Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Lenin on the Train, by Catherine Merrindale

What becomes obvious in Lenin on the Train (Catherine Merrindale, 2017) is that circumstances in Russia in the years leading up to 1917 were not dissimilar from conditions in the United States today.  Extreme divisions, rampant corruption, foreign powers trying to influence domestic affairs and politics, oligarchs, a self-preoccupied leader concerned with maintaining his power and wealth and indifferent to the needs and desires of his countrymen, and millions of workers without money or land or power growing increasingly impatient.  Germany and Britain were the main foreign powers trying to manipulate politics in Russian prior to its 1917 revolution: Britain trying to position itself for favorable status in trade after the war, Germany hoping for the same status and also hoping to persuade Russia to withdraw from the war so it could focus its forces on the western front against France, England, and the United States. The foreign power seeking with some success to interfere in U. S. affairs today is Russia: through fake news on Facebook and other media platforms, through interference with elections, and so on. But the Internet itself, and the propagation of false information which it allows, becomes a way in which Americans have become desensitized to the difference between fact and fiction.  At fault as well is a gullible and deceived electorate unable to distinguish between one candidate with a less than ideal history and another who was and is unqualified on every count. There are, obviously, significant differences between our current situation and that of the Russians a century ago, but not as many as one might hope for.

The chaos in Russian following the revolution of April 1917 and the abdication of Tsar Nicholas and the collapse of Russian government was the context for the development of the Soviet Union. Disorder, the vying interests of different political groups and factions, allowed Lenin and the Bolsheviks to take power and to begin to form a communist government.  Lenin was a fierce personality and ideologue.  He was fanatically devoted to his own ideals, could tolerate dissent not at all, and was eager to have his enemies deported or shot. He strongly opposed Joseph Stalin, who positioned himself as Lenin’s successor.  Whatever Lenin might have allowed in Russia and, later the Soviet Union, Stalin allowed far worse.  He carried out Lenin’s willingness to have opponents killed to an extreme few could have anticipated. Stalin, more than Lenin, became the “rough beast, its hour come round at last.”

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