November 7th Must Be Recalled Not as a Triumph but as a Tragedy, Not for Its Victors but Because of Its Victims
by Paul Goble
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Vienna, November 7 The Moscow journal "New Times" points out in its current issue that "almost no one except the communists now marks November 7th," the anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917. But it argues that it should become the occasion for recalling the victims of communism and the horrors of that regime.
To that end, the weekly republishes a remarkable broadcast made on September 9, 1953, by Aleksandra Tolstoy, the daughter of the great Russian writer. It was brought to the peoples of the Soviet Union by Radio Liberation, as the U.S.-funded Radio Liberty was originally known.
Directing her words particularly to members of the Communist Party and the Komsomol, Tolstoy said she wanted to speak from the heart not from the text of "a carefully prepared anti-communist speech" and to tell a little about her own experiences and her hopes and fears for the people of her homeland.
Born in 1884 into a world of relative privilege, she began by saying that she had experienced the revolution, had lived in Soviet Russia for 12 years and remained "happy that [she] had been able to give these years to the service of the people by means of organizing in her father's estate, Yasnaya Polyana, schools, hospitals, and cooperatives.
She recalled that she had spent time in Soviet prisons and in Soviet camps, adding that "happily for [herself, she] had been on the side not of the oppressors but on that of the oppressed." And although she had left the USSR at the end of the 1920s to live abroad, she could not and would not "forget [her] motherland."
For that reason and because she had lived in free societies elsewhere, Tolstoy said she "would like to see [Russia] free like other countries where each citizen can organize his life as he wants, choose work that suits him, and live where he pleases, without being subordinated in everything to the orders of the [communist] party."
But "all you members of the party," she continued, live not that way but "only by an external directive, by an order from above." You never know when you will become a non-person, she argued, and, thus, one must ask, "who needs your communist party, with its so-called dictatorship of the proletariat?"
"Why are you doing what you are doing?" To which there is only one real answer: to oppress your "non-party citizens who stand incomparable above you on one measure: they are not taking part in your cruelties but only silently bearing the sufferings" you inflict. "Are you not responsible before your motherland which you have converted into a concentration camp?"
Can there be any "naïve people" among you "who have preserved the dream about a world revolution, about the achievements of the five-year plans, about the equality of the population?" Responding to her own question, Tolstoy said she could not believe that such "believers" could possibly remain in Russia.
So what then do you communists and Komsomols believe? That "you will avoid the fate of thousands of party members shot by their own?" It may be that some will escape that fate or, perhaps, even more, but even if you escape retribution by men, Tolstoy added, "whether you believe or not, comrades, you will not escape from divine retribution" for what you have done.
Perhaps, she continued, some of you still believe in the ideas of Karl Marx. If so, try reading carefully his "Capital," although she noted that she agreed in advance that this book is "terribly boring." And if you do that, she said, "you will be quickly convinced as to how far Soviet power has departed from Marxism."
"Comrades," Tolstoy said, "I could talk to you for hours about how your Kremlin masters are deceiving you." But many of you already had demonstrated. And consequently, she said, she had great hopes for Russia in the future.
"Life," she said, "is intended to give people joy. And joy is achieved only by following the will of He who gave us life. Joy is in freedom, in love, in a supportive attitude toward all! And believe me, friends," she went on, "in the achievement of this ideal, of this idea of freedom and happiness for Russian people, you are not alone."
Aleksandra Lvovna died in 1979, 12 years before the end of communism was declared in her country. But now almost 18 years after that, her country is ruled not by those who share her ideals but rather by products of the communist and Komsomol past at least some of whom believe that the end of that system was "the greatest tragedy of the 20th century."
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