Orthodox America

  1917-1987: Unsuccessful and Tragic Attempt to Create a “New Man”

by Sergei Khodorovich

 In 1977, at age 36, the author, an engineer and specialist in computer science, became the administrator of the Russian Social Fund to assist political prisoners and their families. In 1983 he was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison. In 1986 he was re-arrested while in camp and sentenced to three additional years. At that time a public campaign launched on his behalf intensified in the West. In March 1987 Khodorovich was released from camp and in May arrived in Paris together with his family.


The Russian-language newspaper, "Russkaya Mysl'," published in Paris, asked Sergei Khodorovich, an Orthodox Christian, to share with its readers his opinions as to what happened in Russia in November 1917, and what consequences this event had, in particular, on human consciousness and the fate of citizens of that nation where the event took place and which became the first "laboratory' for the Communist experiment on the human species.

       Seventy years ago communists easily (and, as it turned out, for a long time) seized power in Russia. Without hesitation they undertook to build a new society, hitherto unprecedented in the history of mankind, and announced the construction of Communism throughout the whole world to be their final goal.

     In this society there was to be no private property, it was to be a-religious: denying God, denying the existence of the immortal soul and recognizing only the material aspect of life as real. The society was to be free of ethnic affiliations, and communists were to have unlimited power over that society.

     Igor Shafarevieh proved that such societies had existed before. One cannot, however, completely agree with his conclusions: not one of the societies which he considered was atheistic; their creators recognized the power of God over themselves and were guided by religious worldviews.

    Unprecedented methods were used to build this unprecedented society. It was decided to create a new man. This man was to be free from ethnic affiliations, see no sense in private property, be always ready to sacrifice himself for the benefit of society, have no doubts that he originated from an ape or something like it (certainly from a beast) and that nothing will remain of him after his death. In other words, he was to be a one-hundred percent materialist and atheist and must know that the meaning of life is in the person's usefulness to society and the supreme goal is in a better, wealthy and happy life of future generations. Recognizing this, he would necessarily be happy.

     It was obvious to initiators of the new society and creators of the new man that several existing classes of people would delay the implementation of this task. So, it was decided to destroy millions of these people "as a class ," i.e., to kill them. To "destroy as a class" is not just a reckless cynical phrase; in fact, it is a guide to practical action. This was done in Russia, and in this way began construction of the new society in every country as soon as the communists seized power.


And What Did Continuing Destruction Achieve?

       Thus, the following groups of people were "destroyed as a class": aristocracy, nobility, bourgeoisie, merchant class, kulaks, kulak supporters and clergy. In addition, a very broad spectrum of intellectuals (scientists, scholars, writers, artists, actors, professors, teachers, engineers, physicians and white-collar workers) was called an interclass stratum. They were made a bugbear, an object for mockery, incited against each other by encouraging their mutual denunciations and accusing them of deviating from the ideology. By continually hauling off geneticists, linguists, actors, physicians, philatelists, engineers and so forth, exterminating them in camps and killing them, this layer of people was turned into a submissive dishrag. Certainly, political opponents and their fellow travelers--i.e., all members of all parties except the Communist Party--were also destroyed. And everybody knows what members of the Communist Party did to each other while clawing their way to the top.

Let us take a look at what has been achieved so far in the cause of building the communist society in Russia, creating the new man and establishing communism throughout the world.

    Lenin taught that "the main question is the question of power." And this main question was actualized one hundred percent. All power (legislative, judicial and executive) is in the hands of communists. They have also been enormously successful in eliminating private property. Here, however, there were some hitches. First, in their revolutionary fervor, they took it into their heads to turn the country into one huge commune. However, not even the Bolsheviks, not even with their methods, were capable of it: they had to leave the people some crumbs--termed "personal property"--until "better times." However, these "better times" were getting put off continually, and now there is no more talk of eliminating it. Rather the reverse: the citizens are not criticized for the accumulation of personal property as the meaning of life, And those in power, which brings them access to material things, see no reason not to avail themselves of these blessings and have in their possession everything their heart desires.

     Public property, however, was nothing but grief. The great communist idea assumes this new man will treat everything communal (especially production) as the pre-revolutionary people--the people it has been destroying for 70 years--treated their own personal property. That is exactly what did not happen, and no one can say when and if it will ever happen. The new Soviet man treats things communal as if they belong to no one, or at least not to him. The continuous attempts to make people a-religious, not accepting God's commandments and being unaware of them, led to a situation in which everyone tries to steal (and does) from his place of work, everything he can. And he does not consider himself a thief: both he and his friends do not consider this "stealing" but just "scrounging" something he needs. In the process of being made a new Soviet man, it was expected that he will work harder and harder, without regard to his material circumstances, time or health, driven on by his communal consciousness----which all conscientious communists ceaselessly develop in themselves-- the Soviet man becomes indifferent toward work, and by now not working on the job is considered the right thing to do. Everyone who manages to get away with it enjoys the reputation of being successful and business-like. Everyone envies them, everyone emulates them.

    The Soviet man is forced to spend a great deal of time participating in a variety of political events: demonstrations, rallies, festive and less-festive get-togethers and public meetings, "volunteer" work on weekends, political study groups, amateur artist activities, or is sent to work at produce warehouses, sovkhozes, office building construction sites, DOSAAF (All Union Voluntary Society for Assistance to the USSR Army, Air Force and Navy) and MPVO [local air defense] training, "druzhiniki' or volunteer teams helping the police patrol the streets and are encouraged to take up sports. All this is seen as developing in him qualities which will make him a new Soviet man, a man who will work even better, a man who will be selflessly devoted and ready at a moment's notice,., etc. At first they thought they could do all this outside of working hours, but it was beyond them. Now he does all this at the expense of his job, generating in him a profound sense of pointlessness and secondary importance of the work he is being paid for. That's one of the reasons why Soviet industry and agriculture are extremely unproductive and why products are of such depressing quality.


The Reasons for Continuous and Invariable Mismanagement

     The word "mismanagement" is very popular; it has never left the lips of leaders of the Soviet state throughout the 70 years of its existence. Of course, there have always been objective causes to explain the pitiful state of the Soviet economy: the war before the Revolution, the Civil War, the construction of a new unprecedented society, droughts and...--enemies, enemies and enemies--domestic and foreign. Then the war again. But now there has not been a war for 40 years, and what of the economy? Read about it in the Soviet newspapers of this glasnost era. The leaders themselves say their economy is in a pre-crisis state.

     The new type of man--the Soviet man-must be a-religious, a materialist. Apparently, this is not quite true in a religious sense. It is true that the Soviet man is not to believe in God, and he is to be a materialist. But he is also to believe wholeheartedly in and be devoted to the ideology, the Party and its leaders· That is, he is to retain religious feelings, but to direct them elsewhere. They would like to put an end to religion once and for all, but they have not managed to eradicate people's faith quickly by radical means –destruction of churches, murder and annihilation of clergy. Naturally, there were objective causes at work here as well; World War II, for example. Very quickly the military situation became critical: in a short period of time the unbridled enemy destroyed the valorous Red Army. The entire nation had to rise in defense of its victories, but the new qualities that were cultivated in the new man did not live up to the task. One had but to rely on the qualities proven more than once in the past: true struggle against faith had to be relaxed, the churches had to be reopened, the number of priests increased, baptism of children was tolerated, and blessed were those who were called to defend us.


March on Religion and National Traditions

     Despite the difficulties it seemed there were quite a few successes. In the 1950's, the country appeared to be nearly religion free: the number of churches remaining appeared to be insignificant, only old men and women dared to go to them, church marriages were of a great rarity, one was unlikely to see someone crossing himself in public, Nonetheless, belief in God has not been uprooted to this day. To this day the churches are filled to overflow with people praying; more than half of the children born are being baptized by their parents, adults not baptized in childhood are also receiving baptism, and there are quite a few of them. In the glasnost era, statements--trial balloons--have been appearing in the Soviet press to the effect that religion does not need to be destroyed at all, but only used to enhance morality to build communism. In other words, if it can not be destroyed, it should be put to use... to build a religion-free society.

    And what about ethnic traditions of the new man? Will they give in to eradication? So far it has been extremely difficult. One might say that success has not been achieved in creating a man totally devoid of ethnic self-awareness, and there are no indications that success will be achieved some time in the future. Now they are talking about an international brotherhood of various peoples, about a single Soviet nationality. In this "brotherhood of peoples," the role of "older brother" is foisted off on the Russian people, and the Russian language is foisted off on all other ethnic groups. Shallow and careless researchers view this as a manifestation of Russian nationalism, We might raise the following objection. It is difficult to say if those who hold real power in the country perceive themselves as belonging to a specific ethnic group, but it is obvious that they are totally indifferent to the ethnic affiliation of their subjects; they obviously would prefer that they have none. They would mold many ethnic groups into one--a Soviet nationality--and then build a completely nationality-free society. The Russian people are to play the role of a goat in a herder sheep: the goat is pulled by his horns, and the herd follows.  “Scapegoat” is the role that befalls him. Because of the dubious honor of being called older brother, it is he who must set an example to be a model of internationalism; it is his national self-awareness which most be eradicated first--to set an example.

    The first fatal blow was struck at the culture and the churches of the Russian people. It was the Russian countryside that was robbed and ruined to sustain the struggle for the triumph of communism throughout the world. But fusing the various ethnic groups into one single nationality went awry. These efforts led to the accumulation of belligerent hostility of fraternal peoples to each other individually and as a whole toward the Russian people, They needed an "older brother" as a dog needs a fifth leg.

     A depressing picture emerges, and given that, it is conceivable that communism could still roll through every country on earth, It is very active. It attacks continuously, and the Free World only defends itself. The pressure does not lessen either over time or over distance, and openings appear here and there which are instantly filled. The world is tired from constantly defending itself. Whenever the communists need to regroup, to mass for another strike, they announce that now they are likable, the good guys, and the whole world instantly relaxes, as if to encourage the communists' good intentions, to reinforce and prolong them. The world welcomes them with open arms, gives them food, technology, weapons, up to and including armed support. Incidentally, no one remembers a single instance in which communists in any way expressed their gratitude to the countries which helped them in difficult times. After the unpardonable deal with Hitler and pinching off pieces of Europe at the start of World War II, the communists suddenly found themselves in a critical situation: their berserk partner proved to be treacherous and shameless, reversed course and declared war on its own ally. At that point, it seemed that God Himself would decree to help the communists. But as soon as the Fascists were defeated, communist propaganda started braying acidly, pathetically and insolently that they got little help, few arms, few uniforms, little transport and little food; that a second front was not opened for along time; that before the war, Britain, France and America were all but allies with Hitler. And as they were shouting, they swallowed half of Europe and managed to snatch something away from Japan. To this day (while complaining about the ingratitude of the Chinese communists), they boast of their participation in the Chinese civil war.

Soviet Policy: Detente and Reality

    Later--the post-Stalin era: the communists lift the Iron Curtain, the world is ecstatic. And then...Cuba, Hungary, threats at the UN. Disappointment, but not for long: the communists suddenly start crying “coexistence," claiming that they had always  hoped for co-existence with imperialists and were ready to co-exist, to open wide their arms, to yield, to cooperate. And then... Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Czechoslovakia.  A chill again, but not for long. They turned Cambodia-an inoffensive, flourishing country-into a slaughterhouse: shooting, stabbing, slicing, sawing, burying alive; half of  the people were killed (including women, children and the elderly). It seemed that this could not be forgotten or justified... But  no--more peace proposals from the Soviets, "detente." Detente is greeted by the entire world. Once detente starts, bread and other  foodstuffs (butter, meat, etc.) are offered, new technology (computers, and so on, and so forth) is injected to support the weakened communist economy, there are reciprocal visits by lawyers, actors, weavers, physicians, athletes, even party delegations and exchanges of movies. And then...Afghanistan, Africa, Central America. Just terrible, surely no one in the world is deceived.

    But no--it is as if there is an irrepressible desire for self-deception, to believe only  in good and then everything can be made right. The era of glasnost and perestroika dawns for the communists, and the whole world is moved! So much does it want to believe "only in good." Immediately it becomes unseemly to talk about Afghanistan: after all, they promised to withdraw right away, just as soon as... In fact, it is one thing to understand all this. The hard thing's to oppose arrogance, and when it' s not opposed,  it multiplies.

       Then, what is this Glasnost and perestroika? There seems to be no doubt that Gorbachev has "good intentions;" he would like to lead the peoples to communism, and  for it to go smoothly. At least it seems that he sincerely believes what he says. But who  doesn't have good intentions? In one of Pogodin' s plays, Lenin says that, in his view,  people are all good, that one would like to pat them on the head, but must beat them instead. And he did. The task of preparing the soil to create a communist society, the  new man and of destroying "unnecessary" classes fell to his lot. Stalin also was apparently not devoid of good intentions. He had children, grandchildren, and liked to kid around. He probably also felt the urge to pat people on the head, but had to beat them instead. As simple, benevolent and humane as Khrushchev was, quite unlike his great predecessors, even he was forced to beat them on the bead: first Stalin's criminal cronies, then the anti-party group which hampered dismantling of the cult, then writers who overstepped the boundaries, then abstractionist artists, then the ungrateful Hungarians, then the unconscientious citizens of Novorossisk, then executives who got out of hand to the point that capital punishment was necessary to deal with them, then the speculators, then the bums. And what a job it was to deal with stubborn believers!


What Can Be Changed, and What Changes Are Desirable

     Brezhnev was not a monster either. He, too, would have liked to pat people benevolently on the head, but he was "forced" to combat with consequences of "Khrushchevian voluntarism" and beat the dissidents, writers and poets (again!), foolish Czechs and disobedient Afghans, since it was impossible to persuade them without napalm to turn toward the brighter future for all mankind and yield to the fraternal embrace. And what incited them to savagery was the ideology, the sole true communist ideology. It gave them power and in return makes them its willing devoted slaves. And Gorbachev makes no secret of the fact that his whole aim is to strengthen socialism and keep on building communism; in fact, he proclaims this. He has permitted glasnost. Let us note at the start that glasnost has clearly defined boundaries: no criticism of the Politburo or actions of Gorbachev himself, and ideology is naturally off limits as well. The country has no independent publication permitted by the authorities; nevertheless, the press is permitted a great deal, unprecedented in the Soviet system. There is an element of risk in this for Gorbachev, but he is willing to take it,

     Besides having good intentions, he is forced to do something because of the situation in the country and the Soviet economy in particular, over which he is in charge. Obviously the scarcity of produce and other consumer goods concern the communists. After all, the people have been languishing in pitiful material conditions for 70 years, occasionally to the point of mass starvation, and communists accepted this situation as long as it did not weaken their power. But through all those years, no matter how low the productivity was, wages were lower, and the economy survived. This ratio started changing in early 1960's, continued through the 1970's, and by the 1980's reached a point at which wages (low as they are) surpassed productivity, At this ratio, the collapse of the economy is inevitable.

     The Soviet system, given its unlimited power--the one-party dictatorship--has proven to be very tenacious and could possibly survive the current difficulties, but something has to be done. And Gorbachev is doing it. True, with regard to the economy there is more talk than action, and even then he does not promise any substantial changes, although he calls it restructuring. In actuality, thus far he has replace some people in the ossified party and administrative apparatus without altering the structure of the apparatus itself (which is exactly what his predecessors did when they came to power), and he is encouraging criticism of various aspects of public life, of the status quo which had evolved when he came to power, i.e., to criticism of things which he considers his predecessors to have been responsible for (which all his predecessors also did, but to a lesser degree).

    It is doubtful that these steps will change the country and people' s lives in any substantial way. What actually can be changed, what changes ought lobe pursued? What has been proposed in recent years by people who allowed themselves to think independently? Strange as it may seem, there were few such proposals. Everything was criticized, especially the particulars. And the overall situation was criticized as well. But what was proposed? Academician Andrei Sakharov saw the convergence of the capitalist and communist systems as a way out. The author of this article admires Andrei Sakharov for his open-mindedness, will and energy. But he is not a proponent of the convergence theory and does not intend to discuss it here.

    There was also another proposal. Another of our contemporaries, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, suggested the citizens of the country do nothing that conflicts with man's natural aspirations--do not condone the lie. He appealed to those who can be most effective in producing changes in public life, to those who have real power in the country, urging them to renounce communist ideology ! Deliver your people from this lethal ideology and don't impose it by force on others. Do not encroach on the spiritual heritage of your people--religion, since only through it can the Russian people heal their nearly fatal wounds inflicted by this alien ideology and cease to be a bogeyman to the entire world.

    As near as we can tell, this appeal went unanswered, even streams of sewage in the official press did not wash over the author this time. Authorities pretended that what he said was so absurd that there 'gas no reason to respond to it. However, one can read in this silence a different attitude among the leaders: what you say is certainly true, but do we dare? Is this addressed to us?

    All independent thinkers and public figures, especially those abroad, responded with everything from bewilderment to sarcasm.

    But nothing else has been proposed, nor could it be, to heal Russia and to keep other countries away from its path. Renounce the ideology! This is the only sensible way to look at the incipient changes in the USSR: restructuring, acceleration, and so forth. 

(Reprinted with permission from Samizdat Bulletin December 1987, where it was translated by Larissa Vilenskaya and Jim Reister)

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