Until a century ago, Karl Marx was an unpracticed intellectual, a prolix babbler who’s thoughts remained an ideal rather than a reality. Then came the Bolshevik Revolution. On November 7 (October 25 in the old Russian calendar) the Soviet Union was effectively born.
This event may have been as momentous as the war which spawned the first Communist state. Tens of millions of people died as communism transformed nations. We continue to live with the consequences of Marxism today.
Life was good in 1914. The industrial revolution delivered entire populations from immiserating poverty. Liberal currents affected even the great autocracies of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia. The future beckoned.
But on June 28 Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the venerable Hapsburg throne, and his wife Sophie were visiting Sarajevo in the recently annexed province of Bosnia. In a plot backed by Serbian military intelligence, the young Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated the pair, setting in motion diplomats and statesmen, generals and admirals, and armies and fleets around the globe.
War came in August. Russian peasants died in a war started by aristocrats for reasons no one truly understood.
This was the central tragedy of the conflict. Before troops began marching in August 1914, common people’s lives were improving. Even those at bottom in the great Tsarist despotism were doing better. Then came the continental war.
No where was the tragedy greater than in the mysterious, mystical, antiquated Russian Empire. For a long time St. Petersburg was a force of conservatism, even reaction, opposed to Western liberalism and especially the French Revolution.
However, Imperial Russia eventually made common cause with France, the paragon of revolution. But the former was a giant with feet of clay. The regime staggered along unsteadily amidst peace and prosperity.
Then came June 28, 1914, when a Serbian terrorist assassinated the heir to the…