Monday, June 17, 2013

Soviet Exile- Vignettes of Life in the Worker’s Paradise

A great American journalist, Lincoln Steffens, visited with Lenin at the outset of the Soviet Revolution. Highly impressed by what he saw, he returned to the United States and famously declared:” I have seen the future and it works!”
My father and uncle spent several years in the future and made every effort possible to get back to the present.

The Soviet system had as its goal the shaping of the new Soviet man, an altruistic individual who would give his all for the common good, as attributed to Marx:” From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs. “ Marxism-Leninism,or Communism, would embody the goals of ancient preachers and idealists, the Utopia, free of the burdens of religious superstition and the restrictions of bourgeois society; all would own equally, private property would be abolished. Ultimately, in this ideal situation, Marx’s partner Engels predicted, the State itself would be superfluous and wither away. There would only be a very short “ dictatorship of the proletariat” for the transition.

 In this ideal world, as George Orwell’s Napoleon the Pig declared,” All animals are equal—but some are more equal than others”.

The idea of collective ownership produced dismal results. As my father explained, when all own everything, everyone owns nothing, and no one takes responsibility for anything and the Soviet economy lagged far behind the economies of America and Europe.

The “temporary dictatorship” lasted some 70 years, only to be replaced by a government of wealthy oligarchs and a flat ( or “regressive”) tax system

In some sense, both Communism and Nazism shared policies of terror and the overwhelming force of state and party machinery to create a new society. To the credit of communism, it must be said that the frenzy of terror was in pursuit of the noblest goals of human ideals, whereas for Nazism, the goals were the outright elevation of one race overall others and the annihilation of the Jews as the greatest obstacle to that victory.

Years later, when the American Jewish community agitated on behalf of Soviet Jewry, under the slogan, ”Let my people Go,” there were some voices calling the Soviet oppression of Jewish religion a second Holocaust. This hurt my father deeply. For all the flaws of the Soviets, all the rest of European Jewry would have been dead had the Soviets not crushed the German forces at Stalingrad and then rolled on to Berlin. He also told me that the Soviets could not possibly let Jews leave the Iron Curtain—because after the Jews, then the Satellite states like Poland and Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Republics such as the Ukraine and Kazakhstan and all the rest would clamor to leave. No system willingly commits suicide. Indeed, while some Jews were allowed to leave in the 1970’s, by 1980 the exit doors were shut again.            Only with glasnost and perestroika under Mikhail Gorbachov did the gates open again. As my father said would happen, the whole house of cards came tumbling down.


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