The Lessons of October


The centennial of the Bolshevik coup d'etat is being quietly commemorated throughout the world. It is one of the those uncomfortable events nobody wants to remember. Unlike Nazi Germany the Bolshevik regime had forced quite a few to collaborate with it and fooled many to provide it with credence and international respect. The Western view of the Bolshevik takeover of Russia has a fate similar to a long essay written by Leon Trotzky,  one of the Revolution’s estranged leaders, and titled “The Lessons of October”. In Soviet Russia the book was first a required reading. Later, if found in one’s possession, it would result in many years of Gulag labor camps or a death sentence (my late grandfather was urgently summoned by his cousin in the middle of a dark Leningrad night of 1937 for an assistance in burning a copy of the “The Lessons” along with other works of the same author). Finally, it became a simple curiosity item. The vast majority of the press dedicated to the event is dealing with the purely Russian aspect of the power grab. To claim Russia has suffered tremendously from the Bolsheviks is to say nothing at all. However, there are lessons going far beyond local history and pertaining to the greater world’s present and the future.

The West and the US in particular have suddenly awoken to the concept of “fake news”. It is being presented as a new powerful weapon of the internet era. Comrade Lenin would be very proud of this recognition. Hundred years ago the Bolsheviks if not invented, but definitely perfected the art of disinformation. Being exceptional students of human nature, they realized short, well articulated slogans presenting simple solutions to seemingly intractable problems and repeated ad nauseam make even most sensible individuals start doubting common sense. Also, the Bolsheviks had realized the modern world (even a century ago) is too complex for an average person to comprehend and explain. A simple conspiracy theory (and Marxism is nothing more than that) provide a structural explanation to otherwise random terrifying events of contemporary life. Obviously, the Bolsheviks did not have the internet at their disposal. They had their newspapers, first “Iskra” (the Spark) and the then “Pravda” (the Truth) delivered to every factory and military unit and read by the local party member to everyone in attendance. The reality was sculpted by the articles of those propaganda “water hoses”. Those party mouthpieces became Facebook, Twitter and Google for the Russia’s rebellious masses. As the internet of today it was changing the language, inflating and inventing the threats. Likewise, any bit of information contradictory to the Party Line would be declared “counter-revolutionary propaganda” or in the lingo of our days “fake news”. To discard validity of offending pieces the Bolsheviks would simply declare them “not aligned with the Marxist worldview”. Replace “Marxism” with your favorite pseud-ideology of today and the argument becomes painfully familiar. Even hundred years later the world is still struggling to completely rid itself of the legacy of that “international-net” debacle.

However, the most important lesson is how a marginal group of fanatics numbering in February of 1917 no more than twenty thousand across the entire Russia could after mere 8 months usurp the power of the former Empire. The answer lies in the importance of the rule of law and the anarchy that ensues when one is not applied. The Bolshevik success in the interim period between the Tsar's abdication and the October coup stems primarily from the inability and unwillingness of the Provisional Government to exercise its legitimate power. The Provisional Government, and its leader Kerensky in particular, were trying to be the complete opposite of the previous regime. The population, especially in big cities, resented that approach as the anarchy engulfing the country made life dangerous and at times simply unbearable. The order the Bolsheviks projected became better than the chaos generated by the February Revolution. The absence of law and order created a fertile ground for marginal groups to flourish and eventually prevail. The ongoing stalemate in Washington where even the majority party does not succeed in passing its own proposals and ever growing inability to enforce the rule of law be it the immigration or the crime in neighborhoods of color creates the environment where the citizenry lose faith in the governing institutions. This is exactly the time when tiny well mobilized groups of believers become effective in spreading their simple, but contagious message of redemption. This phenomena equally affects both the Left as the Right.

“The Lessons of October” are the lessons of fragility of democracy. They are the lessons of how formidable government institutions unwilling to exercise the power become helpless and crumble under pressure from even seemingly peripheral forces threatening to replace them. We ought to resist temptations to destroy “broken” institutions of democracy and calls to “revolution”.  Evolution of the system is the only way forward, because when those institutions are set on fire the resulting void is filled by forces based on violence and destruction.