Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Own Personal Lenin (Paraphrase Intended)

Moscow 2042 by Vladimir Voinovich is a must-read for every anti-communist. By the way, I attempted to make this review as spoiler-free as possible.

It is known that, in the Soviet Union, the final arrival of the communist stage (as opposed to the intermediary socialist stage) was routinely postponed to an ever-receding future. First the Bolsheviks wanted to switch to communism during the "war communism" period by nationalizing everything and even abolishing money altogether. But this attempt was a fuckup, and, rather than advancing "forward" into communism, they even had to make "concessions" to the "bourgeoisie" and go "backward" into a mixed socialist-capitalist NEP economy. Subsequently the construction of communism was resumed by Stalin, and Khrushchev even said communism would finally arrive in 1980. To address expectations that Khrushchev's prediction would come true, Brezhnev announced that the USSR had switched to the stage of "advanced socialism" but communism itself somehow failed to arrive.

The idea of sacrificing the present for the sake of a distant communist paradise is strikingly similar to the Christian idea of sacrificing and suffering for the sake of heavenly life. I sincerely fail to understand some people's refusal to see the kindred nature of these two kinds of fanaticism. The "other-wordliness" of the highest ideal keeps both communist and Christian slaves from wondering why the presumed nobility of their ideals results in permanent fuckups in "this world."

The irony is that Voinovich depicts a society where the communist stage has finally arrived. It's a hilarious satire that demonstrates the impossibility of a communist utopia. The state is headed by Geniulissimo, (from "genius" and "generalissimo") who presides over the Communist Party of State Security (KPGB, a pun on the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and KGB) and worshipped literally as God. There are several dozen streets in Moscow named after each volume of the collection of Geniulissimo's works, and his is also considered the greatest writer and scientist of all the times. Similarly to Stalin, who sought to build socialism in one country because of his failure to build it worldwide, Geniulissimo decided to build communism in one city (Moscow), with the rest of the USSR remaining socialist.

The communists have finally understood their similarity with religion, and Jesus Christ, as the first communist, now proudly features on commie posters alongside Marx, Engels, Lenin and Geniulissimo. Citizens of the Moscow Communist Republic now make "the sign of the (red) star," as opposed to making the sign of the cross. The church is headed by Geniulissimo, who is patriarch of Moscow and primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, and integrated into the military structure. Below is my translation of a depiction of Otets Zvezdony (roughly translated as the Red Star-Spangled Reverend), major general of the religious forces and senior deputy chief of staff of the Communist Writers.

One of the generals apparently had some kind of a spiritual rank. He wore a dark-colored (…) cassock with something akin to army trouser stripes in the lower part, a clerical hat with a big military-style visor on his head and a large, perhaps silver, star on his breast. Each point of the star had a cross attached to it. (…) 

"There's no God, there's never been one and there'll never be one. There is only Geniulissimo, who's up there," the Red-Star Spangled Reverend said. "He never sleeps. He works, looks down at us and thinks of us. Geniulissimo be praised, Geniulissimo be praised, Geniulissimo be praised!

(the translation is my own)

The depictions partially reflect trends already existing in the USSR of Voinovich's period and modern trends in Russia. In the Soviet Union, the official Orthodox Church was increasingly integrated into the KGB apparatus starting from the Stalin era. Now, the state and church are two heads of the Putinist hydra, with government officials and clerics actively kissing each others' asses, depending on the rank.

The book also includes a parody on Soviet dissident Solzhenitsyn, who (though his anti-communist struggle is an upside) adhered to the nationalist and religious beliefs of the worst possible sort.

The book is available in both Russian and English. The Russian version can be obtained from me in electronic format. 

3 comments:

Reasonsjester said...

Looks fascinating. The only other Russian dystopia (narrowly speaking) that I'm aware of is "We" by Zamyatin. It would be great if you could send me an electronic copy in Russian. I need to work on my Russian some more and this would be a fun and enlightening way to do that. If you know more contemporary Russian lit I'm game to read your reviews anytime.

Reaganx said...

I e-mailed you the book.

Reasonsjester said...

Thanks much!