Jeff Nyquist was kind enough to respond to my previous article. He even offered me a mock apology. Notwithstanding that, I will treat his polemic with utmost seriousness. To my insistence that an anticommunist ought to differentiate between the sinister soviet power and “Russia”, Nyquist replied:
“The Soviet Union is no longer the Soviet Union. Poland is no longer Poland. Do you understand what this means? There is no final political form. And there is no final victory, and no final defeat. What nation, above all others, is better able to receive this truth than Poland?”
My understanding is clouded at best but even I can see the strength of Nyquist’s case: it is surely correct, if a trifle obvious, to say that nothing in human affairs is final (nothing apart from death that is). I confess I know zilch about nations and their relative abilities to receive the truth or otherwise. Simple minded that I am, I still believe that nations do not think for themselves, only individuals do, so being a Pole does not make me “better to receive” anything. The Truth is unattainable to human perception and all we can do is strive for it. Only that much but even that is beyond most – and surely beyond nations. One point in the above citation is certainly true though: that Poland since 1945 has no longer been Poland. And that sad truth still remains unchanged. It seems to me, however, that Poles are somewhat unable to receive this truth – so where does this leave us? I think it leaves me in dire need of being patronised some more. Let’s dig deeper then.
So things do not stay the same and we cannot get into to the same river twice. That is so. But beyond the flowing, ever changing waters, there is still a river, constant in its changing. Philosopher distinguishes between what is essential and what is merely accidental; in other words, I may have less hair but I am still myself; should however my mind be altered I would no longer remain myself. The same is true about rivers and it can also roughly be extended to political forms. Was post-revolutionary France “still France”? Not in the eyes of Joseph de Maistre. Was the Leninist creation “still Russia”? Not as far as Vladimir Nabokov was concerned. Did the soviet union undergo the similarly essential changes in the 1991? Not in my view.
Nyquist advises me further – and I am grateful for his advice – not to “see and judge the world as it appears today but, instead, to judge on the basis of what is coming, what can no longer be avoided”. That is a novel idea so I will require further instruction on this point. If there is “no final political form” and the human affairs can develop in a bewildering variety of ways, how can anyone maintain that one particular version out of many possible futures “can no longer be avoided”? I try (and often fail) to see the world as it appears today. I try not to judge it, although I am weak and sometimes I can’t help it. But to judge on the basis of what is coming, i.e. has not yet happened, seems to be beyond us, mortals. And even if it were possible, I’m not sure I’d want to do so, because having knowledge of what is coming would put one on a different plane of wisdom and one’s judgment of mere mortals, who by definition cannot know the future with any degree of certainty – would be flawed and condescending.
Yet, there appears to be a disturbing grain of truth in Nyquist’s statement. First of all, because it is noble to seek to fathom what is concealed from us so hats off to those who try; but secondly, because I happen to agree with him that what is coming – however uncertain and theoretically avoidable it may be – is likely to be terrifying. In light of that unpleasant and unsettling vision of the future our behaviour today is akin to that of children playing in the sandpit in the shadow of the volcano. Nyquist’s nightmarish vision is intellectually honest and, although we ought not to allow ourselves to “judge on the basis of what is coming”, we should indeed live by our own beliefs. – But all this does not make Poland a front line state.
Nyquist’s polemic is like a voyage. The trouble is that his conclusion, i.e. semantics are a potent weapon in bolsheviks’ hands, directly contradicts his starting point, i.e. we cannot demand precision from our terminology when dealing with something as bizarre as the phenomenon of soviet power. Naturally and in spite of Nyquist, we can be precise without being “compelled to use only immaculate and scientific language”, which would be absurd. What is demanded of us is that our language and precision of our terminology be adequate to our subject. More importantly, we cannot afford to be imprecise in our dealings with the commies or we risk being reduced to the “thoughtless multitude”, as Nyquist precisely describes it. I will come back to this point later. Now let me focus on Nyquist’s conclusions.
“From first to last, the anti-Communists allowed the Communists to invent and define most of the words used during the Cold War. When the Communists publicly did away with those words, people began to talk of “the end of the Cold War”. Anti-Communists understood this as a victory. In reality, the anti-Communists were semantically eliminated from the game. The thoughtless multitude is so attached to words that eliminating the use of a word effectively neutralizes or eliminates those who stand against it. I call this method “the semantic liquidation” of the opposition. It is not coincidental that towards the end of his life, Stalin became interested in semantics.”
Oddly, I agree with every sentence in this passage. But then again, that was precisely my thesis. Semantics do matter. It matters quite a lot to me that here, in The Underground, we do not fall for the “end of the cold war” nonsense and even less for the “collapse of communism” baloney, not to mention the “disintegration of the soviet union” claptrap. We pride ourselves in trying to see through the communist veil of semantic confusion. We have no track with “thoughtless multitude” or with what “common usage permits” and we have always pointed at the old bolshevik method of semantic liquidation. The method was instigated by Lenin and perfected by Trotsky. It was in evidence as early as in the choice of their name (Bolsheviks vs. Mensheviks, i.e. positive more vs. negative less), in their campaigns against the kulaks and other “enemies of the people” etc., etc. The power of “naming” was fundamental to Lenin’s methods; the whole machinery of agit-prop or “political agitation and propaganda” was based on ruthlessly assumed and mercilessly maintained control over language. Stalin extended his supremacy over semantics well beyond the borders of his soviet paradise. When he called Draza Mihailović a fascist it was enough for the Western Allies to switch their support to the communist gangs led by Tito. When his propaganda machine condemned members of the Polish Home Army as “reactionary dwarves” no one would move their little fingers in defense of the largest underground fighting force assembled against Hitler in occupied Europe, persecuted by Uncle Joe, the glorious ally of victorious Western powers.
Anticommunists were not semantically eliminated at the end of the cold war, as defined by thoughtless multitude. The Cold War in the stricter sense ended after Stalin’s death, with Malenkov’s visit to the West. Since then we had numerous false dawns, springs, thaws, even détentes, perestroikas and glasnosts. In fact, Gorbachov’s insistence on using the words “the end of the Cold War” in the late Eighties was just another step in the same long standing deception game; deception game, which started with hiding the soviet substance behind the “Russian” form.
I cannot emphasise strongly enough how much I disagree with Nyquist that, were he “compelled to use only immaculate and scientific language [on political topics], he would use no language at all”. I could offer an example of this very website, where most authors strive to distinguish between what is “Russian” and what is soviet. I, for one, love Russian culture. And I don’t mean just Chekhov and Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Pushkin, where the distinction is easy to make. I also adore the symphonies and string quartets by Dmitry Shostakovich, I admire the prose of Mikhail Bulhakov, I am in awe of the artistry of Sergei Eisenstein’s films (even those with unambiguously communist message) or those directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. In my eyes, the distinction between the soviet and Russian is clear even if we are only given glimpses of Russia from under the horrifying soviet crust. But it is also fundamental because these two are opposites and that’s exactly why it is in the interest of the soviet propaganda to see them as synonymous. Every single one of the above authors was shamelessly harnessed by soviet propaganda machine to further the case of the soviet union as a “normal state”, as “Russia”.
I can offer a much more important example of precision in terminology then a little known website; example of someone using the same distinction between soviet and Russian precisely and without complaints in hundreds of articles, in numerous languages, in monumental novels and in political treatises. I’m talking about the greatest anticommunist of the Twentieth century, Józef Mackiewicz. Ah, but he was not a defector, nor a dissident, not an “ex-“ – ex-communist, ex-kgb officer, ex-party apparatchik – so no one had ever listened to him; they listened even less than they did to Golitsyn or Sejna.
Distinction between Russian and soviet is absolutely fundamental to Mackiewicz’s thought. He made it a punctum saliens of his political treatise The Triumph of Provocation * and I won’t even try to relate it here. In another article on the same subject, published shortly after the war, he wrote that the “word Russia used instead of Bolshevism is the main lever of soviet global policy”. It started with Hitler who since August 1939 needed to popularize his new found friends and stopped referring to bolschewismus and instead his propaganda cheered “Russian successes” in the war with Finland. The tune was picked up by Churchill. It’s worth quoting from his speech made in the evening of 22 June 1941:
“The Nazi régime is indistinguishable from the worst features of Communism. It is devoid of all theme and principle except appetite and racial domination. It excels all forms of human wickedness in the efficiency of its cruelty and ferocious aggression. No one has been a more consistent opponent of Communism than I have for the last twenty-five years. I will unsay no word that I have spoken about it. But all this fades away before the spectacle which is now unfolding. The past, with its crimes, its follies, and its tragedies, flashes away. I see the Russian soldiers standing on the threshold of their native land, guarding the fields which their fathers have tilled from time immemorial. I see them guarding their homes where mothers and wives pray – ah, yes, for there are times when all pray – for the safety of their loved ones.”
What should we admire more? The timeless beauty of his language or the subtle manipulation, the imperceptible shift from “communism” to “Russia”? “Russia” could be an ally, godless bolshevism could not.
Stalin saw the simple beauty of this equation and returned gladly to the Leninist tradition of hiding the soviet subject matter behind the Russian façade. But the formula is not just a defensive tool used out of necessity, it works much better when employed to suppress others because – to quote Mackiewicz again – “no Pole can be simultaneously German, no Pole can be Russian, since a Pole who becomes German ceases to be Polish. However, any Pole (or Englishman, or Frenchman, or Russian etc.) can be a Bolshevik at the same time”.
Nyquist maintains that our enemies “all speak Russian and are identified under a Russian banner; they were formed under the Soviet Union; their weapons and bunkers are in Russia”. Really? Does Chavez speak Russian? Let’s perhaps look at it differently: should an international gang of thugs take over the Government of the United States of America would we be justified in calling them “American”? I’d rather call them un-American whatever language they speak but, hey, “their weapons and bunkers would still be in America”. In the same way, I insist on calling current and previous rulers of what used to be Russia – anti-Russian or soviet. Nyquist is undoubtedly right in so far as communism has an important centre in Russia but not all of its bunkers are in Russia nor do all of its supporters speak the lingo. Nyquist knows this very well. He wrote extensively about Chavez and Castro, Lula and Morales. They all have the same goals as Putin but are they “identified under a Russian banner”? I think not.
When the thoughtless multitude calls soviet union “Russia”, I just shrug my shoulders. When Jeff Nyquist does so, it is more difficult to ignore. And more painful to see.
Lastly, I try not to despair, Mr Nyquist, but thank you kindly for your concern. I do not despair of my country – I try not to despair at all. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me.” And – thanks be to Lord our God – my cup overflows. But there is yet another reason why a cold, detached, intellectual analysis ought not to drive us to despair: non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere. My sole aim is to understand, not to make me feel better, although I admit that in the process I quite often have a hearty laugh.
* Józef Mackiewicz, The Triumph of Provocation, Yale University Press 2009 http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300145694
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