With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

The cautionary tale of the Bolshevik revolution

The following is an abridged version of a speech Niall Ferguson delivered at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, in Washington, D.C., last Thursday.

Earlier this marked the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Between 1917 and 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the grand total of victims of Communism was between 85 million and 100 million. 

Could more have been done to halt the Communist pandemic after it broke out in Russia in 1917? Yes. After all, the only reason Lenin was able to get from Zurich to Petrograd in 1917 was that the imperial German government paid for his ticket — and more. An estimated $12 million was channeled from the Kaiser’s coffers to Lenin and his associates. 

The provisional government thus had every right to arrest Lenin and his 19 associates on arrival. They were German agents. And Alexander Kerensky, who took control of the provisional government in July 1917, had even better grounds to round the Bolsheviks up: By then, they had attempted a coup and failed.

The problem was that people underestimated Lenin & Co. They seemed an unruly bunch of intellectuals. No contemporary Western observer thought for a moment that their crackpot coup would last. Naive American bankers completely failed to appreciate that the Bolsheviks meant exactly what they said about defaulting on the entire czarist debt. No one foresaw that hereditary nobleman Ulyanov (to give Lenin his original name) was equally capable of ordering mass murder. 

Foreign intervention, incompetent liberals, clueless bankers: That makes three reasons the Bolsheviks weren’t stopped. Let me not forget the fellow travellers. John Reed, with his risible glamorizing of the revolution, would have many, many heirs. ...

Read entire article at The Boston Globe