(Originally posted as a comment on 'Lenin's Hatred of Liberalism' at Darwiniana).
Lenin as a young man idolised his elder brother, and was devastated by the loss of him to the Tsar’s executioner. Lenin’s whole revolutionary life can thus be seen as something of an over-reactive act of revenge. One bad turn deserves another. But, contrary to the traditional Trotskyist theory of it, Stalinism was the natural continuation of Lenin’s contempt for ‘bourgeois liberalism’ and ‘bourgeois democracy’. However these did not arise in the West for no reason.
The English Revolution of the 1640s gave rise to the dictatorship of Cromwell and the eventual restoration of the monarchy. Seen against the French Revolution of 1789, it was a political failure. But the real English revolution took place in England’s American colonies in 1776, and that became the gold standard of both liberalism and democracy, and giving impetus to the French Revolution of 1789 and the wider European revolutions of 1848.
There is a saying: ‘the man who is not a communist before the age of 25 has got no heart; and the man who is still a communist after the age of 25 has got no brains.’ That is the legacy of the Stalinist betrayal, subversion, thermidorean reaction; call it what you will, of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Unfortunately, liberalism and socialism are not good bedfellows. Freedom of thought implies freedom of economic initiative, and one cannot ban the latter without banning the former. If a society is to have freedom of thought, it must have freedom of speech and communication: even of speech some may regard as ‘subversive’, including advocating freedom of the marketplace for goods and services; which turns out to be inseparable from the marketplace of ideas.
The socialisms of the Utopians and Marxists both were beautiful ideas, but like beautiful cakes set out on an outdoor table in the Australian summer, they attracted the inevitable blowflies, which duly laid their eggs all over them; and they were consumed by their inevitable maggots.
One further irony: If revolutionaries are to overthrow any corrupt and autocratic ancien regime, they have to form themselves into an army to do it: which means a military hierarchy; a pyramid of power and authority. Lenin and Trotsky did it; Mao did it; Ho Chi Minh did it; Tito did it; Castro did it – all of them being the leaders of independent socialist revolutions. But in so doing, they made inevitable and bitter enemies in the old guard they had disposed of. So for their own survival, they had to hang onto what power they had and find reasons for not handing it over to whoever might get the numbers in a poll of the whole populace.
And so it came to pass that in each case that what started out as a democratic movement gave rise to a dictatorship. And in the Russian case, Stalin’s dictatorship was the worst the world has ever known.