Fear, Loathing, and Surrealism in Russia

The concept of the Soviet Union in the Western head is frequently tinged with images of espionage, long bread lines, poverty, gulags, dissidence, propaganda, and other extreme forms of totalitarianism. While most of these are true, people generally do not consider these issues on a deeper level. Instead, Western thinking about the Soviet Union had been and remains an exercise in uncomplicated dichotomies that included no nuance of human conditions. It is”them””truth versus lies,””democracy versus Communism.” And on the flip side, there were people who actually thought the Soviet Union’s lies.

David Satter’s set of writings about the Soviet Union and Russia, Never Speak to Strangers, provides a Essential thickness to the Soviet and Russian experience. Satter arrived in the Soviet Union from 1976 and delivered comment on the political situation till 1982, after that he was banned from being in the nation. He was allowed to go back in 1990, only to be forbidden by entering Russia in 2013.

These are not typical journalistic articles. Satter is a really intelligent observer of the culture, and the reader not only gets a sense of the technical matters that plagued Soviet citizens but in addition an in-depth comprehension of the turmoil it has caused for decades. Practically every piece from the collection either suggests or intentionally asks philosophical concerns that call on the reader to think profoundly about the idea of ideology and the conditions a totalitarian regime attracts. Since Satter writes in the Introductionthat he”detected four unique Russias which managed to differ radically from each other while remaining essentially the same” The key thing here is”essentially,” because the gist of Russia is Satter’s underlying subject, brilliantly presented with real knowledge and comprehension of the Russian character and the horrific impact Marxist-Leninist ideology has had on it.

Stalin’s Long Shadow

Much as they’d rather forget ,”they continue to exercise absolute power throughout the structure he created.” Every element of the late Soviet country can be linked to Stalin’s acts of terror. He also”put his imprint on the Soviet Condition by effectively gathering all power into his hands and then, through mass indiscriminate terror, putting a stop to diversity Lenin had uttered” Stalin also”both realised Marxist ideology and discarded it, and this pattern also is now feature of the Soviet Union”

Additionally, and most importantly,”Stalin’s rule left for political passivity, because Soviet citizens came to accept it for given that all significant decisions would be taken without their participation. It also left an abiding fear of the state machine where the current Government publicly brings.” What’s intriguing about Satter’s observations and evaluation is that the program was constantly shifting. The clasp of totalitarianism still remained, however time moves , and generations shift (even in some small, seemingly trivial way), and so totalitarianism itself started to take another form so as to match the self-interest of their so-called leadership. Satter notes in the post-Stalin Soviet Union,”overseas radio broadcasts” became somewhat accessible;”some previously banned antiques” became”printed in limited kind.” The shift was not supposed to mechanically program people,”but simply to ensure it is impossible for the ordinary citizen to form a coherent perspective of the external world”

The first thrust of Marxism was abandoned because Stalin was interested in the preservation of his own total power. There seems to be a change in the post-Stalin age that not only ideologically negated workers’ rights (one wonders if such a cause actually mattered to any leaders) but additionally became strangely lazy in catching and punishing dissidents. Being a dissident turned into a means of life for some folks, and curiously, the Soviet infantry machine adapted to it. The Soviet government”tried to keep well known dissidents alive. In addition they spaced the arrests of prominent dissidents, allowing many of them to keep their activities…”

This change is most visible in the everyday lives of Soviet citizens. Satter has performed an invaluable service to historians, philosophers, sociologists, along with other members by deciding to go under the surface of the Soviet experience. He immersed himself in the culture completely, notably by refining the Russian speech. He notes many other Western correspondents relied upon translators to conduct interviews, but those were always supplied by the KGB. Naturally, the information that they gave was full of lies.

Individuals who survived the labor camps or the mental institutions couldn’t be touched anymore, psychologically speaking. The panic was gone, and the excellent totalitarian machine ceased to possess its effect.Satter remarks on the deplorable conditions people were living in. Beyond these physical wants, there was likewise spiritual penury, which isn’t surprising given the fact that the whole nation was based on atheism. But most Soviet citizens fulfilled this religious repression with passive acquiescence. In among the book’s introduction passages, one that shockingly seems similar to a spy narrative than an essay, Satter experiences a woman on the train, Masha, that asked Satter if he believed in God. After he answered affirmatively, Masha,”puzzled,” clearly stated,”Here, nobody believes in God.”

There’s a kind of”double consciousness” that Satter identifies from the Russian people, a sense of both helplessness and powerfulness. On the 1 hand, there’s a terrific degree of resignation into the events and conditions that surround them. In various ways, the Soviet citizens have internalized the ideology to the purpose of mechanical replica, and consequently, they are unable to think critically about it, even though they’ve slight recognition they’re living in a property regime.

Nevertheless even in the middle of this bare, emotional wasteland, the Soviets made several efforts to live a fantastic life. ”’ Here, engineers, in particular, were allowed to visit spas and revel in the shore but only in a means that was prescribed by the nation. For the large part, the whole mission of such a hotel was supposed to give employees a place to break collectively, largely without their own families. Therefore, even a holiday turned into the act of collectivism, despite the look of liberty. The Soviets had convinced themselves for a very small bit of safety, it was perfectly fine to accept the reality of collectivism and too little freedom. Soviet citizens were supplied with a minimal degree of security and, consequently, refused certain basic rights” Individuality was forfeited for the propagation of the collective and also there was no ending in sight.

The Fate of the Dissidents

The same principle of collectivism was implemented when dealing with dissidents. These weren’t only intellectuals, who turned into political offenders, but in addition any laborers who dared to ask concerns about working conditions. In a bit from 1978, Satter writes that”that the dissident movement has various components –democratic dissidents, nationalists, the religious rights movement, Jews seeking to emigrate–however generally includes those who have dedicated themselves to working to the production of reliable political rights as the sole means through which their other aims might be effectively realised.”

“They know their activities will end their careers and might indicate they go to prison” Satter presents innumerable stories of specific people, whose fates stopped either in passing or gradual destruction of existence because of imprisonment.

The gulags were no longer reserved for political offenders, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In the stage of Satter’s time in the Soviet Union, most prisoners in forced labor camps were what the state regarded as criminals: hooligans, twisted alcoholics, and the like. This isn’t to state that political dissidents weren’t sent to the forced labor camps, however, it appears that the totalitarian apparatus took another approach in punishing intellectual protestors, particularly by placing them in mental institutions, providing them an unbelievable quantity of behavior-modifying drugs, and making sure they were psychologically broken and completely mentally subjugated.

But even this couldn’t keep some people away from dissident activity. Authorities still kept the people in the endless state of dread Stalin had created years earlier, but people who survived the labor camps or the mental institutions couldn’t be touched anymore, psychologically speaking. The panic was gone, and the excellent totalitarian machine ceased to have its impact.

Even as the regime started to collapse, Satter was not celebrating. Reacting to Francis Fukuyama’s famous post turned book, The End of History, Satter writes that Fukuyama’s composition”fails to appreciate the thickness of totalitarianism’s struggle to the Western world” Fukuyama’s observation that Marxism-Leninism has begun to end,”assumes that the gist of Marxism-Leninism lies in specific political structures instead of in its overall spiritual pretensions; however, what’s unique about totalitarian regimes is the promise to be the origin of morality and arbiter of truth.”

Even the Soviet Union, Satter writes, was”an unreal world where there is little link between what [a man] is being told and what he knows to be true…. What’s black can often be referred to as white” In accordance with Satter, Fukuyama’s theory, as commendable and intellectually sound it can be, was not grounded in real experience. He failed to know that some kind of collectivism will constantly emerge, and its presence is dependent upon the educated masses. This is uncomfortable to hear because the Soviet citizens were clearly the victims of a horrible regime. However, many were crushed into submission or were simply unwilling to proceed past the unreality that was unfolding before their eyes. In actuality, many thought the propaganda.

Founded in his refutation of Fukuyama, Satter writes that”Totalitarian ideologies, not as liberal thoughts, exist as a potential before their realization.” They’re”attractive because they claim to provide you a means from the spiritual tragedy of modernity.” Once totalitarian ideologies require root, it is hard to kill them off completely. The regime itself might collapse (that in the event of the Soviet Union clearly happened) but even at the moment of collapse,”the majority of the people” is still considering life itself through the”prism” of ideology. As Stalin set up the frame of anxiety and dread, so later leaders prepare the frame of ideology.

Satter believes that Fukuyama’s essay is important, however, in that

It’s illustrative of a worrisome tendency to suppose that the West has won the struggle of ideas–a conflict that, in actuality, it never fought. Such ancient party distracts attention from the reality that now, as the tragedy of communism deepens, there’s a urgent need to strengthen contact with the populations of communist countries and to foster those transcendent values that give Western culture its moral structure.

The very reason ideology reigns is a scarcity of ethical foundation.

Satter repeatedly writes about the lack of”moral structure” from the Soviet Union and, even following its collapse, Russia. He superbly shows this lack of universal human principles and rights didn’t just appear from nowhere, but had been the result of one illusion after another that made a society entirely predicated on lies. It is not surprising that Russia post-USSR is a nation lost and mired in corruption and organized crime. The optimists were studying foreign languages and hoping to emigrate. The pessimists were refusing to perform anything, on the grounds that effort was moot. The realists were purchasing Kalashnikovs.”

The Russian head has been influenced by ideology throughout the years. The citizens are told that fear and loathing of the West should nevertheless be the primary mode of being.

One of the most essential facets of this book, and a lesson to Americans, is the level of surrealism Satter explains. Despite his immediate arrival from the Soviet Union, Satter writes that”normal Russians are cut away from external sources of information and out of foreigners, who live, shop, and work in particular facilities” This was”an unreal world where there is little link between what [a man] is being told and what he knows to be true. Because of the control above information, what’s black can often be referred to as white”

Today, Russian individuals are not passive but Satter warns any”hope for change” is determined by Russia’s ability to”establish a tradition of respect for the person. This, however, cannot be achieved without facing the complete facts about the past” Satter’s prohibit in Russia is definitely an illustrative case of what he called the”bureaucratic trickery” of a authoritarian warrior of Vladimir Putin.

As we currently engage in a struggle between reality and appearance, 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 through an authentic journalist who is making a strenuous attempt to discover the facts, both literally and philosophically. We ought to pay careful attention to Satter’s astute analysis the Soviet Union’s, and Russia’s, inability to be a productive condition was the consequence of a moral crisis. Without the ethical mindset, all we have left is totalitarian ideology, and you cannot construct an real life and a true country on a lie.