So You Say You Want a Revolution?

“Antifa is a radical, dangerous, group and you should be careful with them, they’ll overthrow you,” President Trump told his opponent Joe Biden after Biden refused to condemn the violent anarcho-Marxist group.

Trump is right.

Within the tactics and goals of Antifa and the “trained Marxists” of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) organization, there are visible echoes of previous revolutions. We saw them first in the Russian Left’s removal of Czar Nicholas II from power. Then the same tactics were deployed by the Bolsheviks against their former allies in October 1917. None believed the tiny Bolshevik Party—with between 5,000 and 10,000 members—would successfully seize control of a country of 97 million people. But Russia’s leftists underestimated the brutality and determination of the Bolsheviks.

None would survive the purges that followed.

Smash the World of the Present

Russian socialists long had sought to work within the existing system to establish a new socialist democracy. Scattered abroad in exile or in prison, the Bolsheviks did not participate in the February revolution of 1917 that forced Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate the throne. They were not popular, but the socialists invited them back to the country and asked for their participation in governing in the name of collegiality.

Vladimir Lenin returned to Russia with a determination to overthrow the very socialists who had granted him amnesty, upholding Karl Marx’s dictum that revolutionaries must “smash” existing institutions instead of occupying them, as the defenders of the failed 1848 Paris Commune had done. While the Russian Left sought to implement basic reforms and solidify their new provisional government, Lenin was obsessed with “smashing the world of the present.”

Similarly, even while Democrats represent the political establishment, they refuse to denounce, and frequently defend Antifa. Yet “Antifa defines the entire American political system—regardless of party affiliation as ‘fascist,’” and seeks to use violence to overthrow our “fascist” constitutional system. 

BLM advocates critical race theory, which assumes racism is permanent and underlies every interaction in America. It openly rejects liberalism—the idea that racism is combated by encouraging society to look at all people as individuals with equal rights. Critical race theorists advocate replacing free societies with something they control. BLM even called for the “disruption” (read: end) of the nuclear family.

No Enemies to the Left

The Russian Left—from liberals to socialist revolutionaries—were convinced that a counterrevolution on the Right was inevitable. This was always irrational and paranoid, as the Tsar had finally stepped down when he lost support of the Right (in large part due to his wife’s fixation with Rasputin). Even the Right did not want to restore the czar. While vigilantly watching the right flank, the Left was stunned when they were attacked from the Left—despite three previous coup attempts in April, June, and July of 1917.

Similarly, today’s Left recognizes threats only from the Right. Democrats have gone out of their way to avoid explicitly condemning Antifa, lest they alienate the far-left elements in their party. In August, Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) walked out of a hearing to avoid denouncing Antifa. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Antifa violence in Portland was a “myth.”

Democratic leaders have supported massive bail funds, which have continued to prolong rioting and violence by releasing rioters and other criminals, including individuals wanted for serious crimes such as murder and sexual assault. Democrats condemned rioting only after it polled badly—but attempted to blame Trump for “escalating violence,” even repeating false claims that “white supremacists” were involved in the rioting.

The Worse the Better

The Russian revolutionaries’ motto was “the worse the better.” “Committed radicals fear reform because it deprives them of leverage and establishes the ruling elite more solidly in power: they prefer the most savage repression,” wrote historian of Soviet Communism Richard Pipes.

Deliberately building pressure also helped provoke police into retaliation to create evidence of an authoritarian system that radicals hoped would drive public opinion left. The Bolsheviks used what Stalin called a “smokescreen of defenses.” When authorities responded to unlawful activity, it was used as evidence of a crackdown.

Once in the streets, the Bolsheviks borrowed Napoleon’s skirmishing technique: mass recruits are sent first to draw fire and give away enemy positions, then the professional guard is sent to the enemy’s weakest point. Even if they fail, it appears that the masses want change, and repeated demonstrations kept tension high and made everyone believe change was inevitable.

In October 1917, the Bolsheviks told military units in Petrograd a counterrevolution was underway, and admonished them not to respond to the provisional government’s orders. The military staff told the Bolsheviks to retract their statement, sent troops to protect the provisional government in the Winter Palace and shut down Pravda. The Bolsheviks used the troop movement and shutdown of Pravda as “evidence” of a “counterrevolution” and put out a call to action to “save the revolution.”

In 2020, outrage over alleged police brutality that led to George Floyd’s death was nearly universal and many were willing to consider reform measures. Yet when Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a black man who personally experienced police discrimination, put together a police reform bill, Democrats blocked efforts even to debate the bill. Democrats instead viewed the riots as an opportunity to portray President Trump as an authoritarian leader and did not want to ease any tension by passing reform.

What initially began as large demonstrations turned into massive riots in over 140 American cities—220 of 7,750 protests have been violent. The looting, arson and vandalism will result in at least $1 billion of paid insurance claims—the most in history. In the first 14 days of the protests alone, 19 people were killed. As of July, police officer killings have surged 28 percent this year.

Law enforcement efforts to quell rioting have been harshly criticized. The use of nonlethal police tools meant to preserve life—like tear gas and rubber bullets—have been banned in several cities and called “possible violations of international law.” This leaves police with fewer options and increases the risk of lethal encounters.

Turning the Tables

Protests in Portland, Oregon continued for over 120 days, during which there have been 27 riots. Rioters have thrown glass bottles at police and pointed lasers directly into their eyes risking permanent loss of vision Rioters set a federal courthouse on fire. Nearly 300 Department of Homeland Security officers were injured defending that courthouse. 

The protests provided a perfect opportunity to use crowds as cover in sophisticated asymmetric warfare. Crimethinc, an anarchist publication, lays out this strategy in the “siege” of a Minneapolis precinct. Non-violent protesters shield looters and “barricaders” and “ballistics squads”—those throwing rocks, fireworks, Molotov cocktails, etc. at police. Looters can distract police from “barricaders” and “ballistic squads.”

When federal law enforcement was dispatched to protect the federal courthouse in Portland, Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, said Trump deployed “secret police” to “provoke” violence for campaign ads. Oregon’s Democratic governor Kate Brown said that DHS had served as an “occupying force” that “brought violence.” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, another Democrat, called the federal officers “an attack on our democracy.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called federal law enforcement officers protecting American citizens “stormtroopers.” 

Even while warning of threats from Trump supporters and “armed militias,” the Antifa Left is quietly preparing to turn their proverbial guns on Biden.

It would take a three-year civil war for the Bolsheviks truly to secure power. Unable to garner any real support, they subdued the population through terror. Every institution was systematically uprooted and crushed. Lenin pioneered a one-party state, built on brutality and violence previously unseen in human history, that would be used in communist revolutions all over the world. Once Lenin had used the Left to eliminate the Right, they next were liquidated. By 1941, 98 percent of all Russian socialists had been murdered.

The Democrats’ fixation on President Trump leaves them vulnerable on their left flank. If Antifa and BLM help Democrats beat Trump in November, history tells us we should not be surprised if it is the Democrats who are targeted next. If Biden wins the election, they really will overthrow him.

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About Morgan Wirthlin

Morgan Wirthlin is chief of staff at the Center for Security Policy, a national security think-tank in Washington, D.C. Follow her @morganwirthlin on Twitter.

Photo: Ekaterina Ponomareva/Getty Images