Fools and their Futile Appeals

In all the books I have read about Stalin and the Great Terror (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4), there is a discussion on the reaction of middle and upper echelon Communists when they are first arrested by the NKVD.  Consistently, and to the point that one must assume this was typical, they report reactions of utter surprise and bewilderment, followed rapidly by the conclusion that it must be some kind of terrible mistake.  Those of more senior rank implored their captors and families to inform Stalin in person and beg him to intervene; whilst those from the middle ranks – sometimes even after they’d been tortured, processed, and shipped off to the camps – would labour under the delusion that Stalin was entirely unaware of what was going on, and they were caught up in some kind of rogue operation of which he would never approve.  It dawned on them very, very late – and sometimes not at all – that Stalin personally oversaw this apparatus of terror and in many instances had ordered the arrest of the individual in person.

Reading these books gave me a new, and as far as I know, somewhat unusual (in the sense that I don’t know anyone else who shares it) view on the victims of the Great Terror: that their innocence cannot automatically be assumed.  For sure, the crimes for which they were actually charged were dreamed up out of nowhere, and there were undoubtedly a very great many who perished or suffered who were entirely innocent in all respects.  But many of the victims of the second wave of terror were those who took part in the first wave: thousands of NKVD thugs who were happy to sign the orders, knock on the doors, dish out the beatings, and pull the triggers found themselves up against a wall alongside thousands of Communists who had cheered them on earlier.  Similarly, the third wave incorporated thousands of those who actively participated in the first and second waves, and thousands more of those who, up until their own arrest, thought it was all fine and dandy.  For these individuals, it is difficult to feel much sympathy.

Mark Holland, of the now sadly defunct Blognor Regis, put this brilliantly in a post which is no longer online in response to this obituary of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn:

Meanwhile, [Solzhenitsyn] switched faiths, throwing out Christianity in favour of Marxism, by which he professed himself “absolutely sincerely enthralled” – and this in spite of the fact that, at 14, he had witnessed his substitute father, an engineer friend of the family, being dragged off in the first spate of purges, and some of his father’s relatives, too, denounced as kulaks and exiled to Siberia.

At university Solzhenitsyn was awarded a Stalinist scholarship for his keen work in the Communist youth league … in 1939 he was reported to have attended more to his copy of Marx’s Das Kapital, than to his young bride.

It therefore came as a terrible shock when he was arrested, in January 1945, by Smersh.

The astonished young Marxist was shipped back to Moscow, where he was sentenced without trial to eight years in labour camps, and exile in perpetuity – apparently for having criticised Stalin’s policies in a letter to a friend on another part of the front.

To paraphrase Mark: Solzhenitsyn, a die-hard Marxist and supporter of the Communist regime, was down with the violence until some of it came his way.  Round up some kulaks and shoot them, that’s all fine and dandy.  But arrest me, a young intellectual?  Why, that’s astonishing!  Solzhenitsyn’s accounts of the Gulag system are brilliant and harrowing in equal measure, but I think Mark’s point stands nonetheless.

And this brings me onto this blog post I came across almost at random today:

San Francisco architect Lee Hammack says he and his wife, JoEllen Brothers, are “cradle Democrats.” They have donated to the liberal group Organizing for America and worked the phone banks a year ago for President Obama’s re-election.

Since 1995, Hammack and Brothers have received their health coverage from Kaiser Permanente, where Brothers worked until 2009 as a dietitian and diabetes educator. “We’ve both been in very good health all of our lives – exercise, don’t smoke, drink lightly, healthy weight, no health issues, and so on,” Hammack told me.

The couple — Lee, 60, and JoEllen, 59 — have been paying $550 a month for their health coverage — a plan that offers solid coverage, not one of the skimpy plans Obama has criticized. But recently, Kaiser informed them the plan would be canceled at the end of the year because it did not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. The couple would need to find another one. The cost would be around double what they pay now, but the benefits would be worse.

And suddenly we’re back in Moscow in 1936:

Hammack recalled his reaction when he and his wife received a letters from Kaiser in September informing him their coverage was being canceled. “I work downstairs and my wife had a clear look of shock on her face,” he said. “Our first reaction was clearly there’s got to be some mistake. This was before the exchanges opened up. We quickly calmed down. We were confident that this would all be straightened out. But it wasn’t.”

Time to appeal to the vozhd:

He’s written to California’s senators and his representative, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asking for help.

As did all those poor unfortunates who ended up sawing logs along the Kolyma river in winter.  Let’s see how much your masters care about you, eh?

Here’s my take on their situation: tough shit.  You campaigned for this, you voted for this, you wanted this.  For other people.  Now you’ve been squashed under the steamroller you created for them.  Sorry, but my sympathy for you is in the low zeroes.

And they’ve still not caught on:

“We believe that the Act is good for health care, the economy, & the future of our nation. However, ACA options for middle income individuals ages 59 & 60 are unaffordable. We’re learning that many others are similarly affected. In that spirit we ask that you fix this, for all of our sakes,” he and Brothers wrote.

Oh, so it’s good for health care, the economy, and the future of our nation.  Only please intervene so that we personally don’t have to take part, as it is seriously detrimental to our well-being.

Solzhenitsyn might have found some common ground with them at one time.  I wonder if these two “cradle Democrats” might one day be motivated by their own experiences to write a three volume masterpiece on the cruelness and damage inflicted on ordinary people by Obamacare?

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12 Responses to Fools and their Futile Appeals

  1. Joe Blow says:

    HL Menckens quote

    “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard”

    It would even better to extend this to those who would vote for the Jacobins who are currently wearing the very thin disguise of environmentalism. We’ve had over 200 years of these pudendas trying to grab power in the name of the state.

    I am a big fan of revealed preferences, what pharisees say in public versus what their self interest does.

    Let’s have demand revealing referenda on these matters.

    If you don’t vote, it automatically becomes an affirmation to pay personally for the proposal. The vote will still be secret, just the inland revenue/ATO need to know the serial number which ties the counterfoil back to your voter registration entry.

    You don’t nuclear power, excellent, happy to add the true cost of rent seeking fantasia to your personal utility bills.

    You don’t want houses built anywhere because you’re a upper middle class snob,
    nice and comfortable amongst your ‘right thinking’ comrades in Islington, excellent, lets abolish capital gains relief on private residences and start taxing imputed rents to pay for the ‘social’ housing you keep saying that you want built,but in private you do not want it built anywhere near anything.

    The likes of Caroline Lucas, Christine Milne et al are not hiding their intentions.

  2. Bardon says:

    That’s an interesting take on Solzhenitsyn, I hadn’t considered that side of him as a young man. It is amazing how often you need to update your view on history based on new viewpoints, how can any of us be really sure that we have got history right. You are absolutely spot on though, with the Soviet totalitarian regime repeatedly turning on their own, irrespective of how close, near, or dear they were to them prior to their arrest or receiving an ice pick in the earhole. It reminds me of Martin Niemmollers famous quote “first they came for the XXXX and I did not speak out……..”

    Anyhow staying on your topic theme and with respect to Obamacare, Solzhenitsyn and those whining dumb yankees that voted to swallow this miracle medical pill. The yankees haven’t seen anything yet as far as Obamas stated policy goes. Prior to the Bolsheviks the Russian people were relatively free and well armed, this changed during the early Soviet days when they proceeded to disarm the race, we all know what happened during and after that period of time. Those so called citizens that vociferously wish to repeal the 2nd Amendment and disarm the American people, once disarmed, will similarly start squealing like stuck pigs when they are rounded up and thrown into their US Federal Gulags, the price of liposuction and boob jobs will pale in significance.

    “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?”

    - Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “The Gulag Archipelago” (1973)

  3. dearieme says:

    “I am a big fan of revealed preferences, what pharisees say in public versus what their self interest does.” Quite so: I think Thomas Jefferson was one of the best examples of this. And yet Americans are indoctrinated into love of the ruffian.

  4. dearieme says:

    Why would anyone confess to being a “cradle democrat”?
    http://www.jpattitude.com/DemocratPartyTimeline.php

    (H/T Duff & Nonsense)

  5. I don’t know if you have read the works of the Chinese author, Jung Chang. In both her account of her family’s experience under Mao, “Wild Swans”, and in her biography of Mao she refers often to the fact that the victims of purges (such as her own parents) were often also perpetrators, and seems to feel deeply the resultant horror.

    I think that Mao’s regime was actually worse (sad to think such a thing is possible) than Stalin’s in managing to make the ordinary people fulfil the role of NKVD to their own families.

  6. In Arthur Koestler’s novel “Darkness at Noon” the protagonist is a victim who confronts his own guilt in the course of the book.

  7. Paul Marks says:

    Yes the Social Justice people really believe in their doctrines – sadly it is NOT an act, most of them are not just corrupt people who can be bought off (oh they will accept the bribes – but then they will attack anyway).

    And not just in the United States – right now in Chile most people are likely to be voting socialist. They can observe the failure of statism in Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela (and so on) yet this empirical evidence does not sway them, nor does reason sway them. All that matters to such people is the Social Justice (“fairness”) doctrine they have been taught. That government is there to help people – and that inequality (some people being a lot richer than other people) is somehow evil.

    They may flee the terrible results of their Social Justice politics – but they carry the mental seeds of it with them. Just as people flee high tax, high regulation California – and then try and impose the same policies on the places they flee to, such as Colorado.

    What can be done to turn people against the insanity that is Social Justice (and against the envy it is based upon)? I do not know – I just do not know.

  8. Tim Newman says:

    @Joe Blow: yes, I did consider putting the Mencken quote in here. And revealed preferences are fascinating, aren’t they?

    @Bardon: good comments. Both the Niemmollers quote and the passage you quoted from Solzhenitsyn are apt, and yes, that these are the same people who want to disarm the population should set alarm bells ringing.

    @Natalie: thanks for the Samizdata link. No, I’ve not read much at all about China under Mao (my interest in this sort of thing was largely restricted to the USSR, which was itself just one part of my interest in Russia), but I’m not surprised to hear that the experiences there were similar. Indeed, the idea that anyone can be arrested and shot at any time is rather the whole point of a totalitarian system, isn’t it? I’ll check out the books you mention.

  9. PeteC says:

    Great post. These rejection letters are going to keep on coming, right up to the next election. If they go for an anti-Obamacare platform, the Republicans are in for a very good chance I think. Depends who they field as presidential candidate though.

  10. Alexei K. says:

    Those “middle and upper echelon Communists” were largely responsible for the system that pulverized them. I’m not sure if a brainwashed youngster like Solzhenitsyn deserves blame for his blind Marxism. I hate to think of the perverse indoctrination that was part of growing up in the USSR in the 1930s.

    The young Solzhenitsyn’ s reaction to his relatives’ arrests is also familiar from other contexts – that’s a coping mechanism. “All’s right with the world” – in his case, “they are kulaks hence they deserve it” – is a psychological defense reaction. Young people tend to be irrepressibly optimistic.

  11. David Duff says:

    An excellent post!

    Wasn’t it Molotov who sat across from Stalin as he signed arrest/death warrants and was then offered one for him to sign – it was for his wife!

  12. Tim Newman says:

    @Alexei K:

    I’m not sure if a brainwashed youngster like Solzhenitsyn deserves blame for his blind Marxism.

    Good point, although quite often it is the youngsters that are the most extreme out of the lot (e.g. the Iranian revolution). But yeah, your comment stands.

    @David Duff: thanks! Yup, in 1948 Molotov’s (Jewish) wife was arrested and deported on the orders of Stalin, which he was powerless to stop. Interestingly, Stalin on one occasion said that even he (Stalin) was not in a position to reverse the decisions of Stalin…indicating that Stalin the human being was different from “Stalin” as an institution, or abstract form. IIRC, it was in response to being asked to reverse a decision as to somebody’s fate. Molotov almost certainly survived only because of Stalin’s death, living right up until 1986, when he was 96 years old. The survivability of Mikoyan was even more impressive, serving in the administrations of Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev. A real Vicar of Bray.

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