“They had to fool the people…”

To go along with the “crimes of Communism” theme today – here is an excerpt from a book I really dig: Michael Dobbs’ Down With Big Brothjer: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. It’s my favorite excerpt.

Despite a willingness to redefine the word “socialism”, so that it lost much of its meaning, Gorbachev was unwilling to abandon Communist ideology altogether. He prattled on about the irrevocable “socialist choice” that Russia had allegedly made in November 1917. Lenin remained an unassailable authority for him. Yeltsin, on the other hand, was undergoing an ideological conversation that was both painful and public. Spurred on by his conflict with the Communist Party establishment, he had reexamined his most basic political beliefs, and he had come to the conclusion that he was no longer a Communist.

A turning point in Yeltsin’s intellectual development occurred during his first visit to the United States in September 1989, more specifically his first visit to an American supermarket, in Houston, Texas. The sight of aisle after aisle of shelves neatly stacked with every conceivable type of foodstuff and household item, each in a dozen varieties, both amazed and depressed him. For Yeltsin, like many other first-time Russian visitors to America, this was infinitely more impressive than tourist attractions like the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial. It was impressive precisely because of its ordinariness. A cornucopia of consumer goods beyond the imagination of most Soviets was within the reach of ordinary citizens without standing in line for hours. And it was all so attractively displayed. For someone brought up in the drab conditions of communism, even a member of the relatively privileged elite, a visit to a Western supermarket involved a full-scale assault on the senses.

“What we saw in that supermarket was no less amazing than America itself,” recalled Lev Sukhanov, who accompanied Yeltsin on his trip to the United States and shared his sense of shock and dismay at the gap in living standards between the two superpowers. “I think it is quite likely that the last prop of Yeltsin’s Bolshevik consciousness finally collapsed after Houston. His decision to leave theparty and join the struggle for supreme power in Russia may have ripened irrevocably at that moment of mental confusion.”

On the plane, traveling from Houston to Miami, Yeltsin seemed lost in his thoughts for a long time. He clutched his head in his hands. Eventually he broke his silence. “They had to fool the people,” he told Sukhanov. “It is now clear why they made it so difficult for the average Soviet citizen to go abroad. They were afraid that people’s eyes would open.”

The former party apparatchik understood the yearning of the narod — the long-suffering Russian people — for a normal life, its anger at being deceived and humiliated. He, too, had been humiliated. He, too, had been deceived. He would help the narod secure its revenge against the party establishment. The narod’s revenge would also be his.

Orwell’s genius was recognizing the trick, recognizing how “they” had to fool “the people” – recognizing the utter lie of Communism or Socialism – decades before anyone else did. I’m gonna go home and pull out that excerpt from 1984 where Winston reads the forbidden book which outlines the tenets of Newspeak and totalitarianism – and Orwell (duh) finds a much deeper level to all of it than I could see originally.

“They had to fool the people”. People are still being fooled.

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One Response to “They had to fool the people…”

  1. David says:

    The reference to Yeltsin’s supermarket epiphany is interesting. When Nikita Kruschev first visited the United States, he was taken to a normal supermarket. What he saw appeared so beyond belief to him that he could only rationalize that it was set up to deceive him. He could not accept that this country had that rich a variety of food and household goods readily available for all.