Fear, Loathing, and Surrealism at Russia

The concept of the Soviet Union from the Western brain is often tinged with images of espionage, long bread lines, poverty, gulags, dissidence, propaganda, and other extreme forms of totalitarianism. While most of them are true, people generally don’t consider such matters on a deeper level. Instead, Western thinking about the Soviet Union was and remains an exercise in uncomplicated dichotomies which comprised no nuance of individual ailments. It is”them,””truth versus lies,””democracy versus Communism.” And on the flip side, there were people who really thought the Soviet Union’s lies.
David Satter’s set of writings about the Soviet Union and Russia, Never talk to Strangers, provides a Essential thickness to the Soviet and Russian experience. Satter arrived at the Soviet Union from 1976 and sent comment on the political situation in 1982, after which he was banned from being in the country. He was allowed to go back in 1990, only to be again forbidden from entering Russia in 2013.
These aren’t typical journalistic posts. Satter is a very intelligent observer of this culture, along with also the reader not only gets a sense of the technical things that plagued Soviet citizens but also an in-depth comprehension of the turmoil it has caused for decades. Practically every piece from the collection either implies or expressly asks philosophical concerns which call on the reader to think profoundly about the idea of ideology as well as the conditions that a totalitarian regime brings. As Satter writes in the Introduction, he”observed four different Russias which were able to differ radically from each other while remaining basically the same.” The key phrase here is”basically,” since the gist of Russia is Satter’s underlying subject, brightly presented with real knowledge and comprehension of the Russian personality and the horrible impact Marxist-Leninist ideology has had on it.
Stalin’s Long Shadow
Much as they would rather forget ,”they continue to exercise absolute power throughout the arrangement he created.” Every aspect of the Soviet country can be connected to Stalin’s actions of terror. He”set his imprint to the Soviet State by effectively amassing all power into his hands after which through mass indiscriminate terror, even putting a stop to diversity Lenin had uttered” Stalin also”both realised Marxist ideology and discarded itand this pattern too is now characteristic of the Soviet State.”
Furthermore, and most importantly,”Stalin’s rule left for governmental passivity, since Soviet citizens came to accept it for given that all significant decisions would be taken without their involvement. Additionally, it left behind an abiding fear of this state machine where the Government freely draws.” What’s intriguing about Satter’s observations and evaluation is that the regime was always shifting. The grasp of totalitarianism still stayed, however time moves centuries shift (even in some small, seemingly trivial way), and so totalitarianism itself started to take a different form in order to suit the self-interest of the so-called leadership. Satter notes that from the post-Stalin Soviet Union,”overseas radio broadcasts” became marginally available;”some formerly banned antiques” became”printed in limited type.” The shift wasn’t supposed to automatically program people,”but simply to make it impossible for the average citizen to form a coherent view of the outside world.”
The initial thrust of Marxism was left since Stalin was more interested in the preservation of his own total power. There appears to be a change at the post-Stalin age which not only ideologically researchers’ rights (one wonders if such a cause really mattered to any leaders) but additionally became strangely idle in catching and punishing dissidents. Being a dissident turned into a way of life for a number of folks, and strangely, the Soviet infantry machine accommodated to it. The Soviet government”strove to keep well known dissidents living. In addition they spaced out the arrests of prominent dissidents, allowing most of them to keep their actions…”
The Daily Grind of Communism
This change is most visible in the lives of Soviet citizens. Satter has performed an invaluable service to historians, philosophers, sociologists, and other thinkers by opting to go under the surface of the Soviet experience. He immersed himself in the culture completely, especially by refining the Russian speech. He notes many other Western correspondents relied upon translators to conduct interviews, but those were always provided by the KGB. Of course, the information that they gave was filled with lies.
Those who survived the labour camps or the mental institutions could not be relieved anymore, emotionally speaking. The panic was goneand the great totalitarian machine ceased to have its effect.Satter comments regarding the deplorable conditions people were living in. Beyond such bodily needs, there was also spiritual penury, which isn’t surprising given the fact that the whole state was proudly based on atheism. However, most Soviet citizens met this religious repression with passive acquiescence. In among this novel’s opening passages, one which shockingly sounds similar to a spy story than an essay, Satter encounters a girl on the train, Masha, that requested Satter if he believed in God.
There’s a kind of”dual consciousness” which Satter identifies from the Russian people, a sense of both helplessness and powerfulness. On the one hand, there’s a fantastic amount of resignation to the events and requirements that surround them. In various ways, the Soviet citizens have internalized the ideology to the purpose of mechanical repetition, and consequently, they are unable to think critically about it, even if they may have minor recognition they’re living in a property regime.
Nevertheless even in the midst of this bare, emotional wasteland, the Soviets made many efforts to live a good life. In among the most curious pieces, Satter clarifies the vacation resort in Sochi within an”unofficial capital of the’Russian Riviera. ”’ Here, engineers, specifically, were allowed to visit spas and revel in the coast but only in a way which has been prescribed by the state. For the most part, the whole mission of this a resort was supposed to give employees a place to break together, mostly without their own families. Thus, even a vacation turned into a act of collectivism, regardless of the look of freedom. The Soviets had convinced themselves for a small bit of safety, it was perfectly fine to accept the fact of collectivism and too little freedom. Soviet citizens were provided with a minimal amount of security and, in return, refused certain basic rights.” Individuality was forfeited because of the propagation of this collective and there was no end in sight.
The Fate of the Dissidents
The same principle of collectivism has been applied when dealing with dissidents. These were not only intellectuals, who turned into political prisoners, but also any laborers who dared to ask concerns regarding working conditions. In a bit from 1978, Satter writes that”that the dissident movement has different components –democratic dissidents, nationalistsand also the religious rights movement, Jews seeking to emigrate–however generally consists of those who have dedicated themselves to working to the creation of political rights as the only means through which their other goals could be effectively realised.”
The dissidents were a”self-selected” class of their own. “They understand their actions will end their careers and may indicate they go to jail .” Satter presents countless stories of particular people, whose fates ended either in death or gradual destruction of existence because of imprisonment.
The gulags were no longer reserved for political offenders, such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In the point of Satter’s time at the Soviet Union, most prisoners in forced labour camps were exactly what the state regarded as offenders: hooligans, twisted alcoholics, and such. This isn’t to say political dissidents were not sent to the forced labour camps, however it looks like the totalitarian devices took a different approach in penalizing intellectual protestors, namely by placing them in mental institutions, providing them an extraordinary number of behavior-modifying drugs, and making sure they had been psychologically broken and entirely mentally subjugated.
However, this could not keep some people from dissident action. Authorities still maintained the people in the perpetual state of dread Stalin had established years before, but people who survived the labour camps or the mental institutions could not be touched anymore, emotionally speaking. The panic was goneand the great totalitarian machine ceased to have its effect.
The End of Ideology?
Even as the regime started to fall, Satter wasn’t observing. Adhering to Francis Fukuyama’s famous essay turned book, The End of History, Satter writes that Fukuyama’s composition”fails to appreciate the thickness of totalitarianism’s challenge to the Western world.” Fukuyama’s monitoring that Marxism-Leninism has come to end,”supposes that the gist of Marxism-Leninism lies within specific political structures as opposed to in its general religious pretensions; however, what is distinctive about totalitarian regimes is the claim to be the source of morality and arbiter of truth.”
The Soviet Union, Satter writes, has been”an unreal world in which there is little link between what [a person ] is being told and that which he understands to be accurate…. What’s obviously black can frequently be referred to as white.” In accordance with Satter, Fukuyama’s theory, as admirable and intellectually sound it might be, wasn’t grounded in real experience. He failed to understand that some form of collectivism will always emerge, and its presence depends upon the willing masses. It is embarrassing to hear since the Soviet citizens were clearly the victims of a terrible regime. However, many were crushed into submission or were just unwilling to proceed past the unreality which has been unfolding before their own eyes. In actuality, many thought the propaganda.
Continuing in his refutation of all Fukuyama, Satter writes that”Totalitarian ideologies, not as liberal notions, exist because a potential before their understanding.” They are”attractive since they claim to provide a way out of this religious tragedy of modernity.” Once totalitarian ideologies require root, it is tricky to kill them off completely. The regime itself might fall (which in the event of the Soviet Union clearly occurred ) but at the moment of collapse,”the majority of the people” remains looking at life through the”prism” of ideology. Just as Stalin set up the frame of dread and dread, therefore later leaders prepare the frame of emotional ideology.
Satter believes that Fukuyama’s essay is important, however, because
It is illustrative of a painful tendency to suppose that the West has won the struggle of ideas–a battle which, in actuality, it never fought. Such premature party distracts attention from the reality that now, as the tragedy of communism deepens, there’s a pressing need to strengthen contact with the inhabitants of communist nations and to foster those transcendent values which give Western culture its moral construction.
The very reason why ideology reigns is a lack of moral foundation.
Theater of the Absurd
Satter repeatedly writes about the lack of”moral arrangement” from the Soviet Union as well as following its collapse, Russia. He superbly shows this absence of universal human values and faith did not just appear out of nowherebut was the consequence of one illusion after another which produced a society entirely predicated on lies. The optimists were studying foreign languages and hoping to emigrate. The pessimists were refusing to do anything, on the reasons that all attempt was moot. The realists were buying Kalashnikovs.”
The Russian mind has been influenced by ideology throughout the decades. Citing Russian satirist Vladimir Voinovich, Satter clarifies that”The tragedy of present-day Russia” lies at the fact that there never was a proper”transition from socialism to capitalism.” The citizens are told that dread and loathing of the West should still be the primary mode of being.
Among the most significant aspects of this novel, and a lesson to Americans, is the amount of surrealism Satter explains. Despite his immediate entrance from the Soviet Union, Satter writes that”ordinary Russians are cut off from outside sources of data and by foreigners, who live, shopwork in particular facilities.” This has been”an amazing world where there is little link between what [a person ] is being told and that which he understands to be accurate. Because of the control above information, what is obviously black can frequently be referred to as white.”
Now, Russian individuals aren’t passive but Satter warns any”expectation for change” depends on Russia’s ability to”establish a tradition of respect for the individual. This, however, cannot be done without confronting the complete facts about the past.” Satter’s prohibit in Russia is surely an illustrative case of what he called the”bureaucratic trickery” of an increasingly authoritarian fist of Vladimir Putin.
As we currently participate in a struggle between appearance and reality, propaganda and truth, and any potential political absurdity, Satter’s book is highly recommended not merely as it is timely, but because it is written by an authentic journalist who is making a strenuous attempt to uncover the facts, both literally and philosophically. We need to pay careful attention to Satter’s astute analysis the Soviet Union’s, and Russia’s, inability to function as a successful condition was the consequence of a moral catastrophe. With no ethical mindset, we all have left is ideology ideology, and one can’t build an authentic life and an authentic state with a lie.