The roots of the Soviet system were in the Enlightenment’s most utopian dreams. Lenin never gave up the belief that, after a period of revolutionary terror, the state would be abolished. Trotsky defended the taking and killing of hostages as a necessary stage on the way to a world in which every human being would have the gifts of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. A vast amount of blood was spilt pursuing these sickly dreams.
The result of the attempt to realize the Bolshevik utopia was a totalitarian regime. This was not a deformation of Marx’s original vision. Despite innumerable claims to the contrary, this was the only result it could have had in practice. Marx’s conception of communism presupposes that the chief source of human conflict is the division of society into classes. Once that has ben overcome, state power is unnecessary.
In reality the roots of human conflict are more deeply tangled. Class divisions are only one of the causes of conflict, and rarely the most important. Ethnic and religious differences, the scarcity of natural resources and the collision of rival values are permanent sources of division. Such conflicts cannot be overcome, only moderated. The checks and balances of traditional forms of government are ways of coping with this fact.
The attempt to abolish the state results in unlimited government. Lenin laid the foundations for Stalin’s regime. In turn, Lenin’s dictatorship was inherent in Marx’s ideal of communism. Totalitarianism follows wherever the goal of a world without conflict or power is consistently pursued.