The centennial we are observing this month—the solemn anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution—is the anniversary of a logical absurdity and its consequences. The Bolshevik takeover of Russia came about as a matter of chance; and was interpreted as a matter of destiny. The event was predicted by no one at all; and rested its prestige on a reputation for having fulfilled the well-known predictions of Karl Marx. The absurdity of those contradictions constituted the Bolshevik mystique. And, in the greatest absurdity of all, the appeal of that mystique turned out to be spectacularly vast.
The revolution that overthrew the czar earlier in the year, in February 1917, was entirely different. In Russia, everyone except the czar himself and his courtiers and the circles of black reaction knew that czarism, the social system, was shaky in the extreme, and was bound to collapse. Everyone recognized the strength and popularity of the main opposition parties, the Social Democrats (or Mensheviks) and the peasant Social Revolutionaries. Everyone, the czar and his circle excepted, therefore predicted the February Revolution. It duly occurred, and no one was astonished. The czar abdicated. The big opposition parties assumed power. The opposition parties began the process that, in the expectation of a great many participants and observers, was going to bring Russia in a Western European direction, secular, parliamentary, and vaguely liberal. And no one anticipated that a tiny dictatorial faction of the revolutionary left was going to overthrow the democratic parties and institute an exceptionally terrible despotism of a sort that had never existed in the past—something truly novel. Lenin himself did not expect such a development. Until the spring of 1917, Lenin never imagined that a Bolshevik seizure of power would be possible. Nor did he think it was advisable, nor did any of his comrades.
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