Fragments from a War Diary, Part #114
The Soviet Union was a Russian empire cloaked in the illusion of ideology that paid no credence to national affiliations. It was an absurd illusion, as people have always associated themselves with the national and cultural traditions of their territory or peoples. Karl Marx, in his idealistic and fantastical writings, imagined that this was a fake kind of intellectual exercise in encouraging people to associate themselves with group identities that had no rational basis. The reason people did this, according to Marx, was because capitalists - the monsters that drive the western system of ideological thinking and government - encouraged it as a form of intellectual enslavement to keep the proletariat pliant; and the capitalists used the middle classes, who propagated these pseudo-intellectual ideas, as tools for the dissemination of propaganda that would inure the proletariat to their fates as slaves of the capitalists. Marx used the term “petty bourgeoisie” as a label to describe the middle classes in capitalist society who undertook so deformed a role in manipulating the proletariat by spreading fake political and cultural philosophies to keep the working classes quiet, and it was an inevitable consequence of Marxist political philosophy, once enacted, that the petty bourgeoisie as Marx described them would become victims of tyranny.
Hence once the Soviet Union had been created, there was a relentless crackdown upon intellectuals of every kind who did not overtly associate themselves with Marxist principles. This was because Marxism was profoundly illiberal: it brooked no debate. Any idea or philosophy that not congruent with the Marxist notion that all ideas are illegitimate save those that promote the notion of universal equality of the workers without regard to culture, nationality, language or other distinctions disregarded by Marxist thinking, were representative of malign social and cultural forces and hence they were not to be eliminated in debate and argumentation but rather to be suppressed forcibly as dangers to the state. That is why the practical political implementation of Marxism entailed ruthless suppression of the middle classes and of intellectuals, scholars and academics in particular. Ideas associated with the rights of national minorities, such as the right of self-determination propounded by US President Woodrow Wilson in the Charter of the League of Nations established at the end of World War One, were not just wrong but counter-revolutionary and a social evil. In Soviet communist thought, the very propagation of political ideas inconsistent with Communism was something to be violently suppressed. Hence the Soviet Union came to be associated not just with the suppression of freedom of expression but also with the suppression of political thought.
In such an environment it was hardly a surprise that the man who, after Lenin was murdered by his doctors, came to prominence and power was a profoundly anti-intellectual, cruel and brutal man with no regard for the value of human life and with comprehensive disrespect for the middle classes and for academia. His name was Joseph Vissaryanovich Djugashvilli, later to be known as Joseph Stalin. Stalin had sheer contempt for his more intellectual colleagues in the Soviet Union’s Politburo and in the senior echelons of the Bolshevik movement and the Soviet Communist Party. A poorly educated villager from the Russian imperial backwater of Georgia in the Caucasus, he fought his way up through the Bolshevik movement using his skills of cunning, barbarism, callous disregard for truth or civil values and his preparedness to murder his opponents. He embraced the philosophy that no intellectual ideas save for pure and unadulterated Marxism were to be tolerated, because he loathed and feared the intellectual classes and hence he was determined to stamp them out as an alternative power base save to the extent that he could enfeeble them and control them as animals.
Hence throughout the 1920’s, after Stalin had arranged for the murder of the quasi-intellectual founder of the Bolshevik Movement, Vladimir Lenin, and through the 1930’s, Stalin arranged for the state-sponsored assassination of all the Communist Party’s intellectuals and for a broader social suppression of the middle classes in general. This forcible elimination of free thinking and the unhindered expression of political and other ideas had precedent in Russian imperial history, that Stalin, using and expanding the powers of the profoundly anti-intellectual secret police movement in the Soviet Union, capitalised upon and expanded. Stalin was above all in his philosophy not a Marxist (indeed it is doubtful whether he ever really grasped the underlying philosophical concepts in Marxist thinking, such as dialectical materialism, exploitation and alienation) but a pursuer of suppressing free thinking, intellectuals and a destroyer of the middle classes in general for which he had undisguised contempt.
This anti-intellectual movement, spearheaded by Stalin, had permanent and deleterious consequences for all intellectual movements in the Soviet Union. During the Soviet era, any academic or scholarly exercise that could not colourably identify itself with Marxist-Leninism was in danger of violent suppression, as were those articulating it. This led to a preposterous deformation of all forms of academic expression, as any new idea inculcated in a university or other institution of learning and scholarship had to be warped into such language and conceptual framework as to be ostensibly Marxist. Otherwise the censors within the secret police, who themselves had no understanding of the concept of free expression and the value to society of the open confrontation of different ideas as a means of advancing society politically and technologically, would pursue the progenitors of these ideas and persecute them relentlessly.
What Stalinism therefore achieved was the distortion and suppression of free thinking that we in the West understand to be an essential element of social progress. Distinctively Ukrainian notions of patriotism, language, cultural expression and political values were, under the Marxist tenets appealing to Stalin’s tradition of anti-intellectualism, fundamental social evils standing in the way of the greater communist project and they had to be eliminated at all costs. This sort of profoundly destructive primitivist thinking ruined generations of academic thinking across all the countries of the Soviet Union and intimidated academics and free thinkers against expressing new or progressive ideas. It also engendered profound paranoia, as nobody would feel free to share their ideas with others lest they be labelled as counter-revolutionary: a dangerous and even fatal label in Stalin’s Soviet Union.
The legacy of all this anti-intellectualism persisted well after the death of Stalin and even after the demise of the Soviet Union. It persisted well into the post-independence period for Ukraine, and this sort of paranoia about scholarship and freedom of thought and expression is beginning to dissolve only now, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as both Ukrainians and their western supporters alike realise that this is not merely a battle for territory but also a battle for ideas and for a very western concept of freedom. This is a war over ideologies. Arguably the principal problem with Vladimir Putin’s Russia is her reversion to totalitarian suppression of the freedom of expression. We are fighting an ideological war against long-entrenched ideas of hostility to academic leadership of social ideas that goes at least as far back as Joseph Stalin and arguably as far back as Marxism itself.