When I was studying math and physics at a Moscow uni, I worked part-time in the Soviet version of Popular Mechanics.
Every now and then, a visitor would storm past the reception desk to the science editorial office, his hands full with rolls of blueprints, his eyes sparkling with Archimedian excitement, his spectacles steamed by hyperventilation, and we would silently bet what it was this time: Perpetuum Mobile or Time Machine, hoping for the latter.
Time Machine inventors were so rare I haven’t met one in my three years there, but I’ve seen my share of Perpetuum Mobilists.
We never argued with them. We would ask which type it was, I or II. Type I, breaking the first law of thermodynamics, would go to editor Pyotr, and Type II, violating thermodynamics’ second law, would be sent over to editor Evgeny. Being career alcoholics, the two editors treated delusions, both their own and those of perpetual motion designers, with respect and the compassion of someone who’d been in and out of dark places before. Pyotr and Evreny excelled at the red tape with which they cocooned the crazy inventors for months and years until the inventors’ excitement or the inventors themselves passed away, whichever came first.
When I meet a socialist today, I want to give them a pat on the back and ask which type it is. Marx’s? Stalin’s? Mao’s? Kim’s? Castro’s? Maduro’s? Then I wish I could send the bloody lunatics to live in the socialist systems they so much desire to build.
Their belief in humane socialism is the same thing as the conviction that it is possible to design a machine without friction between its parts or energy leaks. The latter relies on physical miracles, and the former is based on the assumption that people can somehow be made perfect or “ideal”.
God Almighty, Lenin, and Mao had repeatedly failed in that department. Alas, Marx’s followers believe neither in God nor in history lessons – whenever and wherever they win, they rewrite history anyway, for re-educational purposes and the greater good.
Yet, history is stubborn in its stance on the ideal man creation. It is a noble idea, no doubt, but its hymn always ends with the line “execute the baddies, educate the rest”.
At first, even Lenin didn’t want to exterminate the Bourgeois class or wealthy farmers. He expected them to willingly relinquish their property and sacrifice what was left on the altar of the Proletariat’s effort to build a new society and spread the blaze of Socialist Revolution globally. When they fell short of his expectations, he had no other option but to kill all these incorrigible people. Stalin just continued and scaled up Lenin’s policy.
The remaining people were supposed to get enlightened and shaped into The Builders of the Future through schools, books, media, the arts, and labour camps. Back in the USSR, we had our own version of the Ten Commandments, the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism. Generations of people were brought up on these ideals. We had to memorise it and follow it. We had community or workplace courts (called Courts or Comrades) that would judge and condemn people violating the Moral Code, such as drunkards, adulterers, political joke disseminators, and the like. All the novels, poems, TV programs, and kid cartoons were celebrating selflessness and self-sacrifice.
Nothing worked. The whole concept failed spectacularly, and not because of faulty execution. The idea of morally perfect people flounders universally, every time and everywhere. Not because people are evil. Maybe, because people want to have the freedom to be different. Perhaps, because people are simply different. Very likely, because ideal people can only be ideal when there are less ideal people around – the same reason why the project of 100 per cent business class airline never took off: how can you feel premium if you are unable to look back at poor sods in the economy?
Do all the past failures and their accompanying atrocities deter socialism believers? Of course not. The physical impossibility of turning water into wine doesn’t make Christians throw away their bibles. The impossibility to increase the total energy of an isolated system does not stop Perpetuum Motion inventors. Socialists are no different. All of the above are religions, and when logic encounters religion, it jumps out of the window at the first opportunity.
It would be fine if the similarities between Crazy Inventors, Christians and Socialists ended there.
Alas, unlike Christians that are patiently waiting for the Apocalypse, Socialists can’t wait to bring it on. They want to take down the old order ASAP, raise everything to the ground, and then build a new and better world.
You may think that today’s Socialists and Communists are kinder, less malign and more benign than their predecessors. No, they are not. The tolerance level of today’s socialists is way below that of Lenin’s patience. Twitter and Facebook are overflowing with demands that people need to be boycotted, ostracised, fired from their jobs, and even physically evicted from their neighbourhoods because of their opinions, past tweets, or current party affiliations that seemed OK just a few weeks ago.
There is something in the air today that smells of at least a cultural revolution, if not a social and economic one: the cancel culture, the toppling of statues, the renaming of universities. I don’t feel I want to support this revolution, because its demands are not about making the world freer. It wants to make the world better by making the world less free. It intends to prohibit views that are “bad” – and while I don’t want to discuss the badness of those views for they indeed can be quite reprehensible sometimes – I know that noble intentions such as these pave the road to a totalitarian hell.
What I also know is that revolutions offer new opportunities for artists. Let’s talk about it next.
I would have to agree with you that what is going on in Asia is disturbing, what with leaders extending their governance indefinitely. I’m afraid the political situation in the west isn’t much better. We swing from one prattling idiot to another. There’s no doubt in my mind that this will have an influence on the art of the times.
I love the way revolutions impact the arts ) we’ll soon talk about it !
I’ve done a few revolutionary painting already….
You need not even be guilty of wrong speak to be persecuted, you only need to not have publicly prostrated yourself, bent your knee, and confessed the sin of your biology. Silence alone is considered an act of aggression. Demands are now emerging to eradicate all depictions of a melatonin-deficient Christ, which would include virtually every image of the Lord in Western art history. Along with the enforcers of the law, the culture must be defunded and abolished as heinous. Conveniently, we have a racial scapegoat on which to place all blame. And all of this is in the name of combating hate and injustice, even if it employs the tools of hate and injustice to accomplish its ends. Most people blithely state their allegiance to the cause with a white-free rectangle, unaware that the seeming good cause they support is a Trojan Horse for a cancerous narrative and ideology. Those of us who can see the sinister behind the glaze of righteousness are too afraid to stick our necks out during high guillotine season. Only a witch would defend witches, and it’s OK to burn a witch because she or he is a witch.
Eric, I have always wondered if a westerner could understand a Soviet guy like me – and I see now that you can ) Thank you for your comment – I love the way you describe the current situation, and I absolutely applaud the fact that you have the critical view that so many are lacking.
Brilliant and despairing. Before 1989 when the regime in Bulgaria fell, I never thought it would. Then I never thought that it could ever come back. Seems that the fate of our generation is to see it do a full circle in one lifetime.
Thank you ) Not really despairing – I still hope most people would see through the ruse )
“Those who do not know history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them.” George Santayana
Kirill Thank you for sharing with us your experiences from the past and applying them to the present. So many of us who read you are ignorant, although decently read, of the reality of what was left prior to 1989. We read about it we try to understand it but we did not live it, we did not hear our contemporary say it to us or order us in such a manner; thank you for sharing with us your experiences from the past and applying them to the present. We read about it we try to understand it but we did not leave it we did not hear, prima facie, The rules, the ideology, the slogans that we would have been expected to follow and repeat as you tell us. So hearing it from you, a calm, rational, cogitating human being increases the impact.
And makes us think and applied to today’s quotidian.
And best of all is your conclusion about how all of the supplies the art. You ventured into an area are you really venture into, politics, and let’s see how all of this affects art.
Thank you for helping us understand more of the past especially in light of a possibly veiled future.
My dear friend, I still hope that common sense will prevail )