The Poverty of Anti-Communism

By Lukacs, John | The National Interest, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

The Poverty of Anti-Communism


Lukacs, John, The National Interest


The basic statement of American anti-Communism, as well as the basic conception of the Cold War, is the one expressed by William Buckley, Jr., who got it from James Burnham. I quote: "In 1917 history changed gears." Apart from the weirdness of such a mechanical metaphor - as if history were an automobile - the meaning of it is that the Russian Communist revolution was the principal and decisive event of this century, which thereafter was marked by the struggle between International Communism and the Free World (whatever that is). There are few statements about the history of the world of which one may say that they are complete nonsense. This is one of them.

The principal event of the twentieth century - which was a short century, lasting seventy-five years, from 1914 to 1989 - was the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. I need not expatiate what this catastrophe meant for Western civilization. The First World War led to the Second World War, and the Second World War to the Cold War. The two world wars were the two enormous mountain ranges in the shadows of which we lived until 1989.

The Russian Communist revolution in 1917 occurred during the First World War. This alone ought to reduce its historical importance. Unlike the French Revolution, which had spread across Western Europe, and which then led to a quarter century of great wars, the Russian Revolution was one consequence of a war then current, not the cause of it. Again, unlike the French and American Revolutions, the Russian one did not spread anywhere. Indeed, until 1945 the Soviet Union was the only Communist state in the world. Also, Communism in Russia could survive only at the price of the very retreat and diminution of Russia itself. From 1917 to 1920 five new states - Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland - broke off from Russia. They were determinedly antiCommunist ones - again, the very opposite of what had happened after the French Revolution.

Lenin thought and said that the location of the first Communist revolution in Russia was an accident, that further revolutions would very soon occur across Europe, and especially in Germany (he is waiting still in his unquiet grave). Lenin was a revolutionary, and a statesman not at all (Stalin turned out to be the opposite). Had the first Communist regime been established in Germany, its influence would have been immeasurably greater: because of German discipline, German energy, German organization and German reputation. The fact that Communism was incarnated in backward and semi-barbaric Russia was fatal to its reputation - except for conventicles of intellectuals and wannabe "revolutionaries" elsewhere in the world.

During the quarter century after 1920, there were three great forces in the world. They were not only apparent on the political map but repeated within almost every nation of the globe, even in Asia and in the Americas, where each of the three ideologies had its partisans and its opponents. There was Western parliamentary democracy, incarnated by the English-speaking peoples and in Scandinavia and Western Europe. There was Communism, incarnated, I repeat, solely in Soviet Russia. And there was a new force, anti-Communist and nationalist socialism, incarnated in many places in the world but most forcefully in the Third Reich of Germany. Of these three forces, Communism, in spite of its assertion of being international, was the weakest, while National Socialism was the strongest. Eventually this became evident in the Second World War. To defeat the German Third Reich, the in many ways unnatural coalition of Communists and Capitalists, of Russia and the English-speaking democracies, was needed. Neither of them could do it without the other. The Russians could not have conquered Germany without the Anglo-Americans, and the Anglo-Americans - in spite of their tremendous superiority in manpower and material resources - would not have been able to conquer Germany by themselves. …

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