This is a book review.
Her book written and published after the 2nd World War is now hard to find on bookshop and library shelves, obtainable only by special request or via the Internet. It is relevant today, however, because we forget too quickly the horrors of Socialism in practice and the dangerous agenda that always lurks behind the words of those ideologues who wish to radically remake society through government. America’s President, representing our governing new Media Class, boasts that he is radically remaking America. He has already won the support of the envious, the gullible and the ideologues with promises of the redistribution of wealth through big government and is pushing his masters’ revolutionary new ‘morality’ to replace the traditional family, real marriage and Christianity. We need to remember what resulted when such ideas were actually put into practice and Buber’s memoir gives an insider’s picture of Socialism at work.
Margarete Buber was an idealist German Communist who from 1921 to 1932 was a loyal Party member of the Communist Party of Germany and married to Heinz Neumann, one of its leaders. In 1931, before Hitler’s National Socialists were elected to power, she was considered reliable enough to be sent by the GCP to Moscow as a delegate to the Communist International (known as the Comintern). The Comintern, set up by Lenin and Trotsky in 1919, had its HQ in Moscow and was initially intended to nurture Communist Parties around the World, foment revolution in the advanced industrial nations and thus end the isolation of the new Socialist Soviet Union. Lenin and Trotsky, doctrinaire Marxists who had lived in the West, assumed that Communism would be born in the advanced industrial countries and from there would aid the Soviet Union which was economically backward and not really ‘ripe’ for the new classless society that Marx had predicted.
When Stalin, who was not ‘Westernized’, succeeded Lenin by ousting his arch-rival Trotsky, he changed the Party ‘line’ and pursued a policy of ‘Socialism in One Country’. From this time on the Comintern became solely the instrument of Soviet Russia’s foreign policy. As Stalin purged the Party both within and without Russia, he began to purge the Comintern of all possible Trotskyites. Trotsky by this time had escaped Stalin’s purge by moving to Mexico, from where he attempted to organize a parallel worldwide Communist International. The German Buber/Neumann couple (Heinz Neumann was considered to have leaned to the Trotsky camp) had moved via Spain to Switzerland as a result of Hitler gaining power in Germany. In 1935 they were ordered to Moscow, along with many other Communist activists from around the world. Stalin already had plans to purge the Party world-wide and cleverly recalled his future victims to the USSR. From 1935 until 1937, the Buber-Neumanns worked in Moscow as translators until Heinz Neumann was arrested at night by the NKVD. His wife never saw him again. Like the families of all those arrested by the Soviet Secret Police, she received no information. Many of the arrested, Neumann among them, were speedily executed, and to all intents and purposes ceased to have ever existed.
Buber was arrested 13 months later and taken to the Lubianka, one of Moscow’s many notorious NKVD prisons. This was the period of the first of many purges that Stalin and the Party’s Secret Police carried out over the next two decades. Buber was probably arrested on the basis of her ‘guilt by association’ with her late husband and her membership of the Comintern when it was staffed by foreign Communists. As the purge unfolded, many hundreds of thousands of ordinary Russian citizens were arrested, tortured for confessions and either executed or sent to Siberia, for reasons that defy categorization. The purge rapidly became the ‘terror’ and all citizens were intended to live in the constant fear of midnight arrest and subsequent death or deportation to the gulags of Siberia where they became nameless slave laborers of the Socialist State.
Buber describes her years as a slave of the Communist Utopia, first in various Moscow prisons and then in Siberia. The conditions were terrible for all prisoners and few survived the beatings, starvation, ceaseless toil, disease and cold.
In 1940, when the two Socialist dictators of the USSR and Germany – former foes – forged a friendship treaty, political prisoners were exchanged and Buber found herself transferred to Hitler’s first Concentration Camp for women, Ravensbrück. Here she survived 5 years of mostly the same kind of treatment as she had experienced in the prisons of the people’s Soviet Socialist Utopia. She gained freedom when the Russian Army advanced into Germany from the East and the British and Americans advanced from the West. The SS prison guards simply deserted as the Russians came close and significantly both the guards and the prisoners fled west, preferring to be captured by the armies of capitalism and free enterprise. It is hard to feel much sympathy for Buber and the other Communists who became victims of the Socialist totalitarianism they had so long worked for. Most likely Buber was still idealistic about Socialism when she reached the West. Many continued to work for Russia and against the West long after accepting Western hospitality. But the brutality that was unleashed by both International Socialism and National Socialism deserves to be recorded and remembered and we must be grateful to Buber for providing a first-hand account of the results of Government-administered utopianism.
There are a number of observations that can be made, though reading the book is a must for all who need reminding about the consequences of man-made revolutions under the leadership of those with blue-prints for a better world.
The Communist tyranny of the Soviet Union was marginally but significantly worse than the Nazi tyranny of Hitler’s Germany. Hitler’s victims were designated groups which the Nazi’s, with their Darwinian theories, considered sub-human and therefore expendable. Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Slavs, the handicapped and disabled, Christians and Communists were all selected as victims. In the pre-war years of Nazism it was possible to appeal against arrest and detention and to submit evidence. Victims were not chosen haphazardly. Those German people who avoided politics or who supported Nazism were relatively safe from arrest. A partial market-based economy provided more food until the last days of Nazism.
In the Soviet Union, a truly totalitarian Socialist system, no-one was safe and food production was sacrificed to Marxist doctrine. Ordinary Russian people, including loyal Communists, were rounded up and dispatched in their millions. The charges against them were mostly grotesquely empty of content, and victims were tortured to confess to crimes that were, in any other context, laughable. The intent was to instill absolute terror in the population and thus apathy, fear and total submission. The Soviet Union became a society of informers and denouncers. Anyone with a score to settle, or who wished to curry favor with the secret police and local Party bureaucrats, or who wished to remove a superior and take his place, could inform. A denunciation was sufficient to condemn a fellow-citizen or family member. Buber mentions a domestic who reported her employer for lining a waste-bin with newspaper that had a picture of Stalin. The Soviet prisons were disorganized, primitive, lice infested and filthy whereas the Nazi prisons and Concentration camps were, until the final collapse, obsessively clean.
Among the lessons we need to learn are these. A people who place anything but the most limited powers into the hands of Government will soon get a police force that is capable of any and all brutalities and a willingness to obey any orders. The more repression and brutality are required, the more the police are motivated. Soon, only the forces of oppression are efficient. Under Socialism, where a blue-print for society and its people is imposed, and where ultimately the Utopia requires that everyone lives and works where designated for the good of all, the worst human beings rise to the top of the pile. In the gulags of the USSR and the Concentration camps of Germany, the criminals and the ruthless survived best. In the final analysis Socialism becomes a criminal enterprise. Thinking becomes the crime that must be expunged.