Tuesday, April 10, 2012

One of the Best Books I Have Ever Read

Thanks to this article (which is an outstanding read in and of itself) I learned about the heroic Russian dissident Vladimir K. Bukovsky and his out-of-print remarkable biographical work To Build A Castle: My Life as a Dissenter - which I promptly ordered through inter-library loan.

I literally could not put the book down.

Bukovsky is an outstanding writer, and he structured the book almost as a novel or a fast-paced thriller.  It is so well-done that I think it would make for a compelling film.  It chronicles his life and work as a Soviet-era dissident, his work with fellow dissidents, scientists, and writers in not only producing samizdat (anonymous free-press newspapers) but also openly engaging in public demonstrations - only to be arrested by the KGB again and again.  It covers his many years in Gulag prisons, how he kept his sanity, how he was mistreated (though his prose is not gratuitous), how the Soviets misused Psychiatry as a means of political control, and how the bureaucrats who ran the country and the prison system eventually devoured one another - especially in the light of international scrutiny.

Castle is an epic of courage and devotion to liberty.

Vladimir Bukovsky was born during World War II (The Great Patriotic War) in the immediate aftermath of the end of Stalinism.  In his teen years, he rejected Communism and became involved in the burgeoning dissident movement.  Those were frightening times, and it took courage and a willingness to be imprisoned for years on end, being sent to "psychiatric hospitals" and exiled internally to labor camps - only to be released and have the whole process repeated again - all in order to continue to put pressure on the tyrannical Soviet government to start respecting human rights and liberties.  Eventually, their pressure on the bureaucracy led to the collapse of the Gulag system, the end of the USSR, and the tearing down of the Iron Curtain.

In 1976, Vladimir Bukovsky was exiled to the west.

He moved to Cambridge, England where he still lives.  A neurophysiologist, he earned a Masters degree from the University of Cambridge in Biology.  He remains politically active.  In a 2005 Washington Post article, he warned the United States about the dangers of normalizing torture as public policy.  Embedded below is a video of Bukovski warning his fellow British citizens about the dangers of the European Union - which he sees as just another incarnation of the Soviet Union.  He is a member of the UK Independence Party (whose president is the intrepid Nigel Farage).

And here is a link to an interview with Bukovsky on the shortcomings of the EU.  Here is a link to much of Bukovsky's writings in both English and Russian.

What follows are a couple of quotes from To Build A Castle: My Life as a Dissenter that I found particularly interesting:

On Marxist Economic Theory:

This dream of absolute, universal equality is amazing, terrifying, and inhuman.  And the moment it captures people's minds, the result is mountains of corpses and rivers of blood, accompanied by attempts to straighten the stooped and shorten the tall.  I remember that one part of the psychiatric examination was a test for idiocy.  The patient was given the following problem to solve: "Imagine a train crash.  It is well known that the part of the train that suffers the most damage in such crashes is the carriage at the rear.  How can you prevent that damage from taking place?"  The idiot's usual reply is expected to be: Uncouple the last carriage.  That strikes us as amusing, but just think, are the theory and practice of socialism much better?

Society, say the socialists, contains both the rich and the poor.  The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer ---  What is to be done?  Uncouple the last carriage, liquidate the rich, take away their wealth and distribute it among the poor.  And they start to uncouple the carriages.  But there is always one carriage at the back, there are always richer and poorer, for society is like a magnet: there are always two poles.  But does this discourage a true socialist?  The main thing is to realize his dream; so the richest section of society is liquidated first, and everyone rejoices because everyone gains from the share-out.  But the spoils are soon spent, and people start to notice inequality again --- again there are rich and poor.  So they uncouple the next carriage, and then the next, without end, because absolute equality has still not been achieved.  Before you know it, the peasant who has two cows and a horse turns out to be in the last carriage and is pronounced a kulak and deported.  Is it really surprising that whenever you get striving for equality and fraternity, the guillotine appears on the scene?

....It is difficult for man to resist this dream and this noble impulse, particularly for men who are impetuous and sincere.  They are the first to start chopping heads off and, eventually, to have their own chopped off.  (pp 106-108).

On Resistance and Inner Freedom

[I]f you answered lawlessness with lawlessness, there was precious little chance of ensuring observance of the law.  There was simply no other way.  In exactly the same way, answering violence with violence would only multiply violence, and answering lies with lies would never bring us closer to the truth....

[T]he suggestion was that citizens who were fed up with terror and coercion should simply refuse to acknowledge them.  The point about dealing with the Communists is that to acknowledge the reality of the life they have created and to assent to their notions means ipso facto to become bandits, informers, hangmen, or silence accomplices.  Power rests on nothing other than people's consent to submit, and each person who refuses to submit to tyranny reduces it by one two-hundred-and-fifty-millionth, whereas each who compromises only increases it.... It presupposed a small core of freedom in the individual, his "subjective sense of right," as Volpin put it.  In other words, a consciousness of his personal responsibility.  Which meant, in effect, inner freedom. (p. 240).

On Non-Violence

Until people learn to demand what belongs to them by right, no revolution will liberate them.  And by the time they learn, a revolution won't be necessary.  No, I don't believe in revolution, I don't believe in forcible salvation.

It is easy to imagine what would happen in this country if there were a revolution: universal looting, economic collapse, internecine butchery, and in every district a different band of outlaws with its own "gangleader" at its head.  And the passive, terrorized majority would gladly submit to the first strong system of government to come along, in other words, a new dictatorship. (pp. 323-324).

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