Page 9 Chapter 8:
The “Great October Revolution” in Russia began on the 7th of November 1917, and the country was proclaimed “socialist.” Only a small part of the Russian population viewed the revolution with any negativity or resistance.
The beast of communism hadn’t shown its fangs yet, and actually looked rather attractive to most people. Most Russians embraced the changes in the country with joy and enthusiasm. The uneducated population of Russia was glad to gain all the privileges and perspectives that the revolution brought to them. They felt sweet revenge watching the humiliation of the rich and noble families that treated them as “things” in the past.
The “Conductors of the Revolution” — the Bolshevik’s leaders– were probably the only ones who clearly understood the ongoing events and were positioned to achieve their own self-centered goals in the revolution. All the same, it is true that there were also romanticists and idealists among them who firmly believed in the ideals of socialism and of heaven on the earth.
The Tsar and his family, the Romanovs, were arrested and banished to Ekaterinburg in 1918. Soon afterwards, they were executed by order of the revolutionary government of Russia. Prince Alexei was only 13 when he was murdered. The Dynasty of the Romanovs was finished in the same matter that it had begun — with the execution of an innocent child. The “Curse of Marina Mnishek” had come true.
But the execution of the Tsar and his family didn’t make a great impression in Russia at that time. It seemed that the hate for the royal family was stronger than the pity anyone felt for them. Everybody remembered their high-handedness, their fanatical dependence on Grigoriy Rasputin, the stupidity of Nicolai II, and his absolute indifference to the fate of Russia and the Russian people.
Many people hated not Nicolai II, but his wife, Alexandra, who was a fanatical German. When historians and writers try to show the family of the last Russian emperors as saints, they should be reminded that it took a great amount of extreme abuse to finally provoke a normally patient Russian people before they rose up in revolution. It was only the pitiful despair of the people that Bolsheviks could organize and lead them into socialism.
A period of a revolutionary romanticism uniting people of various social classes and educational levels swept through Russia right after the revolution. It seemed that the whole country was filled with enthusiasm, joy, and energy. People lived by these new ideals and the idea of creating heaven on earth. It seemed that everyday problems ceased to touch anybody. The grandeur of the idealistic task uniting people and the feeling of a fantastic new freedom intoxicated them.
Most people at that point believed that the revolution had brought them freedom. Being under the influence of propaganda, they thought of themselves as the masters of their fate and the country, probably not unlike the first settlers in America. The difference was that the American pioneers were building their Christian country with the indestructible power of belief in God, whereas the Russian people were rebuilding their country with the pride of belief in their own forces.
One of the most disastrous evils of socialism for the Russian people was the new government’s renunciation of Christianity and religion. In mad delusion, Russia proclaimed its new task and goal: to build a “Heaven on Earth” with it’s own forces and without God. God was declared an enemy, and religion an evil opiate of the people. Socialist propaganda mocked everything connected with religion and Christianity, convincing people that God was just a “silly fairy tale, a fantasy.”
Unfortunately, the majority of the population of Russia was absolutely ready to turn their backs on God and worship the Beast. The Russian intelligentsia, who accepted the revolution and stayed in the country, had been atheistic for the most part even before the revolution. The idea of creating heaven on earth without God was incredibly tempting for their proud minds. Russia rejected Christianity almost as easily as it had been commanded to accept it a thousand year before.
However, this insanity quickly became more than just an ideological fight with a “fairy tale or fantasy.” Socialists understood and recognized God and Christianity as threats to socialism. Not content to simply mock religion, they declared war on it. The blood of priests and Christians began streaming, and the temples and the convents were razed. Bibles and the other religious books were destroyed. The few Russians who remained faithful to their beliefs were either killed or banished to Gulags, forced to emigrate to the west, or went underground.
The wholesale massacre of priests and religious people didn’t meet any resistance. Too many Orthodox priests over the centuries had shown so much greed, hypocrisy, ignorance, arrogance, and an absence of love towards their flock that very few in Russia respected them or felt sorry for them. So they died, and the potential beauty of the new socialistic state quickly turned almost unimaginably ugly.
If people reject God, then idols occupy His place. The same happened to the Russian people during this time. The idea of world communism became an idol, but the worst of all was that living people began to be worshipped as idols. Lenin, and later Stalin, were almost deified. People were being sacrificed to them, and hymns were being sung in praise of them. They were idolized and worshipped like gods. A new generation of the Soviet people, raised without God, was seeking a god on earth in the form of a human.
One can’t say that the Soviet Union was an atheistic state. On the contrary, it was actually a very orthodox religious society worshipping its idols. It was a paradoxical society in which many Christian principles were being preached, but Christ was completely rejected.
At a glance, the theoretical principles of socialism and its moral slogans seemed reasonable. They proclaimed a society of harmony and love, fairness and happiness. But such a society is nothing more than a false utopia. Imperfect, sinful man is not able achieve heaven without God, no matter how much he wishes for it. Sooner or later even the best intentions are distorted and misused, and this happened in Russia. Ideas became more important than people in socialist Russia. The human personality, his will, desire, and freedom was ignored and repressed. All Russian people were obliged to believe in the concept of communism, to serve the beast, and at the same time were expected to be happy. Dissention was punishable by death.
The Russian intelligentsia very soon noticed the fangs and hypocrisy of the beast. Well-educated, cultured people began emerging as a threat. The persecution and destruction of the intelligentsia followed. A new Soviet intelligentsia, which faithfully served the ideas and goals of communism, praising and glorifying the beast and his servants, was created to replace the old one. There were no real alternate choices for those who wanted to survive or be successful in this socialist society. The only solution was to hide their real thoughts and feelings.
Not just the intelligentsia suffered. The Gulags were filled with people of all classes and levels of education. A reason for arrest and banishment could be any reason or no reason at all. It was only sufficient to be accused of being disloyal or voicing disapproval of Stalin to get into life-threatening trouble. The repressions were a way to hold the huge population of Russia in constant fear and abject subordination.
Of course, the free labor supplied by the Gulags was very helpful addition to the economy of the country. However, the semi-free people, i.e., those who weren’t in jails and camps, were nothing more than slaves of a socialist country. No one had the right of free movement. People were “chained” to the place of their residence by a “residence permit” (propiska) in their “domestic” passports. Income tax was automatically withheld from the salaries of the workers and was about 80 percent or more. The money they took home was enough only for the most basic necessities. The people were perfectly equal in their lack of freedom and poverty.
The so-called “Period of Melting” began in Russia after Stalin’s death. This period saw relatively gentler and freer years in Russia. During Stalin’s times of terror, (Stalin’s period of history), many common or poor Russian people still believed in the ideas of socialism and just didn’t know the truth. But beginning in the ’60s, most of the population of the Soviet Union lost all illusions about the society they were living in.
The natural, sharp Russian humor created a million anecdotes describing the attitude of Russians towards their socialist government. They characterized Lenin’s period as a ride in the subway — “there is darkness everywhere and there is a light at the end of the tunnel” — hope. They characterized Stalin’s period as a journey in an old, overcrowded bus without shock absorbers — someone stands and someone sits (a play on words, the word “sit” in Russian means “to be in jail”), but everyone is shaking. And, finally, they characterized the period after the ’60s as a flight on a plane — “you feel nauseated, but you can’t get out.”
The iron curtain and the KGB firmly “protected” the population of the Soviet Union from the “pernicious influences of the West” — the favorite expression of Soviet propagandists during those years. But as a Russian saying warns, “there is no bad without good.” In an ironic twist of fate, this iron curtain favorably affected the souls and intellect of most Russian people. An inability to express their thoughts openly made most people deeply contemplate their overall living conditions and seek answers to the questions tormenting them.
The more propaganda attacked religion, the Western way of life, and anti-socialist philosophy, the more interest the Soviet people developed in this forbidden fruit. The period of political and economic stagnation during Brezhnev’s times was characterized by the unusual activity and rebirth of the Russian spirit and intellect. Probably, the best post-WWII works of cinema and literature, folklore, and songs were created during that period. Of course, all of this was being created and spread from the underground, but the rewards were worth the risk.
By the 1970’s, all television programs, movies, newspapers, and literature in the country were being subjected not only to political censorship, but also censorship of violence, cruelty, graphic sex, and foul language. Here, of course, the censorship was killing any free thought that differed from the state’s ideology. But, Russian children were being raised on good books and watching cultured, if boring, TV. The most terrible monster on the screens of the television sets they saw was a folk witch living in the forest, Baba Yaga. The most horrible thriller for them was a story about “Little Red Riding Hood.”
The fact that television was boring and had only two to three programs positively affected the spiritual and cultural development of the younger generation. Illiteracy was fully conquered in Russia, public school education was excellent, and Soviet people were known as avid readers. In fact, books have always held in a place of honor in Russia. But now it seemed that the Soviet people were almost addicted to reading. It was possible to meet people reading on public transportation, in cafes, and in parks. Some even read while walking the streets. Books were treasured. Every family had at least a small, but always very good, library. Other arts were treasured as well. Most people had a piano and other musical instruments in the home.
The greatest achievements of socialism were a free education, medical services, and housing. There were no rich people in the country (at least not officially or openly), but there were no very poor people, as well. There were no unemployed, homeless, or destitute people. There was little of the stress familiar to many people in the West, who are fearful of being without a job and medical insurance, or being unable to pay the mortgage. Russian people were confident in the future and comforted that in unforeseen events, the State would take care of their needs. They were not living in the comparatively wealthy Western standards, but they were living stably and peacefully.
The system of social provisions was so well developed that the weakest members of society — children, the elderly, single mothers, and the disabled — were protected by the state. They had numerous benefits and privileges. Children got an excellent, free education in school. They were enrolled in sports programs, music and art schools, and spent summers in camps that were almost fully subsidized by the government. Everyone was fed, clothed, and had a roofs over their heads.
So as much as there was no great wealth in the country, there was also no special desire for it, either. The selection of goods in the stores was minimal, and many items were impossible to find. Thus, even if one had money, there was nothing much to spend it on. Such a state of affairs created a rather non-materialistic people. The youth were taught to be romantic, to dream of things big and bright. Practical dreams were considered narrow-minded. I remember the refrain of a popular song at that time which asked young people: “Do you want to go to the Moon?” “Yes!” “Do you want a million?” “No!” This was the mentality of most people.
Still, it is important to not over-romanticize the period. Though everybody had a roof over their heads, the quality of the accommodations was poor and the flats were very small. It was practically impossible to get a separate flat for a young family. Therefore, it was common for two or even three generations to live in a small apartment together. Such a life would probably seem like hell to many, but there were actually some advantages.
The families were close, and the grandparents looked after their grandchildren when the parents were working. The syndrome of “an empty nest” was almost unknown in Russia. The grandparents knew it was likely they would live together with their children and grandchildren until the end of their lives. It was a rare occasion when they spent the rest of their lives in a nursery home or in solitude. Such a style of life, with all its drawbacks, brought families closer to each other.
Most Russians wouldn’t understand being told that you may only see your parents two or three times a year for big holidays. And that distance (not only in miles but also in spirituality) which often separates children and parents in America would be a strange and unpleasant phenomenon for them.
No matter how poor and simple life has been for them, Russians have always been known for their hospitality. Guests are a joy for Russians. Even during the hardest times, the festive table for guests was fully spread with good food. Typically, in Russian flats, there are no dining or living rooms. Tiny kitchens were and are the place where friends and relatives meet. It is hard to imagine how 10 to 15 persons can fit into a 50 square foot kitchen, and feel comfortable doing so, but it is done.
During the repressive times of socialism, those meetings in the kitchens were a real vent as well as islands of freedom for Russians. Everything was discussed at kitchen gatherings — politics, philosophy, religion, and the future and past of Russia. If these were youth gatherings, then almost always someone amongst the guests played guitar and everyone sang familiar but officially prohibited songs of the dissidents and other famous musicians.
The ideological censorship of “Big Brother” tried to create deaf, mute, and blind people, drones serving the greater good. But as a blind person learns to use touch instead of eyesight, the Soviet people learned to read and express their thoughts without words, allegorically, or by the expression of their eyes and faces. Intelligent people held similar views, and understood each other without words.
They easily read between the lines. People were living a double life — a formal one with a set of slogans and stamps corresponding to the ideology of socialism; and a deep spiritual life which was real, but forcedly hidden. Such conditions were the basis of a new exclusive, emotional, and spiritual intelligence of the Russians, but such a double life was too much for many people.
It is possible to stay underground for several years, but it is difficult to be in such a position for life. Most Russians saw the hypocrisy of the Soviet government and the cruelty of a system in which a person lives as an animal in a zoo — he is given food and water, but his life and freedom are confined to a small cage. While some were not concerned about such conditions as long as they were clothed, fed, and sheltered, for “thinking” people, such captivity was unbearable.
Male intellectuals were the first to break — many became alcoholics. The Soviet government even supported them in this in many ways. After all, a drunken man isn’t dangerous to the socialist system. And, drunkards also don’t need any other amusements — just a bottle of vodka at a suitable price. The government didn’t worry much about women. Women were so occupied both at work and at home that there was no time for them to think about entertainment or politics.
Brezhnev’s time saw mass inebriation of the men in Russia. The production of alcoholic drinks in the country during those years increased by scores, and even hundreds, compared with earlier times. The sale of vodka and other alcoholic drinks became one of the main sources of income for the State treasury. All the small and large stores in all the territories of the USSR were overflowing with alcoholic drinks being sold with practically no restrictions at any time of the day or night.
By the end of the 1970s it had become difficult to find a young, non-drinking man anywhere in the country. Half of all marriages ended in divorce, and the overwhelming reason for divorce in the USSR was due to husbands’ alcoholism. Many couples that remained married did so simply because the women reconciled themselves to the drunkenness of their husbands.
It’s hardly necessary to note that children were being raised with a distinct lack of paternal care and guidance in such families. A new generation of Russian men without any concept of the responsibilities of a husband and father in the family was being created.