Moral Apathy Under Communism

One frigid morning twenty years ago in Moscow, Taras Shugev woke up on the inside of a garbage truck. The night prior, the twenty-five year old billiard player was out drinking. After falling asleep on the street on the way home, some person or persons had put him in a trash bin. He awoke inches from a pulverizer, and, in total desperation, used his cell phone to call the Moscow Rescue Service.

In the introduction to It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past, David Satter recounts Shugev’s final moments through the harrowing transcripts of his calls that morning with the operator in emergency services. All four conversations were punctuated by screams and the sounds of a grinding pulverizer. Each time Shugev called, the operator suggested to him that shutting down the trash operation in the city to find him would be simply unfeasible. The operator claimed to have called the directorate for traffic safety; no such call was made. Shugev’s body was never recovered.

The immediate effects of an ideology which conceived of human persons as machines, combined with its devotee’s hunger for power and propensity for terrorism, are clear: gulags, famine, the extermination of kulaks, Christians, and dissidents, as well as a litany of smaller, personal tragedies underpin the redacted history of Russia. But why, so many years later, would the phone operator coldly allow Taras Shugev to be ground to bits? What does the NKVD of 1941 have to do with the Moscow Rescue Service of 2002? Satter answers that the failure to acknowledge the reality of Communist terror, namely the failure to properly remember its victims, contributed to a great spiritual flattening of Russian society in the long term. 

The Russian people could not name their enemies as those enemies were taking power, once they had attained power, or even after Stalin died. There are a few reasons for this reticence. First, there was the constant threat of personal destruction lurking behind each and every social interaction. To ignore, create, or maintain lies for the sake of simply being left alone under the immediate threat of violence is completely sensible. But if the threat never truly recedes, then the lie becomes a lifestyle. Blinded by lies and bound by fear, forgetfulness becomes a survival mechanism.

Additionally, the diffusion of responsibility through bureaucracy enabled the regime’s functionaries and victims alike to remain the same to one another: nameless, faceless, and soulless. This, in part, prevented any one in particular for taking responsibility for terrorism during and after the fact. Over time, fear and constant compromise gives way to moral apathy. Totalitarianism forces all of its subjects to look away, and never look back.

This week in Asheville, North Carolina, the police department announced that it would no longer respond in-person to 911 calls about theft, fraud, or trespassing. Police Chief David Zack explained to reporters that the attrition rate has accelerated to “crisis proportions” since the Black Lives Matter protests against law enforcement after George Floyd’s death last summer. Sheriffs offer cops gone viral as ritual sacrifice to avoid what comes to their cities anyway: looting, rioting and shake-ups in the hierarchy. Eighty-four cops have left the force since January 2020. 

City Council members since Floyd’s death, in Asheville and several more liberal cities across the country, have advocated for abolishing the police, emblematic of “whiteness,” instead favoring the establishment of a committee-based, therapeutic response program to crime—along with reparations, segregation, and ritual purges of leadership. 

Need it be said again that the establishment of the new regime closely resembles its ideological progenitor? The explicit (many already accomplished) goals of the “woke” Left are nearly identical to the Leninist prototype, for example: the outright attack on traditional systems of maintaining order. In the wake of crumbling order, the expansion of a bureaucratic regime as a cover for cathartic violence of peasants against kulaks is also, sadly familiar. 

However, the resemblances of the current revolution to the constant revolution of 1917-1953 that should alarm God-loving people more than anything is neither the abolition of private property, nor the anarcho-tyranny legitimized by the pink police state. These are coming, and they certainly matter. But poverty and criminality are not the worst things a man can suffer. Patriots should remember to concern themselves with the ways in which survival under the current conditions requires the gradual interior degradation of one’s own dignity along the way. Our cowardice and our forgetfulness are killing us. The effect of these vices, sinking ever deeper into the heart of the American way of life, will be more far-reaching than any inevitably failing policy proposal from the neo-Leninists. 

The ideological terrorism of our time—“cancel culture,” routine public rioting, journalistic doxxing, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Corporate Mafia, the January 6th Commission—requires a pound of flesh from us all, victim, aggressor, and observer alike. When we look away and rely on bureaucratic diffusion of moral ownership to justify our silence, we pay a heavy price. Over time, things get worse. Many of us remained silent as cops were “cancelled,” so cops have relieved themselves of the sacred duty of public peacekeeping. These cops, despite the fact that their decision is eminently understandable, are paying their own spiritual price for stepping down. Self-preservation is a good thing; not without limits.

Our collective failure to acknowledge the reality of communistic terror in the United States in the current year is hurting us deeply, personally and nationally, and the effects of our short-term self-preservation will be long-term destruction. Under communism and its offshoots, the nation and its people ultimately both lose their souls. Indeed, this is the only punishment worse than death: to be avoided at any cost.