In October 1917, Vladimir Lenin was almost alone in calling for the Bolsheviks to take over Russia. Even after they succeeded, the arguments raged on, Menshevik against Bolshevik, revolutionary against liberal, and Social Democrat against Communist.
Millions joined the revolutionary movement because the Bolsheviks succeeded. Millions left because of the Stalin-Hitler Pact. Millions joined because the Red Army defeated the fascists. Millions left because of the Khruschev revelations. Millions joined because of Cuba. Millions left when the Soviet Union imploded. All of them were misguided, and all of their arguments are irrelevant.
The Mensheviks and Social Democrats since 1917 have argued that the Bolshevik Revolution was bound to fail because they should have waited, no matter how long it might take, until they could be elected. Generations passed with the Social Democrats making the same arguments. When capitalism finally did bring down the Soviet Union in 1991, they changed to “I told you so!”
They weren’t really arguing history. The importance of the argument lies in the basic question of whether or not people, Americans for example, should engage in revolutionary struggle. Lenin and the Russian revolution are just metaphors in this fundamental disagreement. If one believes that the only proper way to change the world is by being elected, then Lenin is evil, Lenin is opportunist, and, most important, Lenin is wrong!
The metaphor may be gone, but the argument is still going on. If people want a better world, should they look for a revolutionary program or just a very good election campaign? It’s irrelevant.
It’s irrelevant, for one reason, because a revolutionary program would include a very good election campaign. Lenin knew that, and the Bolsheviks ran election campaigns every time it was permitted.
But it’s even more irrelevant because the situation in America today is far different from Russia in 1917. They didn’t have an almost completely educated populace. They didn’t have cell phones. They didn’t have the internet. They didn’t have worldwide information and communications.
We are misguided if we think that the tide of history is conclusively changed because of an individual or a passing event. The entire history of the human race shows that we get smarter and more capable of self-governance. Individuals don’t change that. Incidents don’t change it.
Even if revolutionaries conceded, because the Soviet Union lasted “only” 74 years, and said that the Bolsheviks should never have sought to break the power of the capitalists in Russia in 1917, so what? They weren’t us and we aren’t them! Today, each of us has an obligation to ourselves and to our species to think through what is needed and what we can do about it. Lenin can’t do it for us, and he couldn’t stop us if he wanted to. It’s up to us, now.
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