The other day I visited an Orthodox Church, which, like most Orthodox churches, was full of icons. I looked for and found the two icons that I always look out for – that of Saint Elizabeth of Russia and that of the Imperial Martyrs.
Saint Elizabeth was the Grand Duchess Ella of Russia, and she was married to the Tsar’s uncle Grand Duke Sergey, who was assassinated in 1905; after his death, she became a nun, and when the Revolution came, she was murdered in Siberia by the Bolsheviks, by being thrown down a mineshaft, a fate she shared with several other members of the extended Imperial family. The horror of her death is redeemed by her serenity and faith in the face of it. Her relics are now venerated in Jerusalem.
Saint Elizabeth’s younger sister was the Empress Alexandra – they were both daughters of the Grand Duke of Hesse, and his English wife Princess Alice, thus granddaughters of Queen Victoria. Her fate, and that of her husband, children and servants is well known, and happened the day before the murder of Saint Elizabeth.
The Imperial martyrs and Saint Elizabeth are not canonised by the Catholic Church, but the sanctity of Elizabeth and the Imperial children is not in question, I think. They were all killed, too, in odium of the faith, which is a sure path to heaven.
It now seems beyond doubt that these murders were carried out on an order that came from Lenin himself. It was a long time ago, and it may seem that this is only of historical interest, but the murders of the Imperial family, and members of many other families too, at the time of the Revolution, did break new ground. Lenin was surely the first to order the execution of women and children without trial and without semblance of due process, using political expediency as his excuse; and many people round the world accepted this doctrine of “necessary murder” – in other words, they admitted it was wrong and regrettable even, but claimed it was nevertheless justified by circumstance – in this case the paramount importance of saving the Revolution.
I remark on this because a noted exponent of this doctrine has just died, Professor Eric Hobsbawm. In his obituary in the Daily Telegraph, we read:
In 1994 he wrote that, on balance, the achievements of the “shining light” of the Bolshevik Revolution and the subsequent dictatorship of Stalin had been positive and wrote of the “far from unimpressive records” of dictators like Honecker and Ceaucescu.
Most startlingly, Hobsbawm gave Stalin the credit for the post war “miracles” experienced in the West. Soviet communism, he argued, had provided its antagonist “with the incentive — fear — to reform itself” and “by establishing the popularity of economic planning, furnished it with some of the procedures for its reform.” In a television interview, Hobsbawm was asked whether, for such an accomplishment to take place, “the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?”
“Yes”, replied Hobsbawm.
So, there it is, from the mouth of one of our leading (Marxist) intellectuals. The end justifies the means. And as for the end, whether it is worth such means, who decides that? People like Stalin, of course. And thus we have a circular argument.
This is moral relativism, and if it is true that a life is only relatively valuable, and that it should be sacrificed for some supposedly greater good (chosen by no specific criteria except personal whim), then that means that no one is safe. Anyone’s life might be sacrificed for the most capricious reasons to safeguard some self-proclaimed concept such as “the Revolution”. This is precisely what happened in Russia under Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev. And what is still happening in some countries today.
I am sure that Professor Eric Hobsbawm was a pleasant man, and a good companion, but he was also an apologist for totalitarianism and state sponsored murder. He hardly strikes me as “a tireless agitator for a better world”, as Tony Blair has called him.
The road to totalitarianism, which makes the state absolute and the individual expendable, started in the cellar at Ekaterinburg. It is worth stating the opposing truth: the state exists purely to serve the individual, and only the individual has rights; if the collective demands that the individual’s rights be sacrificed, that that collective is a bad thing, indeed, a structure of sin. Indeed, once the principle of the sacredness of the individual and the right to life is sacrificed, then the floodgates to murder and cruelty are opened. And once opened, who can shut them again?
Incidentally, we should all make sacrifices, something I believe as a Christian. But we should sacrifices ourselves. We have no right to sacrifice anyone else, let alone “fifteen, twenty million” of our fellow human beings, even for “the shining light” of the Bolshevik Revolution.