The GOP’s Bolshevik MomentRoundup
tags: Republican Party, Russian Revolution, Lenin, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Alexander Kerensky
Fred Kaplan is the author of The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War.
The Republican Party’s tolerance and embrace of far-right extremists bring to mind the case of Alexander Kerensky, Russia’s first and last prime minister before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Kerensky, the leader of a relatively moderate socialist party, proclaimed a policy of “no enemies to the left” and, as a result, released Vladimir Lenin from prison, where he’d been interned for his failed attempt to overthrow Kerensky’s own government in July of that year. And so, three months later, an emboldened Lenin tried again and succeeded, with catastrophic results for the entire century.
Republican leaders in America today have, in effect, declared a policy of “no enemies to the right.” With very few exceptions, they have declined to impeach or even criticize Donald Trump for inciting the attempted insurrection of Jan. 6. They have awarded a House committee seat to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who believes in QAnon’s wildest conspiracy theories, who has told right-wing protesters they should feel free to use violence, and, before she was elected to the House this past fall, called for the assassination of Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Several GOP lawmakers still refuse to acknowledge that President Joe Biden fairly won the November election.
I don’t mean to draw precise parallels. Lenin and his military commissar, Leon Trotsky, were intellectuals and brilliant tacticians—two terms that don’t remotely apply to any of the American right’s aspiring revolutionaries. Nor do the strife, tensions, and hardships besetting American society and politics in 2021 bear the slightest resemblance to the combustive mix of hunger, oppression, and war that sparked the overthrow of Czar Nicholas II (spearheaded largely by Kerensky) and then the overthrow of Kerensky himself—along with any hopes, for decades to come, of a civil society.
Still, the political dynamics of the two situations, a world and a century apart, have striking similarities. Kerensky refused to criticize Lenin and the Bolsheviks because he regarded them as potent allies against a revival of monarchism, which he (mistakenly) saw as the real enemy. Similarly, Republican leaders—including many who knew better—embraced Trump and now refuse to dissociate themselves from his most fanatical followers because they were, and are, seen as potent bulwarks against the Democrats’ liberal programs, which they see as the real enemy.
A few Republicans are beginning to grasp the depths of their miscalculation. On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the party’s most cynically opportunistic (and, for that reason, often the most effective) strategist of the past decade, condemned “loony lies and conspiracy theories” as a “cancer for the Republican Party and our country,” adding, “Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane is not living in reality. This has nothing to do with the challenges facing American families or the robust debates on substance that can strengthen our party.”
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