Come the revolution…
Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky was given the task of forming the Red Army, and he didn’t have much time given what was arrayed against him. One problem was that he had never served in an army, let alone commanded one. Vladimir Lenin, who led the revolution, appointed Trotsky primarily because Lenin trusted him, not because Trotsky had experience building an army, although he had read several books on the subject. Lenin trusted Trotsky would not betray him. In a revolution, the hardest thing to know is who will betray you and who will not. Anyone could be an opportunist, an agent of the enemy or a turncoat. During revolutions, competence is a luxury.
Lenin understood his dilemma, and one of his first acts was to create the state security apparatus – the Cheka – led by former patrician Felix Dzerzhinski. The Cheka was heir to the Czarist Okhrana and the father of today’s Federal Security Service. As an intelligence agency, the Cheka’s initial task was to spy on the members of the apparatus Lenin was building and eliminate those who might betray the revolution.
What drove Lenin was this: he wanted to liquidate the old regime – a very antiseptic term for killing those who comprised it. The problem was that if he killed them he would have few experts who knew how to run trains or command an army.
The Bolshevik leadership was composed of intellectuals who wrote impressive books on what would happen, come the revolution, and who made speeches on the subject but didn’t actually know how to do anything. Once the revolution ends, knowing how to make stirring speeches to Moscow’s workers is less important than making things work.
Lenin had no choice but to use the same people who made the old regime’s mechanisms work – not all of them, but enough to get it off the ground. He figured he would protect the revolution through the Cheka and drive loyalty through terror – not that some Czarist officers or trainmen weren’t prepared to support the revolution. The problem was determining who was sincere and who wasn’t. Terror helped, but not with another problem he had. How could someone who had no idea how to drill for oil recognise someone who did? The revolution succeeded, but in the end it was bogged down by the dizzying choice between loyalty and competence.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is not Lenin and should not be compared to him in any way. But in a very real sense he has launched a revolution, made the speeches and inspired the masses. Trump won. He promised to drain the swamp, which isn’t a bad idea. But to drain the swamp he must have people who understand how the swamp works, a prerequisite for draining it. Trump is not Lenin, but now Trump has Lenin’s problem.
In order to carry out his programme, Trump must have people who are both loyal and knowledgeable about various subjects, such as Chinese affairs, medical insurance and 10,000 other fields. The federal government is vast and inefficient, not so much because of the people there, but because of its size. So much authority makes it virtually impossible to get things together. The federal government also is essential to society at the moment, because if Social Security cheques don’t arrive there will be chaos. Trump cannot simply dispense with what the government does any more than Lenin could. He must purge the system without crashing it.