Author Topic: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?  (Read 108238 times)

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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #210 on: October 26, 2006, 01:13:51 PM »
Well, Tsarfan, that's not entirely fair because I have written repeatedly about the need for Russians to take responsibility for their own history - this continues to be one of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's strongest beliefs, by the way, and he was the first Russian to call upon the Russians as a people to seek redemption for their Soviet past.

I by no means meant my post as a challenge to you on this point, as I well remember your comments made elsehwere about responsibility.  I was just trying to get some more discussion going in this vein.


Also, please forgive me for pointing this out, but you yourself almost always talk about autocracy as if the Russian people were a completely separate entity from it, that is, the people were continually acted upon by the autocracy but not themselves responsible for the autocratic system. I think this is a bit, well, more than a bit, of a double standard . . . .

I agree.  In fact, in an earlier post on this page, I said I was not pointing fingers at anyone, "because I operate from the same premise myself when I opine on what autocracy did to channel Russian history toward the abyss of the soviet era."  Part of what I'm trying to do here is to examine my own assumptions about responsibility.


. . .  I would really like to see the Russians accept a reasonable share of responsibility and try to make amends for the past.

I'm less concerned with Russians making amends for the past.  My concern is along the lines of my earlier comment that, while an individual victim of abuse can be put on the analyst's couch, I have no idea how a nation can be cured of abuse syndrome.

Perhaps part of the problem is that Russians remain largely unchallenged in their view that they have no real say in their affairs . . . and therefore no responsibility for them.  Perhaps if they recognize that Lenin and Stalin didn't just "happen" to them . . . but that Lenin and Stalin were able to do what they did because they were operating in a vacuum of public-imposed answerability . . . they just might begin to think about what Putin's current gang is doing to them and begin to stand their ground.  Ask why reporters are getting shot.  Ask why oligarchs are accumulating wealth as fast as court favorites from an earlier era.  Ask why the prerogatives of regional and local government are being systematically subordinated to the Presidency.  Turn off the late-night porn.  Take to the streets.  Demand answers.

These things can still be done . . . at least for now.  Putin is not Stalin or even Bloody Nicholas . . . at least not yet.

I just cannot escape the feeling that a stopwatch is ticking somewhere in the background, counting down the launch of a time machine back to the early 20th century, when Russians almost had democracy in their grasp but then let it go on the promise of a bunch of hooligans to make their lives better for them.

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #211 on: October 26, 2006, 01:39:32 PM »
I hate to say it, but Putin is already far worse than "Bloody Nicholas," and approaching Stalin-status, given the war crimes Russian troops are committing and have been committing for untold years in Chechnya. I saw the most horrific documentary the other night - rather, I saw part of it because after about a half hour I couldn't take any more. It's a documentary about Chechens currently living in Russia itself, most of them as refugees from the second Russian-Chechnian War. The oldsters were heart-breaking enough. They described being deported as children with their families from Chechnya by Stalin in 1944. They spent 21 days in cattle cars before reaching Kazakhstan. There everyone regarded them as aliens from another planet and didn't want to help them. And people wonder why most of the Chechens hate Russia??? .... Another old man related how a friend of his carried his mother's ashes all the way from the U.S. back to Chechnya in his suitcase. He explained: "We love our motherland so much that even when we are dead we must return to it." But what got me the most was the interviews with very young Chechens, in their teens and early twenties. They had no hope for the future left. They still love their motherland, and wish to return there somehow, someday, but they hold out little faith that their country will someday re-emerge from the ashes. After twenty or thirty minutes of this, as I said, I couldn't take any more and turned the television off.

But this is precisely the area in which Russians should be addressing their guilt. Russian crimes against humanity are still going on, more than a half-century after the death of Stalin.
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Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #212 on: October 26, 2006, 03:21:06 PM »
Part of what makes the actions of the Soviet Union more heinous than those of Tsarist Russia is the sheer scale of the atrocities. But the reason for the "scale" being greater may have everything to do with the technology available to a totalitarian state in the 20th century as compared to the 18th in Western Europe, and throughout the 19th as well in Russia. In other words, it wasn't that the Tsarist state lacked the willpower to mistreat large groups of people; they lacked technology and infrastructure to do it. That being said, it may also be true that a state that officially espouses Christianity may have (certainly should have) built-in brakes upon that kind of behavior.

I think that one aspect of the mistake that was the Soviet Union (and Nazi Germany, for that matter) was the widespread use of technology to accomplish ideological aims.
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #213 on: October 27, 2006, 06:33:11 AM »

But this is precisely the area in which Russians should be addressing their guilt. Russian crimes against humanity are still going on, more than a half-century after the death of Stalin.
 

When Serbia was doing its ethnic cleansing a few years back, I was appalled at the passivity of western Europe -- and Germany in particular -- toward the reignition of genocide in central Europe barely fifty years after the last German concentration camp was emptied out.  And I wondered if part of that passivity arose from the fact that there is no real discussion in post-war Germany about its Nazi past.  They just acknowledge that it happened, agree it was horrible, point out that we're talking about their forebears -- NOT THEM! -- and then quickly change the subject . . . but preferrably not to the skinhead movement or to some inconvenient little rumblings down in Austria.

And look at today's furious international debate about Turkey's conduct at the turn of the 20th century.  Turkey is denying there was a state-sponsored genocide of Armenians, despite some mighty big mass graves.  And the Armenians themselves conveniently skip over the fact that they did their fair share of ethnic cleansing a few decades earlier when Russia's brief hegemony in the region after the last Russo-Turkish War encouraged their aspirations for their own Turk-free state.  The Armenians catalog atrocity after atrocity . . . but conspicuously omit the long list of villages whose Turk and Muslim inhabitants mysteriously "disappeared" in the years after 1878.

Russians are not alone in resisting a confrontation with their past.  And, as the nostrum goes, that's the roadmap to repeating it.


Offline Bev

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #214 on: October 27, 2006, 09:27:00 AM »
An interesting comparison to the Russian view of government is the Chinese view of government.  Historically, the Chinese were apathetic to government, in fact in their philosophy, all governments are "bad governments" and the less one has to do with goverment the more likely one will live and prosper.  Russia has always been more Eastern than Western in thought and philosophy and perhaps this has something to do with their estrangement from government.

Louis Charles' comment that those countries that officially espouse Christianity may have built in brakes, I have never found that to be true.  Ever. 

Tsarfan makes a good point about acknowledgment, but acknowledgment is at least a starting point in recognition of our capacity to hurt each other.  The resistance is to atonement and forgiveness.

It may not be our inability to remember history that condemns us to repeat it, but our inability to forgive history that condemns us.

Offline lori_c

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #215 on: October 27, 2006, 10:23:36 AM »


Tsarfan makes a good point about acknowledgment, but acknowledgment is at least a starting point in recognition of our capacity to hurt each other.  The resistance is to atonement and forgiveness.

It may not be our inability to remember history that condemns us to repeat it, but our inability to forgive history that condemns us.

That is excellent!  I've never thought of it in those terms. As in all world events that prompt the saying "May We Never Forget"  perhaps  we should  offer forgiveness as well. It is so hard to think under those terms as a country though.  Though I never lived in the Soviet Union, or suffered through the Holocaust -  I've witnessed 9/11 and i am a survivor of Hurricane Katrina and it aftermath.  It's  human instinct to want to lash out and point blame and resist forgiveness for those events.  But you are so right Bev, only through forgiveness of the past are we perhaps given a chance not to repeat it.

Offline Tania+

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #216 on: October 27, 2006, 10:36:24 AM »
Technology you say ? Yes that's quite possible and then some. Look at our present day's armies, and their wishing to use every excuse to use that technology of new 'toy arments', etc. Who among the modern army does not have blood on their hands, and using these issues to cover their crimes. How about those using phosphorous on civilians and only after they have been forced to leave the given area, then express, that they have used this on civilians, etc. That's no excuse by any means !

But in the genocide of the Armenians, old methods of murder was and were rampant, and no new technology was needed, and even that was not done quickly enough for the Turks. Modern technology however was used by the German Nazis, and ideas galore of how to use mass murder by the very best means.

Forgive history ? One cannot forgive, until one acknowledges their heinous crimes against humanity, in full, and the genocide of the Armenians have not been acknowledged to date. The Nazis did this only partially of acknowledging, but that was because they were brought to trial, and paid heavily for their crimes. The Turks, never did acknoledge, and neither were they brought to justice, as a nation.

Still to this day, neither from their lips do the words of atonment, or I am guilty flo. We have yet to hear that directed to the Armenian nation and peoples, as was offered to the Jews and others who lost their lives in WWII.

The American Indians are still awaiting for the countless Indian tribes that were wiped out by those who invaded their lands, but neither can forgiveness be offered till there is complete acknowledgment....

Now the question is, how were the German Nazis made to pay back for land, monies, etc, that were lost to those of the WWII Holocaust, and also pay for their crimes against humanity, when the American Indians and the Armenians have yet to be considered in their extensive losses to date ?  

I think perspective has a lot to offer, and questions yet to be answered. I don't think you have quite covered everything in such a neat tyed up package.

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Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #217 on: October 27, 2006, 10:43:31 AM »
An interesting comparison to the Russian view of government is the Chinese view of government.  Historically, the Chinese were apathetic to government, in fact in their philosophy, all governments are "bad governments" and the less one has to do with goverment the more likely one will live and prosper.  Russia has always been more Eastern than Western in thought and philosophy and perhaps this has something to do with their estrangement from government.

I'm not sure this is really true, Bev. I know that later religious philosophies that swept across China, like Buddhism and Taoism, were essentially otherworldly and to that degree discouraged participation in a corrupt government. But as far as I recall Confucianism, the most ancient and by far the most influential philosophy in China, did not belong to this category. Confucius was very preoccupied with the here and now, very hierarchical and concerned with paying the proper obeisances to worldly authority. (As an aside, anyone who has ever experimented with the I Ching, that ancient Chinese ritual of forecasting the future, knows that it is obsessed with rendering service to the "great man," i.e., the ruling lord or emperor, or in modern-day terms, perhaps your boss!) China has always had a huge bureaucracy, dating back to antiquity, and since its entrance exams were based entirely on merit (a peasant who scored higher than a nobleman qualified, even if the nobleman didn't), this was one of the most important avenues of social mobility in the pre-Communist empire. The emphasis the Chinese traditionally place on the overriding value of education also dates to this institution of ancient Chinese government.

As far as the Russians are concerned, I think that, contrary to your statement, they actually expect the government to do just about everything for them. Perhaps they see the government as irredeemably corrupt, but it's still the main source of their hopes for reform. (Which might explain why Russian literature to this day is so sad.) Maybe this is the legacy of Communism, or maybe, as Tsarfan would probably argue, it is the legacy of such rulers as Peter the Great and Alexander II. Frankly I think both are true!   

Louis Charles' comment that those countries that officially espouse Christianity may have built in brakes, I have never found that to be true.  Ever.

I agree that it's not true in cases of total fanatics, like Savonarola, Ivan the Terrible or Peter the Great. On the other hand it is quite efficacious with basically well-intentioned but not terribly enlightened rulers like Alexander III and Nicholas II. 

Tsarfan makes a good point about acknowledgment, but acknowledgment is at least a starting point in recognition of our capacity to hurt each other.  The resistance is to atonement and forgiveness.

It may not be our inability to remember history that condemns us to repeat it, but our inability to forgive history that condemns us.

Beautifully put, but I think it's both. One can't realistically expect victims to forgive their enemies until their enemies repent and seek atonement for their crimes (please note, however,  how we have lapsed into Christian discourse here: repentance, atonement, redemption, forgiveness!). I can certainly understand why Koreans are still hostile to the notion of forgiving the Japanese for the war crimes the latter committed during WWII in Korea. The Japanese are still unrepentant, so how can one expect the Koreans to forgive them? It's all well and good to say they should forgive them (and that indeed would be the Christian way), but that's not taking into account human nature.
« Last Edit: October 27, 2006, 11:06:16 AM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #218 on: October 27, 2006, 11:34:32 AM »

Forgive history ? One cannot forgive, until one acknowledges their heinous crimes against humanity, in full, and the genocide of the Armenians have not been acknowledged to date.


Perhaps if the Armenians' own hands were not bloodied by their attempts at "cleansing" their region of Turks and Muslims in the 1880's the outcry about what happened to them at the hands of the Turks in the early 20th century would not ring so hollow.  Some estimates put the number of Turks and Muslims that died or disappeared in the aftermath of the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish war above a quarter million.

Sadly, in the middle and near east and the Balkans, there is one common element shared by every party to the interminable ethnic disputes:  hatred of people who are not in their ethnic or religious group.  And all their cries for atonement conveniently ignore their own roles in perpetuating this hatred and are tinged by resentment not that ethnic cleansing occurs . . . but that someone else managed to do the job better.

This is why there will never be a sane national discussion anywhere about atonement for a nation's history.  Every party will want to control the facts and put more moral weight behind what they perceive as wrongs than behind what others perceive as wrongs.




Offline Bev

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #219 on: October 27, 2006, 01:11:51 PM »
Historically and culturally, the loyalty of the Chinese is to their father, their family, their kinsmen and their clan.  To quote Bloodworth, "the Chinese family is the state."  Confucius codified and streamlined the mechanism of government, but to the Chinese the government philosophy was set by Mo Tsu - agreeing upward.  In other words, the head of the families submitted opinions to the community leader, who in turn submitted them to the regional lords, who then submitted them to the "Son of Heaven".  The emperor's role in Chinese life was to synthesize and unify these opinions as standards of judgement.  Confucius was able to create loyal public servants, by extension of this tradition, not in spite of it.  China has always been concentric in power.  That's not to say that the Chinese don't have expectations of government because they do - the Chinese state has always run basic industries and essential transportation and has been responsible for maintaining social and legal order.

When I say that the Russians are estranged from government as are the Chinese, that doesn't mean that either have no expectations of government, it means they are apathetic to the form of delivery.  They have no history of self-determination or even nationalism as Westerners know it.  When the Han or Manchu or any other foreign invader seized power in China, the overwhelming question of the Chinese was whether the invader would be absorbed by the Chinese.  As long as they conformed to Chinese custom in government administration, most were allowed to rule in somewhat relative harmony.  Like the Russians, it is only when the social order breaks down that the people question the moral authority of the government.

As to Louis Charles' remark, again, I have never known of any so-called "Chiristian country" that wasn't as evil at times as any other nation that was not Christian.  Christian countries don't seem to have any particular lease on morality, and in fact, are usually even more egregious in their infliction of cruelty on others, because they profess to be Christian.  Which of course, brings us to the question of forgiveness - anyone who professes to be Christian and is unable to forgive the transgressions of others, seems to be lacking a basic understanding of the teachings of Christianity - that Christ died so that you would be forgiven, it seems that the very least a professing Christian can do in this world is forgive others.  Without this wholesale, unqualified forgiveness, we cannot break the cycle of violence and revenge.  If Christians can believe that their God sends plagues and disasters to punish human beings, why can't they believe that God sends these tragedies to teach us compassion and empathy for the sufferings of others?  It's the only civilized way to live.

Offline Tania+

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #220 on: October 27, 2006, 01:32:45 PM »
Wow, i am as many others here on this thread, we are surely being thrown history in a bag. Now, we have understanding about the Chinese, the Russians, the Christians, but why have the Moslems, the Jews, and others not been brought into this as well. I mean, we are talking about social and legal order....might as well give out the whole understanding of these countries as well if your open to education....or are our minds limited only to what those who post want our minds to be limited to ?


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Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #221 on: October 27, 2006, 02:02:06 PM »
Just as a note, the statement was qualified. Christian states (or Jewish or Islamic) should have brakes imposed by their own beliefs. The fact that these brakes rarely, if ever, operate is also true.

One cannot "atone" for history in anything like a satisfactory way --- witness John Paul II's apologies for the Crusades, for institutional anti-Semitism within the Christian Church. It needed to be said, and I admire him for doing it, but did it make a difference to those who suffered? One can attempt to explain it --- as, for example,  Tsarfan has done by drawing attention to some elements of the "backstory" of the Armenian extermination.  Surely the point of our discussion is to increase our understanding of why these atrocities took place, with an eye to preventing them in the future whenever possible? I do not see the point of "who suffered the most?" debates, either. Atrocities by definition are bad, and should be prevented.
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #222 on: October 27, 2006, 02:09:21 PM »

. . . please note, however,  how we have lapsed into Christian discourse here: repentance, atonement, redemption, forgiveness


Well, I'm not so sure these concepts are unique to Christianity.  But I do get your point.

In my view, these four things only have practical meaning when applied to the choices and behaviors of individuals.  An individual can choose to turn the other cheek when a blow is struck.  It's not generally a policy I would recommend to a government as a moral imperative.  An individual can repent, because he has personal responsibility for an act.  Again, it is hard to transfer the concept of repentance or redemption into the realm of government activity, where actions seldom are taken by one person acting alone.  Government, even in totalitarian systems, is collective activity.

In fact, I think one of the worst traps a government can fall into is trying to foster a consensus on the meanings of a nation's history.  Even in the relatively benign context of United States history, look at what happens when anyone tries to base a policy stance on the views of the founding fathers.  Someone in short order points out that those founding fathers had slave owners among their ranks and that their stated values are, therefore, the product of cynical hypocrisy.  Or someone pushes for an aggressive policy to stop Serbian genocide, and soon there are factions insisting that, as mass murderers of indigenous native Americans, we have no right as a country to impose our views on the Balkans.

A nation cannot progress by trying to forge a consensus about its past.  The attempt can lead only to acrimony and mutual recriminations.  (Just look at how some threads unfold on this forum.  Can you imagine our rather-inconsequential fights elevated to the level of national debate?)  A nation can only progress when people start to get more interested in their future than in their past.  Today's Americans don't have to resolve moral questions about slavery or native Americans in order to decide domestic or foreign policy questions.  We don't have to have a consensus on the causes of slavery to know that we don't want our children to grow up in a racist society.  We don't have to have a consensus on the meaning of our history as it relates to native Americans to know that we should not sit on the sidelines today while genocide runs amok in Kosovo or Darfur.

The worst thing that could happen to Russia today would be for it to get enmeshed in a soul-searching about the nature of Bolshevism or in a debate about a restoration of monarchy or a return to its Slavic roots.  Russians need hope for their future, not atonement for their past.  As the United States proves every day, you can have a pretty robust nation and economy with a whole heap of skeletons left in closets in which only historians care to spend much time rummaging around for answers.

Offline Bev

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #223 on: October 27, 2006, 03:17:19 PM »
I agree, Tsarfan.  Well stated.  The problem with political dialogue in this era is the inability to offer or understand nuanced argument.  Perhaps its our overdependence on one medium to discuss social issues which doesn't lend itself to nuanced thought and in fact, encourages inflammatory rhetoric.  I tend to the "arrested development" theory - "if you're not for ...you must be against..." - fine at high school pep rallies, but not very conducive to building consensus in a diverse society.  Also, people seem not to understand argumentation.  Debate in public is little more than accusation and contradiction.  College debate societies are now "teams" and the team which can speak the fastest, wins.  It's depressing to watch and listen to them... the "Chris Mathews Speed Speaking School of Discourse."  (And by consensus, I mean a solution to a problem using compromise and pragmatism, not consensus as complete agreement.)

Louis Charles, I'm sorry I misunderstood your comment.  I agree that the "who suffered the most syndrome" is destructive to societies and nations.  It only perpetuates the cycle.

Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #224 on: October 27, 2006, 06:00:31 PM »
Wow, i am as many others here on this thread, we are surely being thrown history in a bag. Now, we have understanding about the Chinese, the Russians, the Christians, but why have the Moslems, the Jews, and others not been brought into this as well. I mean, we are talking about social and legal order....might as well give out the whole understanding of these countries as well if your open to education....or are our minds limited only to what those who post want our minds to be limited to ?


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Tania,

What does this post mean? I don't mean subtext. I mean, what does it mean?

Simon
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"The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, so take snacks and a magazine."