One hundred years ago in St Petersburg, the world received a shock as momentous as that of the French Revolution. Following the overthrow of tsarism eight months earlier, Lenin’s Bolsheviks ruthlessly seized power and established the first officially communist government. The Soviet example – and the autocracy that quickly developed there – was adopted and adapted by regimes across Asia, Africa and South America.
Though the Marxist-Leninist model of one-party rule endures (not least in Russia), its inheritors now look to the market as a vehicle of development as much as to the state. Meanwhile, in the West, the aftermath of the financial crisis has brought left-wing radicals such as Syriza, Podemos, Jeremy Corbyn and Jean-Luc Mélenchon to prominence. But despite its recurrent crises, capitalism has proved far more resilient than Karl Marx and his followers prophesied. Globalisation, for all its limitations, has lifted hundreds of millions in the developing world out of poverty, not least in China.
The Russian experiment today serves not as an example but as a permanent warning against tyranny, whatever its professed ideals. Yet unless democratic politicians address the grotesque poverty and lack of opportunity that afflict so many, the totalitarian temptation will remain.