There is no such thing as socialism, and the Soviet Union built it.
Martin Malia (quoted from Koba the Dread)
Joseph Stalin expanded the terror-state he had taken over from Lenin and used his quarter century of power to institutionalize the gross pathologies of his personality. All of the vast Soviet organs of power he had stamped with a ruthlessness and dishonesty that eventually turned the USSR into a slew of cynical nihilism. His successors he had trained well in his arts, and he had made certain that they were deeply complicit in all of his crimes – the mass shootings and starvation, the forced deportations, the torture, depredations and the betrayal of the promise to build a fair and just egalitarian society. Like their mentor, Stalin’s successors needed not only to lie, but to “force feed” the lies, as Solzhenitsyn put it, bearing down with the entire weight of state power in order both to maintain their power and privileges as well as to avoid accountability and condemnation for their spectacular record of failure. The twin pillars of Leninism – lying and coercion – were still in place and remained so until the end. To be promoted and to advance in this system one had to be a coward, a toady and a liar. As Zbigniew Brezezinski notes: “Stalin’s massive terror gave way to a more discriminating but still arbitrary use of political coercion, largely because the ruling elite had learned through bitter experience that terror had a dynamic of its own, eventually even consuming its sponsors.” [Zbigniew Brezezinski, The Grand Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the Twentieth Century , Charles Schribner’s Son, New York, 1989, 33] Stalin’s heirs of power were unwilling or unable to sustain the raw terror and the mass murder of their boss, but they could not dismount the Stalinist tiger without themselves being devoured.
The first Communist government was installed in 1917 in the disintegrating, war torn Russian empire by professional Russian revolutionaries financed by the Grandees of Ludendorff’s German war machine. When they arranged to transport Lenin from his exile in Switzerland back to Russia to destabilize the government and undermine the war effort they never imagined that the Bolsheviks would end up permanently in charge. From the regime’s beginning it evinced two features that persisted through its entire existence, noted above – massive coercion and pervasive dishonesty – features that were the embodiment of every single Communist government that later came into being. No Communist leader can be found anywhere in the history of the twentieth century who was not profoundly dishonest and not heavily reliant on the use of secret police and military force to maintain a single party rule.
The Soviet Union endured for seventy-four years until its largely unpredicted implosion. All of its original ambitious promises and lofty ideals from Lenin were washed away first in the blood, then the material and spiritual destitution that befell the people subjected to it. From the beginning, Bolshevik rule was a cruel and vicious ordeal as the party aimed to physically exterminate the old ruling class. As noted above, the wide-scale murdering, conducted by government organs subsided after Stalin’s death, and, as Dmitri Volkogonov notes, “policy had shifted from the physical terror of the time of Lenin and Stalin, to the spiritual and ideological control of society.” [Dmitri Volkogonov, Autopsy for an Empire: the Seven Leaders Who Built the Soviet Regime, New York, 1998, 335] Stalin’s method of dealing with truth tellers was crude and elemental – kill them. “Death solves all problems,” Stalin was to have said. “No man, no problems.” [Quoted from Martin Amis, Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million, New York, 2003, 57]
As the world’s original “workers’ state” decomposed into stagnation, careerism, corruption after Stalin’s death, the ubiquitous terror gave way to systematic manipulation. Skillful and persistent lying was even more essential to prop up a sclerotic regime run by opportunists, drunkards and cynics. However, this had come to be a steep and daunting task for the Party bosses for two ugly reasons. First, to the regime now belonged a long and staggering record of crimes, waste and brutality that it desperately needed to conceal. The sheer magnitude of iniquity meant that lies of equal and greater magnitude had to be pushed out and perpetuated to cover up the past horror and protect the reputations of the still-reigning perpetrators. Second, after decades in power, the damming disparity between the grim reality of the actual Bolshevik performance and the happy fiction of the official propaganda was becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore or rationalize away. The task of spiritual and ideological manipulation of a society for a regime as Volkogonov notes whose past was terror and whose present was stagnation and corruption was a very tall order.
The rapture of Western intellectuals with Stalin eventually had to give way to disillusionment before the grimness, repression and squalidness of the USSR and the Eastern-block Communist countries. Fortunately for them the next generation of Marxist, revolutionary heroes were stepping up to sustain the romance and fill the “revolutionary” void vacated by Comrade Stalin. The grey, drab, monotone Communism of Russia, Poland and East Germany with their stolid and robot-like white-male leaders would pass out of vogue as more colorful and exotic Third World charismatic Robin Hoods emerged to enthuse over. The fellow travelers shifted their affection and support to the newer and sleeker Stalinists models with brand new tires and fewer miles – Mao, Castro, Ho – a fresh entourage of revolutionary romantics, full of promises – hope and change for the oppressed – invective for makers of profit.
The first Bolshevik dictatorship, and all subsequent Bolshevik franchises, were installed and managed by men and women who never hesitated to lie and deceive whenever it served their purposes. [Ideologues should always fall under suspicion as liars, as liars at the core. Sissela Bok states that: “[t]he more dogmatic the belief that one possesses, the greater the liberties taken on its behalf with truth-telling.” Sissela Bok, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, New York, Pantheon, 1978, 86] Lying and dishonesty were at the very core of the original Bolshevik experiment and the subsequent management style of command, coerce and prevaricate. When the governing class rests its legitimacy on a fraudulent ideology it must always resort to coercion as the principle element of its rule. Force is necessary for the ideologues because they cannot compete in a space where reasoned argument and persuasion influence political outcomes. Free elections are opportunities for the governed for measurements of truth – did our governors do what they said they would do? Thus, Communist governments never submit themselves to elections.