We should be able to agree that, in today’s ever-coarsening discourse, there are dangerous echoes of these fictional characters who anticipated the Bolsheviks and Stalinists—the destroyers of ancient civilizations who burned it all down only so they could rebuild the world in their own image.
We know how this turned out, and for those who have forgotten, or for those who are too young or ignorant to know, we should remind them over and over: Those who questioned the revolution, objected to any of its ends or means, thought there might be something worth preserving, were deemed hostile combatants or hapless chumps whose false consciousness inhibited progress. In the end, they were all airbrushed. In the end, the way one escaped this airbrushing was to signal, with a great and inauthentic virtue, that one was not a hostile combatant by spotlighting the real enemies of progress. Whether these enemies were real or “real” was immaterial. Only idiots worried about the truth. There was no truth. What was most important was to keep one’s head down and, if need be, accuse wantonly. Accuse! Accuse! Accuse! Or as Americans like to say, the best defense is a good offense. Everyone knew this would never lead to the place they had been promised it would lead to, but what else was there to do? As the violence ratcheted up, it was necessary to signal with ever greater ferocity, to name more names, to out more wrong-thinkers, until all that was left was the pathetic, bloodless corpse of a country dislodged from itself.
When I imagine this people we are becoming, I think of old men I have interviewed, in Moscow, Minsk, Brest, Kiev, Tblisi, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, who once spent a year or two or 10 or 20 in a camp in the far north or far east of Russia. This was in the 1940s and ’50s. Their crime was usually petty or not even a crime. It often had to do with survival—stealing a stale loaf of bread. Or talking to the wrong person, or saying something impolitic. Or being accused, without any evidence, of something worse.
So, it’s not just me seeing the parallels between Russia and the U.S.—Joe]