Soviet Tyranny Warmed Over Is Still Tyranny
A colleague recommended I read Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, a long and deep look into the abyss of Soviet communist oppression in the first half of the 20th century. In her opinion, "everyone should read this book." I must agree — the world would probably be a better place if the book was required reading in universities, especially in the West. It should also be taught in high schools, at least in excerpts. Sadly, in the age of the tweet, Solzhenitsyn's 700-odd agonized pages are probably doomed to general neglect. More's the pity.
Mark Twain said long ago: "The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes." The Gulag Archipelago, though intended by its author as a forlorn memoir to the hundreds he saw ground up by the Soviet state, is also the most powerful of warnings. Communism is still with us. Its central themes have never been extinguished. Its salespeople are still out on the street. The seductive lies of dead ideologues have never lost their power to persuade. They have changed a little, adapted to new cultures, new eras, and new technologies — but in the end, the Devil's siren song still rhymes.
One hardly knows where to begin. Let's start with the political usefulness of the common criminals — people Solzhenitsyn summarizes as "thieves." In Soviet prisons and labor camps, the truly antisocial elements were made the jailers of the rest. They could torture, rape, and sometimes kill their fellow prisoners with near impunity. "Thieves" were officially designated as a victim group, a people wronged by capitalist oppression. They were not to blame for their own actions. They were, in the terminology of communism, "socially friendly elements." The people whom the state didn't like, on the other hand, the people who had lingering ideas of individual rights and freedoms, or who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, were the peoples' enemies — the socially undesirable.
This exaltation of the criminal classes was not merely a feature of the penal system, but permeated the judicial system as well. Sentences for property crimes and violent crimes tended to be light. When ideology dictates that bad is good and good is bad, the results are predictable. Crime, fear, and suffering flourish.
When we see the knee-jerk movement to "end mass incarceration," to "abolish the police," and then watch as the mob terrorizes and loots city after city — we can only assume that the current revolution is progressing nicely. The left has begun to release the pent up power it has long been nurturing in our prisons, leavening it with a hefty dose of race-hatred to increase its ferocity and garnishing it with a dollop of class envy for the sake of old-time Marxist nostalgia. You cannot say the Marxist narrative hasn't kept up with the times, but the core doctrine remains unaltered: thou shalt terrify and cow the populace with such sociopathic operatives as come to hand. Nor is such doctrine in any way unique to Soviet communism. Other socialists have played variations of this tune. The Fascists had their black shirts and the Nazis had their brown shirts in the early stages of their development. We now have BLM. A thug is a thug is a thug. His color is irrelevant. By any other name, a fist is a fist, and a burning bottle of gasoline smells as sweet.
The Russians had their Chekists — their secret police in black leather coats. We now have their embryonic equivalents — the jumped up little upper-class brats of Antifa, somewhere on the evolutionary spectrum between Maoist Red Guards and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. No, they're not official government agents yet — but they are, in many cases, the children of the political class. Imagine what they will do when they grow up and sign on with DHS and the FBI. Just wait until they have badges, Glocks, and Gucci leather coats. The only thing between these monsters and self-righteous murders are the normal police they are trying to abolish and the courts that are already afraid of them.
No, nothing is very new on the left end of the political spectrum. Only the decorative details have changed for this new season. Only the fixation on the black criminal element — as though they were the rightful representative of the black population as a whole. Only the creation of new groups of victims popped out of newly invented gender identities like so many rabbits out of so many flamboyant little hats. It is only the names of the nobly indignant victims that have changed — from proletarians and peasants to people of color and transsexuals. It is only the names of their oppressors that have been revised — from capitalists, kulaks, and Christians to capitalists, conservatives, and Christians. Such alliteration isn't rhyme — but it does come close.
Do I exaggerate? True, we don't have any Gulags full of political undesirables in America at this time. Perhaps we never will. Perhaps technology has made such primitive methods quite unnecessary. Maybe people will simply be cut off from their banks, their jobs, and all other connections to society and left to starve on the streets. Maybe it will happen algorithmically, when one's social credit score falls a little too low. Maybe we won't be starved in labor camps — but neatly deleted from existence by Google. My point is not that there will inevitably be a Soviet-style penal system, but that we now have an abundance of people who want to establish some kind of system that will accomplish the same ends. Those ends are the destruction of freedom, security, and ultimately people.
Although we do not have proper Gulags yet, we do have a few political prisoners in all but name. Remember Nakoula Basseley Nakoula — the filmmaker scapegoated for inciting the Benghazi attacks? There was a person imprisoned for no better reason than to create an expedient narrative for Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration. Remember Roger Stone? An aging gadfly arrested by a large and heavily armed contingent of federal agents — while CNN filmed? Do you imagine that the arrest and its coverage were intended for any other purpose than sending a message to potential allies of Donald Trump? Was Stone a menace to public safety that required that much force? I see that Rudy Giuliani is on the hook now. We become accustomed to such political retributions at our peril.
Another interesting feature of the Soviet system was that the Gulags pretty quickly started eating their creators. The Bolsheviks who ran the revolution were, for the most part, rounded up and consumed by it. Ideologies that deny the value of individuals spare no one. Here, too, we see the beginnings of a modern parallel. Is it possible to be woke enough? If the standard of unpardonable injustice is a single word written or spoken out of line at any point in one's past, then all will be consumed eventually. An ideology that embraces denunciation as a sacred rite unleashes a mechanism of destruction with a life of its own. Today's leftists have begun to cannibalize one another even before defeating all of us.
In short, the grandest and most chilling similarity between Solzhenitsyn's Soviet Union and today's America is this: the needs of the political narrative reign supreme. Facts have been dethroned. In our old republic, policies were usually the result of compromises. They balanced, however imperfectly, the natural interests of a competing real persons. In a totalitarian state, the collective populace is simply forced into the mold required by the needs of the ideology itself. The idea justifies both means and ends. What happens to the individual matters — and in fact is worth mentioning — only if it happens to advance the progress of the narrative. Truth, as the postmodernists have openly told us, is what authorities say it is. In such a world, you and I are nothing at all.
Image: Martin Vorel via Libreshot.
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