November 6, 2007


The New Fellow Travelers (Anne Applebaum, November 6, 2007, Washington Post)

Ninety years ago this week, a Bolshevik mob stormed the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, arrested the provisional government and installed a "dictatorship of the proletariat." Though the Russian Revolution is no longer widely celebrated (not even by Russians, who instead commemorate the expulsion of the Poles from Moscow in 1612), I felt it important to mark the occasion. In honor of the anniversary, I reread " Ten Days That Shook the World," the famed account of the revolution by John Reed, the American journalist and fellow traveler. Then I reread last week's press reports of the recent encounter between Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president, and Naomi Campbell, the British supermodel.

Just as I'd remembered, Reed's book superbly transmits the breathless energy of the autumn of 1917 -- "Adventure it was, and one of the most marvellous mankind ever embarked upon, sweeping into history at the head of the toiling masses" -- as well as his fascination with, and approval of, the violence he saw around him. After attending a mass funeral, he understood, he writes, why the Russians no longer need religion: "On earth they were building a kingdom more bright than any heaven had to offer, and for which it was a glory to die." By contrast, he is abashed when he has to explain that in America, people try to change things by law -- a state of affairs that his new Russian comrades find "incredible."

Fast-forward 90 years, and surprisingly little has changed. True, the Russian Revolution itself is no longer much admired, not even by Reed's heirs on the far left. But the impulse that drew Reed to St. Petersburg remains. The Western weakness for other people's revolutionary violence, the belief in the glamour and benevolence of foreign dictators, and the insistence on seeing both through the prism of Western political debates, are still very much with us.

...doesn't mean there aren't witches.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 6, 2007 10:32 AM

The Western [left's] weakness ... An important word was left out (pun intended). Reed another trust fund baby lefty.

Posted by: erp at November 6, 2007 1:21 PM

There is only one kind of good Communist.

Posted by: Lou Gots at November 6, 2007 3:45 PM

Bravo, Lou.

I am sure there are hundreds of thousands (if not tens of millions) of students around the world who agree with Vladimir Putin that the greatest political and historical catastrophe of the 20th century was the implosion of the Soviet Union.

I'll bet he regrets not being Beria.

Posted by: ratbert at November 6, 2007 4:21 PM