The Paranoid State
Suspicion and betrayal and the Soviet way of life.
Apr 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 30 • By JAMES C. BANKS
The paranoia spread deeper and broke stronger bonds than those between managers and workers. Family ties, friendships, and romantic relations were all severed. The court records allow Goldman to give detailed case studies of interrogations and trials: S. Mironov denounces his friend and supervisor after the shop head is tied, perhaps falsely, to “rightists”; Gringauz, a party member, is expelled for helping his accused brother-in-law find work (but only after attempting to save himself by endorsing the party’s view that his brother-in-law was a spy); Aleksandr Somov, head of a steel plant’s party committee, loses his membership for allegedly having an affair with a Polish woman who had been arrested as a “spy.”
The concluding chapter—“A History without Heroes”—is aptly titled:
Not until Stalin’s death did the party admit any culpability for encouraging a culture of suspicion.
The onetime Eastern Bloc still has a long way to go to develop the sustainable institutions of democracy, but the Soviet Union is more than dead: It is beyond resurrection. Vladimir Putin may lament the loss of empire, but few believe that the Soviet Union was a model of statecraft. The totalitarian mind is still a force to be reckoned with, but its ideologies tend to be primitive and inchoate: Sayyid Qutb was no Marx, and Osama bin Laden was no Lenin.
But this is an important book because it reminds readers that many of totalitarianism’s enablers are not ideologues. Instead, the men and women Wendy Goldman depicts call to mind the psychological profiles outlined in Czeslaw Milosz’s Captive Mind. Writing just after being granted asylum in the West in 1951, Milosz described the people of the Eastern Bloc as a company of perpetual actors:
James C. Banks is a contributor to the American Interest.