Friday, February 13, 2009

Private Life in Stalin's Russia

The Feb 28, 2009 issue of the New York Review of Books contains a review of The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia by Orlando Figes. It was written by Joseph Frank and entitled “In Stalin’s Trap.”

Except for revisionists who want to convince us that the USSR wasn’t as bad as it has been portrayed, most of us believe that it was a disaster, Hell on Earth, as Professor Kowalski tells us. Figes’s book seems to be a collection of individual accounts of what it was like to live through, or in some cases partially through, Stalin’s Russia. But I want to look at just one section of the review:

Frank writes, “. . . the years 1928-1932 brought ‘The Great Break,’ as Stalin himself called it in an important article announcing the first Five-Year Plan. This was the period when, determined to destroy the grip of the peasants on the Russian economy by controlling the supply of grain, Stalin decided to collectivize the farms so as to bring them under state control. ‘During the first two months of 1930, half the Soviet peasantry (about sixty million people in over 100,000 villages) was herded into the collective farms.’

“Figes describes incident after incident of how this was done by force; the peasants who resisted were labeled ‘kulaks’ (fists) as if they were an objective social-economic category of exploiters themselves. In fact, as Figes writes, ‘the kulaks’ were peasant individualists, the strongest leaders and supports of the old rural way of life. They had to disappear.’ Lev Kowpelev, who ultimately became a dissident and supporter of Solzhenitsyn, took part in forced collectivization in the Ukraine; and he later wrote that while ‘it was excruciating to see and hear [the anguished protests of the peasants],’ he nonetheless felt that ‘we were realizing historical necessity. . . . We were obtaining grain for the socialist fatherland.’

“The result was a widespread famine beginning in the spring of 1932 and continuing through the next year. . . In Figes’s view, ‘the regime [itself] was taken by surprise by the scale of the famine’ and was unable to control its results. One result was a huge wave of emigration from the famine-stricken areas to the cities, and the introduction of a system of internal passports in an attempt to control the movement of the population. Figes also notes the large-scale abandonment of children at this time by famine victims, and the growth of children’s gangs that led to the passing of a new law lowering the age of criminal responsibility to twelve. The famine created thousands of homeless children, who were rounded up and sent to ‘special settlements’ in Siberia or other outlying areas of the country. There they lived under the most primitive conditions and served as a supplementary workforce controlled by the political police.”


It is ironic that many intellectuals in the West were during this period describing Soviet Russia as “the worker’s paradise.” And in a recent look at the Bernardine Dohrn speech at the 2007 SDS reunion ( ), one can hear her “dare to hope” for a better future. She wants a better Socialism. Capitalism has no answers for her, etc. The Radical Leftists who believed in the Communist Dream are still alive and dreaming, but do they have solutions to what they believe is wrong with Capitalism? Dohrn says no, that they will forge the solutions during future struggles. Keeping in mind this dream of getting it right next time, let’s look at how their philosophical father got it. Figes tells us, in effect, that Stalinist Russia was a disaster. Stalin had no solutions either. He too tried to get it right “during the struggle,” but look at what he did. I’ve provided just an example above. It was much worse than that; so why do Leftists like Dohrn hope to get it right next time by doing the same thing Stalin did? They say they won’t do the exact same thing, but they don’t know what they will do. They have no solutions so they will be entering their revolution blindly. They will “dare to hope” that things will turn out all right.

I am amazed at the audacity and overweening self-confidence of such Leftists as Dohrn. She is willing to tear down our Liberal Democracy and “wing it” into the future. She feels that she can figure things out as they move ahead with their revolution and make a better system, create a better society, than our founding fathers did after considerable thought and planning and as we in America have tinkered with for over 250 years.

I’ll grant that Figes was probably right and Constant wrong. I’ll even grant that Dohrn does indeed hope for a “better future.” But these well-meaning revolutionaries did not have and still do not have better ways of doing things. They have no solutions. They have ideals, but when they strive toward them, disaster ensues. And please note that they don’t mind sacrificing human rights for the sake of their ideals. The State become preeminent in their scheme of things – well not “the state” exactly, at least not in their thinking. Perhaps “Socialist process” or “Communist process” would be better approximations. But as they move along, a “Great Man” will mount that process like a bucking steed and ride it as though the “dictatorship of the proletariat” were his personal dictatorship; which in reality it will be.

I’ll admit that it isn’t as exciting to live in a world filled with Nietzsche’s “Last Man,” but we have tried his Superman and most of us don’t like him very much. We saw him not only in Hitler but in Stalin; they were indeed powerful, even supernatural beings, who were not afraid to create a future according to their personal dreams, the very process Dohrn advocates, if not the precise results. Since none of our Leftists have a “solution,” and since we have witnessed “Great Men,” “Supermen” winging it into the future, do we really want to trust our nations to such a process again? Isn’t it better to make do with our Liberal Democracies? What is in your Liberal Democracy, Bernardine, that makes it impossible for you to fulfill your dream? Oh, yes, I know. Your dream won’t be fulfilled unless you take over my Liberal Democracy and demolish my dream of being left alone.


Lawrence Helm said...

The following comment to the subject post is from Professor Ludwik Kowalski:

Those who design and build better airplanes are expected to first learn (directly or indirectly) from experience of predecessors. Why should the same not be expected from those who want to build better social systems? Is this because social engineering is less complicated than aeronautic or electric engineering? I do not think so. By the way, a failure in an airplane usually results in less than several hundred victims. How does this compare with the number of victims of Stalinism or Maoism?

Best regards,


Anonymous said...


I would like to share with you the following material.

Terrible things in America have been deliberately ascribed to Socialism.


“California passed a law regulation equal treatment of sexual orientations in schools that eliminates gender distinctions entirely. You cannot refer to mother or father or biologically being born male or female. Under this law various titles such as Prom King and Prom Queen must be available for either gender. Students can also choose to use the restroom of whichever gender they identify with, not the gender that they are. The schools can no longer teach sex education without teaching about homosexuality, bi-sexuality and sex change operations. Finally, if you are a parent in California, you better be careful what you teach your children. If you are caught instructing you children that homosexuality if wrong, sinful, abnormal or unacceptable, you can now be charged with a criminal offense.”

“Governmental control and regulation of our lives, choices and beliefs at this level are absolutely unacceptable. What will be next? What freedoms must we surrender in the name of political correctness, environmentalism, toleration, appeasement or for the good of the State?”

End of quotation.


Michael Kuznetsov’s comment:

All this sounds terrible!
But what connection might it have to SOCIALISM?
None in the least!

I was born 59 years ago in the USSR - a socialist country, as you know - and I have lived all of my lifetime here. We Russians have never even heard about such abomination as gay parades, and other vomiting things of the kind. Since the Stalin's era, of course, we have been taught that homosexuality is wrong, sinful, abnormal and absolutely unacceptable.

So, you should not confuse real socialism with the present-date liberal leftist trend in the West which is Trotskyite in its core.