|14A005 Bubble of Unreality by Jim Davies, 4/25/2014
It's been forever since the FedGov's Propaganda Ministry (known also as PBS-TV) broadcast a serious critique of the Soviet Union, so when Age of Delirium appeared without fanfare on April 24th, it was an unexpected treat even though its release may have been designed to bolster the current anti-Russian rampage of Mad-Dog Kerry. It's an hour-long documentary made for the Hudson Institute by David Satter, a long-time Russian correspondent of the Financial Times. Both those institutions are conservative and statist, but when considering communism they can be quite good, and this occasion was one such.
The film documents some of the appalling 7-decade history of the Workers' Paradise, which Satter likened to a delirium; a condition of mass suspension from reality. Constantly, by every organ under government control, everyone was taught that they lived in the best of all possible worlds, and for as long as they believed and repeated that, they had bread. If they stopped doing so, they were judged insane and treated in an asylum. Such was the Soviet bubble of unreality. Satter drew no comparison with the statist bubble in our own part of the world... but I did.
David Satter speaks Russian and used that for most of his interviews, with English subtitles - and he let Russians speak for themselves, recalling the old days of Communism and the KGB, in which Vlad Putin was a Colonel. There were for example the Shatravka brothers. In the 1970s they made a run across the Finnish border, braving the hazards of a wire fence and a few billion mosquitoes, and made it; then took shelter in an empty forest hut. Next day they were arrested by the Finnish police and sent back to the USSR. Funny thing; I'd been told the Finns didn't get along with the Soviets. Wasn't there some kind of war?
The brothers were then confined to a lunatic asylum for a decade, where the "treatment" included drugs designed to cause excruciating pain. One of them died afterwards. The other helped Satter track down the nurse who had administered that drug, now elderly, and she told the camera that it didn't do any harm; evidently, she was still inside the bubble. The most moving part of the film was when the surviving brother hugged her in a farewell embrace. Both were victms of the delirium.
Item: a former Soviet Army officer (a Major, I think) recalled how he had been posted to East Germany and there learned for the first time in 1979 that WW-II had begun in 1939, not in 1941 as he had always been taught; he had never heard of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact! And he had never heard of Katyn, the forest where over 20,000 Polish Army officers were slaughtered and buried, in 1940. Here then was a man with command over a significant unit of a powerful army, so conditioned inside the Bubble that he didn't know some key elements of recent history. That is what government control of education can do.
Item: a couple of elderly ladies - babushkas - in Ukraine, who recalled the famine of 1932. Then young girls at school, they had been sent to discover why a boy had failed to turn up for class. They found him killed and dismembered, and partially eaten for food. Such is why many Ukrainians today are none too fond of Russians; and such is what can happen when property rights are denied (as they were recently on that otherwise laudable web site, Strike the Root) and get replaced by the fiction of communal property; the harvest of those Ukrainian farmers was not their own, you see, but the People's; and the People's agents came and took it, for distribution among the People as the People's wise leaders saw fit. Between six and eleven million producers starved to death, as a result, in a holocaust larger than Hitler's.
Item: several elderly mothers told of how their sons had died in the 1980s in Afghanistan, but they were forbidden to say so until Communism collapsed; the grave inscriptions recorded only that they had died in the service of their country. The former government was evidently eager to suppress all evidence that it had ever attacked Afghans. Our own government, having made the same gross error, can no doubt understand - and envy it.
Satter told also, though, of the fiction of plenty that prevailed in the Bubble; and recalls that by the 1980s out of over 200 basic food items, only 23 were available in Moscow stores - due, he said, to the "fixed price" system. Exactly right, though he was a bit late; von Mises had predicted the collapse of socialism for precisely that reason, way back in 1921.
As we know, and as Satter told, the Bubble burst when Soviet newspapers were at long last allowed to report facts as well as myth; and the most encouraging part of his film was the news that as soon as that happened, everyone flipped from illusion to reality. It was as though almost everyone had for long realized that they were living a lie (in order to get bread) but dared not openly say so, before the Bubble burst. When it did, they knew quite well which way was up. I find that highly encouraging; it may well be that the same is happening here. Nearly everyone says we anarchists are mad; perhaps nearly everyone knows it's the other way around, and will suddenly admit the fact when the American statist bubble also bursts.