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Totalitarianism Today Puddington, Arch Commentary; Dec 1, 1984; 78, 6; Periodicals Archive Online pg.

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Totalitarianism Today

Arch Puddington

T for many in
HE~ ~s an understandable tendency any pride to the reassertion of party domination
the democratic world to in Poland; the overriding purpose of party rule,
identify ~he totalitarian phenomenon exclusively after ail, is the prevention of precisely the kind of
with .its most dramatic and brutal manifestations: political deterioration which, in the official view,
Nazi Cermany, the Sovie~ Union under Stalin, made General Jaruzelski's extraordinary measures
China during the Cultural Revolution, the inva- an unfortunate necessity. For Communists today,
sions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, martial law the ideal society is not one defined by i ts vast
in Poland. Certainly terror and raw military might gulags, but one where people accept the rules and
are intrinsic to the initial attainment of Commu- restrictions of the new order as a matter of course.
nist or fascist domination, and the threat of re- No less an authority than Lenin provided one of
newed terror plays an essential raie in insuring the most candid descriptions of l)ow the well-run
popular obedience once power has been consoli- totali tarian society of the future shoµld function.
élated. Yet it is not the willingness to employ In a famous passage in State and Revolution, he
violence which distinguishes a totalitarian regime wrote:
from traditional dictatorships of the authoritarian
kind. As those who deny the continuing validity of '\i\Then all have learned to manage ... the escape
from this national accounting and contrai will
the totalitarian political · mode! never cease to inevitably become so increasingly difficult, such
point out, traditional right-wing dictatorships f:re- a rare exception, and will probably be accom-
quently act with abject cruelty in their attempts panied by such swift punishment ... that soon
to subdue poli~ical opponents. Rather, the dis- the necessity of observing the simple, funda-
tinctive feature of the totalitarian system, and mental rules of everyday social life in common
Communism most notably of all, is the elaborately Will have become a habit.
constructed apparatus of control which is inevit- This passage ironically was included in the
ably set in place after the seizure of power. midst of a discourse on the eventual "withering
Among authorii:arian regimes, there is nothing away" of the state, and it is a cogent reminder that
comparable to the calculation, creative thinking, the link between Communism and statism was un-
and long-range planning that totalitarianism de- derstood from the outset, at least by the more pre-
votes to regulating the most mundane details of an scient Bolsheviks. Lenin foresaw, and approved of.
individual's existence. And while the ultimate the bureaucratie methods his successors have per-
goal is nothing less than the wholesale transforma- fected in order to execute his system of "account-
tion of society, the most important byproduct of ing and control." And while Lenin's vision has yet
what is euphemistically called the "revolutionary to be fully realized, the current generation of So-
process" is to render the pàrty-state practically in- viet leaders still seeks a society where discipline
vulnerable to internai challenge. Where maintain- and conformity are the overarching values, a so-
ing power is the objective, not even the most ciety, in the recent words of a high party official
vicious junta can compete with the sloppiest to- from Estonia, where "every member would uncon·
talitarian regime. Poland's Communists, corrupt, ditionally can·y out ail rules and commands, do
cynical, having failed at every ~spect of governing everything he's supposed to, and not violate any
society, wère still able to crush an overwhelmingly form of discipline ......
popular mass movement, and to do so with awe- There is nothing more fundamental ~o this
some efficiency. It can thus be said without exag- offidal's "ideal order" than the state's ability to
geration that mar~ial law was the most signal regulate the movement of its citizens. During their
achievernenf of Communism during its nearly nearly seventy years of rule, the Soviets have de-
forty years of rule in Poland. veloped a series of policies and structures which
Few Communists, of course, would point with together have given the state unprecedented con-
trai over movements across and within its borders.
. ARcH PUDDING'fON is executive director of the League for N owhere in the world is the role of the border
Industrial Demoçracy and the editor of Workers Under Com-
munism. His· previous articles in COMMENTARY include "The
guard as exalted as in the USSR. Where in the
New Soviet Apologists" (November 1988) and "Are Things United States efforts of the Immigration and
(;etting Better in Eastern Europe?0 (August 1988). Naturalization Service to stem the ffow of illegal
31

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Copyright (c) American Jewish Committee
32/COMMENTARY DECEMBER 1984

aliens are routinely treated with derision by the crats simplifies the implementation of repressive
press, the Soviet media feature regular accounts of measures which, in less tidy dictatorships, would
the heroic exploits of the men who guard the provoke widespread and unfavorable publicity.
country's sacred soil. Typically, press stories give The exclusion of ethnic or religious groups from
the distorted impression that the border guards' important jobs or university admissions also be-
major job is keeping subversive elements out, comes a rela.tively routine procedure when the in-
when in fact almost all their efforts are geared to dividual's nationality appears in his internal pass-
snaring defecting Soviet citizens. The Soviets, port. In addition, the passport system creates
moreover, are al together prepared to share their daunting obstacles for those with opposition views,
expertise with fraternal allies. Recently Bulgaria whether they be human-rights advocates, religious
awarded high state honors to the KGB officials believers, or independent-minded artists. In a
who administer training courses for Bulgarian bor- huge country like the Soviet Union, simply meet-
der-guard commanders, citing their "many years ing and discussing common ideas becomes a for-
of all-'round assistance in perfecting the protec- midable undertaking when the authorities main-
tion" of the Bulgarian borders. tain constant watch on one's movements, particu-
The Soviets give no less scrupulous attention to larly since there is no such thfog as the "right" to
regulating their own citizens' internal movements.• move about as one wishes; these problems are com-
To this end, the Kremlin requires that all Soviet pounded by limitations on private automobile
citizens maintain a wide variety of internal docu- ownership and the state's ability to withdraw the
ments. In contrast to the United States, where the "privilege'' of telephone ownership at any time.
Social Security card is the only universal personal
document, S<;>viet citizens must keep an internal on internal movement
passport, work book, housing papers, medical doc- R ESTRICIIONS
and communication are but one of
umentation, records of military service, special the problems faced by the democratic opposition
documents for travel to border regions, vacation in what appears to be a losing struggle for sur-
passes, and written authorizations granting per- vival. Especially since the accession to power of
mission to travel around the country for job pur- the late Yuri Andropov, the Kremlin has intro..
poses. The most important personal paper, the in- duced a series of new measures, or, more accur-
ternal passport, is a substantial docu~ent, run- ately, reintroduced or refined old measures, to
ning to fourteen pages and containing such infor- strengthen the state's hand in its campaign to
mation as the bearer's nationality, social class, eliminate all manifestations of dissent.
records of marriage and divorce, and information The most widely known innovation is the sen-
about his work history. The work book contains . tencing of political prisoners to terms in mental
the individual's complete job history, including hospitals, a policy which, typically, has been emu-
sanctions for poor performance, difficulties with lated by a number of satellite regimes. Two im-
the law, and reasons for leaving a p~rticular job. portant purposes are served by the use of psychi-
Compared with the persecution of a Sakharov atric terror: first, it injects an added element of
or Shcharansky, the internal-documents system is fear into the campaign against dissent, since Soviet
hardly the stuff of high drama. Yet as an instru- citizens are all too aware that the "therapy" in
ment of totalitarian control, the internal passport, Soviet psychiatric hospitals consists almost solely
work book, and other papers occupy a crucial of heavy doses of drugs. Given over an extended
place, as important in many ways as police-state period, _this "treatment" can produce irreversible
terror. Hannah Arendt describeq the introduction brain damage; thus the prospect of a term in a
of the work book as having "transformed the mental hospital is far more frightening than a
whole Russian worker class officially into a gigan- stint in a labor camp. Second, by packing political
tic forced-labor force." If it is no longer accurate prisoners off to mental institutions, the state is
to characterize the Soviet Union as one massive able to punish its opponents through exclusively
slave-labor camp-as against the approximately bureaucratic channels, eliminating the need for
15 million prisoners serving sentences in labor public trials which sometimes draw the scrutiny
camps at any one time under Stalin, the figure of the '·Vestern press .
today is about 2 million-the fact remains that the . Psychiatric abuse has not been totally ignored;
internal-documents system guarantees the system- frequent articles have appeared in Western news-
atic intrusion of the state into the most ordinary papers, and the practice has been condemned by
details of a person's life. It also has substantially world psychiatric bodies. Considerably less cover-
contributed to the attainment of the Leninist age, however, has been given to a number of re-
utopia -where escape from rules, restrictions, and cent laws and decrees designed to further intimi-
prohibitions is extremely difficult. A black mark date the opposition and, as well, to reduce con-
inscribed in a young man's work book will follow tacts between the Soviet people and foreign visi-
him, from job to job, for the rest of his life, as will tors. These measures include a broadening of the
descriptions_ of scrapes with the police or ques-
tions concerning his political outlook. •For a fuller discussion of the Soviet internal-documents
Moreover, the quite particular way in which system, see The Other Establishment by Thomas B. Smith,
internal documents are used by Soviet bureau- Regnery Gateway, 205 pp., $18.95.

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Copyright (c) American Jewish Committee
TOTALITARIANISM TODA'V'/35

definition of. treason to embrace practically all in the camps, faced the prospect of an additional
political offenses, a similar broadening of the in- term for refusing to cooperate and was ·thus con..
terpretation of what constitutes "anti-Soviet agita- fronted with the prospect of near-certain death in
tion and propaganda," harsher sentenc~s for So· the gulag. ·
viet citizens carrying out "anti-state" activities
with the assistance .of funds from abroad (a mea- o~ITICAL
sure which could be applied to a dissident writer P targets of dissidents are not only
the
what some see as the gradual
whose works were published in the West, or to re-Stalinization of Soviet society. While the Krem-
Jewish refuseniks receiving money from the United lin-and, indeed, wiih the· exception of Poland,
States), and a law w:µich makes it a crime to trans- the Commun~st world in general-has been high-
mit "work-related" secrets to foreigners. Here ly s~ccessful in minimizing overtly political forms
again, the definition of work-related secrets is of nonconformity, all Communist societies suffer
vague enough to be applicable to just about any- from a striking increase in what is desc~ibed as a
thing having to do with Soviet industry or trade. breakdown in socialist discipline. ·Problems with
The most chilling new law, harking back to which Western societies are only too familiar-
similar practices under Stalin, deals with the treat- crime, high rates of divorce, alcoholism,· even drug
ment of prisoners currently serving terms in prison addiction-have become widespread in the Com-
camps. In recent years, failure to obey camp rules munist world as well. Communist countries, more-
was dealt with through administrative sanctions: over, face an almost universal problem of declin-
that is, by a term in an isolation cell or ~ reduc- ing labor productivity, a phenomenon largely
tion in the inmate's pay. Under the new law, caused by the idiosyncrasies of centrally planned
prisoners guilty of "malicious disobedience" of economies, but which the Communists themselves
camp regulations are subject to criminal prosecu- attribute to an unwillingness of their workers to
tion, and prisoners can be given extended terms work h~rd enough. ·
in the camp on the sole basis of testimony from Communist propaganda traditionally insisted
the camp administrator. This law too has been that social pathology and worker indisciplin~ were
drafted with purposeful vagueness; "malicious the exclusive province of the capitalist world, and
disobedience" can mean whatever the authorities it is only in the past few years that the Soviets
want it to mean, and a political prisoner faces the have begun to own up to the reality of their own
real possibility of having his sentence lengthened social crises. More recently, ~nd ~specially since
simply for refusing to renounce his convictions. the death of Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviets have
From a narrowly legal standpoint, the whole given indications of a determin~tion to attack
series of new laws enacted under Andropov and their social ills through a variety of punitive and
Chernenko are superfluous, since Soviet legislation intimidatory policies. One sign is the renewed use
dealing with crimes against the state has tradition- of one of the staples of the Stalinist ar~enal, the
ally been written in such a way as to insure the anonymous denunciation. The practice of de'."
widest possible application. The major, perhaps nouncing one's neighbors, co-workers, or even fam..
sole, intent of the new measures would thus appear ily members was widespread dµring the height of
to be intimidation. And there is some evidence the Great Terror. Sometimes denunciations were
to suggest that the Kremlin's strategy is paying resorted to as a means of· gaining some coveted.
dividends. Recently, for example, several prom~ possession-say, a neighbor's apartment. More
inent political prisoners have issued public recan- often, however, denunciations s~rved as a form of
tations in exchange for pardons from lengthy self-prot~ction, the ultimate demonstration of
terms in the gulag. Recantations are big media loyalty to Stalin and the Soviet state. Eventually,
events in the Soviet Union, and are shrewdly ex- denunciations became so pervasive and uncon-
ploited for thejr propaganda value. A public re- trolled that the authorities ended the practice.
cantation is an especially humiliating experience, Today the use of denunciati~ns appear8 to be
as the individual is compelled not merely to re- winning increased support· from the police. In
nounce long-held political beliefs, but to denounce certain cities, forms have been distributed on
friends, acknowledge the insidious influence of which Soviet citizens can inform on their neigh-
"foreign" elements in leading him astray, and bors or co-workers without· fear of discovery. A
declare undying love for the Soviet Union and the new twist has been added. Formerly, the person
ideals it embodies. In one inddent, a Ukrainian making the denunciation was compelled to write
dissident characterized former associates in the out the relevant details, ihus running some, albeit
democratic movement as utraitors to the father- minimal, risk 9f being revealed as a snoop. The
land" and a "fifth column" in the country, and new forms, however, greatly simplify matters by
declared that the human-rights movement was providing separate boxes listing various offenses
nothing more than the creation of Western intel- which can be checked off by the person making
ligence agencies. Other dissidents were des~ibed the denunciation. Among ~e listed categories are:
as lacking courage or the dupes of Western imper- living off .ccasual earnings," refusing to pay ali-
ialism. The decision to disavow friends and con· mony, having "no place of work," drinkiqg to ex-
victions was reached under extreme duress; in his cess or qsing drugs, or, a catchall, violating "the
mid-fifties, this man, already serving a long term rules of socialist communal life. 0

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Copyright (c) American Jewish Committee
34/COMMENTARY PECEMBER 1984

A similar innovation has been developed by the of Polish censorship in the 1970's,• the press was
Komsomol, the Communist youth organization, as more rigidly controlled during the regime of Ed-
part of a public campaign to ferret out violators ward Gierek, much praised as a "liberal" Commu-
of work discipline.· The centerpiece of this cam- nist by many in the West, than during the rule of
paign, dubbed Operation Chro~ometer, is a cou- Gi~rek's predecessor, Wladyslaw Gomulka, an obe-
pon, published in various newspapers, on which djent follower of the Soviet line. Curry bases her
readers can write in and provide specific accusa- conclusion on an analysis of some 700 pages of
tions ·against allegeq work shirkers and "truants." documents issued by the Polish censor's office and
The Soviet Union is not the only Communist smuggled to the West by a defecting censor· in
country to have resorted to "extraordinary mea· 1977. These documents represent a gold miQe of
sures" in an effort to deal with mounting social information about one of the basic control mecha-
and economic crises. Romania has conducted show nisms of the totalitarian state.
trials for workers found drinking on the job, and In Poland, and throughout the Soviet bloc as
has made it a criminal offense for a worker to well, the job of .the c~nsor is much simplified by
Ieav~ his work station without permission. A series the self-censorship which working journalists ac-
of decrees by the Ceausescu regime has at one cept as a matter of course. By the 1970's most
strq:ic.e reduced the national standard of living Polish journalists had lived through spme three
while providing harsh penalties for violations of decades of Communist rule, during which they
labor discipline. One new law has effec~ively had learned the futility of attempting to challenge
established a class of indentured servants by tying the prevailing doctrine. The state, for its part,
workers entering the labor market to their first could discipline errant writers by denying them
job for five years. Another measure has abolished jobs or refusing to print ideologically unaccept-
the minimum pay a worker can earn at a particu- able articles. Anotlter weapon at the state's dis-
lar job. ·Nor has the regime ignored the agricul- posal is its monopoly on the supply of paper,
tural sector. The size of private plots which col- which can be withheld from journals that demon-
lective farmers are entitled to own has been re- strate too much independence.
duced, and peasants have been compelled to aban- Gierek saw the censor as occupying a quite spe-
don single-family houses for multidwelljng units. cific position in helping to mobilize public sup-
port for the regime's economic strategy. Whatever
freeqom of the press, it is legitimacy Gierek earned was predicated on the
R EGARDING
only dimly recognized that the kind of fu~fillment of his vow of economic betterment,
censorship exercised by the Kremlin, and adopted particularly for Poland's restive workers. A crucial
by every other Communist country, is distinctly element in this strategy was what came to b~
different from the haphazard censorship carried known as the "prqpaganda of success," which
out by non-Communist dictatorships. The term amounted to an endless stream of articles ancl
censorship, in fact, is somewhat misleading in de- analyses extolling Gierek's policies and ignoring
scribing what exists in the Communist world, since the nation's gathering crises. Thus, central to· the
Communist press policies seek not only to pre- censor's mandate was seeing that nothing reach
vent the publication of observations or facts which print which could remotely be construed as criti-
contradict the official position on this or that issue, cal of the economic course or which might raise
f;lut also to sltape, direct, and manipu~ate public questions in the minds of foreign investors about
opinion. News management is, to be sure, a· more the country's stability. The 'list o~ . forbidden
complicated enterprise than in the past. The end- subjects reached w~ll beyond questions of eco-
less paeans to the leadership which were once the nomic policy, narrowly defined; it included ~he
distinguishiQg features of the Communist press total elimination of references to envirnnmental
are no longer acceptable to a better-educated pop- pollution, food contamination, agricultural dis-
ulation. Moreover, Co~munist regimes cannot ig- ease, and other health-related issues.
nore the reality that their citizens have ~ccess to In similar fashion, the censorship system was
alternative meclia in foreign radio-broadcast used to preclude debate on a whole series of
services such as the Voice of America, Radio Free soda! problems. No mentio~ was to· be m~de of
Europe/Raclio Liberty, and the BBC. The Com- the endemic housing shortage~ or of the poor
munist media thus face a formidable task: to con- quality of· newly built housing. Similarly, in-
vince their citizens of the wisdom of official poli- formed discussion of agricultural issues was im-
cies and. the superiority of Communism as a sys- peded by the decision to eliminate references to
tem, and to do this cleverly enough to be mini- the fact that private farming performed ·better
mally acceptable to a more critical audience. than the collectivized sector.
Among the ·soviet-bloc countries, Poland has for
som~ time enjoyed a reputation for cultural and ANOTHER subject which drew the censor's
journalistic inqependence. Nonetheless, the role r t careful scru~iny was religion. While
of the censor was considered every bit as impor- even in pre-Solidarity days the Polish Catholic
as
tant in pre-Solidarity Pola~d in such bastions of
Stalinist orthodoxy as Rumania a~d Bulgari3;. In- • The Black Book of Polish Censorship, edited and trans-
d~ed, as Jane Leftwich Curry poi~ts out in a study lated by Jane Leftwich Curry, Vin~age, 451 pp., $8.95.

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Copyright (c) American Jewish Committee
TOTALITARIANISM TODAY/85

Church enjoyed a measure of autonomy unknown material written by Polish journalists but deleted
in other Communist countries, references to the by the censors than from the distorted pieces
Church or religion in general were frequently which actually reached print. With the single ex-
changed or deleted. The censorship of religious ception of accounts of Nazi brutality during the
material went well beyond statements which could war, modern Polish history has been thoroughly
be interpreted as critical of Communism; the goal distorted, reformulated, and falsified. Censorship
was to keep references to religion, no matter how under Gierek was approached with all the high
politically innocuous, to the minimum. For exam- seriousness of a five·year plan, and was executed
ple, churches were denied permission to print with far more success than Gierek's grandiose
cards which could be used by parishioners to in- economic schemes. Gierek, moreover, invested
form the priest of their illness. Any mention of great hopes in his censorship apparatus. At one
the popularity of Church-sponsored activities was time he actually considered transforming the cen·
forbidden even in the Church press. Also censored sor's office into a kind of apprenticeship school for
were sociological surveys which reported a high future journalists, who would undergo a period of
degree of religious belief among the Polish peo- training as censors before going on to regular jobs
ple, and statements which appeared to link social on newspapers, journals, and in the broadcast
problems to a loosening of religious faith, as in media. Gierek's plan was never implemented, but
the following sentence, which was deleted from a there is an unquestionable logic to the notion
parish bulletin: "The Church sees the cause of all that, by temperament, experience, and philosophy,
of this [various social ills] in the fact that people no one is better qualified to manage the news in
have turned their back on Christ...." the Communist world than the censor.
The censors also participated in the ongoing
process of rewriting Polish history. It was, in fact, Communism the censor represents
instructions to falsify information about the Katyn I F FOR
the ideal writer, it follows that the
forest incident, in which thousands of Polish offi- atheist represents the best qualified clergyman.
cers, including his own grandfather, were mur- 'With the exception of Albania, which claims to
dered by Soviet troops during World War II, have achieved the first atheistic society and where
which prompted the defection of the censor who houses of worship have been transformed into
smuggled these materials out with him. In this museums of atheism, Communist countries have
particular case, censors were compelled to change abandoned, for the time being, the original goal
the date of the massacre from 1940 to 1941 in of the total elimination of religion. They are con-
order to remove any evidence suggesting possible tent rather to control religion, and to restrict the
Soviet guilt. Another typical example of the doc- Church's role in society to the most narrow func-
toring of historical fact was the purging of positive tions. To be sure, Communists continue to hope
references to the Polish forces who fought with the that at some future time people will simply cease
Allies at the battle of Monte Cassino from a book believing in God, and to further this process the
of wartime underground writings. Soviets and several other Communist regimes still
If the Polish censors harbored doubts about the publish anti-religious propaganda and support
handling of sensitive historical issues, they could, "research institutes" dedicated to the propagation
if they chose, turn to their Soviet comrades for of atheistic themes. At the same time, Communist
ad vice. The Soviets maintain a large press section authorities are unbending in the persecution of
in their Warsaw embassy, whose major function is believers who belong to denominations which re-
reading and criticizing the Polish press, right fuse to accept state domination. Nevertheless, un-
down to the regional level. It was not uncommon less confronted with outright resistance, Commu-
during the l 970's, and presumably is not uncom· nist regimes prefer to control religion rather than
mon today, for Polish journalists to receive a tele- suppress it.
phone call from a bureaucrat in the Soviet em- Communists today approach the job of con-
bassy with pointed remarks about the treatment of trolling the churches much as they approach cen-
a particular issue. The Soviets also prepared lists sorship. The preparation and implementation of
of people and events from Soviet history to which policies are carefully planned, and the bureau-
no reference was to be made in the Polish press. cracy which monitors the activities of the churches
Whether it was due to Soviet pressure or, and this (or "sects,, in Communist parlance) is staffed by
is more likely, a conscious decision of the regime, party officials who, while not zealots, are quite
the 1970's brought a notably different approach to clear about what they want to achieve. For obvi-
the treatment of Stalinism in the Polish press. ous reasons, the bureaucracy which controls the
Where previousI y it had been common to blame churches in the Soviet Union takes precautions to
Poland's difficulties during the early years of Com- avoid publicity in the Western press. We are, how·
munism on the "excesses" of the Polish Stalinist ever, fortunate in having a document which pro-
leadership, under Gierek references to Stalinism vides valuable insight into the inner working of
were almost automatically expunged from press the apparatus of religious control, a report written
accounts. by Vasili Furov, deputy chairman of the Soviet
As Curry points out, a more accurate picture of Council on Religious Affairs, the agency which
Polish life in the l 970's could be gleaned from oversees religious activities throughout the coun-

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Copyright (c) American Jewish Committee
36/COMMENTARY DECEMBER 1984

try. The report, which was smuggled to the West, The utter cynicism of this statement should dis-
focuses on the current condition of the Russian abuse Westerners of the notion that the Kremlin's
Orthodox. Church, the USSR's largest denomina- relatively tolerant attitude toward the Church (as
tion and, with 50 million members, one of the compared with its uncompromising hostility in the
largest churches in the world.• past) signifies a genuine coming to terms with re-
Furov claims, inter alia, that the council "con- ligious faith.
trols the Synod of the Orthodox Church, reviews
0
If more evidence of the unchanged Communist
the appointments of major Church officials, and view of religion is required, one need look no
approves all decisions before they are acted on by further than the Kremlin's most loyal satellite,
the Church leadership. Although allowance must Czechoslovakia, where the regime ha~ been forced
be made for the report's generally self-serving to contend with a modest revival of interest in the
tone, its meticulously detailed information about Catholic Church, particularly among the young.
Church affairs suggests that if Furov's claims are An indication of the vast array of weapons at the
exaggerated, it is only by a little, and that he is regime's disposal can be seen in its current cam-
probably right in asserting that the Orthodox paign to discourage schoolchildren from attending
Church today "is basically a product of the Soviet classes on religious subjects. The centerpiece of
era." this campaign is the establishment of what are
The current objective of Soviet religious policy known as atheistic commissions in the schools,
is to transform clergymen into transmission belts with teachers as commission members. The com-
linking the state with religious believers. Obvi- mission's principal assignment is to persuade par-
ously, the role of the priest in the struggle for ents not to enroll their children in religious
"peace" is not ignored. The ideal clergyman is one classes; if the parents balk, they are reminded that
who can effectively represent the Soviet position religious belief can be a serious stumbling block
on peace at various international congresses and to university admission or better-paying jobs.
before such groups as the World Council of Bonuses are handed out to teachers who are sue- -
Churches. cessful in minimizing enrollment in religious
This ideal cleric may believe in God but, ac- classes, and there are reports that children who
cording to Furov, he refrains from pressing his insist on attending religious classes have been sub-
convictions on his parishioners with too much jected to ridicule before their classmates.
enthusiasm. Furov cites the rueful comment of These are, of course, mild forms of pressure
one priest: "Authorities of the state ideological when compared with other frequently employed
system have succeeded in turning the priests into punishments-the jailing of believers on charges
clergymen. Priests and clergymen-servants of the of smuggling Bibles into the country or the sen-
cult-that is not one and the same thing. The tencing of priests for performing Mass without
priest is a spiritual man, but the servant of the "state sanction." Totalitarian regimes are not
cult is a tradesman and a wage earner." alone in their willingness to persecute priests. The
One obvious question raised by Furov's report strict and scrupulously enforced regimentation of
is how an official of a state agency got access to the religion is, however, a purely totalitarian innova-
content of sermons and the passing remarks of tion. And so, for that matter, is the peculiarly
various priests. The answer is simple. As the re- totalitarian capacity to harass, humiliate, taunt,
port makes abundantly clear, the Council on and discriminate against children for no other
Religious Affairs maintains an extensive intelli- reason than an avowed belief in God.
gence-gathering operation whose focus goes be-
yond overtly political questions. The report is
N ARGUMENT that is frequently ad-
replete with gossip about the private lives and
human failings of various priests; presumably such
A vanced against the usefulness of the
information is stored away for future use in con- totalitarian model is the thesis that the admittedly
vincing priests to adopt a more cooperative atti- reprehensible course taken in the Soviet Union
tude in dealings with the state. and Eastern Europe is not being copied by "revo-
The report is also interesting for the light it lutionary" regimes in the Third World. Thus the
sheds on the state's role in influencing the curri- refrain that Cuba, or Vietnam, or Grenada, or
culum and administration of Orthodox seminaries. Nicaragua is pursuing a "different" road to social-
The Council participates in the selection of fac- ism, one designed to avoid the "pitfalls" of Soviet-
ulty, helps choose textbooks, determines how So- style repression and overbureaucratization while
viet history is to be presented, and even advises respecting the cultural and historical traditions ·of
Church officials on the preparation of curriculum the particular society. Yet when one examines the
· dealing with religious subjects. techniques of domestic control-the keys, really,
At one point Furov observes that, by manipulat- of the Communist system-the overriding reality is
ing the seminary course material, the state hopes the similarity in the pattern of totalitarian develop-
to inculcate in new priests a "spirit of material- ment between the Soviet Union and Marxist and
ism" which "will undercut the religious and mys-
tical ideal of the future clergy" and "bring them •The Furov report has appeared in the United States in
to understand their own uselessness as clergymen." the publication, Religion in Communist Dominated Areas.

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Copyright (c) American Jewish Committee
TOTALITARIANISM TODAY/37

radical Third World regimes. And the great dis- lar lack of privacy, life in China is not much dif-
parities in geography, culture, and level of eco- ferent from life in an army barracks," concluded
nomic development make the similarities all the New York Times correspondent Fox Butterfield
more striking. after completing an assignment there a few years
If anything, indeed, the policies adopted by ago. The pivotal figure in the Chinese system
Cuba; and Vietnam more closely resemble those is the party secretary at the workplace or enter-
which obtained in the regimes of Eastern Europe prise level. Each workplace retains a sealed file
in the early, formative years of Communist con- for each worker in which is recorded such in-
trol than the less oppressive atmosphere which has formation as the party's evaluation and any politi-
prevailed since the dead~ of Stalin. The pattern is cal charges brought against the individual by
distressingly similar: reeducation for those who anonymous informers. The file also contains the
refuse to conform or whose class backgrounds are worker's class background for three generations-
suspect; vast concentration camps which provide whether his father or grandfather were landlords,
a pool of slave labor for the public-works projects capitalists, or peasants. The worker cannot marry
that will form the infrastructure of the new so- or divorce without the party secretary's permis-
ciety; hostility to private property-including sion; he must also obtain permission for some-
home ownership and the right to keep a few farm thing as seemingly routine as traveling for more
animals; persecution of the churches; transforma- than one day.
tion of independent trade unions into state-con- Another important mechanism of state power is
trolled labor fronts; establishment of neighbor- the urban street committee. The committees have
hood surveillance committees; subjugation, re- wide authority; they combine the functions of em-
pression, and expulsion of minorities who do not ployment agency and housing authority. Commit-
"fit in." tee members have the right to enter a person's
A clear parallel can be discerned in the ap- home at any hour; they also report to the authori-
proach to political reeducation. A Vietnamese ties on such intimate matters as presumed sexual
official, writing in the People's Army Publication, liaisons between unmarried Chinese. The street
described the process in words which have a de- committees also check women's menstrual cycles;
cidedly Leninist ring: if a woman's period is late, she is instructed to
obtain an abortion. (Conversely, in Rumania,
Reeducation is a meticulous and long-range where abortions are illegal, a new policy now be-
process. Management must be tight, continuous, ing implemented requires women factory workers
comprehensive, and specific. We must manage to obtain blood tests each month; if those found
each person. We must manage their thoughts
and actions, words and deeds, philosophy of life to be pregnant are no longer pregnant a month
and ways of livelihood, social relationships and later, they are liable to penalties.)
travel. ... We must closely combine manage- Cuba is also notable for its determination to
ment and education with interrogation. intrude into the private affairs of the individual.
Fidel Castro's persecution of homosexuals has
Accounts of life in the Vietnamese gulag are been much commented on, and is one aspect of
grimly reminiscent of the prison-camp literature his rule which has alienated, minimally, his sup-
written by the unlucky victims of assorted other porters on the Western Left. But two points about
Communist regimes. Much emphasis is placed on Castro's anti-homosexual policies need to be em-
confessions; prisoners must write and rewrite their phasized. The first is that while, as apologists for
life histories until a document with the proper the regime often point out, a contempt for homo-
class perspective is achieved. The confessions are sexuality is not unknown in Latin American
then read before the assembled camp administra- culture, only Castro has actually translated
tors and prisoner population, and prisoners are these prejudices into a national policy of
encouraged to criticize the confessions in such a outright persecution. The second point is the
way as to foment hatred among fellow inmates. legislative overkill employed to insure that no
Further to discourage prisoner solidarity, inmates manifestation of homosexual conduct go unpun-
are constantly shuffled from one camp to another, ished. A vast body of law has been enacted in
a procedure which makes it extremely difficult for whole or in part to deal with homosexuality,
relatives to maintain contact with husbands, much of it based on laws adopted in the Soviet
fathers, or brothers. The more gruesome details of Union and Eastern Europe, including the Law
camp life-backbreaking work, wretched food, against Extravagance, the Law against Public
general squalor, widespread use of torture-are Scandal, the Law on Dangerousness, the Law on
distressingly familiar to anyone with a passing the Normal Development of Youth and the Fam-
acquaintance with accounts of camp life in the ily, and the Law on Pre-Delinquency, a measure
Soviet Union, China, or Eastern Europe. which categorizes the hiomosexual not only as im-
moral but as a potential criminal subject to pun-

I . has clearlyupdrawn
N BUILDING its police-state, Vietnam
inspiration from its
ishment if he cannot be found guilty of specific
criminal acts.
sworn enemy, China, which remains a strong to- In general, politics determines just about every
talitarian society. "In its regimentation and singu- aspect of the individual Cuban's private life: the

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Copyright (c) American Jewish Committee
38/COMMENTARY DECEMBER 1984

choice of a marriage partner, a decision to seek a fraternal allies in their struggle to emasculate the
divorce, where one lives and works, the friends one churches. Even though the Grenadian churches
associates with. Being seen with the wrong people never played a militant opposition role, the NJM
can have unpleasant and long-lasting consequences. perceived organized religion as an obstacle to the
Each person applying for admission to a university consolidation of social control. The regime moni-
or even trade school must submit documentation tored church services, kept tabs on those who met
on his political reliability. These forms are com- with the religious hierarchy, and apparently
pleted by members of the Committee in Defense tapped the telephones of church officials deemed
of the Revolution, the ubiquitous cadre organiza- to have joined the counterrevolutionary camp.
tion which constitutes the basic layer of the totali- The Grenadians also asked the Cubans to share
tarian state. A typical form, in this case for an what they had learned while successfully stripping
institute for fishermen, asks such questions as: the Catholic Church of its role in civil society. The
"Does he [the applicant] associate with people un- Cubans recommended, as first steps toward taking
friendly to the Revolution?" "Do you know if the control of the churches, that a New Jewel official
comrade holds religious beliefs?" "Does he main- responsible for religious affairs be trained in Cuba
tain relations with persons from abroad?" "From and that a formal registration of churches and
what country?" "Does the comrade associate with other associations be set up, a totalitarian device
antisocial elements?" used throughout the Communist world as a means
of subverting and dominating previously inde-
ND what of Grenada and Nicaragua, the pendent institutions.
A most recent models of Marxist-Lenin-
ist experimentation? In Grenada, a combination of steady totalitarianization
of factors prevented Maurice Bishop and his New A PATTERN
is also proceeding apace in Nica-
Jewel Movement (NJM) comrades from advancing ragua. Unfortunately, many in the United States
to the goal of a Sovietized social order. This fail- seem ignorant of or oblivious to the accumulated
ure should not, however, obscure an understand- evidence of an emerging Soviet-style dictatorship
ing of the NJM's long-range intentions. By Octo- there. In certain circles an attitude of "Let Nica-
ber 1983, when the Grenadian revolution devoured ragua be Nicaragua" seems to prevail, the under-
itself, the New Jewel regime had already managed lying premise being that if only the CIA and the
to destroy the independent press, expand the contras would stop their harassment, then the
police and army (and launch an ambitious indoc- pluralistic instincts of the Sandinistas would
trination campaign aimed primarily at the security somehow prevail over their Leninist convictions.
forces), initiate island-wide domestic surveillance, The notion that American imperialism is re-
seize the leadership of most trade unions, and jail sponsible for the despotic path taken by the San-
several hundred Grenadians on political charges dinistas is as absurd as the thesis that the United
(taken proportionately, the number of political States is to blame for the renewed Soviet crack-
prisoners would have amounted to tens of thou- down -on the dissident movement. Nor is the fact
sands in the United States). As for their future that the Sandinistas have moved only rather cau-
plans, documents uncovered by the invading forces· tiously toward a Sovietized social order an indi-
leave no doubt that Bishop and his colleagues cation of an underlying desire to follow a differ-
were dedicated Communists, that in foreign affairs ent and more democratic path to socialism. A
the NJM was firmly set within the Soviet orbit, number of East European regimes were cautious
and that the kind of society it wanted to build in the introduction of Communist policies; the
differed little from what exists in Bulgaria or East fact that the Sandinistas have proceeded at an
Germany.• even slower pace is primarily due to the ines-
The plans for domestic surveillance were quite capable realities of geography.
thorough. Principal targets were schools, churches, The basic instrument of social control in Nica-
neighborhood organizations, and trade unions; ragua is the Sandinista Defense Committee, an
anyone indiscreet enough to criticize the regime at institution patterned after the Cuban Committee
the wrong forum often found himself imprisoned in Defense of the Revolution. The committees are
without charges. Reports on the political situation run by Sandinista loyalists, and exist in most
in each section of the island were filed by the neighborhoods, especially poor neighborhoods.
security forces; these reports were minutely de- Like similar organizations in other Communist
tailed, listing by name each person deemed hostile societies, the committees dispense. housing and
to the revolution. The Grenadians were also eager jobs, and control many aspects of daily life. In one
to obtain the advice and assistance of more ex- other revealing way are the committees similar to
perienced Soviet-bloc countries for a wide variety the cadre structures in certain Communist re-
of undertakings, including the establishment of an gimes: like those postwar East European regimes
·apparatus of repression. They turned to the Viet- in which members of the political police were
namese, no less, for assistance in setting up a pro-
gram of political reeducation and to help devise •See The Grenada Papers, edited by Paul Seabury and
"methods of dealing with lumpen elements.'' Walter A. McDougall, Institute for Contemporary Studies,
The Grenadians likewise sought counsel from 846 pp.• $16.95. .

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Copyright (c) American Jewish Committee
TOTALITARIANISM TODAY/89

drawn largely from the ranks of former Nazis and We are, however, talking about nibbling at the
fascists, many Sandinista Defense Committees have margins of totalitarian society. The fundamental
come to be dominated by former Somoza support- fact remajns that, once in power, no Communist
ers, men and women who have found that snoop- regime has yet to be dislc;>dged by internal forces
ing and spying can be a rewarding enterprise in alorie. As hated as Hudson Austin and Bernard
dictatorships of both Right and Left. Coard were after the murder of Maurice Bis~op,
The Defense Committees derive much of their they and their well-arme4 security forces could
power from their control over the distribution of easily have held power had opposition been lim-
ration coupons. Americans tend to identify ration- ited to the Grenadian people.
ing as the ultimate reflection of Communist eco- Today, then, th~ test of a serious anti·totaUtar-
nomic failure; in fact, rationing can be a highly ian policy lies in Nicaragua. Thus far, the Sandi·
effective means of coercion. "A formidable form nistas have failed to win absolute domination over
of blackmail," is how Carlos Alberto Montaner, a Nicaraguan society. For this, much credit is due to
Cuban exile writer, has described rationing. ''When the twin pillars of internal. opposition: the Catho-
you go with the rationing book to get your quota, lic Church and the newspaper La Prensa. None-
you have the impression of being alive thanks to theless, a crucial part has been played by forces
the government's generosity.... If you rebel, yoq outside the country, by.the contras, and by Amer-
can be left without food or clothing.u In Nica- ican foreign poli~y, a policy which has sought, in
ragua, too, the regime is making deliberate use of part, to prevent a consolidation of Sandinista
the rationing system to impose its will on the power.
people. For example, workers are "asked" to par- However, the main goal of American policy
ticipate in midnight-to-five work details in their seems to be to stem Nicaraguan intervention in El
neighborhoods. These projects often have no eco- Salvador and other. Central American countries.
nomic rationale; their purpose is to make workers This is a worthy goal; bu~ there would be serious
more open to Sandinista propaganda, to convince repercussions if a noninterventionist Nicaragua
the people that the Sandinistas are securely in were to become the sole aim of American policy.
control, and that to resist their will is futile. Those Indeed, a few of the Sandinistas' i;hrewder Ameri-
workers who do balk often have their ration cou- can supporters are now saying tha~t while the U.S.
pons lvi thheld. Alternatively, they may find them- has a legitimate interest in a Sandinista agreement
selves the target of the turbas, or mobs, organized on hemispheric µoninterference, we should aban-
bands of Sandinista thugs who carry out extra- don any effort to compel· the Sandinistas to adopt
legal enforcement jobs for the regime. (An interest- soQJ.e form of pluralistic government.
ing parallel is the workers' militias which played If the United States were to accept such a for-
an essential role in the 1948 Communist coup in mula, the likely consequence would be the en-
Czechoslovakia.) trenchment of yet another totalitarian regime in
In educat~on, indoctrination is the order of the this part of ttie world. Despite efforts to camou-
day. Children are force-fed propaganda claiming flage their real nature, the Sandinistas in fact
that the Sandinistas are the only legitimate force appear to be rather orthodox Communists, deriv-
in society. The much-heralded literacy program ing inspiration from Cuba, Vietnam, and the
has been used primarily as a vehicle for such in- Soviet Union, lining up with the Soviet bloc in
doctrination and mobilization. The program's di- the struggle against "imperialism," and harboring
rector has stated that "There is no education that strong prejudices against institutions which have
is not political." Given the literacy campaign's es- somehow evaded state-party control. Left unmo-
sentially political mandate, it is hardly surprising lested to pursue their own revolutionary path, the
that many observers are now raising serious ques- Sandinistas• course of action is all too predictable:
tiom~ ·about the program's educational achieve- the Catholic Church will be destroyed as an inde-
ments. On several occasions the regime has also pendent institution; La Prensa will be closed; the
made threatening gestures toward a takeover of property of the middle class will be expropriated;
the Catholic schools. Alt4ough spared for the mo- agriculture will be collectivized; restrictions on
ment, these schools are subject to constant inspec- internal movement and emigration will be im-
tions to determine if their curriculum conforms to posed; .,reeducation° and concentration camps for
Sandinista policy; the inspection teams include political prisoners will become a dis~inct possibility.
officials from Cuba and even the Soviet Union. In the words of Alfonso Robelo, a former mem-
ber of the post-Somoza Nicaraguan go\rernment
0
T ENIN's vision of a society where all who has since joined the exile opposition.: 1£ the
L would voluntarily yield to the dic- United States allows the 'Finlandization~ of Nica-
tates of the state has thus far eluded his successors. ragua-that is, a si ~uation where the pt'l'!Sent re-
Som~ opposition has managed to survive, and in gime is accepted as lo~g as it doesn't try to expand
attempting to influence events in the Communist -then the Nicaraguan people are finished." The
world, the democracies are not without resources; entire history of 20th-century totalitarianism, in-
they may even soon find new means of under- cluding its softer present-day manifestations in
mining Communist rule through developments in Eastern Europe, bears these words out and de-
the communications revolution. mands that they be he~ded by the United States.

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Copyright (c) American Jewish Committee