"...The most improper job of any man, even saints ... is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity."
- J.R.R. Tolkien
Next week will mark the centenary of the greatest evil to befall mankind in the dark, catastrophe-ridden annals of the 20th century.
On November 6-7, 1917 (October 24-25 on the Julian calendar - thus the title October Revolution, or Red October) a small cadre of radical communists known as Bolsheviks hijacked the nine-month-old Russian Revolution. In a nearly bloodless coup, the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, overthrew the floundering Provisional Government that had come into power after Nicholas Romanov abdicated his 400-year-old throne in the midst of World War I - and locked Russia (and eventually much of Central Asia and Eastern Europe) in an iron grip that would last until the 1990s.
The echoes of the Red Century continue to roll through geopolitics to this day.
Many in the media and the academic and political elite in the 1980s mocked Ronald Reagan when he called the Soviet Union the Evil Empire. Perhaps the simple-minded former actor had watched too many Star Wars movies. But Reagan was right - and the failure to call the evil of Bolshevism for what it is persists.
Decent people are rightly outraged when the symbols of National Socialism are paraded by Tiki torch-bearing "white nationalists." Yet when so-called "Antifa" counter-protesters display red banners and flaunt T-shirts bearing the iconic image of the murderous Argentinian Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara... silence.
Perhaps the double-standard reflects a fallacy of "good intentions." National Socialism was racist and racialist from its poisonous conception. Its hatefulness and evil is easy to discern. Communism purported to usher in a better, more equitable world, a classless utopia, free of exploitation. The intentions, at least, were good - or so goes the apologia.
But that was a lie.
Ruthless repression of dissent and non-conformance to the new order was baked-in to Bolshevism. The Bolshevik leadership were determined to usher in their "worker's paradise" - with themselves in unassailable control - no matter who or how many they had
"We do not promise any freedom, or any democracy," Lenin thundered to the Third Congress of the Comintern (Communist International) in 1921. "We tell the peasants quite openly that they must choose between the rule of the bourgeoisie, and the rule of the Bolsheviks - in which case we shall make every possible concession within the limits of retaining power, and later we shall lead them to socialism."
Someday never comes.
The Bolsheviks held onto power - and expanded it - through the systematic use of state terrorism. In defense of Red Terror, Leon Trotsky scoffed, "We were never concerned with the Kantian-priestly and vegetarian-Quaker prattle about the sacredness of human life."
Slaughtering and starving class enemies and enemies of the Soviet State was a feature, not a bug.
Millions died in the hideous civil war that followed the Bolshevik coup, and Lenin's successor, Joseph Stalin, would kill tens of millions more through purges and deliberate campaigns of starvation.
In Russia and in the West, apologists for the Bolsheviks - once forced to acknowledge the crimes of Stalin - gnashed their teeth over the agonizing question of "where it all went wrong."
The writer Martin Amis, whose father Kingsley Amis renounced his own infatuation with Communism, has written trenchantly on this subject - and he's having none of it.
"It was not a good idea that somehow went wrong or withered away. It was a very bad idea from the outset, and one forced into life - or the life of the undead - with barely imaginable self-righteousness, pedantry, dynamism, and horror."
Yet the notion that somehow "real" socialism or "true" Communism would be lovely - but has never really been tried - persists. As the Socialist Party of Great Britain recently insisted, "It has NEVER EXISTED! It comes AFTER global capitalism!"
Just ignore the dictatorships of the USSR, China, Cuba, North Korea, or the abysmal condition of contemporary Venezuela - we'll get it right... eventually. Talk about whistling past a graveyard.
Anybody who trotted out the argument that "true" National Socialism would be wonderful - it just hasn't really been tried - would be savagely ridiculed. Yet you still hear the old "true Communism" canard in college classrooms.
It is worth noting that democratic socialism, which has become more attractive to the left side of the American political spectrum in recent years, is not at all the same thing as Bolshevism. Bernie Sanders isn't Vladimir Lenin. The Bolsheviks might have classed a Bernie Sanders among what Lenin liked to call "useful idiots" - or Lenin and his cohorts might have given him an appointment in the basement of the Lubyanka. Social Democrats died in droves under the Bolsheviks.
The danger in the kind of apparently benign socialism promulgated by the democratic left is that it is vulnerable to being hijacked by control-freak tyrants whose intentions are far from benign. Socialism centralizes a lot of control in the interest of economic and social security. That may be safe enough, as long you can maintain robust democratic institutions and protection of individual liberty under the law. But the Iron Law of Oligarchy inevitably comes into play: All complex organizations - no matter how democratic they are originally - eventually develop into oligarchies of elites that know how to run the show. And when that happens, you have handed an "elite" - that cares much more for their own power and control than for your well-being - a tremendous amount of power.
The Red Century has many lessons to teach. Perhaps the most important is that the ends cannot justify the means, that purportedly good intentions mean less than nothing in the face of sheer, bloody tyranny.
The empire that was born 100 years ago this week was, indeed, evil. We must be vigilant lest it take new shape and rise again.