The revolutionary theorist Shigalyov in Fyodor Dostoevksy’s novel Demons sums up the progress of his thought: “Starting with unlimited freedom, I conclude with unlimited despotism.”
This celebrated sentence has long been read as Dostoevsky’s prognosis of the terrorism that plagued Russia in the late 19th century. Aiming to achieve an unprecedented freedom, small groups of revolutionaries denied freedom and life itself to their own members.
The same transformation occurred on a vast scale when terror was practised by a revolutionary state. Understood as a critique of communism, the formula Dostoevsky put into his character’s mouth was prophetic. Wherever the communist project has been attempted, the result has been the same: an eclipse of freedom more complete than any that existed in the tyrannies the revolutionaries overthrew.