As we’re at the 100 year point since the experiment in human misery most commonly known as the USSR was launched by Lenin with the Russian Revolution, there have been no shortage of pieces reflecting on this event and its impacts. It’s hard to deny the significance of the world’s largest country and one of the great powers of the European and Asian spheres going red, but one piece that I especially liked didn’t so much consider what had happened in the past but what might have happened – or not happened – if Russia didn’t turn red.
Without the Russian Revolution of 1917, Hitler would likely have ended up painting postcards in one of the same flophouses where he started. No Lenin, no Hitler — and the 20th century becomes unimaginable. Indeed, the very geography of our imagination becomes unimaginable.
Then there’s China, Cuba, North Korea, and others:
Mao, who received huge amounts of Soviet aid in the 1940s, would not have conquered China, which might still be ruled by the family of Chiang Kai-shek. The inspirations that illuminated the mountains of Cuba and the jungles of Vietnam would never have been. Kim Jong-un, pantomimic pastiche of Stalin, would not exist. There would have been no Cold War.
A lot more people would have lived to tell the tale of the 20th century, too:
Their zeal justified the mass killings of all enemies, real and potential, not just by Lenin or Stalin but also Mao, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia. It also gave birth to slave labor camps, economic catastrophe and untold psychological damage.
Following this last claim Montefiore does note:
These events are now so long ago that the horrors have been blurred and history forgotten; a glamorous glow of power and idealism lingers to intoxicate young voters disenchanted with the bland dithering of liberal capitalism.
Get those young voters a t-shirt, will ya?
If you have a chance, read the whole thing and a few of the other stories in the Times’ ‘Red Century’ section – it’s worth the investment of time.