100 years later, Bolshevism is back

Roundup
tags: Communism, Russia, Soviet Union, Russian Revolution, Lenin, NeoBolsheviks



Anne Applebaum writes a weekly foreign affairs column for The Washington Post.  Follow @anneapplebaum. Thumbnail Image -  Members of the National Bolshevik party at a protest rally in Moscow, CC BY-SA 2.5

... Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and Jaroslaw Kaczynski: although they are often described as “far-right” or “alt-right,” these neo-Bolsheviks have little to do with the right that has been part of Western politics since World War II, and they have no connection to existing conservative parties. In continental Europe, they scorn Christian Democracy, which had its political base in the church and sought to bring morality back to politics after the nightmare of the Second World War. Nor do they have anything to do with Anglo-Saxon conservatism, which promoted free markets, free speech and a Burkean small-c conservatism: skepticism of “progress,” suspicion of radicalism in all its forms, and a belief in the importance of conserving institutions and values. Whether German or Dutch Christian Democrats, British Tories, American Republicans, East European ex-dissidents or French Gaullists, post-war Western conservatives have all been dedicated to representative democracy, religious tolerance, economic integration and the Western alliance.

By contrast, the neo-Bolsheviks of the new right or alt-right do not want to conserve or to preserve what exists. They are not Burkeans but radicals who want to overthrow existing institutions. Instead of the false and misleading vision of the future offered by Lenin and Trotsky, they offer a false and misleading vision of the past. They conjure up worlds made up of ethnically or racially pure nations, old-fashioned factories, traditional male-female hierarchies and impenetrable borders. Their enemies are homosexuals, racial and religious minorities, advocates of human rights, the media, and the courts. They are often not real Christians but rather cynics who use “Christianity” as a tribal identifier, a way of distinguishing themselves from their enemies: they are “Christians” fighting against “Muslims” — or against “liberals” if there are no “Muslims” available.

To an extraordinary degree, they have adopted Lenin’s refusal to compromise, his anti-democratic elevation of some social groups over others and his hateful attacks on his “illegitimate” opponents. Law and Justice, the illiberal nationalist ruling party in Poland, has sorted its compatriots into “true Poles” and “Poles of the worst sort.” Trump speaks of “real” Americans, as opposed to the “elite.” Stephen Miller, a Trump acolyte and speechwriter, recently used the word “cosmopolitan,” an old Stalinist moniker for Jews (the full term was “rootless cosmopolitan”), to describe a reporter asking him tough questions. “Real” Americans are worth talking to; “cosmopolitans” need to be eliminated from public life.

Surprisingly, given its mild and pragmatic traditions, even British politics is now saturated with Leninist language. When British judges declared, in November 2016, that the Brexit referendum had to be confirmed by Parliament — a reasonable decision in a parliamentary democracy — the Daily Mail, a xenophobic pro-Brexit newspaper, ran a cover story with judges’ photographs and the phrase “Enemies of the People.” Later, the same paper called on the prime minister to “Crush the Saboteurs,” choosing a word that was also favored by Lenin to describe legitimate political opposition.

Famously, Trump has also used the expression “enemy of the American people” on Twitter. Though it is unlikely that the president himself understood the historical context, some of the people around him certainly did. Bannon, Miller and several others in Trump’s immediate orbit know perfectly well that the delegitimization of political opponents as “un-American” and “elitist,” and of the media as “fake news,” is the first step in a more ambitious direction. If some of what these extremists say is to be taken seriously, their endgame — the destruction of the existing political order, possibly including the U.S. Constitution — is one that the Bolsheviks would have understood. The historian Ronald Radosh has quoted Bannon’s comparison of himself to the Bolshevik leader. “Lenin,” Bannon told Radosh, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” At a conservative gathering in Washington in 2013, Bannon also called for a “virulently anti-establishment” and “insurgent” movement that will “hammer this city, both the progressive left and the institutional Republican Party.” ...




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