As you may have noticed from my articles, I’ve been thinking a lot about totalitarianism recently. It’s unsettling, for as I do so, I notice the seeds sprouting in everyday life. These are the same seedlings which, in the past, grew into horrible, magnified obscenities in totalitarian societies.
In particular, I’ve been considering two haunting observations made by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at the outset of The Gulag Archipelago. The first is the question of why people did not resist more when they were taken away in the night. Why did they not scream, tear up the earth, scratch the eyes of the men who had come to take them?
Ultimately forced to leave their home ― why didn’t they make sure that the people who had come into their home bore the scars of having done so for the rest of their days? Why did the captured even tip-toe down the stairs, as they were asked to do by their captors, in order not to disturb their neighbors?
The answer to this lies in a question. As Solzhenitsyn puts it: “At what exact point, then, should one resist? When one’s belt is taken away? When one is ordered to face into a corner?”
In part, the reason nobody resists is the same one we learned from Communism’s evil twin: if people have no conception of what is about to happen to them, then they will do whatever they think is needed to keep themselves safe and alive to the next stage.
When people were rounded up, they still hoped that this was the beginning of a process that would be resolved or righted at some point, that the “misunderstanding” would cleared up, or that the indignities could not get any worse. Until the whole world knew about what could happen, almost nobody imagined the end they would endure.
Solzhenitsyn relates the tale of one woman in the 1920s, early in the reign of communism in Russia, who was supposed to be seized on a Moscow street. But she started screaming and fighting, and such was the commotion in the middle of a crowd, that the men assigned to take her away abandoned their task.
But even her imagination of what was possible turned out to be limited, for she returned home that evening — which allowed the men to take her away privately, in the middle of the night, and send her to Lubyanka, a prison in Moscow that detainees rarely ever left alive.
Solzhenitsyn’s second question-observation is even more haunting: Why did people not intervene more to stop their friends, family, or simply fellow citizens from being taken away? In some ways, this is the more disturbing observation. We may grant that people have the best perspective on their own fate and will know best what might save them. But when people see women being plucked off the pavement by agents of the state, why do they continue walking?
Solzhenitsyn approaches this question through a bitter contradiction of fact.
“How we burned in the camps later,” he wrote, thinking how different things might have been if the security operative who went out in the night to make arrests could be made to fear he would never return to his family again. What if he hadn’t known whether he would return alive? What if, during the mass arrests in Leningrad, when one quarter of the city was taken away, people had lain in wait and attacked the people who had come to arrest them and their neighbors? What if they had waited on the staircase with “axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand”?
You might say that not everybody is given to physical violence or physical courage. Why, then ― and in some ways this is the worse question ― weren’t the tires of all those Black Maria sitting with a solitary driver (―waiting for the human cargo to be brought out of the building, into the vehicle and from there away ― spiked? How is it that a whole public with such a cause, their relatives and friends being taken away in front of their eyes, couldn’t do what hoodlums easily manage with no motivation whatsoever?
It was, says Solzhenitsyn, because the people “didn’t love freedom enough. And even more — we had no awareness of the real situation.”
It may seem strange, and even slightly obscene, to make a leap from the worst days of the 20th century to the seemingly incomparable situation in the U.S. today, but it is no great leap at all. The behavior of people under totalitarianism is, I think, recognizable today in the normal behavior of normal people in our supposedly normal times.
In a culture that is often described as a “cancel culture” — one in which people are liable to be rendered unemployable, an outcast, at any given moment — these behaviors manifest themselves still. Anyone who doubts this should read the autobiographical story of Mike Tunison. He was a writer and editor for The Washington Post and a published author. He was on top of his profession.
Yet as Tunison writes, he was one of the men whose name was — wholly wrongly — put on a list published online in October 2017 allegedly listing about 70 mainstream writers and editors the anonymous author called “Shitty Media Men.” The document was an unvetted list of largely bogus claims about these men as having a history of using manipulation and violence against women.
The list did the feverish rounds of the internet in the early days of the movement that became known as #MeToo. The media was high on the octane of exposés. Having been silent about cases of real abuse ― Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein ― nobody had time or interest in questioning documents like the list that Tunison was on.
So, with no apparent justification, other than the misfortune of his having crossed the path of someone with a grudge, Tunison’s life was turned upside down. He was made unemployable in the career to which he had chosen to dedicate his life, in which he had been very successful.
Employers to which he did apply could see the claims made against him online and stepped silently away. Finally, last year, he landed a job as a janitor at Dave & Buster’s in Alexandria, Virginia. He remains there today, with no options whatsoever to return to doing what he loves.
Is no one interested in this or the injustice it screams?
A similar scenario emerged in the U.K., with the sudden firing of ITV sportscaster Alastair Stewart after decades of work for the network. On the basis of a quotation he used from Shakespeare, which one person online claimed was clear, cloaked racism, a career of decades is over.
Consider the implications of the phrase written above. A case of “clear, cloaked racism.” Is that not an oxymoron? So clear as to deserve the end of somebody’s career, yet done “with the cover” of a quotation. Meaning that the crime, which is so clear, so blazing and so self-evident is also only in the eye of the one offended beholder, only discernible to a particular eye. In other words, not remotely clear.
Some of Stewart’s friends fought for him. But others looked away, like the neighbors of The Taken of whom Solzhenitsyn wrote. They were sufficiently worried about the implications of even being “adjacent” to someone accused of racism they chose silence over truth
Is no one truly interested in the means by which this was done?
The people who suffer these injustices tend not to come out fighting, screaming and scratching their way back to safety. They tend — like Tunison ― to submit to the madness which has washed over them, partly in the hope that they will someday claw their way back. It’s hard to grasp, at the time, that this is it and that they need to fight for everything now.
In the same way, when a nationally famous figure is accused of the great crime of the age, they rarely believe that the people for whom they have worked for decades — the people for whom they gave up their weekends for, their spare evenings, the times they could have been with their family — would drop them in a matter of hours for a crime which cannot be explained nor proven and whose nature is wholly subjective.
The current atmosphere would mean everyone in the world would be able to take out anyone else, if they had sufficient desire to do so. Surely that world would be unworkable.
Well it would be, and it is. But it is possible not only because the victims do not quell and shake and scream enough but because we ― the public ― allow them to disappear one by one. We do not slash the virtual tires of those who take them away. We do not pick up whatever cudgels we have at hand to beat back their accusers. We just sit, as the anonymous lists and the unprovable complaints pile up and up, simply hoping all the time that the dishonest players and anonymous accusers will never come for us.
Besides, who could ever believe that a life could be destroyed, every personal relationship shaken or ended, because of an anonymous list published online?
Yet we have seen this first-hand in the U.S. and Europe, the first phase. The next phase is already beginning.
We see the nurses in New York being fired for refusing a vaccine they see no need to take. Regardless of whether they are right or wrong about the necessity, our Constitution guarantees them the right to make that choice. Yet those rights matter not to the State of New York. Soon, federal employees, perhaps even members of the military, will face the same fate for making the same unvaccinated choice.
Up to now, it has been the mid-level elites who have been “taken,” if not physically then certainly emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Tunison is silenced, never to write again. But it is spreading into the lower ranks of the proletariat. Even average Americans who dare to speak against the accepted storyline of this corrupt, anti-American administration and its millions of brainwashed minions who are being coached to report dissent, will soon find themselves silenced on social media.
Mask and vaccine mandates are just the beginning. If people want to understand why totalitarianism works, the sprouts are all around us for those with open eyes to see. We must eradicate these weeks with loud, raucous dissent ― before the operatives come to take us.
Mike Nichols is a conservative, a patriot, U.S. Army veteran, licensed professional counselor, political enthusiast, sports fan and writer living with his beautiful wife Liz in the Heartland. He has a regular blog at America’s Conservative Voice on Substack and a Facebook presence at Americas Conservative Voice-Facebook.