Saturday, May 14, 2011

Did Lenin Save Capitalism?

We may owe the current triumph of capitalism to an unlikely man: Vladimir Illych Lenin. Though Lenin was actually born a nobleman, he grew to hate the Russian aristocracy after his brother was executed for plotting against the Tsar in 1887. By 1917 he had spearheaded a communist revolution in Russia and founded the Soviet Union. The capital of Russia at this time was Petrograd, modern-day St. Petersburg. For fear of German invasion, Lenin in 1918 moved the capital of the Soviet Union from coastal Petrograd to inland Moscow.

Lenin was long dead by the time Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the USSR, in 1941—but because of him the capital of the USSR was in Moscow. Just two months after the invasion began, German troops had arrived at Leningrad, the new name for the old capital, and they proceeded to encircle and siege the city. It was one of the longest sieges in human history, enduring uninterrupted for a full 872 days. The Germans also attacked Moscow, the actual capital, but were driven back after a few months. It seems clear that part of the reason the Germans failed to take Moscow was because it was farther away and centrally-located.

Had Lenin not moved the capital of the USSR to Moscow, the European theater of the Second World War could have run an entirely different course. The Germans may have been able to take Leningrad in a matter of months—denying the Soviets sufficient time to relocate factories east of the Urals and organize a counteroffensive. It's well-known that the drawn-out war on the Eastern Front—which lasted nearly four years—was the main reason for the demise of the Third Reich. A Nazi victory in Europe would have doubtless been followed by campaigns on other continents. Though Lenin's communist state ultimately crumbled, we can perhaps credit his strategic vision for the eventual triumph of capitalism.

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