Gangster Government: the communist-era “anti-social engineering” at the heart of Russia’s descent into barbarity
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has a long history. In order to understand this, we must look back to the country’s past and especially its experience of communism. This ideology left a brutal legacy that has turned traditional morality on its head.
“It was necessary either to keep quiet and be a coward or to say it the way it is.” So lamented Russian Major General Ivan Popov, commander of the 58th Army, following his dismissal in mid-July 2023. He had made the fatal mistake of “courageously” speaking up to his superiors about the dire state of the front lines in occupied Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. Two months later, in September, another former officer, Andrey Gurulev, bemoaned a “culture of lies” that was preventing so-called “victory” for Russia in Ukraine. These two examples, alas, are just a drop in the ocean in terms of illustrating the corrosive effects of a Russian/Soviet system that for decades has perfected the punishment of positive human conduct and the rewarding of anti-social conduct with mechanised and industrialised precision. As the Moscow Times reported a decade earlier, lying has become a “national pastime” in Russia, with deep roots in “a Soviet system that lied consistently to their people.”
In the simplest possible terms, Russia – the original instigator and perpetrator of the catastrophic global communist experiment – has been rewarding negative, antisocial conduct and punishing positive human conduct for so long that an instinctive fear of negative consequences has become ingrained into every aspect of Russian life. From Siberian exile, to jail, defenestration and poisoning to name but a few. Without hyperbole, “evil” has become so normalised and rewarded that Russians can today carry out daily terrorist attacks against Ukraine – bombing theatres filled with children, train stations, bus stops, schools and apartment blocks – with barely a hint of moral disquiet.
The 2022 all-out invasion of Ukraine will perhaps serve as the final, painful testament to the effects of communism’s malignant misappropriation of human energy across the globe. It will also serve as the most sobering of reminders that an ideology that feeds on oppression, industrialised plunder and the systematic degradation of the human spirit was never defeated; that the late 1980s were an aberration; that this truly evil ideology still imprisons a third of the world.
A century of suffering
Russia’s post-invasion downward spiral into today’s abject moral bankruptcy can, arguably, be directly traced to a devastating form of “anti-social engineering” rooted in Russia’s post-1917 violent transformation into a communist dictatorship. It is an upside-down world where for generations, state-sponsored criminality, violence, indoctrination and abuse have been rewarded and encouraged by a form of “gangster government”. At the same time, any hint of honourable, decent or courageous conduct has been relentlessly and ruthlessly punished.
Yes, communism, not imperialism, is what has pushed Russia into the moral abyss. What else explains why Britain, France, Spain and the other major former colonial empires are not today seeking to similarly annihilate, rape and plunder their lost colonial subjects just like Russia? The answer is communism, not imperialism.
It is worth recalling that Russia had two revolutions back in 1917. The first, in March, involved genuine people power ousting a corrupt and out-of-touch monarchy and the establishment of a representative Provisional Government. But this rocky road to democracy would last a mere eight months. Like the stroke-of-midnight seizure of power by Vladimir Putin decades later in 2000, burgeoning Russian democracy was tragically felled by the triumph of gangsterism over citizenship:
“Comrades! The kulak uprising in your five districts must be crushed without pity … You must make an example of these people.
(1) Hang (I mean hang publicly, so that people see it) at least 100 kulaks, rich bastards, and known bloodsuckers.
(2) Publish their names.
(3) Seize all their grain.
(4) Single out the hostages per my instructions in yesterday’s telegram.
Do all this so that for miles around people see it all, understand it, tremble, and tell themselves that we are killing the bloodthirsty kulaks and that we will continue to do so …
P.S. “Find tougher people.”
Vladimir Lenin’s “Hanging Order” of August 1918
Russia’s staggeringly violent “proletarian” war against its own “bourgeoisie” or “kulaks” as unleashed by the Bolsheviks (causing an estimated 10 million deaths during the Russian Civil War in 1917-23 alone; and ten times that figure in the years ahead) established the boundaries of a new behavioural pattern that went far beyond anything unleashed on the Russian Empire’s subjects. The smashing, the looting, the collectivisation, the purges, the expropriations, the requisitions, the outright theft, the denunciations, the endless obsession with abuse and humiliation – all of this is so painfully familiar to Ukrainians facing Russian terror today. It is a pattern of ingrained and organised criminal behaviour unleashed by Lenin’s calls to violence, refined by Stalin’s indifference to suffering (including the Ukrainian Holodomor of 1932-33), and now brought to its ultimate self-destructive conclusion by Putin.
“We always wanted to be a part of this so-called civilised world,” a self-pitying and ever disingenuous Vladimir Putin declared in late 2022, pretending to reflect on his disastrous invasion of Ukraine.
Amidst a climate of such upside-down morality, creative obedience – or actually putting effort and thought into one’s inhumanity and servitude – has become the dominant method of expending human energy in today’s Russia. From propaganda, to persecution, to plain murder. In other words, Russians can applaud the craftsmanship and technical prowess of one of their missiles that strikes civilians in Kherson, but should never, ever dare to ask why this missile is being launched in the first place (leave that to the propagandists).
For its subjects, a critical moral dilemma has always stood at the heart of this Russian-imposed anti-social engineering. Either accept it and find social success, or protest against it, and discover that the path to social success has suddenly closed. As author Timothy Snyder notes in his history book Bloodlands, communists “…learned that to resist was to be purged, and to be purged was to share the fate of those whose deaths they were bringing about”.
This perhaps explains why, flying in the face of all reason, so many Russians have become complicit in the incessant alternative reality churned out by the regime about a supposed neo-Nazi Ukrainian regime. After all, for 105 years, no one in Russia has ever been rewarded for questioning authority, let alone for taking a moral or principled stand. Just ask Boris Nemtsov (dead), Sergei Magnitsky (dead) or Alexei Navalny (jailed). In Russia, the search for courage inevitably leads to the grave. In the former Eastern Bloc, too, the search for courage led to prisons, to professors forced to work cleaning toilets, to exile and humiliation and ruined lives.
Meanwhile, the greatest rewards are, as ever, bestowed upon the unprincipled and opportunistic – propagandists like Margarita Simonyan, and oligarchs like Oleg Deripaska, and quislings like Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Belarus.
At the heart of the Marxist-Leninist anti-social engineering that has devastated Russia for more than a century is a cynical philosophy known as “dialectical materialism”. In essence, this downplays morality, culture and humanity and essentially views all people as mouldable empty vessels. Serve with the “right” programming or be punished for the “wrong” programming. Love does not exist. A sort of intellectual version of George Orwell’s 1984. Perfect for tyrants. There are no individuals – only obedient ants. The only things that matter are economic or military results. It is no accident that this is what a young Vladimir Putin would have been taught at school: morality is nothing and the zero-sum results of the “machine” are everything. Thus, even one metre gained in Bakhmut or Avdiivka is all that counts, no matter the human cost. The average 500 Russians that have been dying in Ukraine every day since February 2022 are irrelevant. Human life is worthless. Only the captured building, dam, mine, farm, or city matters, alongside the scale of the expelled or reprogrammed populations. Might makes right – today’s “Special Operation” is simply about making subjugated Ukrainian life even more worthless than Russian life.
During a highly choreographed “meeting with mothers” in November 2022, Putin, with an uncharacteristic lack of self-discipline, told the mother of a Russian invader who had died in Ukraine: “Some people die of vodka, and their lives go unnoticed. But your son really lived and achieved his goal. He didn’t die in vain.” In other words, in today’s Russia, the disposable serf majority either drinks itself to death or enjoys the privilege of dying at the front for their neo-Soviet leader’s delusions of empire.
Effective control under such a cynical, morally bankrupt and still very much communistical ideology is, as ever, exercised via the application of the necessary amount of violence, intimidation and corruption. People can be rewarded, broken or killed. And the rest can go and live in the supposed “Western migrant trash heap”. The leader never fails; only the subjects keep failing the leader. In such a morally devastated world, religion, too, is just another state-created smokescreen. Just ask the KGB agent or so-called “Patriarch” Kirill as he obediently blesses, in his whiter-than-white robes, Russia’s genocidal war on Ukraine.
From Russia to the world
Cynical anti-social engineering also understands that every society has obedient thugs too flattered to question the warped system that promoted them. “But the system elevated me, so how bad can it be?!” Russian-created satellites and “people’s republics” have been cultivated on this very notion for decades (even China). From Assad (of the bloodthirsty Arab Socialist Ba’th Party) to Orbán (a simple gangster), today’s communist-infused Russian model shines like a beacon of darkness around the globe; a new “multi-polar world order” in which autocracy and organised crime is placed on an equal footing with the despised, weak and pathetic democratic world. After all, can Western vetoes, filibustering, government shutdowns, unsolvable migrant crises and endless half-measures really compete with such absolutism?
Dialectical materialism also helps explain why most Russian soldiers partaking in the invasion evidently think of nothing but their own personal enrichment. Serve at the front, get paid, steal a washing machine, rape a woman or a child, fire some rockets at a few apartment blocks supposedly filled with “UkroNazis”, return home and buy a new car or summer cottage. Emotional scars? Such a thing is anathema in the communist world. Mental health never existed during the Soviet Union. Even psychiatry, like religion, was a tool of the totalitarian state. The ticking time-bomb of traumatised, dehumanised soldiers returning home to Russia from the Ukrainian trenches? Quietly swept under the rug…
Such insipid and generations-long anti-social engineering is also how we get to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by Russian-sponsored mercenaries in Ukraine in 2014. Or the 2018 chemical weapons poisonings by Russia in Britain. Or the deliberate, humiliating dismemberments of Moldova, Georgia, Syria and Ukraine. Step by step – one act of anti-social engineering at a time – until those daily smears of blood on Kherson streets simply cease to mean anything at all.
Moreover, in classic “attack to survive” mode, Putin’s neo-communist Russia has even sought to stoke the forces of anti-social engineering in free countries. Amplifying advantageous ideas though propaganda and selected extremists, elevating these figures upwards in typical style. One final new mantra has also emerged: democratic revolutions will not be permitted anywhere again, and will be suppressed through absolute, unrelenting violence. As evident in Syria, Belarus, Sudan, Myanmar, Niger and many other places. The late 1980s are to be an aberration, not a template. There will be no more “velvet” or “colour” revolutions. From now on, any attempts to remove a tyrant will be bloody.
The “Special Military Operation” against Ukraine was itself planned as a deliberate and calculated act of communist-style anti-social engineering – a fresh wave of destruction against a society slowly recovering from decades of Russian oppression. The “kill lists” were ready, just like during the Red Terror, as entire categories of undesirable people, especially those involved in the 2014 Maidan, were to be tried, imprisoned or killed. When this plan failed, and Ukraine did not fall in three days, the frustrated invaders again reverted to form. The following Bolshevik-era creed would certainly not seem at all out of place today coming from Putinist propagandist Vladimir Solovyov:
“We will make our hearts cruel, hard, and immovable, so that no mercy will enter them, and so that they will not quiver at the sight of a sea of enemy blood. We will let loose the floodgates of that sea. Without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds. Let them be thousands; let them drown themselves in their own blood. For the blood of Lenin and Uritsky, Zinoviev and Volodarsky, let there be floods of the blood of the bourgeois – more blood, as much as possible.”
The pro-Bolshevik Krasnaya Gazeta in 1918
The sobering reality is that Russia has learned only “upside-down lessons” since 1917 – including its convenient mislabelling of the Second World War as a “Great Patriotic War”. The result – abetted by the Free World’s years-long appeasement of Russia – is the daily slaughter of Ukrainian civilians by a state now united only in plunder and genocidal hatred. The lessons of events such as the 1936 Austrian Anschluss, or of Czechoslovakia’s Sudeten dismemberment in 1938 (the delusion of “reuniting” supposedly oppressed German speakers), to name but two examples, are nowhere to be found in a “Russian World” so numbed by its own propaganda that the very notion of historical truth or objective reality has long since ceased to exist.
One wonders what if, during that brief period of chaotic Russian democracy between 1991 and 1999, membership in the KGB had been prosecuted similarly to membership in the SS in post-war Germany? Crucially, Putin would have been barred from the presidency. Russia might have started a painful healing process and begun to undo the insipid effects of its communist-era anti-social engineering. Instead, “chaotic democracy” was discredited before taking root. And communism fractured like a mirror into a million pieces. This result today is an amorphous blend of Soviet chauvinism, mafia-style capitalism, ultra-nationalism, Nazism, Islamism, gangster government, Iranian-style theocracy, North Korean-style Stalinism, and every other form of human evil coalescing into one “Final Solution”: the extermination of Ukraine (with, ironically, an attack on Israel now conveniently serving to divide the Free World’s resources).
What we see being unleashed on Ukraine today is the final manifestation of over a century of devastating communist anti-social engineering. A war on reality itself, where delusion is fact; where the thieves are the moral leaders; where the Nazis are the anti-Nazis; where the looters are the upstanding administrators; where the invaders are the liberators; where the rapists are the war heroes; where the child abductors are the compassionate adopters; and where the truly compassionate and thoughtful are the greatest losers of all. It is a violent, hateful, deluded, corrupt and abuse-ridden society that is now thankfully “anti-social engineering” itself into oblivion.
Dominik Jun is a British-Czech English editor, translator and the former editor of Eurozine partner journal The New Presence. Previously contributed to publications such as Czech Position, the Prague Post and E15 Weekly, and for ten years a regular contributor to Radio Prague; directed a number of documentary films for the Czechoslovak Documentation Centre on the anti-communist resistance movement.
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