The usual Monday morning cluttered brain here needing to unload. Instead I sat down to read for an hour or so, and it led me to a revelation that has some explanatory power – people talk about the Stalin purges and Mao’s Cultural Revolution as defining events in those cultures, all with the arrogance of smugly superior civilized people watching others self-destruct.
The purges are part of Stalin’s image in the west as classic bad guy of all time, so people assume that his regime was merely evil. Rather it was in survival mode, having been under attack from the West since inception. In fact there were suspicious murders all about, and Trotsky was leading a revolution from outside with many allies inside. Stalin’s entire reign can be seen as survival mode. Even the great famines were a necessary choice, to feed the cities to build up armaments for defense, or to feed the rural areas and perish as a nation. Stalin did not force that choice. It came from outside pressure, unrelenting attacks from Britain in the form of agents and armaments and provocateurs. The purge trials were a public cleansing, and the attitude outside is that Stalin was merely disposing of personal enemies. It may have been that, but not as a primary driver – the primary driver was real enemies, remnants of the old oligarchy that wanted their country back and wanted to happily live as they had before, building empires and fighting periodic cleansing wars.
Communism was not a great change from Czarism in Russia. It was the same population, same attitudes, and same backwardness. Stalin modernized much of Russia, and also was its savior, as the country was meant to fall to the Nazis. That was all that the European war was about. All the machinations of the 1930’s can been seen as a building up of Germany by American and British factions to enable Barbarossa. Stalingrad changed everything.
Stalin was nobody’s fool, and also knew that he had to fight fire with fire. He could not give any appearance of weakness or his enemies in and out of Russia would pounce. As time goes on I more admire him for doing the necessary dirt needed to build the country. The guy who did as much for the United States was Lincoln. He did not fight that horrible war for the sake of slaves, but for union, to build a country that would be united within to withstand enemies within and out. The US as we know it is his creation, and to build it so he had to break laws, violate the constitution, and cause unimaginable death and destruction. Lincoln is our Stalin. He too was a cruel tyrant who built a great country. Our historians treat them quite differently, but I’ve long lost interest in our historians.
Mao and the Cultural Revolution I don’t know much about other than it seems to have been a release, wherein a few purges here and there unleashed a torrent of pent-up anger in that society. But it is hard to judge as our ideas about that society are so misinformed. The only reading I’ve done about them is a cursory treatment by a renowned scholar, John K. Fairbank. I have got to revisit that guy! I do know that the “Great Leap Forward” was a great blunder: that in trying to modernize Chinese agriculture Mao made the same mistake we are now making in allowing our food system to be taken over by Monsanto – eliminating diversity. We are inviting tragedy.
People in this country talk of the famine that followed the Great Leap as intentional, just as they refer to those in Russia as Stalin’s idea for cleansing. It wasn’t, anymore than he American Dust Bowl was the result of the policies of any one man. But it was avoidable, and is testimony to the need for wide and varied agricultural practices and local management of those resources. And anyway, at the very same time, India was experiencing famines of the same proportion, while under British rule. I don’t know of anyone talking about the Indian famines, which ceased in total when the Brits were forced out, as being the result of “Churchill” or “Chamberlain,” though each of these esteemed gentlemen have left as much death in their wakes as have Stalin and Mao. In fact, we don’t talk about Indian famines at all, and reserve noble sentiments for our tyrants and butchers. This reality is hard to reconcile with the essential benevolence that we see in our morning mirror.
But the idea that stimulated this word flood was “purge,” as it is my experience that everything we see elsewhere we also experience here. And indeed we did experience a purge that removed so many excellent people from our public service, including JK Fairbanks as noted above. It was the McCarthy period. The Senator himself was nobody and could easily have been dismissed, as one man of 531 does not have that kind of power. McCarthy had power behind him, and it is that ugly hidden power that would later murder Kennedy and give us Vietnam and all that followed. The McCarthy period was our internal cleansing and purging, preparing the public for the “Cold War,” and removing independent thinkers with high ideals from public life.
With Monty Python, I can see a period “before” and a period “after” and see that group changed comedy. They were ground breakers. With the McCarthy period, the hearings conveniently televised for the whole nation to see (our first big PSYOP using the Cyclops as a psychological suggestion box), the notion that communists were under our beds was planted, and thousands of dedicated public servants were sent packing. It was our own Cultural Revolution, our own purge. I see a period before, and a period after, and a different attitude. That it happened in short order after Truman’s signature on the National Security Act of 1947, creating the CIA and NSA and embedding so many former Nazi SS agents in our backdrop, was no coincidence I am sure. Truman was our own Monty Python, a clueless comedian and the man who ushered in the new era, but not nearly as funny as that British troupe that merely wanted to make people laugh.
Weakest ending ever.