Issue Briefs

Burying the Memories of the Bolshevik Revolution

Burying the Memories of the Bolshevik Revolution

Martin Sieff

February 20, 2017

This year marks the centennial anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution and the birth of the Soviet Union. In a different scenario we might have expected an enormous, endless series of parades, celebrations, regrets and pageantry to engulf the largest country on earth.

No celebrations

In reality, of course, no such thing is happening. The celebration of the Bolshevik Revolution is not happening at all. It is, to quote from the famous Sherlock Holmes story Silver Blaze, the curious incident of the dog that did not bark in the night when by every expectation it should have.

What is really going on?

The facts are straightforward and there has been no secret about them. As Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes noted in their article published in Foreign Policy magazine on February 13, 2017 the Russian government decided well in advance that it was not going to celebrate the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Opposed to violent regime change

Krastev and Holmes then made another interesting observation that again ought to be common knowledge throughout the West but is not: The current Russian government is opposed to violent, revolutionary regime change both at home and around the world. Modern Russia does not like revolutions.

This policy should hardly be seen as subversive to international law and order: On the contrary, throughout the 44 years of the Cold War, it was the key strategic policy consistently followed by every U.S. government of Republican and Democratic presidents alike.

Indeed, this commitment to global stability was a key reason the United States in August 1990 deployed hundreds of thousands of troops in the Saudi desert to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi conquest and brutal occupation and to crush Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard.

America promotes revolutions

In the more than a quarter century since the end of the Cold War, however, a global and ideological irony has occurred that would have delighted the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, since it would appear to confirm his theoretical construct about how history progresses through a dialectical process. Traditional roles have been reversed.

Russia wants stability

Oddly enough, Russia, the successor state to the old Soviet Union, stanchly and consistently turned its back on the pursuit of global revolution and transformation of societies across the planet that the communist movement led by the Soviets pursued for so long.

But the United States, the nemesis of international communism and arch foe of perpetual revolution for so long, reversed the policies that won it the loyalty and appreciation of governments around the world for almost half a century.

Instead, under its past three presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama the U.S. increasingly embraced – with ever escalating fervor – the doctrine of “regime change” which amounted to the objective of removing regimes that do not conform to the political and ideological standards that Washington now sets.

End of history?

This new U.S. foreign policy tendency first emerged in the early 1990s. But this was not supposed to happen. Indeed, In 1992, Francis Fukuyama published his notorious book The End of History and the Last Man. Fukuyama claimed that with the collapse of communism and the generally peaceful transformation of the Soviet system into a new Russia and 14 other independent successor states, the great clash, competition and clash of ideals identified by Hegel back in the 19th century, had finally ended forever. Liberal democracy, freedom and free trade had finally won the struggle –for all eternity. Hence the prediction of an end to wars motivated by opposing ideologies.

Indeed, as the prolonged Cold War ideological conflict had ended, due to the collapse from within of the Soviet Empire, no major conflicts would ever occur again between major nations or clashing systems of ideologies.

This of course has not happened. On the contrary, major authoritarian, centralized national systems such as Russia and China have survived and in many respects thrived.

Today, many nations are striving to strengthen or revive national systems of government, administration, security and law after decades of erosion.

Unrest in the West

In the citadels of the West itself, significant segments of the populations have seen their standards of living languish or deteriorate because of the negative impact of the transformations brought about by the global free movement of capital, trade and rapidly advancing and mutating technologies that made human labor redundant, this way destroying jobs.

These former middle class citizens have launched a series of so-far peaceful but profoundly serious and fairly broad based political rebellions against “The Political Establishment” viewed by them as the main promoter of the erosion of the nation state and the economic and social support it used to offer.

The Brexit vote in Britain and the stunning presidential election victory of Donald Trump in the United States were preceded by the rise of comparable conservative/nationalistic movements in France, Eastern Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary, northern Italy, the Philippines, and many other countries.

Nationalism leading to better relations?

These developments have led to another historical irony that doubtless would have delighted Hegel: Far from heading to conflict with each other, the rise of nationalist populist movements, at least initially, seems to be improving relations between previous rivals or enemies, and is reducing some tensions rather than raising them.

Thus we see the intensely nationalist government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan seeking to expand its security cooperation not only with the United States but also with South Korea, despite 70 years of distrust and dislike on both sides.

Israel’s nationalist government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while still at loggerheads with its Palestinian neighbors, has consistently sought and generally achieved better relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Russia. Recently Netanyahu has also sought to repair relations with Turkey.

Turkey is engaged on rapprochements with Russia and Iran. European nationalists like Nigel Farage in Britain, Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orban in Hungary all urge good relations with Russia and criticize the potentially very dangerous build-up of U.S. and NATO military forces facing Russia in Eastern Europe.

America still engaged

From this perspective, Trump’s victory and his tidal wave of executive orders and new initiatives during his first hundred days in office, may not isolate the United States after all. Instead, if Trump manages to survive in office, he may very well improve relations with countries from the Philippines to Turkey, not to mention with Russia, after a decade of steady, sustained erosion under his two most recent predecessors.

From this perspective, the Russian government’s decision to bury the memories of the Bolshevik Revolution rather than to celebrate them makes much more sense.

Moscow’s decision to ignore the 100th anniversary of the Revolution appears consistent with the desire of populations across the world for less upheaval and more predictable stability.

Societies crave protection

In an age in which societies are stressed by dislocations caused by globalization, the impact of climate change, and the social upheavals generated by both, many people crave practical protection and reassuring stability rather than theoretical freedoms to be achieved through regime changes. This is a lesson that leadership elites across the West have yet to learn.


Martin Sieff is a Global Policy Institute Fellow. He is author most recently of Gathering Storm: The Seventh Era of American History and the Coming Crises That Will Lead to It.


The views and opinions expressed in this issue brief are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy of GPI.