As we mark the 100th anniversary of the communist takeover of Russia on November 7, 1917 (October 25, according to the old Russian calendar at the time), it’s worth pondering how the road to communism is paved. After all, its legacy is the murder of more than 100 million victims in the twentieth century alone. What mileposts or trends might we identify on the twisted road to communism?
Obviously there are different factors at play in different cultures and eras. Russia at the time was on a path to great economic and social reforms. But the instability and suffering caused especially by Russia’s involvement in World War I created a window of opportunity for violent overthrow. Vladimir Lenin seized upon this immediately when he arrived out of exile in April that year to fire up the crowds in Saint Petersburg.
Once communism gained a foothold in Russia, it doomed its citizens to lives of scarcity, misery, social distrust, terror, and mass murder. The same goes for China. Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, the Castros, Che Guevara, Joseph Stalin, the Kims of North Korea—all of them were brutal dictators enabled by a system that always places too much power into the hands of too few people. It’s a corrupt and cruel system that allows an elite oligarchy—which Lenin called a “vanguard”—to enslave the entire population.
But what about a nation like America, which was built on the idea that every human being is endowed by our Creator with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? We have a Constitution that guarantees these rights and separates the branches of government, placing restraints on government so individuals may live freely. Furthermore, this document intentionally contained the seeds of slavery’s destruction. Americans shed a lot of blood to protect the freedoms enshrined in that document for us and for our posterity.
So is it possible that we, a free people, could ever throw it all away? Could we sell ourselves into the slavery called communism? Sadly, of course we could. Anyone who forgets his birthright is more likely to squander it. And there has been a lot of forgetting. As Ronald Reagan warned, “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
This is the third in a three-part series that attempts to parse the conditions and trends that might lead a free people to succumb to totalitarianism. In the first article, I sketched six basic phases, or processes, on the road to communism, and summarized the trends of each: 1.) Laying the groundwork through the cultivation of ignorance; 2.) Propaganda; 3.) Agitating the masses; 4.) Consolidating control over society’s institutions; 5.) Coercing conformity; and 6.) Final solutions.
In the second article, I identified in more detail the trends of the three earlier phases. In this I will try to identify trends associated with the three latter phases. Of course, there is a lot of overlap, and I’m sure readers can add many trends, including major ones, to the list. My goal is simply to build some sort of a reference list that helps identify with some specificity the conditions through which totalitarianism can root itself into an otherwise free society. My hope is that we might be better able to see—then work to remove and reverse—some of the roadblocks to freedom that lead us, unwittingly or otherwise, into communism’s path of human cruelty and evil.
Phase 4: Taking Over the Institutions of Free Society
A free society has numerous and diverse institutions. Aside from the political and the military, there are economic, social, and cultural institutions that allow for a vibrant social life and the cross-pollination of ideas. A communist society, on the other hand, cannot allow any institution to be autonomous. They all must be absorbed by the state and serve the state.
The institution of family is an especially sharp thorn in communism’s side, since it allows parents to influence future generations. Edmund Burke aptly wrote that families are the “little platoons” of society. In the eyes of totalitarians, then, autonomous families are viewed as subversive cells. Activists for big government have placed enormous focus on undermining the family, as well as other mediating institutions of society such as the church and voluntary civic associations.
Consolidating the takeover. Nearly 100 years ago, the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci declared that the key to achieving global communism was through culture, not promoting socialist economic policies that had little appeal in the West. This would require a “long march through the institutions” of society, destroying them from within so communism could fill the vacuum.
Radicals of the 1960s like Saul Alinksy picked up on this theme, noting that “the system” (i.e., American freedom) could only be destroyed once radical operatives had secured control over society’s institutions. The deep state is one example of institutional takeover that’s been building through decades of bureaucratic bloat, with operatives embedded in the military and intelligence agencies. The cultural takeover of media outlets, academia, and entertainment is both broad and deep today, after decades of creep.
But it is the mediating institutions have been most relentlessly attacked—family, church, and voluntary organizations—because they serve as buffer zones of influence that help shield individuals from abuses by the state. Today they are more vulnerable than ever to total absorption by the Mass State, a prerequisite for communism.
State takeover of family. We should now understand that agendas like “marriage equality” are not really about social inclusiveness, no matter how people feel. The main effect of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision is abolishing any legal recognition of marriage as an institution that unites a man and woman, with any potential offspring, into an autonomous family unit. That opens the door to a Pandora’s Box that allows more state intrusion into family life.
Most folks weren’t even aware that transgenderism was such a big part of the package until the Obergefell decision was secured. As LGBT activist and journalist Masha Gessen accurately proclaimed in 2012: The goal was not gay marriage, but marriage extinction. That naturally means state control over families, and by extension, all personal relationships.
We see this happening in large school systems that dictate what parents must allow their children to be taught about sexuality and when. It happens as judges demand small business owners disavow their faith or face financial ruin. It happens when a voluntary association like the Boy Scouts denies its very name by bowing down to gender ideology. These are not so much changes in the institutions themselves, as signs that the state is absorbing those institutions.
Destruction of childhood. Radical education reformers are pushing for a national curriculum that focuses on “social emotional learning” (SEL) as the supposed path to better academic learning. It is a monolithic curriculum in which a group called the Consortium for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) aims to dictate exactly how children should feel and relate to other people.
Data mining and universal mental health assessments are part of the program. Identity politics feeds the curriculum. CASEL’s proposed programming of children demands 100 percent compliance with its methods, content, and monopoly, so it leaves virtually no room for the healthy development of independent thinking and unique personalities.
Attacks on church doctrine from within. The Catholic Church has long been infiltrated by socialist and communist clergy, as Bella Dodd attests in her memoir as a former member of the Communist Party USA. We see it in liberation theologies that date back to the 1950s in Latin America.
The biblical doctrine that seems most under attack today is God’s creation of humanity as male and female and God’s sanctioning of their union as one flesh in the sacrament of marriage. The LGBT agenda took over in the Episcopal Church more than 20 years ago, though clergy like Bishops James Pike and John Spong pushed it along in the 1960s and 70s. We now see a proliferation of what I call the “headgear brigade” of various rainbow-clad “clergy” and their lay activist allies working hard to plant the LGBT rainbow flag onto all places of worship.
By undermining the theology and doctrines within the churches themselves—with the double whammy of undermining family at the same time—the path to totalitarianism becomes even clearer.
Phase 5: Forcing Conformity
This is the phase in which people start waking up—late—to the many deceptions on the road to totalitarianism. This would include many who actually bought into the lies. When a free person actually sees what the enforcement of conformity looks and feels like, he or she starts to reassess and perhaps switch sides. This is why the enforcement is ironclad, fast, and furious. Its trends are as follows.
Ritual defamation. Laird Wilcox, a scholar of extremist movements, wrote up an excellent explanation of “The Practice of Ritual Defamation.” Read it to gain insight into some patterns of totalitarian operation. Wilcox writes that ritual defamation is “accomplished primarily through the manipulation of words and symbols. It is not used to persuade, but to punish. Although it may have cognitive elements, its thrust is primarily emotional. Ritual Defamation is used to hurt, to intimidate, to destroy, and to persecute, and to avoid the dialogue, debate and discussion upon which a free society depends. On those grounds it must be opposed no matter who tries to justify its use.”
We can see a growing trend towards ritual defamation, from hurling the epithet “racist” against scholars like Charles Murray on college campuses to tarring mothers as “transphobics” when they object to the teaching of transgenderism to their kindergarteners and must be interviewed incognito to protect them from social assault. (Here’s looking at you, Southern Poverty Law Center.)
Psychiatry as a political weapon. There is a history behind the weaponization of the profession of psychiatry to solidify compliance in communist societies. Most notorious was the confinement of political dissenters to psychiatric wards in the Soviet Union. Many of those abuses came to light in the 1979 book, “A Question of Madness: Repression Through Psychiatry in the Soviet Union,” by Zhores and Roy Medvedev.
Although such widespread abuse is not the case in America today, we can see signs that the political weaponization of psychiatry is growing. Consider the LGBT lobby’s drive to outlaw any conversations in a therapist’s office that do not enforce the LGBT agenda, including imposing transgenderism on any child who claims to be transgender. Laws that have been enacted against reparative or “conversion therapy” aim to prevent people from changing their minds about living out a homosexual orientation or a transgender identity.
But those laws don’t seem to apply when someone wants to move in the other direction, so they do seem to allow and encourage conversion in one direction only. Meanwhile, CASEL’s agenda of Social Emotional Learning aims to conduct mental health screenings on all children without their parents’ knowledge or consent. Several legislators would like to have mental health screenings conducted on anyone who buys a firearm. And, of course, there’s a concerted effort by various politicos and psychiatrists, with petition drives, to declare President Trump mentally unfit to hold office. The list goes on.
“Struggle sessions.” Chinese communist leader Chairman Mao was a big fan of communists getting together for “sessions of criticism and self-criticism,” supposedly to keep the party pure and active. During the murderous era of the Cultural Revolution, these sessions were very common.
The struggle sessions, however, were basically data-mining operations meant to expose participants’ private thoughts that could be used as ammo against them later, and to publicly humiliate as well as incriminate others in the session. The film “Angi Vera” shows how such sessions cemented social distrust and fear when the communists took power in 1940s Hungary.
Can we hear echoes of such “sessions of criticism and self-criticism” in the so-called “white privilege” workshops proliferating on college campuses? In them, students are directed to admit guilt and spill their guts about attitudes they may or may not have held that contribute to their “privilege” in society. Basically, they’re supposed to apologize for having happy childhoods and strong relationships. What misery.
False confessions. Regarding political correctness, we’re a society of wimps. Whenever a celebrity issues an apology for saying the “wrong” thing, I can’t help but think about the communist use of recantations to enforce strict conformity. The victims tend to hold out hope for “rehabilitation” and the relief of not becoming a non-person if they recant.
As long as they issue enough mea culpas, they tend to be allowed some penance, though now owned through extortion. This is what the enforcers are really looking for to build conformity with their agendas. However, when Mozilla honchos took CEO Brendan Eich to task in 2014 upon discovering his private contribution to California’s Proposition 8 in 2008—supporting the definition of marriage as a male-female institution—I believe they were invested in Eich giving a major mea culpa. Instead, Eich simply stepped down, which is refreshing given our PC culture. (By the way, Eich has since developed a new web browser that does not track you like Google does. It’s called Brave, and I recommend it.)
Surveillance society and cultivation of social distrust. The secret police in East Germany made a point of invading the private spaces of its citizens, as superbly illustrated in the film “The Lives of Others.” Despite the Internal Revenue Service’s abuses against conservative groups or the data mining of kids in public education, we still aren’t living in 1980s East Berlin. But consider how celebrities like Lena Dunham seem intent on leading us there.
For example, in August she modelled on Twitter how to eavesdrop and snitch on private citizens having conversations about personal matters. She reported two American Airlines flight attendants she claimed were having a transphobic conversation at a terminal in JFK airport. She later made a point of telling everyone that she would continue to listen for signs of politically incorrect talk in private conversations.
The idea, of course, is to dictate what we are allowed to say even in private. There’s a lot of relational aggression and invasion of privacy here. In the meantime, human resources departments direct employees to report overheard conversations that are politically incorrect.
Phase 6: Final Solutions
Communists, like Nazis and other totalitarians, will never give up power without a fight. This is argument enough for not allowing their foot into the door in the first place. Despite all of the mockeries of anti-communism that come out of the media and pop culture, the reality is that communism’s history is bloody because it is in a constant fight against people’s right to live freely. This impulse against others’ freedom tends to be ingrained in people who have a stubbornly materialistic or atheistic outlook on life. What else is there besides power?
Dehumanization leads to flimsy pretexts for eliminating the “other.” Totalitarians use all manner of pretexts to get their way. Their calls for “equality” and “justice” tend to morph into demands for removal of their enemies “by any means necessary.” As the slogans and memes of dictators get internalized by the populace at large, groupthink solidifies. This gives power elites greater and greater latitude in eliminating perceived enemies.
Especially interesting is how murderous dictators in history tend to project their own intentions onto their perceived opponents. (That observation is brilliantly made in the Learning Company’s course “Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century.”) For example, when Stalin forced the collectivization of agriculture, he accused the farmers in Ukraine of trying to starve the nation. He then starved out and murdered some seven million of them in the winter of 1933-34.
In like manner, Adolph Hitler accused the Jews of trying to destroy the Germans, then killed more than six million Jews. In the 1990s the Hutus in Rwanda ran an intense propaganda campaign accusing the Tutsis of being devils who had it in for the Hutus. Surprise: half a million Tutsis were slaughtered, answering the Hutu propaganda campaign by chopping up their Tutsi neighbors with machetes. As the granddaughter of Armenian genocide survivors, I’ve concluded that genocide always begins with groupthink.
Officially ending even the pretense of due process or free speech. We’ve been moving in this direction for a long time. When college administrators decide to consider any allegation of rape a de facto conviction, no trial necessary or allowed, we are well on our way to dispensing of due process, the right to face one’s accuser, or such quaint ideals as innocent until proven guilty. By the same token, the First Amendment is being attacked under the guise of preventing “hate speech.”
Growing justification of violence. Once communism is established, the dam breaks on the use of violence and murder to quell dissent. But prior to the consolidation of power, we see a growing justification for using violence as a means to social justice. The use of riots and violence to effect political change has not just increased, but some mainstream commentators are getting a lot less squeamish about promoting violence as the only means to achieving justice. Consider this passage from Ezra Klein’s interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates, who cannot shake his bitterness over the existence of evil in the world:
When he tries to describe the events that would erase America’s wealth gap, that would see the end of white supremacy, his thoughts flicker to the French Revolution, to the executions and the terror. ‘It’s very easy for me to see myself being contemporary with processes that might make for an equal world, more equality, and maybe the complete abolition of race as a construct, and being horrified by the process, maybe even attacking the process. I think these things don’t tend to happen peacefully.’
For readers unfamiliar with the French Revolution (since they weren’t taught about it in school), it was basically a time of revenge killings, mob violence, and guillotine executions, all promoted through groupthink. People actually marched through the streets of Paris with the heads of their perceived enemies on pikes. Thomas Jefferson was appalled, but since he was a slave-owner who helped put together a self-correcting system that would abolish slavery in all of its forms, the French Revolution mentality would have him discredited, his memorial in Washington dismantled, and perhaps even have his grave desecrated as well.
Let’s also note how the SPLC’s “hate map” motivated a gunman to enter the Family Research Center in Washington DC, and open fire with the intent of killing as many people as he could. Another gunman inspired by the SPLC was James Hodgkinson, who on June 14 attempted to assassinate several Republican congressmen when he opened fire on a baseball field where they were practicing. Nearly fatally wounded was House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. It’s interesting how quickly the media dropped the story. Another consideration on the subject of violence is philosopher Hannah Arendt’s thesis that “the greater the bureaucratization of public life, the greater the attraction of violence.”
Hostility towards religion and prayer. It’s never enough for communists to dictate the personal relationships in society, whether between co-workers, within families, between spouses, or any other type of relationship. They inevitably make atheism a state religion, which means you aren’t even supposed to pray or have a private relationship with God.
An interesting off-shoot of this mentality is the religion of transhumanism, which is the idolization of technology (another very old story going back to the Golden Calf of the Old Testament). Transhumanism seems very modern, of course, because it’s all tied in to artificial intelligence, melding humans with machines, thereby causing immortality and becoming our own gods. Transhumanists tend to feel they’re in a race against time to achieve immortality, so they seem likely to view as a deadly threat anybody who might stand in the way of the transhumanist agenda.
But ultimately, without faith in a Creator, we can’t look beyond ourselves and see others as human because we inevitably end up succumbing to the eternal temptation to play God. And playing God is always at the root of the quest for raw power.
Communism Means Never Having to Say You’re Happy
There’s no way to underestimate the misery that totalitarian systems inflict on their victims. I think those who manage to make peace with the monolithic bureaucracies endemic to communism are in it for the numbing effect. When merit is a dirty word and mediocrity rules the day, you can coast on inertia. When we absorb the propaganda of identity politics, there is a tendency to pat ourselves on the back for being on “the right side of history.” That’s perhaps one way to cope with the scarcity and the loneliness brought about by systems that cultivate social distrust, alienation, ignorance, and mass violence.
I listed six phases leading to communism (and all forms of totalitarianism) simply to try to understand how we can get from there to here. How did we go from a nation devoted to self-correction of our sins to one that seems ready to accept totalitarian thought policing and violence against people we don’t even know—because identity politics does not even allow us to look at one another as unique individuals?
Let’s remember that building freedom actually doesn’t begin in the media or Hollywood or academia. It begins in the “hidden sphere,” as explained in Soviet-era freedom fighter Vaclav Havel’s essay, “The Power of the Powerless.” This means that the nucleus of human power lies within us as individuals, in our personal relationships and private conversations. If you haven’t noticed, the hidden sphere is the clear target of totalitarian weapons like political correctness. It is designed to evoke self-censorship and destroy your ability to reach out and express yourself with others. It’s anti-friendship to its core.
So our task should always be to reach out to others—one on one and face to face—to actually get to know them and to help them get to know us. This is the best way to show our common humanity and to dispel the loneliness, misery, and lies that infect our society as a result of the many trends enumerated above. It’s those personal relationships that create a ripple effect that will return us to the freedom and goodwill breathed into America by its founding documents.