Posts tagged with: soviet union

robot 2When arguing about the merits of a free economy, its defenders often give way to a peculiar line of reasoning that goes something like this:

“Socialism would be wonderful if it actually worked, and it could actually work if only men were angels.”

Such claims are meant to frame socialists as foolish idealists obsessed with their silly utopias. But for those of us who believe there’s a certain idealism to the free society, it’s a rather appalling concession. Indeed, the fundamental problem with socialism isn’t so much that its aims are unrealistic — though they most certainly are — but rather that its basic assumptions rely on a view of humanity that is, in so many ways, unreal.

If we let the lofty levelers have their way, we shall inherit a world where humanity is robbed of its dignity and originality, discouraged from creativity and innovation, and restrained from the collaboration and relationship found in free exchange. Even if such a system were to be filled with morally superior know-it-alls and somehow achieve material prosperity, it would still be a society of serfs, submissive to their overlords’ enlightened plans for social “equity,” and thus, servile in all the areas where God intended ownership.

Is a land wherein humans are guided by mere robotic efficiency really something that’s all that wonderful, even if it actually “works”? In whose mind and through what sort of contorted imagination is this considered an “ideal” or “utopia”? (more…)

In this edition of Radio Free Acton, Paul Edwards speaks with Luba Markewycz of the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago, Illinois about the Holodomor – the Great Famine of the 1930s inflicted on Ukraine by Josef Stalin’s Soviet Government that killed millions of Ukrainians through starvation. They discuss the Holodomor itself, and the process undertaken by Markewycz to create an exhibition of art by young Ukrainians to commemorate the event. You can listen to the podcast using the audio player below.

More: Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg joined Luba Markewycz in November at the Acton Building’s Mark Murray Auditorium for an evening of discussion of the Holodomor and the Holodomor Through the Eyes of a Child exhibit.

The Acton Institute is currently hosting an art exhibit called “Holodomor: Through the Eyes of a Child” in our Prince-Broekhuizen Gallery at the Acton Building. It features artworks created by contemporary Ukrainian children commemorating the great famine of the 1930s that was inflicted upon Ukraine by Stalin, resulting in the deaths of almost 7 million people by starvation.

The exhibit is the brainchild of Luba Markewycz, whose aim is to shed light on this largely unknown chapter of Ukrainian history and expose the tyranny and inhumanity of Stalin’s Communist regime. On November 6th, Markewycz – who is a teacher by profession, and has served in many roles at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago – was joined by Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg to discuss the exhibit and to shed light on the terrible historical events that it commemorates.

Larry Schweikart

This edition of Radio Free Acton features an interview with Larry Schweikart – drummer, history professor, and producer of the documentary “Rockin’ The Wall” – on the power of music and the influence of rock and roll in undermining communism in the Soviet empire. When we think about the fall of the Berlin Wall, it’s only natural that names like Reagan, Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II come to mind, but there were other elements involved in the battle against communism that also played important roles in its downfall, including cultural influences. How did western rock and pop music help to undermine Soviet Communism? Schweikart, former drummer for Rampage, explains how it happened.

Ukraine-Memorial-Holodomor

Holodomor Memorial in Kyiv, Ukraine

Seventy years ago this November, a new word entered the lexicon which would contextualize and put a name to the mass killings of minority groups that had gone on for centuries: genocide.

The Polish-Jewish lawyer who coined the word, Raphael Lemkin, used it for the first time in his book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, published in November 1944. Lemkin had been deeply troubled with mass killing and the lack of legal framework for adjudication of its perpetrators from a young age. He found it appalling that in the name of “state sovereignty” a leader was effectively able to kill his own citizens, without punishment under the law.

Lemkin’s coining of the word was followed by a relentless, single-handed effort to lobby diplomats, heads of states, and then the newly formed United Nations to create a law which would make illegal this recently named crime against humanity. Lemkin’s efforts were eventually rewarded when on December 9, 1948 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed into law the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

History reveals many “crimes against humanity” which preceded this development in international law. The current U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, notes a few of these in her book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.

And there are still many other largely unknown genocides that deserve our recognition. One of these will be covered in an upcoming Acton Institute art and lecture event on Thursday, November 6: “The Famine Remembered: Lessons from Ukraine’s Holodomor and Soviet Communism.”

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[Part 1 is here.]

That most colossal blunder of Marxist experiments, the Soviet Union, collapsed more than twenty years ago, and yet Marxist thinking still penetrates the warp and woof of contemporary culture, so much so that it’s easy even for avowedly anti-Marxist conservatives to think from within the box of Marxism when considering the problem of cultural decay. Breaking out of that box means emphasizing but also stretching beyond such factors as insider cronyism, class envy, and the debilitating effects of the welfare state.

So, for instance, the influential 18th century philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau rejected the doctrines of the trinity, the deity of Christ, miracles, and the idea of original sin, writing that at one point as a young man he suddenly felt very strongly “that man is naturally good” and that it was only from the institutions of civilization “that men become wicked.” Rousseau’s view has had enormous cultural consequences, giving credence to the perennial human impulse to do whatever feels natural, never mind how stupid or destructive.

The English writer and psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple put it this way in an interview he gave for The Truth Project: (more…)

putinNote: This is an update and addition to two previous posts, “Explainer: What’s Going on in Ukraine?” and “What Just Happened with Russia and Ukraine?.”

So what just happened in Crimea?

On Sunday, Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to break with Ukraine and join Russia. Today Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty making Crimea part of Russia (it was a former satellite state of the Soviet Union). Putin says he does not plan to seize any other regions of Ukraine.

Why would Russia want to annex Crimea?

In 1997, Crimea and Russia signed a treaty allowing Russia to maintain their naval base at Sevastopol, on Crimea’s southwestern tip (the lease is good through 2042). The base is Russia’s primary means of extending military force through the Mediterranean. (The Black Sea is connected to the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosphorus Straits.) Without a military base in Crimea, Russia would be weakened as a global military power.

Earlier this month Russia’s parliment authorized a Putin to use the military on Crimea. (Technically, Russia’s parliament authorized Russia’s military forces to enter “Ukraine,” giving themselves a legal cloak to target more than Crimea.)

Where (and what) exactly is Crimea?
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Ronald Reagan & Margaret Thatcher

Ronald Reagan & Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) provided the West with many morally courageous moments. The moniker, “The Iron Lady” was bestowed upon her by the Soviet Army newspaper Red Star in 1976 because of her piercing denouncement of communism. Thatcher, of course, adored the unofficial title.

She toasted President Ronald Reagan after his then controversial Westminster speech in 1982, declaring, “We are so grateful to you for putting freedom on the offensive.” It is often forgotten today that 195 of the 225 Labour MP’s boycotted Reagan’s harsh condemnation of the Soviet Union. In her book, Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World, she reminded Americans to “never believe that technology alone will allow America to prevail as a superpower.”

Thatcher had a strong tie to the Acton Institute. She was the recipient of the 2011 Faith & Freedom Award. She was also interviewed in the pages of Religion & Liberty. Below is a great excerpt from that 1992 interview:

R&L: Would you comment on the temptation to identify virtue with collectivism?

Thatcher: Liberty is an individual quality and a moral quality. It does not exist in the abstract, but only in a civilized state with a rule of law. Without that, the strong would oppress the weak. The collective law is what makes individual freedom work. I remember a famous quotation of George Bernard Shaw, “Freedom incurs responsibility; that’s why men fear it.” Too many people try to cast their personal responsibility on to the state. It is so much easier to parade with banners demanding that government do something to remedy a wrong than it is to take action oneself. But it will build neither character nor independence.

The ultimate collectivist was, of course, the communist state. It operated the most total tyranny the world has ever known. It had all of the brutal, evil characteristics of other tyrannies, with its secret police, absence of remedy, and no opposition. In addition to that, it confiscated everyone’s private property and took away everyone’s job, so they became totally dependent upon the state.

The danger is that the more you turn to the state, the more you are diminishing the sense of freedom and the responsibility of the individual, and the more difficult it is to re-establish when the Communist system has gone.

Pravmir.com, a Russian site, has published an English translation of an interview given by Archpriest Nikolai Chernyshev, who is identified as “the spiritual father of the Solzhenitsyn family during the final years of the writer’s life.” The interview touches on Aleksandr Solzenitsyn’s upbringing in a deeply religious Russian Orthodox family, his encounter with militant atheism ( … he joined neither the Young Pioneers nor the Komsomol [All-Union Leninist Young Communist League]. The Pioneers would tear off his baptismal cross, but he would put it back on every time). Fr. Chernyshev describes the writer’s later “period of torturous doubt, of rejection of his childhood faith, and of pain.” The priest talks of Solzhenitzyn’s return to the faith after his experience in the Gulag and how “he suffered and fretted about the Church being in a repressed state. For him this was open, obvious, naked, and painful.” Excerpt from the interview:

Today many people remember the writer’s famous “Lenten Letter” to Patriarch Pimen (1972) and say that Solzhenitsyn expected, and even demanded, greater participation by the Church in society. What were his views in this regard at the end of his life?

Fr. Chernyshev: Solzhenitsyn was one of those people who could not remain silent; his voice was always heard. And, of course, he was convinced that the Savior’s words Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature should be fulfilled [Mark 16:15]. One of his convictions, his idea, was that the Church, on the one hand, should naturally be separate from the government, but by no means should be separate from society.

He felt that they are quite different, that they are completely opposite things. Its inseparability from society should become more and more manifest. And here he could not but see the encouraging changes of recent years. He joyfully and gratefully took in everything positive taking place in Russia and in the Church – but he was far from complacent, since all of society had become twisted and sick during the years of Soviet rule. (more…)

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, banned in the Soviet Union until 1989, has been published in a new shorter, Russian-language edition aimed at schools. The book was included in the list of compulsory books in Russian schools only last year, according to a report in RIA Novosti.

The widow of Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn presented on Thursday an abridged edition of The Gulag Archipelago that publishers hope will eventually be read by every Russian student. “It is necessary that people know what has happened in our country when they finish school,” 71-year-old Natalya Solzhenitsyna told journalists at the presentation of the book in Moscow.

The Gulag Archipelago vividly describes the mass arrests of innocent people and their deportation to labor camps during the Soviet era and Solzhenitsyna said people should know that they “were not just individual episodes, but a round-the-clock mowing down of people.”

The new edition gets an endorsement from the top:

At a meeting with Solzhenitsyna on Tuesday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin – a former KGB agent – said the book was essential reading for students to have a full understanding of Russia.

In the current Religion & Liberty, we interviewed scholar Edward E. Ericson Jr. about the publication of the “restored” edition of the Solzhenitsyn novel, In the First Circle. Because of space limitations, we had to cut a section of the interview, published as “Literature and the Realm of Moral Values,” that dealt with the almost total ignorance of American students about the Cold War period. Maybe the Gulag Archipelago should be mandatory reading in U.S. schools today. Here’s the Ericson “outtake” from the R&L interview published for the first time:

How do American students today understand Solzhenitsyn and the history of the Soviet Gulag?

I’ll tell you how they react when they read The Gulag Archipelago. Incidentally, we have 100 pages of it as an abridgment in The Solzhenitsyn Reader (ISI Books, 2006). I have taught selections from Gulag many times. In short January-term classes where students keep journals, the same refrain about Gulag will come from them over and over. “Why didn’t they tell us this in school? I never heard this from my teachers. I thought I was getting a good high school education. We studied history. We studied World War II and the Holocaust. We studied the Cold War. I never heard about the Gulag.”

How do you study the Cold War and miss the Gulag?

Good question. I don’t know. And that’s what these students wanted to know. I used to ask students, when the subject of the Holocaust came up, does a number of those who died in the Holocaust come to your mind? This is isn’t a trick question, I tell them. For many of you, I say, I think a number has come to your mind. Never mind if it’s a right number or a wrong number. And someone will finally say, “Six million?” And heads will start nodding; yeah, that the number. When I ask if anyone else has heard that number, the hands go up all over. After they have found out what the Gulag is, I ask, “Does any number come to your mind?” No. “What would you say if I said 66 million?” The looks say, “Really?” And then you have to explain. Well, it’s over a longer period, and as for efficiency on a per-day basis, the Germans had better technology for eliminating humans. All the Soviets had were guns and big trenches and they’d line up the people, let the shot bodies topple over into the trenches, and throw dirt over them. And the number Solzhenitsyn learned and used is probably too high, but it’s a number calculated by a demographer who did statistical analysis of birth and death records and the like, and he came up with 66 million. Maybe that’s double what it should be. Since we’ll never know, let’s just agree to say so. But still …