In the early 2000s, I had the opportunity to interview survivors of the Stalinist repressions in St Petersburg. There was a tremendous sense of urgency at that time among historical organisations in Russia inasmuch as the political and social glasnost needed for people to speak about that time was coinciding with the gradual loss of the generation with first-hand memories of the Great Terror.
According to the more conservative estimates, two-thirds of a million Soviet citizens were slaughtered during 1937-38 during the Great Terror alone, with many more dying in the Gulags, Holodomor, and the various other atrocities committed under Joseph Stalin. The Terror disproportionately affected the intelligentsia and urbanites, and swept up a great member Communist party members accused of ‘crimes’ typically too contrived, arbitrary or trivial to be worth repeating.
The testimony of one elderly interviewee have always particularly stuck with me for their vividness. At the time, it was not uncommon for an idle word by a child at school to lead their parents being taken away by the NKVD, and for the child or children to be forcibly adopted. State terrorism dominated every aspect of the life of his parents. He spoke of their extraordinary self-censorship even in the family home, as fear of becoming the object of suspicion overrode every other consideration. He recalled the shouts and cries of a neighbour being dragged off to who-knows-where, and the silence of the other residents of the communal housing block. He described the stories of people the family had known who were disappeared. Most of all, he spoke about the constant fear of a knock on the door.
These weren’t entirely colourless years. “It was my childhood, and as a child I found things to take delight in,” was the tenor of one comment.
Most startling for me, however, was the observation that the first time he felt free was during the Siege of Leningrad, when almost entirely cut off from the rest of the Soviet Union, for the first time the oppressive hand of the state was loosened within the city… somewhat. Surrounded by Nazis, for the first time he felt a degree of freedom from constant state diktat.
A similar sensation was felt by many refugees from the Soviet bloc to the United States, many of whom were experiencing freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the exercise of the right to self-defence for the first time. Many of the same immigrants are today warning of creeping statism in the United States.
Recent candidate for Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District, Dasha Pruett spoke about her own family’s experience coming to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1980.
Growing up in socialism, it breaks my heart, seeing what is going on in this country now. … We are living through a socialist social experiment, to see how much, and what it will take for the Big Government to overreach and take away our freedom.
Another recent to the United States to warn of creeping statism, specifically socialism, was Cuban émigré, Maximo Alvarez:
My family has fled totalitarianism and communism. … First from Spain, then from Cuba. … I’m speaking to you today because my family is done leaving places. There is nowhere left to go.
When I watch the news in Seattle and Chicago and Portland, when I see history being rewritten, when I hear the promises—I hear echoes of a former life I never wanted to hear again. I see shadows I thought I had outrun.
Lily Tang Williams, who escaped from communist China and is today Head of the Libertarian Party in Colorado is another to have spoken about the creeping Marxism in the United States.
“The riots, looters, destruction of properties, it’s so familiar. It’s scary to me because I went through that.”
“The people who attack small businesses in cities — you see them take private property, and they say, ‘we deserve this. This is reparations.’ And it’s just – this is the Marxist way. It’s an excuse at the barrel of a gun.”
“You cannot even keep silence. You have to publicly agree with them. It’s fundamentally not American. The tactics they use are very Marxist and communist. They did this in China. Everybody had to be PC…”
For sure, where Western European and North American conservative parties half-heartedly warn against creeping backdoor communism, there is a certain disingenuousness in their rhetoric.
Few conservative parties have sought to radically withdraw the tentacles of the state from daily life, preferring tinkering at the edges and the protect of certain individual rights, while libertarian parties, or libertarian-leaning politicians such as Rand Paul, have found themselves hounded by mobs or squeezed from party platforms. And where politicians have sought to loosen the shackles that bind us, they have often been too horrified by what we, the sprawling demos actually believes to allow further permit further liberalisation or democratisation.
American and European society is buckling under the pressure of activists actively campaigning against their own freedom, be it economic freedom, civil liberties, or limited government.
If those demanding the confiscation of wealth had their own wealth confiscated… if those championing laws curtailing freedom of speech lost their own freedom to speak… if those seeking to lock up all those they disagreed with faced incarceration, perhaps we might have more honesty in the debate.
Instead, we have a situation where schooled cultural Marxists are actively campaigning for the abolition of liberal Western values, and due to the intellectual fecklessness of elites in defending those values from threats foreign and domestic, the slow-decades’ long “march through the institutions” continues.
Those so doing should remember this: if you get your paradise, they’ll come for you too. What communist regime has not turned dictatorial? Remember Boxer in Animal Farm, the most loyal supporter of the revolution? This is the fate of the true believer under communism.
The only thing that can protect you is the thing that you are working to destroy.
Picture: Sergey Strunnikov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.