Great October Tragedy

Eighty years ago today, on the night of Nov. 6, or Oct. 24 according to the calendar then in use, the October Revolution took place in Russia. Following the French example, it used to be called the Great October Socialist Revolution. Today, it most often referred to as the October coup, involving a plot of Bolshevik communists who overthrew a lawfully elected government and dismissed the parliament, the fourth State Duma. Thus began the great evil empire.

And it immediately began with lies and revising events to conform to myth and propaganda. We now know that there was no triumphant storming of the Winter Palace, the seat of the government in Petrograd, now St. Petersburg, and the legendary cruiser Aurora fired only one shot, and that turned out to be a blank shell. But what happened in Petrograd became a state secret.

The new authorities started with what was most essential: abolishing freedom of speech. Then a massive killing of officers began -- while Russia was still at war with Germany. Houses were confiscated. Sailors and soldiers walked about the magnificent halls of the Winter Palace and, for a laugh or to boost morale, defiled Chinese vases. Two would hold the vase by the handles and the third would defecate, although as a meticulous historian of the period remarked, the palace's toilets were in good working order.

It was the desire to destroy, soil and violate culture and civilization that became the dominant theme of the Revolution. First it was necessary to break with the past; later the present could be eliminated. The Revolution got down to devouring its own children.

The Bolsheviks sent former companions in the struggle against tsarism to prison. The cruelty of Soviet prisons spread like a malignant tumor. Those who were confined in tsarist prisons were allowed to read books, write letters and receive parcels. When Lenin was in exile in Siberia, he had a housekeeper, wrote his works against capitalism, and went rabbit hunting with a rifle. The Bolsheviks put a stop to such humane treatment at once. Prisoners were permitted neither to read and write nor receive parcels and see relatives. An initial miniature gulag had already been established during the first year of the revolution at the Petrovskiye Vorota in central Moscow. This is where the Soviet killing fields began.

The deeds of the Bolshevik leaders were those of disenchanted romantics. They abolished private property, and created a machinery of terror in order to protect state property. They declared that factories belonged to workers and the land to peasants. But the workers lost control over unions, and consequently over production and revenues. And the peasants were forcibly driven onto collective farms and deprived of their right to travel in the country and live where they wanted. All at once, the country's inhabitants became slaves of ideals, trophies of the revolution.

Every effort and resource was put toward increasing military might. Why? Because the Kremlin dreamers were thinking about world revolution, a new crusade that would make everyone happy, by force.

The results of the storm are well known: The burden of the huge arms buildup overstrained the country and cast it to the margins of civilization. From the Baltics to the Pacific Ocean there was a sea of poverty. Neither a single two-story house nor a highway was built in the villages.

Western intellectuals on the left believed for a long time that the Soviet Union was an impeccable country of ideals and closed their eyes to the violation of rights. Only when tanks rolled into Hungary in 1956 and Prague in 1968 and Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago" appeared in 1974 were these Western thinkers forced to realize that they were praying to a bloodstained Moloch.

They had seen in documentary films how during the October days, an endless flow of happy people holding their children's hands passed by their leaders standing on a tribunal. But it wasn't widely understood in the West that these demonstrations were an imitation of happiness. This was mass psychosis, whose secret goal was to calm the leader, to stop the terror: Look how happy we all are!

During the coming October days, I am reminded of the story of a Polish acquaintance. In 1939 he was a young boy of 10, and when the Germans invaded Poland he fled to Russia only to be arrested at the border. He did not understand a word of Russian and decided that he had landed in a Russian village where people live in barracks surrounded by barbed-wire fences, security guards in towers and watch dogs. Women lived in another village separated from the men. Every morning peasants were awaken by an alarm, fed and led under guard to chop wood. The boy even liked this life. There was no need to think; everything is decided for you. But he eventually learned Russian and found out, to his horror, that this was not at all a Russian village but a prison camp.

Thus we all found out, sooner or later, that this was not a life but a common prison of the soul where you receive according to strict norms, are awaken by an alarm, walk in single file -- a place good for people who do not want to think about anything.

When he learned the truth, the Polish boy immediately escaped from the camp.

When we learned the truth, we all also escaped from the country of ideals surrounded by barbed wire.

Anatoly Korolyov is a writer whose works include "Eron." He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.