[Lenin’s] response, formalized soon after [his return from exile] was that the Bolsheviks would support the Provisional Government “as a noose supports a dying criminal.”
The Age of Utopia: Christendom from the Renaissance to the Russian Revolution, by John Strickland
NB: As you read this, consider inserting today’s west, especially the United States, in the story – replacing what the Russian communists would do with what is happening today in America. I know it is a bit of a tired comparison, but it comes out well in this story – the attempt at creating utopia via creation of a new man.
After two years of war, the Russian government was brought to its knees. Setback after setback was ascribed to the Russian army, with a speech in the Duma concluding with the rhetorical question: “Is this stupidity, or is this treason?”
On February 28, 1917, Tsar Nicolas II would abdicate the throne. A Provisional Government was established, but it had no credibility; Russia must continue fighting in the war! This is not what the people wanted to hear. In any case, soon enough other parties would claw for power.
In April, Lenin would return. By October, with the help of Trotsky and Stalin, he would arrange the arrest of those in government. All power had passed into the hands of the soviets – the councils. In reality, power passed to Lenin and his supporters. When objections to this were raised, Trotsky would shout them down – you have played your role, get out, you worthless individuals.
Utopia was promised, with the complete dismissal, even attempted erasure, of Christianity. The Russian Revolution brought this long sweep of history to its climax:
It was the outcome of an age in which indignation, once regulated by humility and subjected to sacrificial love, became completely untethered to any greater virtues.
Per Marx, Christianity was an instrument of oppression. As long as religion existed in society, it was a sign that class oppression existed. For this reason, the Orthodox were seen as enemies just as the bourgeoisie were seen as enemies.
Numerous martyrdoms are recounted by Strickland. Thousands of clergy and an uncountable number of laity were put to death. One story stands out, that of Grand Duchess Elizabeth. Born in Germany, she was the daughter of a Lutheran prince. She would marry into the Russian royal family, and though it was not required, she converted to Orthodoxy.
In 1905, her husband was killed in the uprisings of that year. Yet, she visited the killer in jail, imploring him to repent. Elizabeth would thereafter give away much of her wealth and build a monastery in which she would spend the rest of her life, where she would spend her time in prayer and care for the poor.
1n 1918, the Communists came for her. Besides her royal ties and German ancestry, her compassion for the poor was seen as a challenge to the communists’ goals. Sent east, past the Ural Mountains, she, along with others, was cast down an abandoned mineshaft. When many survived the fall, a hand grenade was dropped to the bottom, ending all cries.
Supposedly fought for the benefit of the common man, these Soviet leaders didn’t care at all about individual common men. They spoke in the abstract of the proletariat, but would walk past them without note, or would lump them together with the bourgeoisie if they happened to disagree with Lenin in the slightest.
From this sprang the deadliest domestic conflict in the history of Christendom – more destructive than even the French Revolution. And, I will add, it happened in the country that perhaps, more than any other, was holding on to its Eastern Orthodox roots.
The world’s first truly totalitarian system was composed of four features: first, a uniparty, a dictatorship of one-party rule; second, a police state; third, control over the economy; fourth, enforcement of ideological conformity. All of this, of course, required an all-powerful state.
The details are secondary to my purpose, and in any case are well-known: the tsar and his family executed, the Cheka, the Red Army turned inward, the White Army sailing into oblivion. How to crush enemies and control the economy – these were the focal points for the revolutionaries, and the path required precisely that order.
Rich peasants, call them the middle class, had to be destroyed. Their farms had to be collectivized into large-scale cooperatives. We call this corporate farming today.
In 1921, the Reds had victory. In 1924, Lenin died. Trotsky and Stalin were the two people best in position to seize power. Trotsky, the powerful orator, was in Crimea at the time. Stalin misled Trotsky regarding the date of the funeral, hence he was conspicuously absent from the proceedings. Regularly outwitted by his rival, Trotsky ended up in Mexico, and ended up assassinated with an axe.
Meanwhile, Lenin’s body was embalmed and his tomb a pilgrimage site. His name was plastered on towns, streets, monuments, statues.
For now, the age of utopia seemed to those standing atop Lenin’s Tomb to have reached its completion.
For about a decade after the Revolution, the Bolsheviks claimed to have the key to open the door to this utopia.
…when humanity is separated from a transcendent source of being, it eventually disintegrates.
The world was now fully transformed, with the Russian Revolution bringing completion to this centuries-long project. Perfection (by creating a new man), through human hands (utopia), was now the goal in every western, formerly Christian, society. Only the means were to be different (and even here, as I noted would be the case at the beginning of this post, we have seen that the means are really not all that different).
Strickland concludes his epilogue:
In fact, the coming age of nihilism would serve as a reminder that not utopia but paradise had once defined what the West was.
The age of nihilism is the subject of Strickland’s fourth and final volume in this series. And what has been seen in the last years is, among those looking for answers, a search for something transcendent – a true paradise. And for many, this search is leading them to Christianity and Christianity’s God.
Certainly, to the Eastern Orthodox Church, but not only there.