Rubin Reports

What We Can Learn from Communist Eastern Europe About Contemporary American Life

The Hungarian Communist secret police rationalized forcing  prisoners to sign false confessions by seeking to distinguish between ordinary “factual” proof and “political” truth, with the latter, of course, taking precedence.

” When the regime wanted to punish someone “the crime of which he was suspected became a `political truth,” justifying the invention of almost any `facts’needed to prove it.”  –Paul Ignotus, after being tortured into signing a false confession.

To travel to central Europe or the USSR and really immerse oneself in the recent past of those nations is to grasp a bizarre situation they lived through for decades. Let’s call it Double Reality. And it is what lots of us are experiencing in the West today. That’s why the lessons of Communist rule and society aren’t taught to American students today.

Double Reality was the situation under Communist rule in which one knew that everything was terrible but was daily  assaulted with the message that everything was wonderful. An important difference between the West today and the Soviet bloc experience from the late 1940s up to 1989 is that we, at least, can complain without getting hauled off to a re-education camp.

What we also have in the West, however, is the implementation of a left-wing idea that supposedly applied to democratic capitalist society. The Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse called it “repressive tolerance” while the extreme leftist philologist Noam Chomsky called the other side of the equation, “manufacturing consent.”

In short, for the far left today,which has more power in the United States than ever before and arguably the same point applies (at least in the intellectual sphere) to Western Europe, Marcuse’s concept covers the side of, Let them talk but keep people from listening. The dissenters are ridiculed, their ideas distorted, they are accused of thought crimes, and when possible are ignored completely

Chomsky got the part that says, We will control the schools, mass media, and other institutions so as to indoctrinate people into agreeing with us in order to “manufacture consent” for ideas that are ridiculous and which a few years earlier only a small fringe would have supported.

Double Reality means that the financial deficit is disastrous and the economy is bad month after month yet there are happy face talk everywhere saying that the first doesn’t matter and the second is doing well. The great leader has everything under control even while we know that he is handing out assets stolen from us to his cronies.

Double Reality means that political figures, cultural figures, teachers, and others don’t have to be fair because they know beyond question that they are right and that their rivals are primitive, evil, and don’t know what’s good for them.

And so for example we are told that the media is doing a terrific job (usually by that self-same media) and that universities are beacons of wisdom when both are falling down on their job of being watchdogs with only a few journalists and professors shouting warnings or evincing guilt.

Are we crazy to think that American foreign policy is in a terrible mess? Well, the goal is to make the masses think so or at least ignore what I and others say.

The counterrevolutionary plots must be defeated. The enemies of the people want to return the estates to the big landlords, oppress the proletariat, and institute concentration camps. Or, rather, they advocate the modern and American equivalents of such things: the alleged war on women, racism, Homophobia, Islamophobia,  and Illegal-Immigrantophobia. And on top of everything else, it is claimed that the opposition that seeks to deny freedom of speech and other rights to the hegemonic forces.

Again, things have not gone so far as they did in Central Europe except for one aspect: the doubling of reality, the pretense that full democracy and open debate is functioning as normal that everything is all right.

You can see these techniques in action in the museums devoted to the Communist era in places like Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.  Films showing happy peasants are displayed alongside texts describing how the state confiscated almost everything that farmers produced. Exhibits show how religious institutions were taken over by the party so that smooth-talking officials speaking about social justice forced out the most honest and dedicated clergy. Videos of show-trials portray the berating of real patriots and honest democracy advocates as the servants of vile forces of capitalism, Zionism, and other enemies of the people. The victims underwent “reeducation” and might tearfully confess their “crimes.”

Setbacks under the Communist regime were attributed to deliberate sabotage. An example from Hungary: when the supply of meat fell, meat-workers were rounded up and put on trial. Just like — as in the concept, not the degree of punishment — economic woes today are blamed on the evil, selfish enemies of the regime.

Reality becomes unimportant; evidence is irrelevant. Logical discourse is not needed to reach the proper conclusions. Why give racists, fascists, and the greedy exploiters of the people fair treatment? We know they are guilty so anything is permissible.

Yet, except for a relatively low proportion of true believers or the exceptionally ignorant, people had to know what was going on. Or did they? When they looked at Stalin or his local franchises, when they clapped wildly at official functions knowing that failure to clap could be a crime, were they being cynical and resigned?

A description at the Hungarian House of Terror, a building chosen for the museum because it was first, the headquarters of the Hungarian fascists, and then of the Communist secret police, poses a question. One day you are walking down the street, you are pulled into a van and given a choice: be an informer or don’t get into the university; be an informer or you won’t get a good job.

At the high end we have people who can keep both their wealth and their high public reputation by signing up.

Now obviously with this and the other points made in the article I’m not suggesting that the situation in Western Europe and United States today is like that.  Especially important is the freedom to be ignored. Instead of being sent to a camp and liquidated, airbrushed out of the history books (although that is happening with the rewriting of history), one can merely be airbrushed out of the public debate, to become what in Communist times was called an “unperson.” It isn’t the intensity with which the techniques are applied that is the same; it is the basic techniques themselves.

But there are parallels. If you don’t toe the line, there are career consequences. Even if everyone pretends otherwise, everyone knows it. Try going around with a PhD and seeking a university position without having the proper political line. Denounce the right people; extoll the right people and ýou at least have got, as one prominent puts it, a “fair shot.”

Care to be a meteorologist who argues against man-made climate change? A scholar who says that America is not characterized by racism and imperialism? A Justice Department employee ready to prosecute voting fraud cases against Democrats?  An artist who doesn’t adhere to the contemporary equivalent of the Socialist Realism message?

Some academics now speak privately of doing what was called in the USSR, “writing for the drawer,” that is, producing non-Politically Correct but true works which they hope to publish in more open, future times. That is especially true for those who do not yet have tenure, or at least a secure job.

Another similarity is that those doing the persecuting simultaneously claim to be the victims, as if they are being pursued and harassed by the aforementioned counterrevolutionary forces. A great amount of public sympathy can be garnered while further libeling the actual victims.

In Communist countries, having the right class origin was very helpful to one’s career. There are parallels to that in the United States though the precise groups being rewarded have changed. Yet, again, if you don’t have the right political line your advantage is cancelled out.

And, yes, there are even show trials of a sort, bad examples who are portrayed as class or gender traitors. The Trayvon Martin case presents a different sort of example. If you confess and show contrition, however, you might be forgiven.

Again, the extent to which these tools are used is far less in the West today yet the parallels are clear. So is the frustration of seeing the daily absurdities that abound in every phase of life. Of course, there have always been absurdities and contradictions but what has been created now is unprecedented: a full-blown dual reality in the United States.

With any good fortune, some day many people will say what one disillusioned Communist wrote after the nightmare was over: “My crime was to believe in your crime.”