Lenin's genius and folly or the surprises of History
The Montreal Review, September 2010
Human history is a bloody chain of illusions that strived to become reality. Ideas, such as communism, had to prove their value, to be tested in order to play a useful role in human progress. Many ideologies were tested and many failed or have been modified through experiment and fault.
Communism was discredited by the horrors of Russian experiment and the insanity of regimes such as Maoist China and North Korea. Through the experiment of communism, we now know what is not communism. The price of this education was high.
It is amazing how a political and pragmatic genius like Lenin was able to combine two incompatible things - real politics with utopian ideology. But human history is not a simple one-dimensional thing.
Human lack of understanding of history and its trendings is explicable. We tend to see straightforward. Complexity can be understood by men only through short logical steps - from simple mathematical/geometrical/empirical formulas to growing into rational systems causes and effects. As Descartes vowed, "I will put everything under question, and I will start from the simple to grasp the complex." But history and social world are not mathematical formulas. And never will be. In history there are no dimensions, nor space, but time, passions and actions. And history will continue to surprise us.
Marx did not expect and did not want his theory to be tested on the most backward European society. In 1917, few expected the appearance and survival of the "communist" state. The Bolshevik revolution was a surprise. Meanwhile, it was a logical surprise, and in a way, if we close our eyes for the terror and its victims, a surprise indispensible for the human experience. Because today nobody will claim that communism, the idea of communism in its pure, ideal form, can be achieved through terror.
Lenin was a political genius, a person with incredible sense for political moment. He succeeded to see, before anybody, the weaknesses and potentialities of the Russian socialist organization (See his pamphlet "What is to be done?"); and to grasp the idea that no political movement of pariah can survive without "enlightened" elite (or a "vanguard") and strict organization. He was also the only one in a vast country of millions, who realized and used the weakness of Russian state machine. Lenin's emergence was a paradox, an exceptional event.
But the bigger paradox was that he - the political man with the greatest will and the highest pragmatic potential - was completely blind for the absurdity of the ideology he worshiped. Genial in the details, he was weak-minded for the general picture, for the "pace of history"... Of course, one can say that Lenin wanted only power, and ideology was secondary in his political plans. Yet communism was his end goal. He devoted his life to it. Perhaps, the cynical view about his true motivations is somewhat justifiable, yet it is still inexplicable why did rational and pragmatic men like Lenin are attached to ideologies that oppose to common sense and lack historical precedents. Or may be the greatest political opportunists are also the most miserable victims of wrong ideas (Hitler was one of them).
Lenin was not immune against the ironies of history; the Marxist scientific method, the "historical dialectics", did not help him to understand the swings of the time, the logic of society and the corrupting force of political power.