Russia Then and Now
The woeful incompetence of Putin's Russia to run the Olympic Games is grim proof of the soul-destroying properties of those vile secular totalitarianisms which have infested much of the world in the last hundred years. The deliberate rewriting of history -- an ongoing and Orwellian conveyor belt of mendacity -- masks one of the true lessons of recorded humanity: "He who controls the past controls the future."
Few areas of forgotten history are as vital to understanding the world today as the remarkable success of tsarist Russia and the utter destruction of Russian greatness through the malignancy of Marxism in action. In 1914, one century ago, the Russian economy was the most dynamic in the world. Industrial production in Russia was growing faster than in America or Germany or Japan. Russia also produced more agricultural and mineral wealth than any nation in the world.
Russia was a center of science and technology. The best railroad locomotives and the best bicycles were made in Russia. Behavioral psychology and chemistry, cosmology, and other scientific frontiers were paved by Russian genius. Literature has had three great periods -- ancient Athens, Elizabethan England, and tsarist Russia. Tolstoy, Turgenev, Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, and Chekov were equal to any writers in history. Russian classical music also rose to high peaks under the tsars.
The carefully cultivated myth of backward and dull Russia prior to Lenin was needed to rationalize the almost unimaginable horrors of Bolshevism in practice. But even in the area of political and civil rights, tsarist Russia was much better than its Bolshevik successor. The accused in the law courts of the tsars had the right to free legal counsel, and juries often acquitted those whom the tsars might have wished to be found guilty.
Russia had a freely elected national legislature, the Duma, and its members openly criticized the tsar's government, even in the middle of the First World War, showing more freedom of speech than Americans had at the same time, during Wilson's vicious persecution of those who thought the war was wrong. It sometimes surprises people to learn that the Duma had many competing political parties, some of which were unabashedly revolutionary. Russia had newspapers, magazines, and books that were in many respects freer than nations in the rest of Europe.
Communist Russia was worse than tsarist Russia in every way. Communist Russia, despite routinely turning out hundreds of thousands more scientists and engineers than America, fell hopelessly behind. The breadbasket of the world needed regular and large purchases of grain from "capitalist" nations just to feed its people. In stark contrast to the exceptionally high quality of Russian locomotives and bicycles, Communist Russia produced horrid motorcars and dangerous airliners.
Just as ghastly has been the extermination of art from Russian culture. No great writer except for Solzhenitsyn has grown up into manhood within Communist Russia. The single area of Communist Russian adequacy in arts has been in performing the creations of others, as through ballet or orchestral music. The lamp of creative artistic genius is extinguished.
Communism was effective only in one aspect of national life: it was a diabolically pernicious and permanent toxin of the Russian soul. Communism is, in essence, the utter submergence of the human mind and soul into the abyss of mendacity. When Orwell wrote 1984, he was writing about Communist Russia. His masterpiece was such a stark and clear description of the soul-destroying horrors of Communist Russia that those privileged party members allowed to read 1984 quietly asked visitors from the West when Orwell had been in their home country. ("Never" was the answer.)
The poison of this first modern totalitarianism has been so lethal that even two decades after the reign of the Communist Party ended, Russia still languishes in state-sponsored corruption, bullying, lying, and stealing. While the world watches and national pride is on the line, the Russian nation cannot run something as ordinary as decent accommodations for Olympic athletes.
It ought to be a warning to the rest of the world -- and particularly to America, which has a president marinated in Marxism and committed to statist solutions at every turn. We are a sunny people, much given to optimism even when clouds darken the sky. What Russia then and now tells us, however, is that those values precious to the heart and soul of liberty and faith, once lost, may be lost forever.