The other day, I was re-reading Pretender to the Throne, the second book in the Ivan Chonkin trilogy by Vladimir Voinovich (the brilliant Russian writer I interviewed recently for The Daily Beast) and was particularly struck by one scene that I thought bore an uncanny resemblance to the online gang-ups on accused transgressors against political correctness that have become a common feature of the “social justice” community. The tragicomic scene, which takes place in a provincial Soviet town in the fall of 1941, shows a meeting of the district Communist Party committee which holds hearings on several cases of alleged violations of the Party code of conduct. It’s all here: the casual, innocuous remark interpreted as offensive; the demand for confession and repentance; the notion that maintaining one’s innocence or trying to minimize the “offense” compounds guilt; the escalating, absurdly ballooning accusations in which everything the accused says or does is taken as further proof of guilt; the pressure on members of the community to join the mob to demonstrate their own allegiance to the One True Ideology; the lack of human sympathy elevated to a virtue; the notion that proper “humanism” is not manifested in compassion but in “relentless war on all manifestations of hostile ideas.”
I decided to translate and post this passage (for various reasons, I wasn’t too happy with the version in the published English translation of the book) because I think it’s a remarkable demonstration of the ideological continuity between the Soviet/Stalinist version of the far left and today’s “progressive” Western version. Thankfully, minus the power to send people to the gulag.
A few explanatory notes. The action takes place several months after the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. A secondary character in the novel, collective farm chairman Ivan Golubev, attends a local Communist Party meeting for a hearing on charge of violating Party discipline. Before his own case comes up, he gets to witness the “trial” of another accused man, Shevchuk, a schoolteacher in his fifties. Presiding over the meeting is district Party chief Andrei Revkin.
Other explanatory notes are included in the text in brackets where necessary.