White Army.

Or the New Economic Policy of 1921, in which Lenin, adopting the first recorded instance of postmodernist doublespeak, mercilessly killed Marx’s ghost by making free-market enterprise, of all things, an approved subset of Communist Statism.

Or even, of astutely recognising in Stalin, those particularly fine human qualities mandatory in a worthy successor.

Yet, it is the truth that Lenin’s Red Terror of 1918-1922, stands out more than any of his other revolutionary triumphs, in his brief reign from 1917-1924.

It was also a rare, major policy of his which lasted so long (the rest were prone to frequent changes), and set the tone for everything else in the Communist era to follow.

That is because, boiled down, the Red Terror was a spectacularly gruesome episode of genocidal proportions, designed and conducted by Lenin to secure his seat, whose horrors linger still.

It is a topic no Communist will discuss, because it cuts to the bone of that ideology; when, by thought, word, and act, this ruthless period proved Lenin’s own predictions right — that as long as there was a state, there could be no freedoms.

Quelle ironie.

Still, like all Popular Democratic processes, the Red Terror had an innocuous beginning, being founded in social necessity.

Look at it from Lenin’s point of view. In August 1918, the Revolution was won, Russia was insulated from the War, nationalisation was on, and the Romanov family, which had ruled the Russian Empire since the early 17th century, had been assassinated.

And yet, people refused to see the wisdom of Lenin’s thoughts; there was dissent everywhere — in the cities, in factories, in the villages, and on the farms.

It is, therefore, to crush such widespread dissent, that Lenin signed his infamous ‘Hanging order’ that month, marking the start of the Red Terror.

The order was an indefensible and immoral document, in which Lenin instructed his people to quell dissenters by force.

Those who did not toe the party line were to be hung in public. The victims were to be named and shamed, and their grain was to be seized.

The message had to go out loud and clear. And chillingly, there was even a post script: ‘Use your toughest people for this’. All in the name of ideology.

According to some estimates, the victims’ tally crossed a hundred thousand. But more importantly, it set the tone and tenor for the manner in which Lenin and his Bolsheviks embarked upon their programme of establishing rigid control over Russia.

The organ used was the Cheka — the state police.

Its head was the notorious Felix Dzerzhinsky. And very swiftly, its omnipotence, efficiency and savagery rose to well above anything its preceding Imperial counterpart, the Okhrana, had ever managed.

Violence against dissent was officially normalised, and a template was set for subsequent organs of state security to follow – like the OGPU, KGB or NKVD.

So we see, even in the nascence of the Communist revolution, that Lenin’s brutality was matched only by the triviality of his victims’ crimes: they were executed simply because they didn’t agree with his views.

This was Communism at the very beginning, and this is the Communism Raja and his ilk wish upon India.

There is nothing popular, democratic or peaceful about it, there never was, and never will be.

By historical precedent, by formal ideology, and rigorous practice, Communism is structurally intolerant of dissent.

And how can it not be, when the one thing which brings down that house of cards, in a jiffy, is logic?

Lenin thought he was being intellectually clever, by proposing a revolution devoid of morals, with a literary style to match.

According to him, morality and humanity were bourgeoisie inventions, so getting rid of both creators and creations were okay. To him, justice was only an option, which might or might not be invoked, on the long road to emancipation.

And once it was established by such illogic, that anything goes, then, well, anything went.

“For us, all is permitted” Lenin said, giving his tribe a free rein to do as they pleased in the name of revolution, so, “Let there be blood”.

This was not logic; this was madness. But in a chaotic Russia already torn apart by war, words lost their meaning in the melee.

Where bloodlust had already become the norm by 1917, some more didn’t matter, and once Lenin managed to work that chaos into power, it became less about what he’d said before, and more about what he did to hold on to the immense authority he gained.

It took him six months to do so, after which, it swiftly became a process of sequentially eliminating dissenters.

In ethical terms, it was a reversal without parallel, since, Lenin’s revolution transformed Russia into precisely that state, without precisely those freedoms, which he had doggedly agitated against for so long.

His Cheka became more Okhrana than the Okhrana, and he, more Romanov than the Romanovs.

But ethics and morality aside (if that is ever possible), his was a fabulously successful model, because, in spite of countless uprisings, counter-revolutionary conflicts funded and manned by Western nations, and multiple assassination attempts, Lenin managed to hold on to power until he died of natural causes.

As a result, history teaches us that his ideological descendants rarely deviate from the original manual he set down in stone during the Red Terror.

The beginning and the end was about crushing dissent, after which, the highest tenets of dialectical materialism, and the good of society, could be conveniently discarded.

In any case, if there was no one left to object, then what did it matter what words or ideas meant?

What was there to prove or explain anymore? Victims of Red violence in North Malabar, Bengal and the tribal districts are solemn, sacred testimony to this reality.

Of course, a critical assessment of that ideology, espoused and violently instituted first by Lenin through his Red Terror, begs the question: if it was really so bad, why then did Communism seize both power and popular imagination in so many countries across the world?

The answer is surprisingly simple: it didn’t.

Facts demonstrate that Communism managed to gain power only in those countries, which were transitioning out of colonisation by deracinated, elite-run empires.

Examples include most countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. But not once has a Communist Party been able to form a government on its own in a proper democracy, where at least rudimentary systems of impartial administration exist.

The only Red states the world ever saw were ones crafted out of flux, and held by ruthless force.

Even in India, for all the mayhem and havoc Communism has wrecked, in the end, it only succeeded in forming governments in two large states — West Bengal and Kerala; that too, only in coalition with numerous other partners of singularly revisionary leanings, and after undergoing debased ideological compromises which would have gravely depressed Lenin.

A second reason why Raja’s pipe dreams are off by a century is the early enactment of antitrust laws in Western democracies — some as early as before the First World War.

Once these laws came into force, they automatically granted a semblance of rights to workmen, and indirectly offered a sense of job security by outlawing predatory capitalism.

After that, Lenin’s allure found little space beside the profit motive, as the world slowly evolved towards a welcome standardisation of labour rights; to the extent that by the 1980s, most parts of Western Europe, Japan, America and Scandinavia (in particular), were far more unionised than a Communist state could ever dream of being.

People understood that as profitable as rights were, especially on the shop floor, you needed a free state to have rights, thereby disproving Lenin’s winsome thesis of a state and personal freedoms being mutually incompatible (in some cases, actually before he left Finland to start the revolution in Russia).

So, while a dictatorship of the proletariat sounded good when sung by Joan Baez, it didn’t really fetch you anything material.

And yet, patrons and practitioners of Lenin’s tenets continue to receive op-ed space in national dailies, the Indian copper industry can be derailed by prelates of the proletariat without breaking a sweat, and caste/faith chasms appear to yawn wider than before.

There are many reasons for this, three of which readers must understand first, if they are to ever rid society of Red ills:

First, even after a century, the Neo-Marxists continue to successfully paper over the truth that the Capitalism Marx railed against, has absolutely no relation to what people call Capitalism today.

If anything, what is in vogue today, globally, may at best be called free-market Mercantilism, in which the freedom of the markets is a collective, working fiction fashioned by protectionist governments. Nothing more.

Why they are able to do so is the second reason — ignorance. Comrade Prophet Lenin and his tribe will remain venerated for as long as the sordid truths of their deeds remain unknown to the general public. That necessary change can only come about when, for example, the brutal excesses of the Red Terror are highlighted, and the saintly sage of Samara is shown up for what he actually was — a ruthless usurper who burnt every rule book, and broke every law, to establish himself in perpetual power by crushing dissent, and putting morality to shame.

The third is the ‘oppressor-oppressed-saviour’ triangle — a standard Communist strategy, whereby society is divided into good, bad and the needy. This is the basis of all narrative-building exercises across the Leftist spectrum, in which the establishment is the cruel oppressor, the masses are the oppressed, and Lenin’s children are the selfless saviours crafting an emancipatory revolution.

It plays well in poor countries like India, and offers the necessary electoral traction to amplify the narrative.

But it is a lie, because Lenin’s own story shows that he had nothing to offer beyond the revolution, save a self-contradictory rejection of Marxist scripture, and the savage abuse of power.

This is the key, and that is why an unhindered progression of this period of awakening, increasingly tumultuous as it has been, is vital if Indians are to excise the rot in their society.

This will get all the more difficult, while becoming all the more necessary, as India shortly addresses long-overdue reforms of labour and land laws.

It will have to begin with the truth about false prophets. Only then might a larger section realise, that the demise of the Soviet Union hasn’t changed a thing; that the old forces are still very much at work, albeit under a different guise.

And only then might enough Indians finally recognise that ‘Communism ain’t dead — it just smells that way’.

Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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