[I]f the hope for success is zero,” said Bratinka, ‘the prospect of losing your phone line or losing an opportunity for promotion at work becomes decisive. if there is absolutely zero hope that your actions can contribute to the downfall of the regime, the effect even of small setbacks becomes unbearable. That is what kept people silent and obedient.’” Second, in linking totalitarianism to a the problem of modernity, Pavlinka pointed out that ‘[i]n older times conflicts among men were judged and resolved by using a yardstick that was external and independent of men: God’s commands, natural law, other extrinsic means of coming to judgment in light of what was thought to be an unchanging objective measure. Modernity is when everyone becomes a yardstick unto himself.”
On Monday evening, Dr. David Frisk’s continuing education class “Modern Statesmanship and Leadership,” which has attracted a wide variety of informed adults from the region, was treated to a guest lecture by Dr. Taylor, as well. His talk on the “remarkable transformation” of Eastern and Central European countries after the Soviet takeover fit into the discussion of assigned readings on General Douglas MacArthur, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Dr. Taylor reminded the class that Victory Day meant something different for those consigned to live under the Iron Curtain. Stalin had no grand strategy because of the communist belief in the historical inevitability of world communism, but the Soviets managed to transform a diverse region into a politically monolithic, and oppressive, bloc.
It was a takeover that began well before the end of World War II and operated on various fronts: the monopoly of police and security forces, who were usually recruited from the uneducated class (by 1945, there were 20,000 functionaries in Poland alone); the takeover of cultural institutions, such as artists groups and youth groups; the takeover of the media, especially radio; control of electoral politics, often through deception about openness to other parties; control of economics, such as the confiscation and redistribution of land, the nationalization of heavy industry, and the burdening of businesses with regulations; and lastly, ethnic cleansing, such as the mass expulsion of ethnic Germans.
A revisionist view of this period of totalitarianism among historians emerged in 1959. Soviet repression was blamed on what were deemed Western “imperialist” efforts, such as the Marshall Plan. In Dr. Taylor’s opinion this revisionist history is “almost wholly false.” On both occasions, Dr. Taylor’s remarks inspired lively discussions about the human spirit and desire for freedom, even under the most challenging circumstances. Participants asked questions and related current events, such as threats by Vladimir Putin to former Soviet satellites, renewed propaganda campaigns, and intolerance of dissenting views on college campuses.
Dr. Taylor’s The Great Lie: Classic and Recent Appraisals of Ideology and Totalitarianism (ISI Press), a collection of works by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Vaclez Havel, Leo Strauss and other major, and less well-known, but important, thinkers, is available at the AHI Bookshelf.