No Minister

The Struggle Sessions – A Soviet Perspective

In the middle of the great tumult of the Woke brigades of the USA, one magazine – The Tablet – had an interesting, disturbing take on them.

The article, The American Soviet Mentality, was written by Izabella Tabarovsky, who grew up in Russia and who specialises in Soviet history.

She begins the article by describing the collective demonisations of Boris Pasternak (his most famous work is Doctor Zhivago) following his being awarded the Nobel Prize in literature:

Within days, Pasternak was a target of a massive public vilification campaign. The country’s prestigious Literary Newspaper launched the assault with an article titled “Unanimous Condemnation” and an official statement by the Soviet Writers’ Union…

…A few days later, the paper dedicated an entire page to what it presented as the public outcry over Pasternak’s imputed treachery. Collected under the massive headline “Anger and Indignation: Soviet people condemn the actions of B. Pasternak” were a condemnatory editorial, a denunciation by a group of influential Moscow writers, and outraged letters that the paper claimed to have received from readers.

She goes into detail about all the aspects of this, including attacks on others like composers Dmitry Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev; writers Anna Akhmatova and Iosif Brodsky; and others, pointing out that the hounding could go on for years and destroyed people’s lives, health and ability to create.

Of course it all sounds awfully similar to the recent Twitter rage mob attacks on writers, reporters and editors described by Taibbi, Sullivan and others. Tabarovsky looks at those as well, but while she compares this situation to the USSR she also makes the point about the ordinary people involved:

But while the policy in the USSR was by and large set by the authorities, it would be too simplistic to imagine that those below had no choices, and didn’t often join in these rituals gladly, whether to obtain some real or imagined benefit for themselves, or to salve internal psychic wounds, or to take pleasure in the exercise of cruelty toward a person who had been declared to be a legitimate target of the collective...

The mobs that perform the unanimous condemnation rituals of today do not follow orders from above. But that does not diminish their power to exert pressure on those under their influence...

Sergei Dovlatov, a dissident Soviet writer who emigrated to the United States in 1979 [said]: “We continuously curse Comrade Stalin, and, naturally, with good reason. And yet I want to ask: who wrote four million denunciations?” It wasn’t the fearsome heads of Soviet secret police who did that, he said.

As a former Soviet herself she understands the mentality that drives these people, even as it threatens them too with ever greater and more precise demands for loyalty to the kollektiv:

Those of us who came out of the collectivist Soviet culture understand these dynamics instinctively. You invoked the “didn’t read, but disapprove” mantra not only to protect yourself from suspicions about your reading choices but also to communicate an eagerness to be part of the kollektiv—no matter what destructive action was next on the kollektiv’s agenda. You preemptively surrendered your personal agency in order to be in unison with the group.

…  How much of your own autonomy as a thinking, feeling person are you willing to sacrifice to the collective? What inner compromises are you willing to make for the sake of being part of the group? Which personal relationships are you willing to give up?

A point also made by Princeton professor Robert George in The Superior Humans of Today. Tabarovsky finishes on a note that I find very depressing as she writes of her adopted home and expresses a grim feeling:

Those who remember the Soviet system understand the danger of letting the practice of collective denunciation run amok. But you don’t have to imagine an American Stalin in the White House to see where first the toleration, then the normalization, and now the legitimization and rewarding of this ugly practice is taking us.

… I used to feel grateful that we had left the USSR before Soviet life had put me to that test. How strange and devastating to realize that these moral tests are now before us again in America.

From my vantage point, this cultural moment in these United States feels incredibly precarious.

So say we all.

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. And your point is?

    Quidam

    September 18, 2020 at 9:11 am

  2. Thank you for another thoughtfully composed post, Tom.

    uncoffined

    September 18, 2020 at 9:48 am

  3. You must have missed the “So what?” signalled in the introduction. Here, I’ll repeat it for you:

    In the middle of the great tumult of the Woke brigades of the USA, one magazine…had an interesting, disturbing take on them…

    You’re welcome.

    Kimbo

    September 18, 2020 at 11:11 am

    • @ Quidam

      Kimbo

      September 18, 2020 at 11:24 am

    • It’s okay Kimbo, I ignored that stupid comment from “Quidam” because it was obvious he had nothing to contribute to the debate. Basically unless he’s allowed to unload the latest TDS vomit he has nothing to say, and certainly not on this subject.

      Tom Hunter

      September 18, 2020 at 12:05 pm


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: