This is a chapter from the book:
The Victory of Morality over Socialism
Chapter 3. A stimulus to production in higher spheres
With its call for uncompromising information and improvement, the CPSU has triggered a gigantic movement — in its intellectual and moral superstructure, which was already mammoth before. The originators themselves sometimes voice their doubts about whether all the things that are being discussed and fought about can still be booked under “productive forces” — in the widest and most benevolent sense. But they are responsible for this development themselves.
The CPSU has traditionally confused class consciousness with an unshakable sense of justice; it has confused knowing what’s what in order to achieve one’s goals with having a staunch world view. This is now paying off. Under a socialist roof there is also room for plenty of values that can fight each other just as bitterly and inconclusively as in pluralistic capitalism. And since the inventors and administrators of Soviet communism are still of the view that their people urgently need a solid moral interpretation of the world, they do not have much to say when the stimulated desire for improvement makes itself felt above all in these non-economic spheres. This certainly shows how miserable the official materialism of the Soviet government is.
The Party’s general call for the people to worry about glasnost everywhere and get themselves thoroughly involved by bringing forward their own ideas for improvement, is heard by people who do not need to be told twice. The belief that the unleashed intelligence of the people will inevitably be useful is given the appropriate response by the intelligentsia quite beyond the economy and the really decisive state interests.
The professional moralists of public opinion formation, the arts, and the relevant sciences regard themselves as the born interpreters of socialist construction, in fact as its actual protagonists. After all, this socialist state has always given them the self-awareness of being an extremely vital force in leading the masses, by inventing examples for them to follow and producing moral guidelines. It is precisely this exaggeration that has always led to the question of whether a work of art or some other intellectual product is “fitting” to socialism or not, and to the corresponding bans. There is thus plenty to do for glasnost here. Film-makers, literary people and thinkers who previously attracted little attention now speak out in droves. Works that were not published up to now have a claim for consideration for only that reason. Former enemies, who always only wanted the best for us all, cannot fail to react. And the General Secretary’s attempt at conciliation, that one should not confuse criticism with the settlement of personal accounts, naturally does not help much. How could the two be kept apart at all in this sphere?
The Party’s decision to put an end to whitewashing has led to particularly heated debates in the field of historical interpretation. The lousy practice of deriving the Party’s authority, not from arguments, but from honorable traditions and the glorious building of socialism produced those very “white spots” which people now fight so grimly and unproductively about filling in. The leading question, “How could Stalin happen?” (analogous to the one West Germans so savor in “overcoming their past”) has the same source as the earlier retouching efforts, namely, moral criteria which are useless for explaining anything but marvelous for fighting over how to fit things in. There is reason to doubt that corrections of this kind are of any use to the Soviet people and make production and distribution work better.
All this kind of rubbish is flourishing; there has never been a shortage of utopian values in the Soviet Union. Venerable schools such as the West fans and Russophiles pit themselves against each other with new impetus, in the form of computer worship and the invocation of productive forces versus an ecology-orientated love of the homeland. Inevitably, bourgeois ideologies are also “interesting” here; but there is no basis for Western hopes and Eastern fears that these ideologies, of all things, could shake socialism. The achievement of dulling the people’s minds by moral nonsense has already been attained by the Party itself. Furthermore, questions like whether one is more in favor of one’s native soil or of civilization, whether one classifies Trotsky as a hero or as a traitor to the revolution or as both before and after a certain date, hardly possess such practical importance that they could disarrange the edifice of the state.
But nevertheless the Party is now being paid back from all sides for never having bothered to do away with certain viewpoints among the people, even ones that it disapproves of. Religious and nationalistic interests that were previously suppressed, instead of being properly criticized, are demanding their due.
Just because of glasnost, some masses in the Ukraine have nothing better to do than have visions of the Virgin Mary. This is their way of demanding permission to renationalize their Church that Stalin united by force with the Orthodox one. When you officially declare atheism to be the state doctrine but adopt a tactical approach to the Orthodox Church in practice, that gives rise to such disputes as these. No one raises the question of why religion did not wither away as it was supposed to according to the Party’s teaching, and whether the Party might have made some mistakes in this area. The Russian communists are much more inclined to assume that there must be something good about religion, especially as the official state moralism finds so little fault with the catalogue of Christian virtues.
Of course, the Party cannot get rid of the fear that there is something disturbing about religion, especially when it allies with dissenting nationalisms. This is not remedied at all by its new idea on this problem, that its previous practice of issuing “formalistic prohibitions” led to an increase in religion’s attractiveness. Tolerance is still the opposite of confrontation, and one can hardly say that tolerance encourages an unwieldy world view to wither away. But this is precisely what is so rotten about a communist party that claims to have a materialistic point of view and does not know what that is. As the administrator of a mode of production that restricts the producers’ interests it is supposed to serve, this party is much too keen on morality as a necessary complement to these interests to be able to criticize it in the form of religion.
As for nationalism, the CPSU has not only not prohibited it, it has officially cultivated it. If one considers “sticking together” (meaning sticking by one’s state power) a tremendous attitude, this of course also applies to the local forms of state power in a multi-national state. Whenever some ethnic group had not yet noticed it was one, the Party enlightened it as fast as possible by supplying it with its own grammar books, popular poets and, if necessary, newly invented popular customs.
The exemplary achievement of the Soviet state is supposed to consist in guaranteeing all nations and nationalities their full right to recognition of their peculiarity and rallying them all to live together in peace. The contradiction in this is to want to have “national” without the “-ism,” as if civic pride could exist without its negative, contemptuous counterpart, as if there could be such a thing as natives without their corresponding foreigners. When Kazaks, Balts, Ukrainians or Crimean Tatars now seize the opportunity to demand some reparation or other or more consideration of their national honor, this is the response of the national character the CPSU has bred. The Party may thus apply itself to the permanent task of sorting out what is allowed and what is prohibited in this sphere and of appealing to the various peoples to love each other. The CPSU has no use whatsoever for the maxim that communists need no homeland because they adjust conditions to suit themselves.
Instead, it has met with an unsuspected reception on the part of its sound patriots, who are now asking leave to speak and — with all due respect to the good intentions of perestroika and glasnost — find that things are getting a bit out of hand. Decent Soviet citizens who cannot be reproached for anything, old ladies who have always said that young people are not idealistic enough, patriots who consider the Soviet people’s magnificent achievements to be simply unique, as well as people who have known the good life — the much-cited opposition in the Party — are not able or willing to see why everyone should be allowed to mock and betray the values they have always attached such great importance to. It is precisely because the CPSU has been so successful in politicizing its people into good citizens that the counter-critics are scandalized and consider the novel criticism and improvement business an insult to the standards valid up to now. They see criticism as nest-fouling, if not high treason; the new willingness to learn as groveling before foreign ideas not needed by the powerful Soviet Union; the new openness and tolerance as endangering the public order which is on the verge of disintegrating. They think it is high time to found associations for cultivating patriotism and the old values.
It is not very probable that the CPSU wanted and expected such disputes when it called for a complete overhaul of socialism. But it is extremely feeble in its disapproval. It has nothing more to say than that people should not exaggerate so much, should not criticize too much or too little and, above all, should always have the progress of socialism in view. Its statement that there is a limit to criticizing the unquestionable achievements and values of socialism is not terribly illuminating for the simple reason that in the Soviet Union every moral treatise and, in fact, every intellectual product presented with a responsible attitude can in good faith claim to be a service to socialism and the people. Now when the Party does not feel happy about the moral orgies it has unleashed and sometimes even doubts their practical usefulness — this skepticism is rather late; and it has no arguments on its side. Anyone who confuses communism with producing a new kind of person, who sets his stakes on morality not just as consolation for all the imposed restrictions but even as a makeshift productive force, need not be surprised that the corresponding inanity and moral nastiness have their own impetus when they are given free rein.