Saturday, February 25, 2017

The irony of Solzhenitsyn, or What is a nice American like you doing in the Democratic Party?

 Topic — A Political Opinion by Frank Ellsworth Lockwood: The author speculates about a blind spot that undermines both the Democratic and Republican parties and is more of a threat than most people seem to realize. The introduction is no news to Progressives. Feel free to skip over to “In the Beginning."

Disclaimer:This is a kind of American politics 101 written by someone who never learned to completely trust authority. (Trust but verify. Here is why.)


Introductory Comments

 This is a story about “The American Solzhenitsyns.” It is also about why I left the Democratic Party in favor of the Green Party. If you like it, please let me know, thanks.

Within the Democratic party, an internal battle is being waged, with sides locked in a struggle for control: It’s the progressives against the (mislabeled) liberals within the Democratic party. As for me, I left the Democratic Party in favor of the Green Party, and some friends have never forgiven me. That’s their problem.
As everyone knows by now, former Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders’ capitulated and endorsed Hillary Clinton for President, which precipitated a split: Many, myself included, have left the party while others have formed factions, hoping they could force reform from within.  The mainline Democrats still seem in in charge, but are desperately clinging to power and fighting to maintain their control of their party, which means they must defeat the liberals within their own party. 
Since the word liberal is one of the dirtiest words in any Republican’s vocabulary, this development could really shake things up within the party … or not, depending on who is able to gain the upper hand.  In my circles I think it is safe to say that mainstream Democrats are no longer considered liberals, let alone progressives (albeit with some exceptions). 
Enter the conservatives: In many conservative minds, I get the feeling that the terms Liberal and Democrat are synonymous. 
It seems strange to me that Democrats are intent on either purging, controlling or converting the progressives/liberals in their midst, intent on convincing them to vote in a block in favor of the corporatist, oil drilling (drill and spill), war-mongering neocons who fund the entire political circus, and thus control it. 
Because of this, I am not alone in thinking that the real government is not elected at all, but purchased by the highest bidders.  If you follow the Facebook feedback, that is how many of us progressives view the situation. My purpose, however, is not to defend all of my above assertions. You can take or leave my assessment but I give it as a kind of background to where I am coming from and what I am about to say.  
A friend, whose name is George,  was unhappy over an article I posted in Facebook, with comments by a friend, Alice Campbell, and I admit I was at fault for posting the article because it called someone an “asshole”  (I do not prefer resorting to name calling when there are actually issues to talk about.). 
Nevertheless, Alice had addressed several ideas that I thought were provocative or tempting, and George did not counter any of her arguments. Instead, he claimed: “She (Alice) is certainly out of touch with reality on several fronts. As are you Frank, by the way. I suggest you read a little history on Russia, maybe a little Solzhenitsyn or Sakharov, and investigate Russia from the point of view of say Finland or Poland.”  
Thank you, George, great idea!  I mentally noted the irony of an American using Solzhenitsyn as an excuse for demonizing modern day Russia: That is like the pot calling the kettle names, and that is the topic of this article. Thanks for reading on if you would be so kind,

In the Beginning

Well, not quite the beginning: I was 30 years old then, a late-bloomer who had returned to college in 1972. I believe the year now 1974 when Russia expelled Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn from Russia as persona non-grata for criticizing what was, at the time, a brutal, totalitarian regime. His “punishment” was to live in The West. He first went to West Germany, later to the USA, but after the breakup of the Soviet Union he returned to his homeland, Russia. (There was more to it than that but that is a basic outline for those who may not remember these events.)
In 1974, I graduated from the community college in Longview, Washington, and went on to Portland State University for my Bachelor’s degree. I would later attend Eastern Oregon University where I earned my Master’s degree in Education while working as a Migrant and Bilingual Education teacher. 
It was during the early seventies that President Richard Nixon faced impeachment, but was pardoned by President Ford, supposedly to protect the citizens of this nation from the trauma of removing a president (if you can believe that).  I was taking my required US History course at the time. The instructor, who I believe was a Republican, seemed dumbstruck at the turn of events. He realized that major attitudinal and political policy changes threatened to undermine American politics. “Society runs on trust,” he lectured. “When there is no trust, societies can fall apart.” Words to that effect. He abandoned the usual load of textbooks and substituted other titles, I have forgotten the names of them but one I do remember was “The Irony of Democracy.” 

The Solzhenitsyn Mystique

Given the enormous implications of the Republican Party’s break-in of the Democratic Party’s headquarters, which dominated the news, you might wonder how Solzhenitsyn got so much public attention, but he did. You might think that Russia expelling a dissident to Germany would merit on paragraph at the end of Section One, but not so. Not only did Solzhenitsyn get his share of news coverage, he sparked a virtual industry of comments, biographies, commentaries, and was eventually invited to live on an American University campus. The title of one of his books, “The Gulag Archipelago” became a household word in America. So what was this all about? Why did he so capture the attention and the imaginations of Americans when such disastrous events were occurring right here at home? Wouldn’t you think that Americans would be more horrified about a threat to our own democracy, as bad as things were for citizens in Russia?
Was it his books? Well, that would be a only a qualified, “Yes.”
He was a historian, but only was allowed to publish one book in Russia, before being whisked off to Germany and the West, where he continued to write. Why did this author’s writings became such a sensation in America? Were Americans shocked that the Soviet Union was a cruel, intolerant regime? No! Not at all. The truth is, Americans already believed all of that. After all, this was during the cold war era! We, the American public, had been pumped full of anti-Russian propaganda since the close of WWII, to the point that the word “Russia” was synonymous with Satan, the Anti-Christ, blah blah blah. During the 1950s we school children hid beneath our desks during “bombing drills.” Even though we lived on the West Coast, our firm belief was that we were in danger of being bombed out of existence at any moment, by Russians! Russians were trying to take over the entire world, by force if necessary, by the used of atomic bombs almost certainly. Not necessarily  true but we believed it.  So that Russia regularly arrested dissenters was not news to the American consumers of the media, whether news papers, radio or television.
Nor, in my opinion, was the American fascination over Solzhenitsyn’s books due to the artistic skills of the author in the sense of him being a novelist. In fact, some accounts claim that, at first, he did not expect that his writings would be make public during his own lifetime, so perhaps in that sense his writing before he escaped to the West, should not be judged by those standards. Fair enough. And surely the author was intelligent, courageous, a real thinker, an influencer. Nevertheless,  I found the book difficult to read, sometimes almost disjointed, filled with what may have been pertinent comments but that seemed irrelevant at first glance. Lay it to the fact that the book was translated from his first language. Whatever.  If you want a book that is streamlined, goes right to the point, reads like a novel, is fast paced … you have to remember that Solzhenitsyn was first of all a historian and political critic, with a particular slant, who lived in a tightly controlled country, a totalitarian regime that did not look kindly on any kind of criticism of the government. Because he became a prisoner of the state, his writing has something of the historian’s view, combined with the reporter’s eye for details.  So what am I make of it?

Here are some key points:
  • His works detailed the cruelties and oppression of Russia’s totalitarian, Communist state.
  • The conditions under which he and other prisoners had lived were indeed horrendous. 
  • He was a critic of Stalinist Russia. 

My opinion of this is that Solzhenitzn confirmed what Americans already suspected, or even “knew” in their guts, that Russia’s was a horrible, oppressive regime that squashed dissent. 

An Eclipse of the American Political System

The thing that I think is often overlooked, is the possibility that in due time Solzhenitzn also may have provided a convenient diversion or smokescreen from the potential horrors and threats we faced from our own government (I refer to the dark shadow of the Nixon administration.). Surely, prior to Nixon, many  realized that our government had changed for the worst, and possibly changed forever. Especially the light had dawned on the Hippies during the Vietnam era. Our government had begun doing unspeakably horrid things in Asia, preceded to Latin American, and the terror we spread went on and on, so that for most of my life our nation has been at war against nations that posed no threat to our physical territory.

A Little History Sort of Rubbed Off

In the beginning, these horrible acts were mostly restricted to foreign nations that mattered little to the average American Joe. We had become accustomed to the images from the Vietnam war. What mattered a little coup here and there in Asia or Latin America? We still believed that our government was great. We didn’t need to quote, “Make America Great Again.” In the minds of most Americans, we already were the greatest … at everything from religion to solid state “valves” or transistors. Cases in point: From 1957 to 1973 the United States had attempted or carried out one coup per year trying to nullify Laos’ democratic elections. In 1967, in Greece I believe, a CIA-backed military coup had reportedly overthrown the government two days before the elections. Also in 1967, a so-called “reign of the colonels,” backed by the CIA, resulted in widespread torture and murder against political opponents. This was just the beginning of post Vietnam horror. 

Operation CHAOS 

What happened under President 1963 - 1969, should sound familiar to those who are skeptical about Russia’s involvement in USA’s 2016 elections. Many believed that the CIA had illegally spied on American citizens since 1959, but then had come Operation CHAOS, an American domestic espionage project (the CIA spying on US Citizens), established in 1967 on orders from President of the United States Lyndon B. Johnson and later expanded under President Richard Nixon.

CIA Agents Posing as Students!

CIA agents went undercover as “student radicals” to spy on and disrupt campus organizations protesting the Vietnam War. They were after supposed “Russian instigators,” but they found none, zero.  CHAOS is said to have eventually spied on 7,000 individuals and 1,000 organizations.

The Chickens Come Home to Roost

But once the Republican party had broken in to the Democratic headquarters, we could not longer ignore the fact that at least one of our time-honored political parties had become common crooks and criminals, right here in America, and this is why I find it ironic that someone should tell me to study Solzhenitzn in order to understand Politics in America Today! Should I say that again?
  Here are some ironic observations for those who have been finger-pointing at Russia over the election of President Trump (a person I do not admire by the way). See if you agree that the following have parallels in the USA, and that the issues are not limited to Trump or to the Republican party either. What I learned of Solzhenitsyn should present red flags all over the place for any Democrat, let alone any Republican.

The David and Goliath Factor

One thing about Solzhenitsyn that may have appealed to the American public was the David-and-Goliath sense of an underdog fighting his way free from the snarling heap of Russian “dogs," (i.e. the Kremlin). Fair enough for the fairytale lovers who created out of Solzhenitsyn the hero they required.
But then there was that other fact that Solzhenitsyn, at a superficial level at least, seemed to be parroting our government’s propaganda line concerning the Soviet Union. In other words, he confirmed American biases and seemed to justify state propaganda that we had heard all of our lives. I think it was a given that most people in those times would not be capable in that milieu of understanding the many shades of distinction of which Solzhenitsyn was capable. An example is the distinction between the Soviets and the new Russian government. Solzhenitsyn complained that people were conflating Soviet with Russian. 

Ironic parallels between USA and Russia  

  1. Solzhenitsyn the whistleblower: Some may argue that on technical grounds but he played the role that whistle-blowers play today in the USA.
  2. Solzhenitsyn and the counter-culture: He was a counter-historian or alternate historian. Today the Tribes and third parties fulfill the same need in society.
  3. Solzhenitsyn uncovered abuses of his government. Third parties, Black Lives Matter, and The Tribes  try to do the same today, but are not honored, listened to or taken seriously by either major party due to the corrupt nature of our political system as it has evolved. 
  4. Solzhenitsyn dared say what no one else dared say in Russia; he was a truth-teller, for which his government punished him. People like Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning and others accept that role in America today. All of these people are America’s counterparts to Solzhenitsyn.  Among other things, Manning released videos that she said revealed the true cost of our wars. Manning was sentenced in August 2013 to 35 years' imprisonment, with the possibility of parole in the eighth year, and to be dishonorably discharged from the Army. Assange, last I heard, was in exile in either England or Ecuador. If my memory serves correctly, Snowden was exiled to Russia, in fear of death or captivity if he remained in the USA. All of these have parallels in Solzhenitsyn.
  5. Solzhenitsyn challenged his government for repression and oppression. He was not appreciated for that, just as those calling for justice in the USA today are not appreciated for it. And all of the above issues are not limited to one American political party or the other. In America neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have shown much interest in correcting the injustices to people of color, nor have they made protected the rights of peaceful protesters in North Dakota, spraying them with water hoses in subfreezing weather.
  6. Solzhenitsyn was exiled: Like Americas current whistle-blowers, Solzhenitzn was exiled for revealing the flaws in his government. 
  7. Solzhenitsyn documented that the Soviet Government could not govern without the threat of imprisonment. Doesnt that sound familiar? (Do the “No DAPL” protests come to mind?) When the media failed to appear, the warriors and water protectors remained with their own cameras and drones, documenting month after month of abuse by the government and the oligarchs that control government and influence law makers. Real, hard hitting, progressive, breaking news rarely comes from official sources these days. It is America’s Little Solzhenitsyns who reveal what the government and the oligarchs don’t want us to know. 
  8.  Solzhenitsyn criticized the forced labor camps and the use of prisoners for labor. The American  Solzhenitsyns decry prisons-for-pay and a phony “war on drugs” that only increased drug use and led up to the violent Mexican cartels, numerous killings, criminal control of governments, even the murder of some 43 school students in southern Mexico. America’s Solzhenitsyns decry prisons-for-profit and the use of America’s military for the personal gain of certain corporatists, and and they try to draw attention to USA's unwarrented invasions of foreign nations.
On Wikileaks: Those who will lower themselves, who will condescend to read Wikipedia will find, documented with sources, that Solzhenitsyn’s book, “The Gulag Archipelago is Solzhenitsyn's attempt to compile a literary-historical record”  of the vast  prisons and labor camps after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in 1917."  

One reason few of us have read more than a few pages is that the three volumes describe the arrest, interrogation, conviction, transportation, and imprisonment of the Gulag's victims by Soviet authorities over four decades. That is a lot to take in. Once you read a few pages or a few chapters, you get the main idea. He “mingles historical exposition” with his own autobiographical accounts and testimonies of other inmates.  But here is the thing; “Upon publication of the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn was immediately attacked in the Soviet press, and was arrested and charged with treason. This is how oppressive regimes react to truth tellers, as America’s own truth-tellers can testify.
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and communism, but what is often overlooked is that, after the Soviet Union collapsed, Solzhenitsyn himself returned to the his homeland, Russia, in 1994, and lived there until his death in 2008. So much for the oft repeated Russia is not your friend meme.

But wait, the story is not over yet! 

Solzhenitsyn was somewhat religious apparently. He is quoted as saying, “"Men have forgotten God; that's why all this (bad stuff in Russia) has happened."

If Solzhenitsyn was critical of his own government’s failings, he also was appalled at American culture. In 1978, he called the United States "spiritually weak and mired in vulgar materialism.” Americans, he said,  suffered from a "decline in courage" and a "lack of manliness.” 
When he returned to Russia, however, he faced new, and ominous concerns, this time with “oligarchic excesses.” 
Does this sound familiar to anyone? The newly-reorganized Russia's problem was that there was an excessive, (and presumably greedy) oligarchy, the same problem that progressives in America today are concerned about. Yet unlike Solzhenitsn, both the Democratic and Republican parties zealously defend and protect the American oligarchy. 
On the other hand, he made it clear that he did not approve of pining for the bad old days of the Soviet regime.
The relevance and the irony, again, concern this question, “Why do we now have a Green Party in the USA, if not to resist the oligarchic excesses of our government, a government that is no longer owned and operated of by and for the people?” 
If Solzhenitsyn were alive today, you can almost bet he would be siding with those who call to task the oligarchies, whether they be the oligarchies of Russia or of the United States: He would be revealing oppression and ruthless government wherever he found it.

A Harmful and Dangerous “Conflation”

According to the Wikipedia article (with documentation), in a 2007 interview Solzhenitsyn “expressed disappointment that the “conflation of Soviet and Russian” … has not passed away in the West.” What? Did anybody see what he is driving at here? He is warning against the exact thing that the Democratic party, the CIA, the old line Republicans and many others have been doing big during and since the USA’s 2016 elections, and that is this: People are wrong and dangerous if they are conflating the words “Soviet “and “Russian.” You can hear it any day of the week in the news, on television, and you can read it in newspapers, on Facebook, Twitter and any number of media, the very thing that Solzhenitsyn complained about and warned against, is the thing that the Democratic Party is committing daily, the conflation of two things that differ. 
So what Solzhenitsyn was saying is that Russia is not the Soviet Union. He is saying that things are different there now. They may not be perfect but they are different. When Americans are confronted multiple times per day — by people who seem to be authorities — by CIA representatives, by Congressmen, by Presidential pretenders or former pretenders, with this false information, it is no only wrong, it is dangerous to world peace. And that message of course is delivered in so many different ways: Russia is meddling with American politics, Russia is no friend of America. And Solzhenitsyn was complaining  the “conflation of Soviet and Russian against which I spoke so often in the 1970s …” etc. So there it is. 
I must agree with George, but probably not in a way that he anticipated: We Americans can learn from Solzhenitsyn. Not that I agree with all he said. Not by a long shot. For example, he thought America was too soft on Vietnam, if you can fathom that.  In 1978, he called the United States “spiritually weak and mired in vulgar materialism.” Well, at least half of that was correct. Americans, he said, speaking in Russian through a translator, suffered from a "decline in courage" and a "lack of manliness." What can I say? You can’t please all of the people all of the time, even if that person is Solzhenitsyn in the flesh. 

Solzhenitsyn on the Ukraine

This one should lock the jaws of my friends who are still infatuated with the Democratic Party. So, how did Solzhenitsyn feel about the Ukraine?  In 1990, “Solzhenitsyn urged Russia to grant independence to all the non-Slav republics, which he claimed were sapping the Russian nation and he called for the creation of a new Slavic state bringing together Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of Kazakhstan that he considered to be Russified.
 Did that say what I thought it said? If I understood that statement correctly, it says that Solzhenitsyn supported incorporating the Ukraine into Russia! And although this will not make our warmongering Democratic friends happy,  he was, and is, not alone in supporting self-determination for the Ukrainians. Make no mistake, had he wanted to, Putin could have invaded Ukraine, but he did not. He restrained, opting to take in the regions that overwhelmingly voted to go along.   


On Russian Threats to the West

Would Solzhenitsyn have regarded Russian nationalism as a threat to the West? Clearly not. Solzhenitsyn reportedly argued that "Russian nationalism and the Orthodox Church should not be regarded as a threat by the West but rather as allies.”  In other words, if he were alive today he likely would have objected strongly to repeated assertions such as “Russia is not your friend,” that Russia is evil or bent on destroying the USA. It simply is not true and Solzhenitsyn made it clear that this was never his position while he was alive.
The blind spot for which this article is named, is the inability of Americans to “see” what is coming as a result of the propaganda of the two-party system that stops people from noticing the nuances of the lies we are constantly being told by those “in charge.” I hope you enjoyed the read. 


#politics #Russia #Ukraine #Americanlies #Americanexceptionalism

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