Could America have its own version of a Russian Revolution? With Vladimir Putin’s modern-day authoritarian intelligence state inserting itself into the 2016 American presidential election, the question is more timely than you might think. More unsettling — putting aside Russia’s meddling in American affairs — is the argument that such an ideological revolution is already well underway.
A recent essay in The New Criterion by Gary Saul Morson illuminates this chilling thesis. As a professor of (among other weighty subjects) Russian literature and the history of ideas at Northwestern University, Morson is uniquely qualified to comment on the parallels between the two nations that previously represented opposing poles of political philosophy. In his piece titled “The house is on fire!” Morson explains how the Soviet Union’s bloody communist past has great bearing on America’s present and future.
Morson, that perhaps rare, intellectually honest professor at a major American university, surveys communism’s past and reasonably suggests — with its millions of victims from the Soviet Union, China, and Ethiopia — that communism ought to be considered on par with Nazism in terms of its barbarism and our revulsion to it.
Yet curiously, Prof. Morson writes, likely alluding to his peers in the academy,
In intellectual circles … such comparisons taint not Communists, but the person who makes them.
This in spite of the ghoulish revelations from the Soviet archives – from Mitrokhin to Stalin – hiding in plain sight. Morson gives an example:
Our knowledge of Bolshevik horrors expanded dramatically when, after the fall of the Soviet Union, its archives were opened. Jonathan Brent and Yale University Press brought out volume after volume of chilling documents, but public opinion did not noticeably change. How many readers of The New York Times know about its role in covering up the worst of Stalin’s crimes and earning a Pulitzer Prize (still unreturned) for doing so?
I understand being so carried away by Communist ideals that one denies or justifies millions of deaths. What amazes me is that people and publications who have done so still feel entitled to criticize others from a position of moral superiority.
The refusal to acknowledge communism’s history of genocide — and for the “lucky” ones starvation, misery, and the constant need to look over one’s shoulder — in particular among the nation’s progressive elite, has real consequences. As does the inability of said progressives to acknowledge a link between collectivist ideology and its dire consequences. To many such people, it is the intent of the ideas — using the state to “help others” and thus create a utopia — that matters, even if the ends prove cataclysmic.
Look no further than the viability of a Bernie Sanders presidency in the same country that several decades ago had supposedly vanquished communism for the corrosive effect of such an ethos. No, Bernie is not a communist in the sense of being a Bolshevik or Menshevik. But his ideas are based on the same socialist principles underlying those movements, and they are geared toward similarly disastrous ends. His ideological and political differences with the communists of yesteryear are a matter of degree, not kind.
The idea that wealth redistribution is moral, and that the provision of goods and services by the state is a legitimate function have tremendous sway in America.
And the pervasiveness of political correctness powerfully attests to the idea that the roots of communist ideology have insinuated themselves in the American mind, manifesting themselves in every aspect of our culture.
If there is an underlying subtext to Prof. Morson’s piece, that is the harrowing reality.
Consider several of the communist bigwigs that Prof. Morson quotes, and the relevance of their positions to our nation at present:
Delivering a toast on the twentieth anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power, Stalin declared: “We will destroy each and every enemy, even if he was an old Bolshevik; we will destroy all his kin, his family. We will mercilessly destroy anyone who, by his deeds or his thoughts — yes, his thoughts! — threatens the unity of the socialist state. To the complete destruction of all enemies, themselves and their kin!” … Georgy Arbatov, adviser to five general secretaries of the Soviet Communist Party, observed that “the main code of behavior” was “to be afraid of your own thoughts.”
In America we do not destroy political enemies by sending them to the gulag or grave by way of mysterious “accidents,” but we do so in more subtle, nuanced ways: Think of the IRS Scandal, selective enforcement of laws, harassment at the hands of federal agencies, etc.
But thought control — a.k.a., political correctness — is a much more powerful tool. It calls to mind a certain former secretary of state’s comment in front of the Organization of Islamic Conference on “combatting religious intolerance.” Then-Secretary Clinton spoke to a group of Sharia supremacists about the need for Western nations to use “some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming” to counter language offensive to Muslims.
A direct government threat may be happily distant for most Americans, but fear of social ostracism for holding beliefs conflicting with the prevailing progressive orthodoxy is ever-present. Who needs a formal, state-controlled cultural police force when people will self-censor lest they draw the ire of friends and colleagues?
Prof. Morson quotes Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka, a secret police force and precursor to the KGB used to purge (read: assassinate thousands of people) Russia of “enemies of the state” during the so-called Red Terror.
Dzerzhinsky wrote in a journal aptly titled, “Red Terror”:
We are not waging war against individual persons. We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class. During the investigation, do not look for evidence that the accused acted in deed or word against Soviet power. The first questions that you ought to put are: To what class does he belong? What is his origin? What is his education or profession? And it is these questions that ought to determine the fate of the accused.
True, the scale of violence in American class warfare is incomparable to that of the Soviet Union and China — rooted though it may be in the same Marxian philosophy and ethics and geared toward consolidating all manner of power in the hands of the state. Different cultures are different. But Dzerzhinsky’s questions are telling.
From railing against “millionaires and billionaires” of America’s most prominent political figures to the pervasive social justice warrior rhetoric on white privilege and the patriarchy, Dzerzhinsky’s premises are more apparent in American society than anyone might care to admit. And perhaps most stunning of all, we as a nation cannot see it and do not know it. This blindness, ignorance, or combination of both speaks to the effectiveness of a communism that we may have “vanquished” in a conventional sense – the Soviet Union fell, albeit without its murderous leaders ever being put on trial and punished for their crimes – but the ideas of which are powerful as ever.
Prof. Morson quotes Lenin, who said “Morality is entirely subordinated to the class struggle of the proletariat.” The means are what matters. Ends are irrelevant. The struggle is inherently moral. Get on the “right side of history.” This is how you get the Affordable Care Act the effects of which are diametrically opposed to its name.
Prof. Morson quotes Trotsky on the Communist Party:
Comrades, none of us wishes or is able to be right against his Party. The Party in the last analysis is always right, because the Party is the sole historical instrument given the proletariat for the solution of its basic problems … I know that one cannot be right against the party. It is only possible to be right with the Party and through the Party for history has not created other ways for the realization of what is right.
The progressivism that pervades our government, our media, and our schools — as well as the consequence of not adhering to such an ideology — testify to the power of The Party.
Prof. Morson continues:
Is it any wonder that those who reject human rights, treat people in terms of friendly or enemy groups, place no moral limit on action, and are certain that whatever they do is right should wind up committing colossal evil?
Although the Left in America would take issue with the idea that the violation of individual liberty represents a rejection of human rights, does any statement better describe the party of class warfare, Clintonian notions of right and wrong, and all manner of disasters from Obamacare to open borders and suicidal “Countering Violent Extremism”?
Prof. Morson concludes his piece on a sobering but well-taken note:
Perhaps my training as a Russian specialist distorts my judgment, but as I contemplate the ideas spreading from the academy through society, I fear, a century after the Russian Revolution, a tyranny greater than Stalin’s. Comrades, the house is on fire.
Bad ideas have bad consequences. (For more from the author of “Past Is Prologue: America Is More Like Soviet Russia Than You Might Expect” please click HERE)