Image by Arquivo Nacional
Kiev, Ukraine, USSR, winter 1973. My father has finally decided to pull the trigger on the biggest and riskiest decision of his life and petition the Soviet authorities to grant us an exit visa to Israel. Had our petition been denied, we would have acquired the hellish status of “refuseniks”, people whose requests for such exit visas have been refused by the Soviet authorities under any number of pretexts. Since unquestioning belief that the USSR was the best place to live on Planet Earth was required of all Soviet citizens, the desire to emigrate was in and of itself an act of treason. People who expressed this desire and refused an exit visa became imprisoned in a country that officially labeled them as traitors to the Motherland and to communism alike. They lost their jobs, their children were kicked out of schools and universities, they were often harassed by the KGB and imprisoned for “freeloading”, even though no employer was allowed to hire them. Since most housing was government owned, they often lost the very roof over their heads. Many of these people endured years of deprivations crashing on friends’ couches and surviving on handouts from family and from selling their few possessions.
By the time our application for a visa was approved it was fall and Israel was in the throes of Yom Kippur War. On our black and white TV screen, Soviet propaganda machine showed victorious columns of Egyptian and Syrian armor advancing in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Israeli F-4 Phantom fighter jets downed by Russian-made Egyptian surface to air missiles were a recurring theme, along with the grim faces of Israeli prisoners of war. My father, who developed a truly allergic reaction to any information coming from official channels, didn’t believe a word of it. Perhaps, should have. In the early days of that war, Israel, caught between its own hubris and Secretary of State Kissinger’s admonition to never be seen as an instigator of an armed conflict again (after Israel’s wildly successful preemptive strike in the 1967 Six Day War) or risk losing American support, was losing badly. As our departure date approached, our family, my father’s eldest sister, her husband, his own mother, were telling us that we were surely mad. That only insane people would leave a major world superpower to go to a middle eastern sh*thole soon to be wiped off the face of the earth. My father, grimly turning the dial of our short-wave radio receiver in the vain hope of catching a glimpse of the BBC World Service or the Voice of America that somehow made it past the massive Soviet radio jammers, was undeterred.
Less than two decades later, “the world’s greatest superpower” was no more. My aunt, now divorced and my grandmother were on the steps of my parents’ villa in the Western Galilee, begging for cash. My father was not the forgiving kind. I remember my mom running after them, after he had gone inside, with a wad of hundred shekel notes.
In Washington DC, had anyone bothered to poll the various think tanks, Democrat and Republican alike, on the likelihood of Soviet collapse less than two decades later, they would have been escorted out of the oak-paneled rooms by security guards as escapees from a lunatic asylum. These Ivy League grads were more likely to believe that the US, having been just defeated by the Soviet vassal state of North Vietnam, was more likely to go down the drain than the USSR. In hindsight of course, reams of research papers and PhD dissertations have been written on the “inevitable” collapse of the Soviet Union, an event that the authors of these very same papers have not foreseen until the very day on which it actually happened.
So why did the Russian Empire 2.0 known as the Soviet Union collapse after only seven decades of existence? The reasons are many, but if I had to choose only a single one to take to a deserted island, I would choose one that is way too simple to have been included in think tank treatises. I would simply say that if you, like the Bolsheviks, made a deal with your people that after decades of unbearable hardship and sacrifice on their part you will deliver them a communist utopia wherein everyone contributes according to their abilities and consumes according with their needs, you had better deliver. The Bolsheviks, needless to say, failed to deliver and now they are gone.
It is important to realize that the Bolshevik promise went beyond a vague vision of a prosperous future after a period of hardship; it was an elaborate hoax in which dates certain were proffered to the population at large for the final arrival of “communism”, a state of eternal utopia, a return to the Garden of Eden. In his seminal novel of premodern Russia, War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy speaks of the Russian serfs’ penchant for utopianism. There were instances, in real life, when entire Russian villages, men, women, and children left their ancestral lands and traveled en mass to mythical “tyoplye ryeki”, warm rivers, were they would be free not only of oppression by their landlords, but also free of the need to work, and Eden-like every kind of sustenance would be provided to them. Needless to say, such excursions never ended well; hunger, highway bandits, and diseases took a toll. The Russian nobles, fearing the spread of this lunacy, often didn’t bother herding back their wayward serfs and they simply disappeared, perhaps further fueling the Warm Rivers legend.
The true flowering of the Bolshevik version of the Warm River utopia came during the reign of Nikita Khrushchev. Stalin, his predecessor, being the quintessential Eastern despot, was quite the opposite of a utopian ideologue. Khrushchev, on the other hand, only a couple of generations removed from serfdom, was a true believer in the Bolshevik cause. Inheriting a true military superpower, seeing the fear in the eyes of the Western leaders, he became more convinced than ever in the coming of the Bolshevik paradise. In this he was quite different than the many leaders throughout history who held on to power with utopian promises. The quintessential requirement of becoming such a leader is your own lack of belief in the wares you are selling; you know full-well that the promised utopia will never come to pass, which is why the one thing you never do is set a date of arrival within the lifetime of your subordinates and, crucially, your own. Khrushchev, on the other hand, was a believer. He set dates for the arrival of communist utopia, strangely measured by catching up to the “impoverished” capitalist West’s rates of production of such staples as grain and dairy and meat, dates that were well within sight, only a few years away.
Image by Nick Solari
Bernie Sanders campaigning for President in 2016
In his chase after his own artificial goals, Nikita the dreamer became progressively unhinged, seeking, after an infamous visit to a corn farm in Iowa, shortcuts such as the re-sowing of most lands in his native Ukraine with American corn. The heavy, black Ukrainian topsoil was singularly ill-suited for corn and an entire crop of wheat was lost never having been planted, necessitating the expenditure of scarce foreign currency reserves on the purchase of grain from the US and Canada. Like a gambler who realizes that he is on a losing streak but unable to cut his losses, Khrushchev doubled down on his harebrained schemes until his erratic behavior precipitated his ouster by the Politburo in favor of the boring non-ideologue Leonid Brezhnev.
There are many parallels between the American left today and the Russian Bolsheviks and many have already been covered in these pages, but perhaps the most important and most overlooked parallel is the nearly identical penchant by the American Bolshevik cohort of recent coinage to make wild promises that they will never be able to keep. Taking advantage of the most poorly educated, least informed, and most substance-abusing generation of Americans that has ever existed, Khrushchev-like true believers like Bernie and Pocahontas have formed an unholy alliance with Stalinist despot-wannabes of the Clinton-Obama clan. Together, they are promulgating every utopian promise that has ever existed and then some. From free education, to free healthcare, to free money in the form of “universal minimum income”, they promise the new generation of Americans just coming of age a life of watching free porn on their free smartphones over free Wi-Fi in Starbuck cafes that they can use for free while getting instant notifications that their free government money was just deposited into their free checking accounts and the credits for their free college courses that they have never attended were just posted to their student transcripts. And what do they have to do to merit this earthly paradise? Almost nothing; mail in the right ballot every couple of years, that’s all.
Khrushchev had a couple of decades at his disposal until the bill came due on his undeliverable promises. His American co-religionists had about eight. After their demigod Obama failed to deliver on a single promise after eight years, many of his disciples refused to hold up their end of the deal and mail in their votes. Now, the American left is plumbing a depth of depravity to which the Soviet leaders have very conscientiously and consciously chosen not to descend. It would have been easy for Gorbachev to blame a certain group of Soviet citizens for the impending collapse of his empire; the intelligentsia, the small business owners, you name it, the textbook for this has been written long ago. A new civil war would have ensued, millions would have lost their lives, but he might very well have prevailed and with him the Soviet empire. To his everlasting credit, he chose not to do it.
Image by Rhododendrites
Hillary Clinton at Ozy Fest
There is no Gorbachev on the American left. Not a single “democrat” is unwilling to incite violence against Americans who do not wish to believe in their dystopian future of mind-numbing slavery. By blaming Republicans and their supporters for their failure to deliver on their insane promises, the American progressives are willfully and purpusefully inciting ever-escalating levels of violence that, if left unchecked and unchallenged, will lead to a civil war. Not a single voice, not one, at any level in the Democratic Party is willing to denounce political violence and call for a civil dialogue within constitutional bounds. Unsurprisingly, this is hardening positions in the Republican Party. The Kavanaugh circus, a Waterloo moment for the Democrats, is squeezing out fake Republicans like Jeff Flake and steeling the spine of others like Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham. The Democrats, with their scorched-earth politics have hunted down the RINOs and the NeverTrumpers to near extinction.
The Soviet Union, one of history’s largest and most consequential empires, succumbed to the scourge of fake, undeliverable promises. China, the boogieman du jour of the same feckless DC think tanks and military-industrial complex types who propagandized the might of the USSR on the very day of its collapse, is following in the Soviet footsteps, though no one is willing to see it yet. America, by far the oldest (in the modern era) and the strongest of the superpower trifecta, is far from immune to ruin by false promise. In fact, if we don’t reverse course, if we lose a couple more battles, this will surey be her fate.