Townie’s recent post on Russia is the starting point for this post. To our younger readers, Townie’s post concisely expresses the image of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) fostered by history, with a little help from the Komitet Gosudarstvennoj Bezopasnosti (Committee for State Security or KGB) and its allies in the West. The great American statesmen of the 1930s-70s bought into it completely. The image takes two aspects of Russians‘ cultural psychology to form the leitmotif of a Superman that could never be defeated.
The Soviet Superman’s first aspect was his hopelessness. Winters are long, incredibly hard, and beets for borscht are a fabulous luxury. He drinks to console himself and cope with his lot in life. The other aspect is the sheer orneriness of a man who Wills to Survive – Nietzsche’s Superman who will overcome every oppression and rest only in the sunlight and glory, and on the bodies of his dead enemies. He drinks to constrain himself in his thirst for Social Justice everywhere.
The Russian takes as totems the bear and the wolf. Ravenous in spring and fall, cunning, powerful and cooperative in felling prey. That’s a very powerful image, and the ordinary Westerner is cautioned against rolling up a newspaper and smacking the Russian Wolf on the nose. Play dead, and the Russian Bear will ignore you.
What is missing? Nietzsche is the clue:
The USSR was less a union a socialists than it was a union of contradictions that systemically and pathologically battled hope through the promotion of utter depravity and vices dressed as virtues. All men were free, and freely spied upon and were spied upon by their wives, children, parents and neighbors. It was a form of playing dead: report a neighbor to the KGB, who would snatch up the offender in the middle of the night (less resistance that way), and you were safe.
Women enjoyed complete equality. Except in positions of leadership in politics, business, sports, culture, and the home. Same went for citizens who did not have Russian DNA. The economy was an enormous contradiction: everyone had guaranteed income (even the prisoners whose income was a bullet behind the ear. One penny of lead is better than nothing, right?), but the contrast in wealth and lifestyle between the party elite, it’s bureaucracy, and the rest of the Russians would take your breath away. Russians drank because drunk, they weren’t a danger to the Established Order. The problem became the USSR was just a twitching corpse and its leadership had no means of reanimating it.
In 1985, the septuagenarians of the Central Committee (the leaders of the USSR) elected a very young leader named Mikhail Gorbachev who prosecuted a vigorous campaign against alcoholism. It didn’t work as he intended. Without the deadening effects of alcohol, Russians had to face reality. Gorbachev also brought in members of his own generation – the previous leaders had all been born prior to the 1917 revolution. Gorbachev’s clique had been born after, and raised fully in the contradictions and hopelessness of the USSR. They embarked on campaigns of being open and transparent (to a degree) and relatively honest. The peoples of the USSR began to feel hope. They did not turn their backs on hope this time.
One aspect of communism in the USSR was the suppression of the pursuit of hope (and happiness) through an official policy of atheism. To help with the suppression, the Central Committee formed the “League of Militant Atheists.” You will recognize them today in your own hometown. There were a number of reasons for this given the structural issues of a state-sponsored church, like America’s church of Man-made Global Warming, but the main reason for the Communists was religion other than atheism promoted the worldview of liberty – of each person having free will and capable and responsible for their actions and inactions.
The Soviets promoted victimhood among its peoples in order to separate them from religion. The Soviets divided its peoples and sponsored divisions through exploitation of ethnic animus. Churches were closed, and the personnel and administrative structure of the churches were destroyed. And then Hitler invaded and Stalin needed to foster hope for victory. He reopened churches and got people to attend and victory followed soon after. And then Khrushchev and his successors embarked once again on campaigns to erase hope.
That’s the environment Gorbachev inherited in 1985. A child born in 1984, no matter how talented, ruthless or lucky had zero hope of achieving anything more than stifling poverty, fear, and service to the party’s elite. Gorbachev’s reforms sought eliminate the contradictions and bring about the Soviet Man of myth and propaganda.
Vladimir Putin blames Gorbachev’s reforms for Russia’s current condition. Putin has in large part taken the most effective means of power: coercion through fear to gain and maintain his hold on power. Putin’s vision is a practical one: he fears the mob just as he instill fear in the mob. Check.
But not checkmate. If America wants to establish a culture of liberty, and of the exercise of free will in Russia and de-escalate from the games of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), we can not return to the 1970s now matter how much it makes Obama and Hillary look good. America’s policy should be something it can never do for itself: provide the mechanisms for instilling hope and educating people in liberty and free will. It isn’t a return of Reagan. It isn’t soldiers, diplomats or businessmen. They don’t have what it takes. Townie, the Professor, LtCol P and Bullnav and I are among millions who stood up and kept the Soviets on guard, but we didn’t defeat the Soviets. We could not by thinking in the old way of carrots and sticks. And the old ways of viewing the Russians don’t work. New thought with antique methods are called for.
Send in the Nuns.