It was a dramatic moment in the history of modern Christendom. It was 1917, and the Bolsheviks, under the iron resolve of Vladimir Lenin, had just seized power in a Russia that politically had all but collapsed.
The last tsar–a devout Christian–had abdicated earlier in the year. An irresolute provisional government under Alexander Kerensky had isolated itself from the discontented population of peasants, workers, and soldiers who were demanding immediate change. And now, as socialists of all types assembled at the Congress of Soviets in the capital, Bolshevik guards were arresting the provisional government and putting Kerensky to flight. (He would ultimately make his way out of Russia and settle in Palo Alto, California, to spend his remaining days teaching about the Russian Revolution at Stanford University). The breathtaking moment was recreated later in Sergey Eisenstein’s rousing but highly deceptive masterpiece of propaganda film, October (which can be viewed here). It was the birth of the world’s first “proletarian dictatorship.”
As Lenin finished explaining–and proclaiming–the imposition of dictatorial rule, a group of moderate socialists decided to walk out in protest. They sought a revolution different than the bloodbath for which the Bolsheviks, soon to be known simply as Communists, were preparing. And as they did so, one of Lenin’s closest collaborators, Leon Trotsky, jumped to the podium and shouted, “That’s right, get out of here! . . . You are worthless! . . . Go were you belong now . . . into the dustbin of history!”
The phrase was not original to Trotsky, though his use of it on this occasion did make it famous. What it meant, according to the Marxist philosophy that guided all of the Communists, was that every one who did not support the actions of Lenin and his party were rubbish, trash. They were totally worthless. History had selected them for elimination.
What is remarkable is that Trotsky would soon be consigned by the Communists to the historical dustbin himself. The system of terror and violence he helped create in 1917 ultimately turned against even him.
In 1940, Joseph Stalin had come to replace Lenin as the leader of the Communist dictatorship. He had unleashed a terror even more violent than that of the early Bolsheviks, and explicitly targeted fellow party members. Most of these “Old Bolsheviks” had now be killed, but Trotsky had escaped with his life to Mexico City, where he continued to write about the need for violent revolution around the globe. That is, until the day a Communist from Spain (almost certainly sent on Stalin’s orders) entered his office and plunged an ice pick through his scull.
Trotsky was dead, but the Communist system he, Lenin, and Stalin had created would live on for most of the remaining twentieth century. In the next post, I will continue to discuss that system and its role in the decline of modern Christendom. It is a fascinating story.