On January 20th, 1924, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin died. After the February Revolution had overthrown the Tsar in 1917, Germany allowed Lenin and supporters to cross their country in a sealed train. Back in Russia, Lenin with his Bolsheviks overthrew the Provisional Government of Kerensky, and quickly established a Communist dictatorship. He instituted the Red Terror, in which tens of thousands of people were killed or interned in concentration camps. He spoke the language of Marxist Socialism, but his practice was of the ruthless seizure and maintenance of power by violent repression of all opposition. He and his fellow Bolsheviks expected a proletarian revolution to sweep Europe within days, but it did not happen.
Marx had predicted that the most advanced capitalist countries would progress to revolution first, not a relatively economically backward country such as Russia, but Lenin seized power and attempted to impose socialism regardless. The record of the Soviet Communist state he established is now known to have been bloody and brutal. The problem was that central planning does not work. It did not then and does not now. State takeovers of industry and agriculture set production quotas, but in the absence of market information about what was needed, they might just as well have been guesswork. The result was the shortages, queues and rationing that characterized the Soviet economy throughout its existenceWhile party bosses in the Soviet Union, the nomenklatura, could shop in special stores packed with Western goods, ordinary Soviet citizens had to deal with bare shelves, shoddy goods, poor quality clothing and plain food. It was a socialist state that Lenin created, one that lasted 72 years, giving the world an example of what socialism achieves in practice. There have been other examples since, and all have failed. Between them in their 72 years, those states murdered 100 million of their own people, an average of 4,000 every day of every year.
Some young people in Western countries claim to be Marxist-Leninists, but have little knowledge of the history of Lenin’s great experiment. They talk the theory with the honeyed words of liberation and equality, but have little inkling of what the practice achieved. They want to redesign society according to their vision of what it might be, but without taking on board the violence, suffering and deprivation that have accompanied attempts to bring this about.
The physical remains of Lenin were embalmed 95 years ago. It is a tragedy for the world that his ideas were not embalmed with him.