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Mark Steel: An ideal mix of two systems
November 04, 2017
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It’s 100 years since the Russian Revolution, which some people are celebrating, though if you were to be picky, you could argue it hasn’t gone entirely to plan.

If you set up a holiday resort, you might not be happy if the most favourable review on TripAdvisor was: “After a picturesque drive (slightly spoilt when we reached for our camera and armed guards yelled ‘No photo’, and pointed a Kalashnikov at our children), we arrived in good time but the food was disappointing as we had to queue three days for a frozen potato! We decided to go to a bed and breakfast in Weymouth instead, but there was a 50-foot high wall covered in barbed wire and snipers to keep us in, so we asked for our money back and we were all locked in a mental institution for five years for being enemies of the people! But to be fair, someone told us if you go at the right time of year you might catch a very nice ballet.”

When the Soviet Union was intact, you would sometimes meet Communist Party members who’d been over there on a trade union delegation. They’d tell you it was a wonderful place, and if you replied that their government had murdered millions of people, they’d say, “But you should see the beautiful lampposts in Ekaterinburg. Not only do they blend in tastefully with the disused power plant, but they’re owned by the workers, which puts the mass starvation of peasants in the 1930s into perspective.”

The image of Communism is made even worse by modern far-left groups, who give out leaflets with statements such as: “We in the Movement for Workers Dominant Communist Dominance hail Michael Fallon’s calamitous resignation as an historic and unprecedented illustration of the final collapse of capitalism, which will inevitably disintegrate by Saturday morning or three in the afternoon at the latest, and we utterly refute the statement by the filthy piles of fox mess in the Communist Movement for Power to Workers, People, Animals, Flora and Fauna (excluding thistles), that the capitalist/fascist/ornithologist dictatorship of Theresa May will last until Tuesday.”

The greatest contempt for the communist regimes that ruled Russia and Eastern Europe is usually thrown at Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who led the revolution 100 years ago.

Most historians suggest there was no conflict between the ideals of the original revolution and those of Stalin’s tyranny later on. But one clue there may have been a difference is that Stalin had almost all the original Bolsheviks shot, and sometimes in history, having everyone shot can indicate a difference of opinion of some significance on certain key issues.

It may be true that the Bolsheviks created the tools later used by Stalin, but then you might as well blame the Wright Brothers for jihadist plane hijackers, Alexander Graham Bell for cold callers from call centres, and Jesus for Ann Widdecombe.

The Bolsheviks of 1917 were mostly labourers and sailors from cities in which people were starving, and wanted to end the rule of the Tsar, who’d cost his country a million lives in a war. On top of that, one key figure in the Tsar’s government was Rasputin, a character so discredited that while speaking on behalf of the military, he was in disgrace for sordid lecherous behaviour towards women that became too much even by his own government’s shady standards. And no government can carry on in that state.

You can see how extreme the Bolsheviks were from their slogan “Bread, peace and land”. How did they expect to get anywhere with demands that unrealistic? A more reasonable slogan would be “Obviously we don’t expect to eat, have somewhere to live and not get killed, but if you could see your way to two out of three we’d be grateful.”

Lenin and the Bolsheviks did introduce a series of restrictions that are often assumed to be proof he was a maniac. But as soon as the Bolsheviks took over, Russia was invaded by 14 armies, leaving the entire place ravaged. Whether you agree or not with Lenin’s measures, it’s probably fair to mention they were in the context of a brutal war, isn’t it?

Otherwise you might as well say, “In 1944, these British and American people got on some boats to Normandy and started firing guns all over the place. It was on the beach as well, so if anyone was sunbathing it must have ruined their day completely.”

By the time Stalin was starving entire countries and signing pacts with Hitler, the revolution may be said to have gone mildly astray.

Because under Stalin, all wealth and power was concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite. But thankfully those days are over and Russia is now ruled by a kindly capitalist Putin, who had very little contact with the Communist Party except for being a KGB intelligence officer for 20 years, and saying recently, “I liked communist ideas very much and still do.”

So finally we have an ideal mix of the two systems, in which equality of wealth is taken very seriously, as all the oligarchs own a roughly equal number of shipping lines and football clubs each, just as Karl Marx would have wanted.

The Independent

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