Authoritarian rule – 100 years ago

There are multiple factors which promote justice and progress. Intellectual advancement and humanism are key factors. And they are neither right-wing or left-wing

— By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

1914: Russian tsar Nicolas II went to war against Germany.

February 1917: On 8th March, Women’s Day, women staged street protests in Petrograd against widespread poverty and harsh living conditions. They were joined by workers and soldiers who formed a ‘soviet’, a council. Army repression killed 40 people. Finally, the tsar abdicated and was put in house custody with his family in a palace near Petrograd. The democratic government of the first Republic of Russia lasted only six months.

 Vladimr Lenin (1879-1924)

His brother’s execution by the army at the age of 20 for propagating subversive ideas deeply marked Lenin in his childhood. Later, as a lawyer, Lenin joined politics and spread revolutionary socialist ideas inspired by Karl Marx’s writings.

18951896: He was arrested and imprisoned.

18971900: He was sent to Siberia.

In fact, contrary to western countries, the tsar Nicolas II allowed Marx’s writings to freely circulate in Russia. He was far from suspecting that socialist ideas could trigger a revolution in Russia given that Marx believed that countries should first go through industrialization and capitalism before achieving socialism. And industrialization in Russia was still in its first stages.

After his release in 1900, Lenin travelled through Europe and settled in Switzerland. While Nicolas II and his family were in house custody, Germany organized the return of Lenin from Switzerland across Europe to Russia with the aim of starting a revolution and weaken the tsar’s influence.

25 October 1917: The Bolshevik Party, meaning ‘majority’ and advocating the dictatorship of the proletariat, founded by Lenin, as opposed to moderate socialists, a minority, toppled the democratic government of the first republic of Russia and took power. In March 1918, he signed a separate treaty with Germany and handed over a few territories to the western power.

The last Romanovs: In August 1917, the tsar and his family were removed from Petrograd to a house and sent in a long journey by train to a remote village near Siberia. The official explanation of the temporary government was to protect the family from the turmoil of the revolution. They were accompanied by a family doctor and four servants.

After the Bolsheviks took power in October, conditions of detainment became harsher for the royal family. There was the fear that the counter-revolution and help from the United Kingdom might bring back the Romanovs to power. Nicolas was the cousin and friend of King George V of England.

Hardly three months after waiting in the new house, the fate of the imperial family was discussed by the generals of the Bolshevik Party and Lenin. According to Trotsky, it was Lenin who ordered the whole family to be assassinated in the basement of the house together with the doctor and the four servants. The bodies of Nicolas II, his wife Alexandra, his son Alexis, and four daughters Maria, Olga, Anastasia and Tatiana were carried away and thrown in an old mine in a forest in the middle of the night on 16th July 1918. There are narratives about two children or four daughters being spared and living for decades under different names in Europe. Nothing conclusive has been officially published up to now.

The Civil War: It started immediately after Lenin took power and opposed the Bolsheviks to several other parties, called Whites, the moderates, the agricultural community, supporters of the Romanovs backed by the United Kingdom and France.

The Red Army was better organized than the Whites. Reportedly, the Whites were said not to really aspire to a democratic regime but, rather, were the precursors of fascist regimes in Europe.

Victory went to the Red Army of the Bolsheviks. Vladimir Lenin introduced totalitarian rule in Russia and created the USSR in 1922, two years before his death.

Decades later, Mikhaïl Gorbatchev acknowledged that the leaders failed to implement the ideology that Marx advocated. Indeed, it was not industrialization and capitalism followed by socialism. It was socialism by force in a poor country.

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500 years ago – The Reformation

A week ago, Protestant churches, mainly in Germany, celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The invention of printing played a major part in the revolutionary movement initiated by Martin Luther, a Christian monk in Germany.

By 1500, Christianism was thriving, especially in towns where commercial activities created a rich middle-class of people who had access to education.

Martin Luther gave much thought to the idea of eternal life. He opined that there should be no mediator between believers and the Bible. The papacy in Rome and the high-ranking clerics were his main targets of criticism. His priority was the Gospel and the teachings of Jesus.

He translated the Bible in German. The newly educated class showed deep interest in reading and commenting the Gospel.

31 October 1517: After a series of conflicts with the authorities and the Church, Martin 0Luther put posters on the doors of the church of Wittenberg. He denounced the abuses of clerics who he thought paid little attention to the teachings of the Gospel. Sharp criticism was levelled at clerics who took money from the faithful with the promise of alleviating their sufferings in Purgatory. Luther claimed that clerics had no power to alleviate or wipe out punishment. He favoured the doctrine of divine grace and claimed that people did not need clerics to love God. Monastic life and celibacy were not considered necessary. He suggested that married pastors could explain the Bible and not interpret it for believers.

Protestantism: Europeans were shown a new way of believing in God and learnt also to doubt. Luther’s revolutionary ideas broke the unity of the Christian Church and laid the foundations of Protestantism. This schism tore Europe apart between Catholics and Protestants.

The uprising against the highest authority of the Church, the papacy, also foreshadowed rebellion against any form of authority, and even royal authority.

Anti-Semitism: Initially, Luther preached tolerance towards Jews in Germany. But only on condition that Jews accepted Jesus. Otherwise, he opined that Jews’ houses should be destroyed, synagogues burnt down, their money confiscated and rabbis killed. His writings against Judaism and Jews contributed to set the background of Nazism under the Third Reich.

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 Conclusion

Both anniversaries are worth remembering as major historical events. The Reformation shook the foundations of the Catholic Church by proposing direct access to biblical knowledge. To this day, the Protestants, followers of those who protested, have a bible in every household. The Reformation laid bare the manipulation of the masses by clerics through fear and a sense of guilt instilled in the minds of believers. At a political level, it laid the premises for the separation of politics and religion by rising against the power of the Church and its alliance with political authorities to influence policies concerning the public. Not least, the invention of printing played a revolutionary part in spreading information, knowledge and ideas, which led to the empowerment of people by liberating them from blind submission to religious teachings and their interpretation handed down to them for centuries. The challenge of the highest religious authority, the papacy, opened the way to question traditional political power.

The personality of revolutionary leaders is a key factor in shaping their outlook on the topic they set their minds on and invested all their energy in. Luther was obsessed by the idea of death and eternal life. Hence his belief that the focus should not be on instilling fear of purgatory in people but leading them on the path of righteousness and the teachings of the Gospel and be blessed by divine grace. Fear of and obedience to God were seen as manipulation of people. Together with other reformers who followed in his footsteps, people were given the choice to read for themselves, comment and follow the right path advocated by the scriptures.

Luther’s stance on Judaism and Jews did not mean that he started it. As in other European countries, anti-Semitic hostility already pervaded European societies. Luther’s writings encapsulated what was pervasive in his society and gave it a new legitimacy. It was taken up in a different form by Nietzsche in the 19th century and aired by Heidegger during Hitler’s rule.

At a personal level, Lenin was haunted by the execution of his 20-year-old brother by the Tsar’s soldiers. The animosity between Russia and Germany, and between England and Germany, was partly due to rivalry between royal cousins.

Chaotic implementation of Marxist ideology in an impoverished country and the use of brutal force opened the way to a reign of terror and authoritarian rule, leading to random arrests, imprisonment, executions, non-acceptance of dissent and free speech. Other countries blindly replicated the Soviet model with disastrous consequences. However, Communism partly contributed to demand better conditions for and less exploitation of workers in the west and worldwide. But there are multiple factors which promote justice and progress. Intellectual advancement and humanism are key factors. And they are neither right-wing or left-wing.

 

*  Published in print edition on 10 November 2017

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