One of the more unique books on my shrinking number of bookshelves (we are in the e-book era after all, so every time we move, fewer hard copies move with us) is called Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? It was written by a Soviet dissident named Andrei Amalrik and published in 1970.
I was thumbing through the book randomly the other day and happened on a passage which happens to be the reason I have never given the book away:
It now became evident that in Soviet law there exists, if I may use the term, a broad “gray belt” – activities which the law does not formally forbid but which are, in fact, forbidden in practice-for instance: contacts between Soviet citizens and foreigners; a concern over non-Marxist philosophies or art inconsistent with the notions of socialist realism; attempts to put out typewritten literary collections; spoken or written criticism not of the system as a whole, which is forbidden under Articles 70 and 190/1 of the Criminal Code, but particular institutions within the system.
This sort of setup – where some topics are de facto illegal – destroys the social fabric in a country. If people know that that saying X will cost them their livelihood, most of them won’t say X. But that doesn’t mean they won’t believe it. In fact, knowing that X cannot be discussed is just going to convince more people that there must be something to it. Refutations of X from those authorized to state what is good and what is true will only serve to make matters worse.
Also, even if X is not true, people will mouth approved denials of X but nobody competent to do so will actually go through the effort of proving X is wrong. After all, in matters like this, the views that are acceptable to hold become progressively narrower and more specific over time. The hero who proves X wrong today is sent to the Gulag tomorrow. Tomorrow, the proof doesn’t show that X is wrong enough.
Worse still for Comrades Yuri and Svetlana who only want to survive and raise their children, sometimes the pendulum swings the other way.
Lysenkoism, a fraud cooked up by a charlatan based on fake data was (rightly) a crackpot idea in 1927. By the mid 1940s it was textbook Soviet Biology and the Trotskyite wreckers, Western stooges and Nazi sympathizers who opposed it had already been processed through the People’s Courts. And then, in the 1960s, another turnabout. Lysenkoism was denounced. But the famines it had caused had still happened, and the biologists, geneticists and (might I add) the statisticians who had called bull&$%# were still dead.
The New Soviet Man was, is, and always will be on the march. Of course, the Soviet Union did make it to 1984. But alas, it had already done so by 1920, if not earlier.