Given on the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, 1991,
at St. Mary's Academy & College, by Lt. Col. William F. Cerny, M.S. (USMC, ret.)
The feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, patron of Catholic education, is celebrated with appropriate ceremony each year at St. Mary's Academy and College, St. Mary's, Kansas. The day begins with a Solemn Mass, attended by the faculty members attired in cap and gown, and by the entire student body. After Mass, at an academic ceremony in McCabe Theater, both Academy and College students are presented with awards they have merited by their scholastic achievements of the first semester.
An important part of this ceremony is the "Magistral Lesson"—the only lesson of the day, for classes are dismissed for the day at the end of this ceremony. Delivered by a member of the faculty, this lesson often relates an event of history particularly appropriate for us to understand today. After an intermission for refreshments, the College presents a short play for the edification and entertainment of all. Faculty and students adjourn to a welcome brunch, and enjoy some free hours before returning in late afternoon to chant Vespers of the feast day.
This year on March 7, St. Mary's was honored by the presence of Rev. Fr. Peter Scott, U.S. District Superior of the Society of Saint Pius X, who was celebrant at the Solemn Mass. At the academic ceremony, the Magistral Lesson was presented by Wm. F. Cerny, Lt. Col. USMC (ret.), who teaches History in both the Academy and College. Here follows the text of that most informative talk:
Photography by David Kleinsmith
Reverend Fathers, Sisters of the Society, faculty, parents, and students:
As most of you know, I am one of the history teachers here in the College and Academy. As I tell my students, one of the things we must learn from history is not to repeat the mistakes of the past; but more important, we must learn the lessons that history has taught us. Sometimes we need to review a lesson in history to comprehend fully what is happening today. That is my purpose today: to review an historical event of the past and discuss its relevance—what it means—today.
The event that I have chosen is the Russian Communist Revolution of 1917, and what its significance is today in view of all the changes that are taking place in the Soviet Union. No political event has had such a profound effect on world affairs as the Russian Revolution. How did it happen? How could it happen? These are the items I would like to discuss. But first, it is essential to understand one very important thing about Communism: To be successful, there must be a revolution. This is absolutely essential and is important to the understanding of Communism. Everything, all government and all institutions, must be destroyed completely through revolution so that Communism can rebuild in its own way.
However, before this necessary revolution can take place the conditions must be right; the country has to be ready for revolution. And in the case of Russia, the event that created these conditions was the First World War. Without that war the Revolution could not have happened. Two European alliances were at war: Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey against France, England and Russia. The United States would enter the war a few years later. In 1917, three years after the war started it was a virtual stalemate with England and France fighting on the Western Front, and Russia against Germany on the Eastern Front. By 1917, Russia was a defeated nation, but was still in the war. The Germans had driven 300 miles into Russian territory. The Czar, Nicholas II, had abdicated and a provisional government had been set up. The Russian Army was essentially a defeated and demoralized force. They had very poor leaders and desertion was at an all time high. Many of them were just going home! There was essentially no government and no army of any consequence. In other words, the conditions were right. All that the revolutionary forces in Russia needed was a leader.
That leader was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known by his Communist name, Lenin. At that time he was in exile in Switzerland. He had had to get out of Russia because of his association with revolutionary groups, and because of previous problems with the authorities. His older brother had been executed by the Russian government because of an attempt at assassination of Czar Alexander III. This event had a profound effect on the life of young Lenin as he became involved with revolutionary discussion groups, was expelled from college, and was finally exiled to Siberia, after which he left the country. For many years Lenin had been planning for this moment by keeping in contact with the revolutionary groups inside and outside of Russia. He was the recognized leader of an international movement.
Now, in 1917, it was time to return; the time was right. But there was a war going on, and it would not be easy to return. Lenin's reputation, activities and whereabouts were known to the Germans. So, Lenin struck up an agreement with the German army. If they would give him safe passage back to Russia, he, Lenin, would see to it that Russia would drop out of the war. This was exactly what the Germans wanted so they could concentrate all their efforts against France and England in the west before the United States got into the war. The Germans provided a special train to take Lenin through Germany and back to Russia. Other revolutionists, exiled elsewhere, were also coming out of hiding and heading for Russia, including a part-time actor from New York: Leon Trotsky.
When they all arrived, Lenin simply brushed aside the temporary provisional government and announced that the revolutionary forces were now in control of all Russia. And for the first time they called themselves—Communists. Lenin had declared himself ruler of the largest country in the world in a near bloodless revolution. He immediately set out to accomplish three things: get rid of the popularly elected National Assembly, close all Churches, and get out of the World War. He accomplished all three in very short order. The assembly was allowed to meet once. Lenin literally turned the lights off on them and sent them home, and they never met again. His action against the established churches, both the Russian Orthodox and Catholic, was just as quick and decisive. He could have no other authority recognized in Russia except his supreme authority. To get out of the War, he sent his chief aide, Trotsky, to meet with the Germans with instructions to sign anything they put in front of him—just get us out of the War!
With these three objectives complete, Lenin could now set about establishing absolute control within Russia. To do this he had to deal with the people of Russia, and they were not all in favor of this Communist takeover. Civil war broke out, and the Revolution now became bloody. Reds (Communists) against the Whites (anti-Communists) with Trotsky in charge of all military operations. Within three years the anti-Communists' forces were either destroyed or defeated. During this civil war, Lenin personally also gave the order to murder the Czar and his family. He did this so the anti-communists forces would not have a rallying cause. He had the royal family literally butchered and their bodies treated with acid so there would be no evidence left of their existence. Now there was no internal opposition. Lenin was in absolute control.
While Trotsky was handling the military operations during the civil war, Lenin was busy planning for world-wide revolution. This was his goal: to bring revolution to every country and establish Communism world-wide. By 1920, he had an international organization with Communist parties in 30 different countries including the United States. His first target for take-over was to be Germany, and then Austria and Hungary. By now, the war was over and these two were the defeated nations; the conditions looked right for revolution in those countries. However, fortunately there was only one Lenin. Attempted revolts in those countries were not successful primarily because they lacked leadership. Although in Hungary there was temporary success.
But before he could concentrate on world revolution, there was a problem in Russia that Lenin had first to contend with. His Communist government was in firm control, but after six years of war Russia was an economic disaster. There was essentially no production either agriculturally or industrially. There was no incentive to produce, for the State had taken over everything that was produced and redistributed it where the State thought it was most needed. Economic corrections were needed if Communism was to survive. Lenin instituted what he called a New Economic Policy (NEP). Communism in its purest sense cannot succeed, and Lenin knew this better than anybody. There are times when the State has to relax its controls to make it appear to the workers that they are regaining some freedoms. Lenin's new policy allowed farmers to keep part of their produce, and some of the factories were even turned over to private ownership on a lease basis. It began to look like a significant change was taking place. But the Communist government was not changing, the party was still in solid control of everything. What would the rest of the world think about this? Would they think that something was happening that was causing Communism to fail?
Lenin sent a secret memo to key members of the Communist party. This memo was somehow preserved:
"The so-called educated strata in Western Europe and America are incapable of comprehending the present state of affairs. They should be considered deaf-mutes and treated accordingly. A revolution never develops in a straight line. There will be occasional zig-zags and ups and downs. We must declare our wish for diplomatic relations with these capitalistic countries—the deaf-mutes will swallow this too. They will open their doors to us. And we will march in to infiltrate their countries—dressed up as diplomatic, cultural and trade representatives."
Lenin's new economic policy was a resounding success. All production increased; but when things were again economically sound, the privileges were taken away! Lenin called this his policy of "two steps forward and one back." This was the zig-zag he spoke of in his memo. Communism was flourishing again world-wide. This is the only way Communism can stay in power. Revolution and periodic economic corrections of short relief, then harsh governmental control again. The Party never changes, never takes a step back. The Party is always right! It is always focused on world revolution and domination.
Today we are told that Russia is changing, and on the surface it may even look like it. Smiling "Gorby" is popular everywhere. He has even received a Nobel Peace Prize. There are changes taking place in Russia, but the Communist Party is still there and it is not going to change. The changes are again all economic, just as they were in 1921. It is no different. New freedoms are being granted; there is private enterprise again. But the Communist Party is still there, it is not changing. It is no different than it was in 1921. Then it was called the New Economic Policy; Today it is "Glasnost" or "Perestroika," but it is the same thing.
Was Lenin right? Are we deaf-mutes who do not know what is going on? Are we going to ignore history? and say it is different this time... No, once again the Communist leadership is simply taking one step back, as Lenin said was necessary at times. The leadership may change, faces may change, freedoms may temporarily be granted, but the principles of Communism never change. There is no real change in Russia today. Lenin's pictures still adorn the walls of the Kremlin, and his tomb still dominates Red Square in Moscow. Don't be fooled—don't be a deaf-mute to what is really happening. We must learn from the lessons of history. So what do we do? How can we defeat this international menace?
I said earlier that World War I set the stage for the Communist Revolution. It was also during World War I that an event took place that gave us hope and a course of action. At the height of that war, in 1917, while the blood was running the deepest on the battlefields of Europe, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared six times to three children at Fatima in Portugal. She warned the world then about the dangers of Russia. She gave this warning before the Revolution was ever complete! Before Lenin was firmly in power. She saw the danger to the world, and warned us about it. Her message was to pray for the conversion and consecration of Russia. No one recognized the danger then. Did we hear the message, or, were we deaf to her warnings? Was Lenin right? Are we really a bunch of deaf-mutes? She told us that we had to pray to convert Russia. The message was very clear.
Today, the Catholic Church is the only organization in the world that can defeat Communism. No other group or organization can accomplish it. No one else is equipped to do the job. No one else had the right weapon. But we do. It is not some fancy, high-tech, modern, laser-guided, smart, destructive weapon we hear so much about today. At Fatima, Our Lady not only asked us to pray for the conversion of Russia, she told us how. She gave us the weapon to use, one that she had previously given to the world—the Holy Rosary. This is the only weapon that will ever convert the Soviet Union. And we are the only ones who have it. The solution is literally in our hands. All we have to do is use it. It is a conflict, not with bullets, but with beads. Pray the Rosary daily for this intention, as she asked. It is the only way we can win. By following her directions maybe we can shoot down the Red Star of Communism and replace it with the Star of the East. It is the only road to peace.
Carroll, Warren H. 1981. 1917 Red Banners White Mantle. Christendom Publications.
Carroll, Warren H. 1989. 70 Years of the Communist Revolution. Christendom Publications.
Wolfe, Bertram D. 1948. Three Who Made a Revolution. Beacon Press.