By David Michael Newstead.
The Washington Post once called Richard Pipes one of America’s great historians. Pipes served on the National Security Council in the Reagan administration and did analysis for the CIA. Now a professor emeritus at Harvard University, his books include Russia Under the Old Regime, Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime, and Communism: A History. Today, Richard Pipes joins me to discuss the upcoming centennial of the Russian Revolution and the unusual state of U.S.-Russia relations in 2016.
David Newstead: How do you think the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution should be marked?
Richard Pipes: Of course, there were two revolutions in 1917. I would mark the February-March one with great ceremony, but I would totally ignore the October-November Revolution. The February Revolution was a democratic revolution accomplished by the population at large. And the October Revolution was a conspiracy and a seizure of power.
David Newstead: Is the world still feeling the impacts of that seizure of power?
Richard Pipes: For almost three quarters of a century the world felt it very, very powerfully. The Twentieth century was very much dominated by the Soviet Union and its actions. Today, no. Today, it’s pretty much history.
David Newstead: So, do you feel there’s any significance to Russian President Vladimir Putin being a former agent of the KGB?
Richard Pipes: Yes. He is not fit to be a democratic leader. A democratic leader listens to the population and does what the population commands. He is still mentally and psychologically very much of the Soviet mold.
David Newstead: What do you think is often misunderstood about the October Revolution that people should remember today?
Richard Pipes: People should remember that the Cold War and a great deal that happened in the Twentieth century was due to that. And it was all evil. And the only good thing about the Bolsheviks was that they created a regime that could resist the Nazis when they invaded them. And that was one great solid achievement of Bolshevism. Otherwise, I see nothing but evil.
David Newstead: In light of that, do you think Vladimir Lenin’s body should still be on display in Moscow?
Richard Pipes: No, he definitely should be removed.
David Newstead: You’ve also done a great deal of research on Russia under the Tsar. I’m curious what you think Tsar’s legacy is a hundred years after his downfall?
Richard Pipes: It’s ancient history, of course. But the legacy of the Tsars and of all previous Russian governments was that democracy was not good for Russia. And that Russia needs a strong ruler, even if he rules in an autocratic manner. And that is very deeply ensconced in the Russian political culture.
David Newstead: You were in the Reagan administration for a time. Do you feel the Reagan administration offers any lessons on how America should deal with Russia today?
Richard Pipes: No, because the situation is very different. When Reagan was in the White House, the Cold War was on. There’s no Cold War today. I mean, our relations with Russia are not terribly good, because of Putin and the administration. But it is not as dangerous as it was then.
David Newstead: I’m curious if you have any views on the alleged Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election right now?
Richard Pipes: Well, yes. They are participating in it. In my view, the Russians are friendly to a very bad candidate. Trump, if he’s elected, would be a disaster. And Trump is friendly to Putin and Putin is friendly to Trump and that’s not good. I hope that Russia changes its attitude to the rest of the world – that it becomes more cooperative and less hostile. But I am not very optimistic that this will happen.
David Newstead: It seems like Russian politics have been going in a bad direction for some time now…
Richard Pipes: It goes back to authoritarianism and hostility to the rest of the world. I’m afraid it is so. And I hope it will change, but I’m not very optimistic.