Friday, March 24, 2006

The good old times when we sang Horst Wessel

Finland is a unique country in the West in the sense that our 1970’s generation of student radicals turned towards orthodox Marxist-Leninism and the Soviet Union and not towards more utopian socialist traditions. Even more curiously they largely embraced the “Stalinist” minority faction of the Finnish Communist Party and not the more independent minded majority. (It is debatable to what degree the quotation marks are in order: in spirit that faction had a direct genealogy from the Stalinist mentality hardened and traumatized by the embraced purges.) In any case it was a colossal failure of intelligence and morality. Especially the latter – but in many ways quite excusable in the burning youthful radicalism, in that natural search for a fixed identity, all explaining faith.

But what I find very hard to accept is this rueful, amused nostalgia that most of the educated class and the ex-radicals themselves seem to feel about those times. There is almost a universal absence of any serious, even half-serious moral reflection. You can see the hammer and sickle on t-shirts, I would not wonder if one day there would a KGB (or even NKVD) logo on the chests of young idealistic people. Swastikas on the other hand are quite a bit more rare. I freely grant that Nazi-Germany in its brief, awful history advanced even further into the darkness, but not radically further when you think of the sheer number of the victims of Marxism-Leninism. 

Stalin’s system was actually more dangerous in the sense that it survived much longer and was thus able to murder even more people – finally even becoming the object of half-amused nostalgia, having logos on t-shirts. The names of Vorkuta and Solovetsk should lead to similar chilling, horrified feeling as Dachau and Auschwitz – for me, for many people they actually do, but there is no real public awareness of those millions of nameless graves, no real collective sense of a living historical memory. The victims and the crimes are forgotten: it seems it’s all right to murder masses of innocent people if you can disguise your bloody hysteria into few stolen enlightenment dregs.


lurker on the threshold said...

A couple of comments:
1)They were utopian, the Soviet Union was utopia to them. Not the really existing one, but the USSR of their imagination.
2)Most of the educated class? I'd like some serious figures on that before I'll believe the Stallies were more than a really loud minority.
3)Rueful nostalgia: please note that Stalin died in 1953. This movement was not contemporary with him. The Soviet Union of Brezhnev was a quite uninspiring but not particularly murderous dictatorship. The two things (boring bland buraeucracy and lack of enthusiasm for mass murder) sort of go together. The really, really scary regimes mobilize the masses, e.g. the Interahamwe in Rwanda. Lazy-ass bureaucratic oligarchies want the masses to stay put. They may stagnate economically, stifle innovation and bore you halfway to death (Franco's Spain after 1945 would be a right-wing example of this) but they usually don't pick on you personally unless you're an activist or a member of some ethnic minority or something.
4)It would indeed be nice to get some real reflection on movements and why people join them and where they may lead. I'm currently reading Michael Mann's 'Fascists', in which he tries to do justice to the people he describes by taking their ideas seriously. Of course it's easier to think only marginal losers became Nazis/Stallies/whatever.

stockholm slender said...

Well, it was a utopia if you closed your eyes really tightly and put fingers to ears to be doubly sure. Brezhnev times were indeed milder but the state was directly based on Stalin's terror which was never truly repudiated and confronted and many people continued to be ruined even if there wasn't whole scale exterminations of whole groups of people. The most of the educated class did not then belong and do not now support rigid Marxism-Leninism but there absolutely is wide scale nostalgic sympathy towards those times and the Soviet images. Based on dire, whole scale ignorance no doubt.

I would think that these absolutist movements can be attractive to many bright people, especially the young giving as they do black and white answers which our pluralistic, self-doubting liberal society will never do. Most people realize their mistake before too long and most societies are spared from the nightmare of these psycopathic movements actually getting into power.