“We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path...We are surrounded on all sides by enemies. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy...separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation.” ― Vladimir Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, 1901
“I’m a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” ― Steve Bannon, 2016
It’s not like he didn’t warn us. He’s a student of history, and as we near the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik October Revolution it may help to take a look back, and forward.
The Bolsheviks successfully seized power in 1917 because they were disciplined, had a strong and simple core program, and were unafraid of the opinions of the establishment and the people. They were greatly helped by the ineptitude and cowardice of that same establishment; the core grievances of the time (WWI, famine, inequality) were beyond the vision of the Tsar and the pious politicians who replaced him.
A century later, the Republican Party is facing the same kind of revolt and is likely headed for the same fate. What seemed at first to be simply fiery rhetoric against an entrenched Republican monarchy is now an armed insurrection. The demise of Luther Strange and the ascension of Roy Moore was the first revolutionary act and there’s more coming. Sensible people like Jeff Flake of Arizona, Dean Heller of Nevada and Bob Corker of Tennessee are in the crosshairs. Not so sensible people like Tom Barrasso of Utah also.
And of course Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who seems to the Alexander Kerensky of the 21st century. (Kerensky headed the mushy moderate interim government that had replaced Tsar Nicolas. He died peacefully in Manhattan in 1970,) Who could have guessed.
On one level it’s a weird turn of events. On most core issues McConnell and his boys don’t disagree with Bannon. On abortion, tax cuts for the rich, environment, deregulation, Obamacare, immigration, Supreme Court, gender equality and women’s rights the small differences that exist are trivial and the consensus is broad.
That Bannon is a wrecker is clear. Unlike Lenin, what he would do with power is not.
And most compellingly, America in 2017 is not Russia in 1917. Bannon will likely succeed in toppling the Republican establishment. He will not be able to impose a dictatorship of the proletariat.
American politics and society succeed only when there are functioning majorities and coalitions, socially and within institutions like the Congress. By purifying the Republican Party Bannon will drive a considerable number of politicians and voters in the wilderness. Where will people like Susan Collins, or Lisa Murkowski or John Kasich or Marco Rubio end up?
They will end up in a third party. Or they will end up in a rump Republican Party run by the New Bolsheviks/Bannonites, with millions of voters fleeing them. In other words, Bannon is never going to command a functioning majority of American voters or Republican officials. And he never will join with the enemy to form a governing coalition. On such do we rest our hopes for the country.
There will be a test for Republicans uncomfortable with Bannonism. Will they buckle under to the demands of the New Bolsheviks? Or will they separate themselves on issues of policy, style and governance?
The Republican Party was born as a faction of the old Whigs, insistent on one core principle, the end of slavery. For that goal it was willing to disrupt and extinguish the old order. A century and a half later it will perish in the same way.
Where that will leave the country is the great unanswerable question. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.