Several years ago, as a student, I read Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel “Demons”. In my opinion, it is a true prophecy about the future of radical Marxist ideas, which were “successfully” realised in Russia a few decades after it was published.
There are some parallels between the radical ideas described by Dostoyevsky and the modern Left movement.
Demons is about 19th century’s Russia, where revolutionary movements were highly active. It is incredibly significant that, initially, those ideas were to be found in the aristocratic circles of Russia.
The protagonist and revolutionary Stavrogin is part of the aristocracy and therefore part of a family that owns significant estates. Stavrogin’s figure is used by the writer to describe the internal and external character of a typical revolutionary.
On the one hand, the writer needs Stavrogin’s aristocratic quality to show us the everyday life of higher society, but on the other hand, it has a more important base. Namely, the writer wants to show us the role of elites/aristocracy in the creation of revolutionary ideas, which will eventually undermine their status. We see in the novel how higher society supports and assists the nihilist New Generation. This is a narrative by which Dostoyevsky criticises and blames Russian aristocracy for spreading “new ideas”.
One of characters, Shigalov, is the author of a new revolutionary doctrine. He creates a model of utopian socialism, which shares the principles of universal equality and the abolition of private property. The writer very clearly describes followers of this ideology when he writes the following sentence: “I will speak of the contemptible slave, of the stinking, depraved flunkey who will first climb a ladder with scissors in his hands, and slash to pieces the divine image of the great ideal, in the name of equality, envy, and…digestion.” This is Dostoyevsky’s description of the average revolutionary.
It should be recognised that this novel was a warning about the consequences of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, which swept away the social system, created a dictatorship of a new political class, totally deprived/abolished private property, and created unparalleled and aggressive censorship.
But what is going on today and why do I think the novel is applicable to modern “revolutionaries”?
In my opinion, a reasonable reader would have noticed a resemblance between the point of “destruction” in Dostoyevsky’s novel and the actions of modern radical movements. The clearest example is the current attempt to remove all memory of history by vandalising and demolishing public monuments. By the time the revolution had happened, Russian communists altered almost all aspects of human life connected to the previous regime by abolishing religion and destroying traditional social institutions.
In addition, it is worth paying attention to political and social elites who declare their support for modern radical movements – something that Dostoyevsky clearly disdains. It is extremely hard to understand what modern elites are thinking or not about the possible consequences of promoting this “mob rule”, but it is clear – they only add fire to the current polarised situation.
The essential characteristics of radical movements have not changed over the last two or three centuries. It is only a stable social/political system that halted their extremism. For example, during times of order and stability, organisations like Antifa were not able to form, organise and mobilise to destroy monuments and burn public buildings. But as soon as weakness appears, radicals like Antifa emerge and attempt to use uncivilised protest methods to fulfil their ideological goals.