Several things, connected only the thread of “Russian history,” have been on my mind of late. I’m not sure how to tie this all together, but I’ll try. First off is this poem called “October” (named after the October 1917 revolution) by Anatoly Marienhof, translated by Babette Deutsch. Note the euphoric and optimistic language of the repressed minority getting control.
We trample filial obedience,
We have gone and sat down saucily,
Keeping our hats on,
Our feet on the table
You don’t like us, since we guffaw with blood,
Since we don’t wash rags washed millions of times,
Since we suddenly dared,
Ear-splittingly, to bark: Wow!
Yes, sir, the spine
Is as straight as a telephone pole,
Not my spine only, but the spines of all Russians,
For centuries hunched.
Who makes a louder noise on earth now than we?
You say: Bedlam–
No milestones—no stakes–
Straight to the devil____. On the church porch our red cancan is glorious.
What, you don’t believe? Here are hordes,
Droves of clouds at men’s beck and call,
And the sky like a woman’s cloak,
And no eyelash of sun.
Jesus is on the cross again, and Barabbas
We escort, mealy-mouthed, down the Tverskoi Prospekt. . . .
Who will interrupt, who? The gallop of Scythian horses?
Violins bowing the Marseillaise?
Has it ever before been heard of, that the forger
Of steel bracelets for the globe
Should smoke his rotten tobacco as importantly
As the officer used to clink his stirrups?
You ask—And then?
And then dancing centuries.
We shall knock at all doors.
And no one will say: Goddamyou, get out!
We! We! We are everywhere:
Before the footlights, in the center of the state,
Not softy lyricists,
But flaming buffoons.
Pile rubbish, all the rubbish in a heap,
And like Savonarola, to the sound of hymns,
Into the fire with it. . . . Whom should we fear?
When the mundiculi of puny souls have become—worlds.
Every day of ours is a new chapter in the Bible.
Every page will be great to thousands of generations.
We are those about whom then will say:
The lucky ones lived in 1917.
And you are still shouting: They perish!
You are still whimpering lavishly.
Isn’t yesterday crushed, like a dove
By a motor
Emerging madly from the garage?
I can just imagine the attitude of released pent-up repression expressed in that poem in a birther’s reverie, imagining the final overthrow of the usurper, their final vindication, and assumption of power that no one can take away from them. “Yes! We were right! No more saying ‘get the hell out you stupid birther.’” Of course, the October Revolution did not work out the way this poem anticipated. Rather than a breath of freedom lasting for centuries, repression on an almost unimaginable scale resulted with literally millions killed and millions sent to forced labor camps, what became known as “the terror” under Stalin.
Revolution is a strange animal. Sometimes it leads to freedom, as in the United States, but most of the time it leads to the dictatorship of the thugs. I think it has to do with who’s running the revolution.
There were many causes of privation in the Soviet Union under Stalin, not the least of which was the failure of Soviet agriculture. Two of the causes1 of this failure can be laid, I think, at the feet of the Dunning-Kruger effect (a biased view of ones own competence). The Soviet bosses2 thought they knew more than they did, and they ignored educated advice, substituting political theory, in the forced collectivization of the farms, leading to plummeting crop yields. A second cause was ignoring the science of genetics in favor of the crank ideas of Lysenko. Stalin himself decreed genetics at odds with Marxist theory, and supported Lysenko in suppressing the science that led to the green revolution in the West. In the same way, birthers elevate cranks because they like their conclusions for political reasons.
Communism under Stalin is a window on what the United States would be like if the birthers ruled.
1Also mass migration to the cities, bad weather, and the devastation following World War II, much of which was fought on Russian soil.
2While I talk about Stalin in this article, he is by means not the only Soviet leader who I think fell prey to Dunning-Kruger.