Socialism has many names and faces: Marxism, Bolshevism, Leninism, Stalinism and Social Democracy all mean Socialism, which is a political theory of social re-organisation, putting limits on private ownership of industry or land. The word probably appeared first in France (after the French Revolution showed that monarchies and governments could be toppled) and Britain (where only a hundred and twenty years ago two-thirds of all land was in private or religious hands).
Socialists know (and will not brook any argument) that the community as a whole should own and control the means of production, distribution and exchange to ensure a fair division of a nation’s wealth. This means state ownership of industry, or ownership by the workers themselves. These ideals are admirable, but like all creeds including Christianity everything comes to depend on individual human beings, who may or may not be humane.
A good economist could perhaps explain why no socialist government in the history of the world has been wholly successful. In many if not most cases this is because Socialists cannot understand why anyone might not wish for a socialist government, at town hall level or national level. They will also commit any act that helps their own rise to power. But I think the roots of socialist failure lie much deeper than that. At heart, most people of any colour are decent, and try, though they sometimes fail, to be decent to others. They also know a bit of History. The best known example of really long-lasting socialism happened in the twentieth century in Russia, where a major revolution broke out (after years of seething unrest) in 1917. What socialists did to cement their foundations and cause fear in the minds of voters was deadly simple. They murdered a complete family, or at least tried to.
The serial murders committed by the Bolsheviks in Russia were motivated by their wish to eradicate the Imperial family in the last year of a World War. The Tsar’s youngest brother Michael was arrested in February, 1918 at Gatchina, and shot in Siberia in June of the same year. The Emperor Nicholas II, his German-born wife Alexandra, only son the Tsarevitch, and four teenage daughters were the next to fall. They thought they might be sent to the Crimea under guard, where the possibility existed that they would be rescued by the Tsar’s first cousin, George V of Great Britain – or at any rate by his Royal Navy. Instead, they were sent to Tobulsk, also in Siberia. They were under heavy guard, but accompanied by at least two ladies-in-waiting, a Prince, a General, the doctors Botkine and Devorenko, Swiss and English tutors, and a sailor called Nagorny, who carried the invalid Tsarevitch when he was unable to walk. Nagorny would die with his charge.
In April, 1918 Commissar Yakovleff was sent to join the royal party with 150 troops under his command. He was a decent fellow, who told the Tsar he had been ordered to take the family elsewhere, though he could not say where. After some too-ing and fro-ing, with the Emperor and the Empress travelling virtually alone (and thus separated from the sick Tsarevitch), he and his four sisters met up again with everybody in the royal party at a place called Ekaterinburg, where they were lodged in the house of rich merchant Ipatieff. The place had been turned into a temporary prison, with sentries and machine guns. The amiable Yakovleff was dismissed and replaced by a cold-eyed Bolshevik officer who knew that White Russian armies were approaching which might try to rescue the royal family. Here in the cellar of the Ipatieff house the entire party were shot, bayonetted, knifed, and the bodies then thrown into separate wells. Here was the solid foundation of socialism, but worse was to come.
24 hours after the killing party in Ekaterinburg, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, Grand Duke Serge Mikhaïlovitch, the Princes John, Constantine and Igor, the Prince Wladimir Paley, a nurse and Grand Duke Serge’s secretary were under arrest in the little town of Alapaïvsk, around 90 miles from Ekaterinburg. In October 1918 the corpses of all this party were found in the shafts of a deserted mine into which they had been thrown alive, after stunning by rifle butts.
The Bolsheviks then turned their attentions to St. Petersburg, where they killed Grand Dukes Nicholas, George Mikhaïlovitch, Paul Alexandervitch and Dimitri Constantinovitch. The latter was accompanied by his young nephew Gabriel, but when the group was transferred under arms to the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul the boy was lucky enough to escape. The Dukes were all shot in the fortress, George and Dimiti kneeling at prayer, Paul, who was sick, lying on a stretcher, and Nicholas joking with the executioners while embracing a favourite kitten.
These were the last victims of the Bolshevik Revolution, ending the reign of one of the most powerful dynasties in the world, and ushering in, now fully qualified, an eventually Communist government that under Stalin managed to eradicate perhaps a hundred million fellow Russians for the crime of not agreeing with him..
Rather late, the Royal Navy arrived in the Crimea, and took off the Dowager Empress (mother of Nicholas II) and many other refugees, including the young man who had, with Prince Dimitri Pavlovitch, killed with great difficulty the monk Rasputin. This was Prince Youssoupoff. No Bolshevik naval vessel tried to stop the battleship Marlborough as she steamed away with perhaps two hundred refugees who would never see their homeland again. It is said that the Dowager Empress, who was nobody’s fool, had got the Russian crown jewels with her, but this tale may be apocryphal. The Tsarevitch’s tutor M. Gilliard also got away, and was to write up the entire episode in his book The Fate of Nicholas II. Felix Youssoupoff got to Paris and London, wrote about his life in Lost Splendour, and died full of years in 1967. He was one of the lucky ones.
The Bolsheviks in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Yalta had agreed that the best way to launch International Socialism on a not altogether unsuspecting world was to execute without trial almost every member of a large family, including the very sick Tsarevitch Alexis and his four teenage sisters, a pet dog or two and a frightened kitten (with Grand Duke Nicholas). The world was now ready for Socialism – under whatever name.