In his groundbreaking book The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn explained not only his experiences in the Soviet Gulag system, but the experiences of others. In graphic detail, Solzhenitsyn details why people were relegated to their almost certain death, what happened to them when they were there, and how the government, through threats, the encouraging of informing on others, and the wanton use of violence, convinced the populace to go along with its reeducation of the Soviet citizenry. Torture, starvation (the most effective means to get prisoners to cooperate or admit their guilt-even if they weren’t), and beatings were just a few of the things that occurred. Solzhenitsyn paints a portrait of gulags stretching throughout the Siberian region, filled with people that were put there for little more than the whim of those in control. The unabridged volume is staggering in its detail and stories of sadness tinged with the madness of a leadership hell-bent on solidifying its hold on the people through any means necessary.
In a sort of follow-up book by Svetlana Alexievich entitled Secondhand Time, the topic is what happened after the fall of the Soviet Union. It is a portrait not of politics per se but rather the lives of the people in oral history fashion as they attempted to cope with a life absent of government control and the constant threat of gulags gone. It is more tragedy than success as so many struggled to cope with life on their own, a people completely atrophied from the ability to fend for themselves. Many had not the skills nor the desire to compete in the open market, the managed life provided by the state a preferable alternative. It holds the axiom true that once government begins providing for the populace en masse, it becomes a drug difficult to wean the populace from.
What’s most disturbing about both works is the degree people went to acclimate themselves to their new norm. In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn details how people not only accepted their oftentimes unjustified imprisonment, but actually convinced themselves that they were in the wrong and that it was best they, themselves, were removed from society. They were completely enslaved in their minds, rationalizing their torture and abuse for their captors, who reveled in their ability to meld the minds of their victims, bending their will to that of the state.
Their loved ones at home also coped with this tragedy, oftentimes turning in their own family members, so brainwashed were they in their devotion to the state and its ideology. Re-education is a constant theme throughout the Gulag Archipelago. A re-education made necessary in order to guarantee uniformity of thought and extending state control. Reading it, one begins to sympathize with their plight, actually beginning to understand why they turned in their own family members – self preservation and the cocktail of state provided welfare a powerful combination of drugs.
When making one’s way through Alexievich’s book, the same feeling occurs. Stories of people left behind as the former Soviet Union stumbles its way to a free market economy as a blind person in an unfamiliar room. A single mother, whose husband was shuttled off to the gulag some years earlier and has come to rely upon the state, no matter the sparse resources she’s provided, now finds herself without those resources and must learn to provide for herself under the new rules. She cries incessantly as she’s forced to beg on the streets for anything to survive the tumult the new capitalism has provided the nation. Dreams of living like West Germany die in the night as the reality of self dependence and lack of marketable skills relegate her to selling herself if only to provide for her child. When she wishes for the “old way” to return, we understand.
Alexievich’s book is a massive study in Stockholm syndrome. A story of generations of people raised to depend on the government for their very existence, their very lives. They wish for what the West has materially and the freedom the West has from afar, but are not equipped to obtain it, their skills and ability to generate their own life stunted from decades of state dependence. The kitchen was their sanctuary, as the state couldn’t hear them there, and they would talk freely of Chekov, Dostoyevsky, and other great Russian writers. They would revel in the musical classics of Tchaikovsky and other famous composers, seemingly stuck in a time warp that kept them in the past, the glorious Russian past of literature, music, and dance.
We listen as they recall stories of sitting together in their tiny kitchenette but lamenting the lack of freedom to do and think as they wish. When they finally get that freedom in 1991, they have the dreams of avarice, only to have those dreams shattered by a disorganized transition that left many lamenting their new found freedom and wishing for their former lives, as meager as they were.
Why does Think31 tell you this? As a warning. A dire warning of what’s to come if the state is allowed to expand its control. Not just here, but anywhere. Hyperbole? Maybe. But when people on social media are discussing “reeducating” those that supported Mr. Trump, or, as one Pulitzer Prize winner stated, “Republicanism is a social problem. It must be treated in the same way coronavirus is treated: it has to be isolated and snuffed out by repressing it in about 70% of the general population” there is a larger issue, a more insidious problem.
Totalitarian movements always come in the form of liberation. Today, revolution is no longer the method by which government exerts control. Rather, it creeps in, disguising itself as helping the less fortunate, then expanding to government service. It is rather subtle in its creep, preferring the silence of the voting booth to the open air of revolution. This republic was built to withstand that creep, so long as the population does not become seduced by the siren song of safetyism, a condition only the government can promise but rarely deliver. It is our duty as citizens of this land to fight that temptation and root out the idea of reeducation and government overreach by anyone that suggests it and any government entity that employs it. To do anything less is to forego our future freedom.
Consider the words of John Adams when he stated in 1765, “Liberty must, at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood.”