There was a time I was obsessed with all the voices coming out of the now defunct Soviet Empire.
The samizdat was great…and all the jokes too. Remember the old jokes?
“Why is there shortage of meat in the Soviet Union?”
“Because the heroic people of the Soviet Union marched so rapidly towards socialism that the cows fell behind.”
Remember all the critiques of “abstract humanism” coming out of a region whose old unimaginative leaders, assorted sycophants, fellow travelers and numerous apparatchiks in various commissariats deafened us with their claims to future, to humanity, and to the putative, inevitable future of humanity?
“Why would people so violent in speaking on behalf of others find it hard to help a blind woman cross a busy intersection,” I recall some one asking in a moving piece.
The pro Soviet communist elites and some of the various Trotskyite activists, their rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, were notorious for refusing a penny to the poor and the homeless. I was reminded of the puzzling conduct recently on a trip with someone I had encountered by accident.
Real human beings and their unbearable torment was only a vehicle to teach us the broader imagined lessons that History offered us; History, as the ultimate unstoppable locomotive on its way to some predetermined destination.
And we were mostly always viewed as the actors expected to play imagined roles. We needed only to learn the right lessons and to show up and queue at the right station with a willingness to be guided and lead.
Couldn’t go anywhere without leaders, could we?
Always mindful, of course, of not disrupting the inevitable progress of history. The army of the working class only learned solidarity and activism as a consequence of the many harsh lessons of life under capitalism coupled with the right dose of ideas formulated by our leaders who were perpetually busy trying to raise consciousness.
So what of this individual who was hungry and homeless? What of men and women living in stench, filth and sewage? What of this blind woman getting run over by a car? Life would go on, you see. There were important meetings to attend; important people to see, the vanguards of the working class to organize, political solutions to formulate. Capitalist propaganda to counter, a class conflict to lead and of course, those inevitable wars to wage.
The prize was to be the promised liberation that the few would manage to bestow upon the many—always the multitude so hapless without guidance.
Unless some resisted of course. Resistance would naturally beget Hungary, Afghanistan and the Gulags.
No time to pause. No annoying questions to ask. The stakes were too high, and the risks—the risks were many, but chief among them was the danger of being left behind by that fast moving History—the ultimate choo choo train.
And the marvels of our quintessential choo choo men. The marvels of their comfortable, comforting abstract realm.
The real life?
As always, annoying, messy, with ridiculous number of details to explain and deal with. That’s why there were so many other categories: false consciousness, lumpenproletaria, omnipresent imperialist agents and conspiracies, the kulak sympathizing dogs, the opiates of the masses and so on and so forth.
So now we have a new breed of abstract humanists, and History on the march yet again with self- appointed leaders as the custodians of her supposed “inevitable” progress.
Yet another comforting realm in which the defenseless victims look so adoringly at our altruistic heroes in anticipation of liberation. The sorts of victims who are always imagined to be happy, grateful and cheering when lead at the point of a gun.
And those categories again so some can effectively deal with all the minor details; although in some ways infinitely more unimaginative: thugs, fanatic, stealthy agents of foreign powers spreading discord and falsehoods, and the personifications of Evil in brown flesh.
And of course, religion not so much as “opiates this time, but crack cocaine.”
So here we go again.
We are invited to play our parts in a universe comprised of an unholy trinity: the thugs, the clueless, and the grateful victims –victims with an adoring gaze perpetually ready to cheer for handouts-- biscuits here, a piece of chocolate there or bags of dried food the same color as cluster bombs.
And our heroes?
Luckily, a handful that happen to embody all the collective wisdom of the ages. The sort of leaders who have miraculously managed to congregated in one continent at a peculiar age that allows access to all the hidden knowledge hitherto unavailable to any one else anywhere at any other time.
Some exceptionalism, indeed!
All that is needed now for the imagined universal redemption is exceptional resolve; exceptional techniques of humiliation, exceptional bombs, and exceptionally fiery iron fists.
What we are beginning to have is an exceptionally grand yearning for breathing space.
And the more things change.....