The tragedy is not that the Russian Revolution is being forgotten; it’s that it is being remembered in the wrong way. It is being seen through rose-coloured spectacles, its grim reality being smothered in layers of romantic myth…
This month is the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution, one of the most important moments in modern history, indeed in all of history. As a direct consequence of this one disastrous event, tens of millions of people would be slaughtered. Never in the field of human cruelty has so much blood been spilled by so many at the hands of so few. It is, therefore, crucial that we learn the lessons that this dark and debauched lesson in history teaches, lest we risk repeating its gross and grotesque butchery. Since this is so, it is alarming that the lessons have not been learnt. Take, for instance, a recent exhibition at London’s British Library, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy and Myths. According to the British writer, K.V. Turley, who visited the exhibition, “there was a constant whiff of nostalgia, even a sense of something essentially noble about what had taken place a century ago.” Mr. Turley was “dismayed at the myths peddled yet again, the real tragedy still ignored.”
Mr. Turley trailed through the exhibit, which consisted of tattered remnants of Bolshevik propaganda: posters, leaflets, pamphlets, and newspapers extolling the advent of the new Workers’ Paradise, as well as the odd piece of White Russian literature calling for the liberation of Russia from Bolshevism. The former items were treated with an air of reverence by those who had written the notes beside each item, as if these remnants of communism were quasi-religious relics; the latter, fewer in quantity and placed less prominently within the exhibit, were accompanied by captions proclaiming their “reactionary” and “crude” tone and their support for the discredited Tsarist regime. The overall effect was to give the visitors the impression that the Russian Revolution had been a good and noble endeavor, even if it ultimately failed to bring about the Workers’ Paradise it had promised. Returning to the title of the exhibit, “Hope, Tragedy and Myths,” the impression given was that the “hope” of the Bolsheviks was good and that the “tragedy” was that those hopes had failed to materialize. As for the “myths,” we would do well to begin with the very myth that the organizers of the exhibit had woven: The myth that the Russian Revolution contained anything that could be deemed “noble.”
“One wonders,” writes Mr. Turley, “given the history of Communism in the 20th century, why there is still so much residual romanticism attached to it—at least in some quarters in the West.” One does indeed wonder. What, for instance, is one to make of the Decree of the Russian Communist government on September 5, 1918, authorizing mass executions of opponents of the regime and the establishment of “concentration camps” for those Russian citizens considered to be “class enemies.” Is this a “noble” response to those dissidents who failed to subscribe to the “progressive” ideas of the Bolsheviks? And what is one to make of the fact that more than 15 million people lost their lives to either war or famine between the October Revolution of 1917 and the declaration of the Soviet Republic in 1922? Is this acceptable “collateral damage” in the face of such a “noble” cause? And then there’s the establishment of the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, later to be known as the KGB, the most terrible and terrifying Inquisition in all human history. One wonders how the millions of people tortured by this Soviet Inquisition would think of their torturers’ cause being seen as “noble,” or what the millions of those who had their loved ones butchered and murdered by the Soviet Inquisition would think of such “nobility.”
These millions of victims were largely left out of the story, as told by the organizers of the London exhibition, as they are largely left out of the way the story of socialism is told in schools and colleges throughout the West. The tragedy is not that the Russian Revolution is being forgotten, it’s that it is being remembered in the wrong way. It is being seen through rose-coloured spectacles, its grim reality being smothered in layers of romantic myth. Socialists are still seen as freedom-fighters by millions of millennials, especially the most radical and violent of the socialists. This is why an alarming number of college students in the United States endorse and support the use of violence to silence those political opponents whose views they consider “offensive.”
The tragedy is that the rose-coloured spectacles are tinted with the blood of socialism’s forgotten victims. Seeing the blood-spattered past through such spectacles condemns the future to be as blood-spattered as the past. If we wish to avoid the horrors of the last century, we need to persuade people to see the past realistically, not romantically. We need to persuade them to remove the rosy spectacles so that they can see reality clearly. When they do so, when they see the blood of the millions of victims, we can only hope that the blood will rush to their own cheeks as they blush at the foolishness of their own blindness. Only such a revelation will cure such people of the desire for revolution.
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 “1917 Through the Rose-Colored Looking Glass” by K.V. Turley (National Catholic Register September 17, 2017).