Vasily Grossman was a war correspondent in the Soviet Union during World War II. After the war he became a novelist, and Life and Fate, about life in the Soviet Union during the Battle of Stalingrad, is considered his masterpiece. Written in 1960, the novel was suppressed by the KBG and not published until after a manuscript was smuggled to the West in the 70’s.
Last night I finished watching the 12-part TV series adopted from Life and Fate (Amazon Prime; Russian with English subtitles). As you might expect, life in Soviet Union under Stalin was a dystopian nightmare where political persecution was so commonplace that various slang terms developed around it. For example, one character warns another “Don’t you know you could get a ‘tenner’ [ten years in the gulag] for telling that joke?”
It is easy enough to imagine how fortunate we are not to live in such a time and place. But as I watched the show, it dawned on me that such optimism may not be entirely warranted. There are disturbing parallels between life under Stalin and life under “progressive” ideology today, and maybe we are in the incipient stages of a revolution that will push us every closer to Uncle Joe’s way of doing things.
Two examples will suffice to demonstrate my point. Cancel culture is Soviet-style denunciation writ small. Nuclear physicist Viktor Shtrum is the main character in the series. Viktor protests when his superiors fire a secretary in his office because she is Jewish. Despite his brilliant scientific work, his colleagues denounce him as an enemy of the state, and put him on the road to losing his livelihood, exactly like a victim of cancel culture today.
The other example is the elevation of ideology over reality. Shtrum’s breakthrough paper in physics is nearly suppressed when one of his superiors concludes the work is not compatible with Leninist materialism. Today it is a commonplace for so-called intellectuals to publish scholarly articles describing science and mathematics as white western colonial patriarchal hetero-normative social constructs. But what does the race, gender, etc. of a scientist or mathematician have to do with whether their work gets us closer to the truth about the universe? Absolutely nothing of course, in exactly the same way the merits of a physics paper is in no way connected with whether is comports with Leninist philosophy. But to apparatchiks in the Soviet Union then and to progressive academics now, the leftist philosophy comes first and the truth comes later (if at all).
Yesterday I read that Gallup just released a poll that shows that church membership in the US has fallen below 50%. Religious observers are now a minority in this country for the first time since Gallup began tracking in the 30s. The pace of the slide is astonishing. Membership dropped 20 points in only 20 years. This put me in mind of another great Russian novelist, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who wrote:
“Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”
I am disturbed by the spiritual, intellectual and political climate in this country. We have not yet forgotten God, but it seems clear that we are in the process of forgetting. And the more we forget the worse things become. How else can we explain why Cardi B, the singer of one of the most obscene pop songs ever released, is not roundly denounced but instead given the “Woman of the Year” award? How else can we explain the utter corruption of the corporate media, which looks more and more like the American version of Pravda every day? I could go on and on but I won’t. Anyone with eyes to see must know there is very good reason for angst. We have been sliding for some time, and the pace of the slide is accelerating.
If we don’t reverse the slide where will it end? Force. That is where it will end. We are closer and closer to realizing Orwell’s prediction: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever. ” Orwell wrote this fearing that communist rule would come to the West. Thankfully, we summoned the current to resist (over the vigorous opposition of many on the left) and avoided that fate and obtained a reprieve from totalitarianism that has lasted more than half a century. But as Reagan famously said, freedom is never more than one generation from extinction.
Recently, a friend of mine whom I’ve known for over 40 years posted on Facebook that the government should FORCE (her caps) everyone to get a COVID shot. On the left the impulse for the exercise of raw power is growing stronger with each passing day. I have gone beyond vague unease. I am afraid.