First, it was Confederate monuments. Then, vandals defaced and toppled monuments commemorating America’s heroes, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. Then came Mahatma Gandhi, Union General Ulysses S. Grant, black Union soldiers, and freed slave Frederick Douglass. It seems vandals, likely inspired by the lawless antifa and the Marxist official Black Lives Matter movement, will stop at nothing, including desecrating monuments to firefighters who lost their lives in the 9-11 attacks.
Yet it does not have to be this way. In fact, my trip to St. Petersburg in 2017 opened my eyes to the fact that even in the Soviet Union, a Marxist political movement can rebuild old national monuments, rather than destroying them.
In World War II, with the Nazis advancing into Russia, the Soviets took all the treasures out of the historic Catherine Palace in Pushkin, south of St. Petersburg — the summer palace of the old Czars. The Nazis ransacked the place, leaving a smoldering old ruin. Yet, when my wife and I arrived for a tour in 2018, we marveled at the gorgeous palace, restored by none other than the Marxist government of the Soviet Union.
While the Soviets decided to topple the Czars, assassinate the royal family, and rename the major cities, they saw fit to restore some tributes to the rulers of Old Russia, among them the Catherine Palace and the Peterhof, the grand palace begun by Peter the Great after his victory over the Swedes in the Great Northern War (1700-1721). The Soviets restored the Peterhof’s magnificent fountains, and many still function today. The gardens even boast some trick fountains dating back to the 1700s! If you walk too close to a metal tree, water spurts out at you from spigots hidden in the rosebushes.
The Soviets took particular pains to restore the Peterhof and the Catherine Palace. Under the Czars, the Catherine Palace boasted a room covered in amber from the bottom of the Baltic Sea, a veritable wonder of the world. The amber was lost between St. Petersburg and Berlin in World War II, but the Soviets painstakingly restored the room. Indeed, the project outlasted the Soviet Union itself! Begun in 1979, the reconstructed Amber Room was not completed until 2003.
The Catherine Palace has a wall dedicated to explaining the restoration process, which took decades.
The Soviet Union represents one of the most successful and deadly Marxist experiments in history. Under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, Russia suffered an estimated 56 to 62 million “unnatural deaths,” with 34 to 49 million directly linked to the dictator.
The Soviets changed the capital city from St. Petersburg to Moscow, and they renamed St. Petersburg Leningrad (It had been renamed Petrograd under the czar)*. They entirely reworked the system of government, killed the royal family, instituted atheism as the official religion and massacred Russian Orthodox priests, and more. They destroyed churches, synagogues, and mosques and unleashed the terror of secret police on the citizens.
Yet the Soviets also took pride in Russia’s history, and restored the great palaces of the Czars.
In fact, the Soviets arguably represent the exact opposite of their modern wannabes wreaking havoc on the streets of America today. The Marxist agitators with antifa and Black Lives Matter propose unserious “reforms” like abolishing the police (which didn’t even work in Seattle’s CHOP antifastan) while destroying national monuments in a lawless abandon, while the Soviets perpetrated devastating oppression on the Russian people while restoring some of the Czar’s magnificent palaces.
Now, I’d gladly take the fringe antifa over an official atheist Marxist tyranny that murders its own people and unleashes a secret police. I only mention this contrast to point out that the Soviets would likely mock their modern wannabes and to illustrate that even the most virulent Marxists don’t have to engage in the disgusting kind of vandalism America is witnessing today.
In fact, it likely undermines their cause.
*Correction: The original version of this article claimed that the Soviets changed the name of St. Petersburg to “Petrograd.” In reality, they changed it to “Leningrad.” Thanks to Eugene Volokh for highlighting the error.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.