Had the Soviet Union not collapsed, today would have been a festive day in Moscow. The 90th anniversary of the October Revolution (“October” since in 1917 Russia was still using the Julian calendar) would be marked by a big military parade, with Western correspondents and military attaches on the lookout for new types of ICBMs and MBTs. There would be a speech by the Secretary General from atop Lenin’s tomb, with the rest of the gray-coated gerontocracy nodding in approval. But to anyone under the age of 30 such scenes are as distant as those from Nuremberg in 1936, and the date itself as irrelevant as that of the Armistice next Sunday.
In Russia itself, 13 years ago November 7 became the clumsily named Day of Reconciliation and Accord under Yeltsin; it was moved to November 4 an renamed “People’s Unity Day” under Putin. The holiday became linked with the date of the final expulsion of the Polish garrison from Moscow at the end of the “Times of Trouble” in 1612, and with the Day of the Icon of the Mother of God of Kazan, one of the greatest sacred symbols of Russian Orthodoxy, which the Vatican recently handed over to Russia.
A recent survey by the Public Opinion Fund has established that most Russians rightly perceive the “Revolution” as a political coup and conspiratorial takeover of power by the Bolseviks. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) is the sole political force that staunchly keeps its loyalty to the ideals of the Red October, but the communists no longer matter.
In a symbolic gesture, Moscow officially marked the 70th anniversary of the beginning of Stalin-era Great Terror last week. President Vladimir Putin visited the Butovo Range of NKVD secret police, where people were shot and dumped in their thousands in 1937 at the peak of terror. He laid flowers at a cross erected in memory of political repressions. “The year 1937 was prepared by the previous years of cruelty,” he said. “Such tragedies recurred in the history of mankind . . . always happened when ideals that were seemingly attractive” were held above the values of the human life, rights and liberties.”
There are a few capital cities around the world that are still marking the occasion in the spirit, and with the vocabulary, of Moscow cca. 1947. One of them is Hanoi, where the ruling Communist Party official daily Nhan Dan celebrated the “Spirit of October.” Judging by the paper’s account of the past nine decades, communism is still alive and well:
The October Revolution entered the history of humanity as the greatest event in the 20th century and ushered in a new era, the epoch of transition to socialism on the global scale . . . The victory of the October Revolution affirmed the thorough scientific and revolutionary nature of Marxism-Leninism, providing invaluable historical lessons to the revolutions for national independence and socialism . . . The Soviet Union’s socialism was a strong support and a vanguard force in pushing forward the struggle for peace, co-operation and development, helping nations prevent international reactionary forces from launching wars of aggression and creating the premise for nations to set up relations on the basis of equality, co-operation and development . . . Socialism, on the basis of successes and failures together with the aspirations and consciousness of nations, will surely record new developments. According to the objective rule of history, humanity will certainly advance to socialism.
Similar editorials were published, officially-sponsored commemorative gatherings held, and exhibitions staged, in Minsk, Peking, and Pyongyang. Their common theme is that the “ideals of October” are alive and well, a few current hiccups notwithstanding. In Cuba, for instance, the High-level Party School of Nico Lopez in Havana held a “scientific workshop” earlier this week entitled “Restoration of Socialist Ideologies.” Addressing the workshop, Raul Valdes Vivo, head of the School and a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, reaffirmed the significance of the October Revolution to Cuba’s victories over its foreign enemies and social progress in central America.
Up to a quarter of the world’s six-and-a-half billion people live under regimes that claim to be inspired by what happened in St. Petersburg on this day nine decades ago, but there is no true zeal in their rulers’ rhetoric and no fire in their hearts. China is a “revisionist” power par excellence, as confirmed at the Communist Party Congress last week. That has enabled her to make a successful transformation from a poor agricultural economy into a global manufacturing base. The Communist Party has the monopoly of political power, but its rule fits in with the country’s authoritarian tradition from the First Emperor to Chiang Kai-Shek. The result is a reddish variety of authoritarian capitalism successfully tested decades ago in Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore.
Vietnam would like to emulate China’s example, albeit with tighter Party controls on ownership and money flows—which cannot be done. North Korea is a bizarre, starving, paranoid hell on Earth, ruled by a malevolent eccentric. If Lenin were to find himself in Pyongyang today, he’d ask for a sealed train—not to foment another revolution, but just to get out. Cuba is an irrelevant basket case.
In the Western world Bolshevik variety of communism is dead and gone, but a new enemy without AND within is Islam, justifying Hilaire Belloc’s prescient question, in The Great Heresies (1938), “Will not perhaps the temporal power of Islam return and with it the menace of an armed Muhammadan world which will shake the dominion of Europeans—still nominally Christian—and reappear again as the prime enemy of our civilization?”
Seven decade after Belloc it is not Lenin’s, but Muhammad’s beliefs, ideas and intentions that pose the greatest threat to our civilization. The elite class rejects this diagnosis, of course, just as its intellectual fathers had rejected the truth about the Russian Revolution when it claimed 2-3 million lives (1917-1922), or about the famine caused by Stalin’s collectivization (5-7 million), or about the Great Purge and the Gulag (at lest ten million). Back then we had a legion of Moscow’s apologists, character witnesses, moles and fellow-travelers, assuring us that the Comrades want nothing but social justice at home and peaceful coexistence abroad.
The ideological focus of their heirs has shifted in form, but not in substance. They are cultural Marxists rather than Bolsheviks, Gramscians and not Leninists. Instead of inventing excuses for the Soviet butchers of 1917, they are battling “Islamophobia” and conjuring a mythical dichotomy between “Islam” and “Islamism.” This time, however, the outcome of the coming struggle is in grave doubt. The West is spiritually and morally weak; Europe is, demographically, on her last legs.
The 1917 Revolution was an immediate bitter fruit of the Great War that went on for another deadly year. Today’s decrepitude of the West, manifest in its apparent inability to defend itself against the new-old jihadist threat, is the long-term consequence of that war. We are living with the consequences of what had ended on another distant November morning at Compiegne.