Leninism Is Alive and Well Among the West’s Multitude of ‘Useful Idiots’
An old Soviet joke opens with a set-up question: What was the world’s most significant historical event in 1875? Punchline: Vladimir Lenin turned 5.
As the joke implies, Lenin was held in awe throughout the USSR, attested to by the many places and institutions named for him: Leningrad in Russia, Leninsk in Kazakhstan, Leninogorsk in Tatarstan, and so forth. The mausoleum where Lenin’s body is preserved in Moscow’s Red Square is Russia’s most venerated shrine. So iconic is his stature that during the 2013–14 Ukrainian uprising against Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian government, popular anger was expressed in a Leninopad, a mass toppling amongst Ukraine’s 5,500 statues of Lenin.
Jan. 21 marked the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s death, which naturally inspired commentaries on his ideas, actions, and influence, most of them thoughtful and well-informed, some shockingly lightweight and ignorant.
For an example of the latter, I submit a YouTube discussion—allegedly in Lenin’s honour—amongst three young women members of the Party of Socialism and Liberation (I’d never heard of it either). The three women, all wearing checked keffiyehs, conversed for more than an hour. It was an extraordinarily shallow exchange, mostly devoted to America-bashing and self-congratulation for being on the right side of history, accompanied by a smattering of Marxist-Leninist tropes, uttered as shibboleths, but never actually expanded into coherence.
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You can only understand Lenin, one said, if you’re in a Marxist-Leninist party. (So much for Solzhenitsyn.) Once there, you must “shed your ego.” You must “struggle.” You must “understand the context.” They lauded Lenin’s championship of the underdog, and his belief in the liberation of oppressed peoples like the Palestinians. Hamas was therefore not to be “denounced”!
It was mostly gibberish, but I toughed out the hour because I thought it might eventually cast light on a disconcerting gap between opinions amongst Gen Z and older generations vis-à-vis Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack on southern Israel. A recent Harvard Harris poll, for instance, shows that 95 percent of Americans over 65 support Israel. But among young people age 18 to 24, nearly half—48 percent—support Hamas. Consider the future of a culture in which half the population cannot distinguish between legitimate political protest and hysterical blood lust.
Tellingly, at no point in their conversation about their revered guru, did the words “(internal) terror,” “show trials,” or “concentration camps” arise, Soviet features normally associated with Stalin’s regime, but all inaugurated by Lenin. Perhaps dimly aware of this significant lacuna in the conversation, the discussion organizer rather cryptically remarked, “Lenin is so misunderstood—so easy to misinterpret what he’s saying.” She offered no examples. How could she? Lenin was adept at promoting himself as a champion of justice for the proletariat, but never obscured his preferred means for achieving power in their name. Vladimir Nabokov impaled Lenin perfectly as “a pail of milk of human kindness with a dead rat at the bottom.”
Previous regimes used terrorism as a means of subduing other tribes and peoples. What was unique to the Soviets was the terror they visited upon their own people. Lenin founded the infamous Cheka immediately after the Bolshevik coup. Many of the tsars had been cruel and arbitrary, but the number of people they had executed was paltry beside those killed in their thousands and hundreds of thousands by Lenin’s Cheka and its successor, the NKVD, under Stalin.
Altogether it is estimated that Lenin massacred more than a million people for political or religious reasons. He presided over the deaths of some two million Gulag residents, plus upwards of eight million others through famine or disease. Add to that 700,000 in the Red Terror genocide of the Cossacks, upwards of 240,000 men, women, and children in the 1920 Tambov rebellion, and over 3,000 sailors and civilians in the 1921 Kronstadt Rebellion, as well as thousands of workers who dared to strike or were unable to work.
In “The Gulag Archipelago,” Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed that Shakespeare’s tragic protagonists are content to murder only a handful of people. And when they do, they agonize over their crime, because they have a conscience. They stop killing, Solzhenitsyn explained, because “they have no ideology.” One instantly comprehends the truth of this insight. There exists a quantum leap in evil between the Macbeths of this world on the one hand, and the Hitlers, Stalins, Mao Zedongs, Che Guevaras, and Osama bin Ladens on the other.
Lenin enjoyed terrorism as an end in itself. You can feel the blood lust behind his directive to subordinates in response to an episode of resistance to Bolshevik appropriation of their produce by kulaks, the successful peasants Lenin dubbed “village bourgeoisie”: “The kulak uprising in [your] 5 districts must be crushed without pity…1) Hang (and I mean hang so that the people can see) not less than 100 known Kulaks, rich men, bloodsuckers. 2) Publish their names. 3) Take all their grain away from them. 4) Identify hostages…Do this so that for hundreds of miles around the people can see, tremble, know and cry…Yours, Lenin. P.S. Find tougher people.” He applied the same “liberation” methods all over Russia.
In a useful 2019 New Criterion essay titled “Leninthink,” Gary Saul Morson, a leading scholar of Slavic literature, quotes Lenin in 1908 recommending “real, nationwide terror, which invigorates the country…” He routinely recommended that people be shot “without pity” or “exterminated mercilessly.” Long before the Nazis came to refer to Jews as “vermin,” Lenin called for “the cleansing of Russia’s soil of all harmful insects, of scoundrels, fleas, bedbugs – the rich, and so on.” Lenin even insisted—a first in history—that terror and the arbitrary use of power be written into the Soviets’ legal code. “The law should not abolish terror,” he wrote. “It should be substantiated and legalized in principle, without evasion or embellishment.”
Last July, opinion columnist David Volodzko was fired from The Seattle Times’ editorial board for a column criticizing the 16-foot tall statue of Lenin in that city. One day, Volodzko recounts elsewhere, in company with his Times boss and an intern, the intern says, “Soviet Russia was the greatest country in history.” When the intern is informed that Soviets slaughtered members of Volodzko’s own family, the young man “smiled, looked right in my face and said, ‘I think some of that violence was necessary.’”
Had the conversation taken place today, the intern would likely have been wearing a keffiyeh, explaining why Hamas’s Oct. 7 atrocities were “necessary,” and therefore not to be denounced. Lenin has been dead 100 years, but Leninism is alive and well amongst the West’s innumerable useful idiots.