Soviet folklore provides a lesson to be learned with regard to healthcare and the stifling of dissent
By Samuel Fain
One of the most notable and recognizable characters throughout official Soviet folklore was a thirteen-year-old boy named Pavlik Morozov, a name which became legendary immediately after the events that lead to his fame transpired.
As time has passed by the indirect consequences of his actions affected millions of people in a very direct way — Pavlik, in life and in death, truly influenced several generations of Soviet people. Unfortunately, it starts to influence ours, as well. Here is a short version of his simple story:
Pavlik Morozov lived in a small impoverished village in Russia in the family of Trofim Matrosov, a Red Partisan fighter who, after the Russian Civil War, became a chairman of the local Soviet (in this sense, something akin to a Village Council). Eventually, Pavlik’s father left the family as well as his official post, having remarried and moved out with his new wife. Shortly thereafter, in 1931, Trofim was arrested, tried and convicted of falsifying official documents, fraternizing with the enemies, helping the Kulaks, and more. Those charges have been revealed to be patently false, but that is irrelevant. What is relevant, however, is that the bogus charges against Trofim Matrosov were brought up by his son, Pavlik, then aged 13, who also provided most of the testimony.
Most historians believe that Trofim was finally executed in a labor camp in 1932. Several months after the trial of his father, Pavlik and his eight-year-old brother, Fedor, were found dead in a nearby forest. Stabbed to death, both of them. Pavlik’s grandfather, grandmother and cousin were rounded up, tried, convicted and sentenced to execution by a firing squad.
What followed was a perfect example of Soviet myth-making extravaganza. Pavlik Morozov was made into an official martyr. Countless articles and books were written about him. Sergei Eisenstein–of Battleship Potemkin fame–directed a movie about him. An opera was written about him. School textbooks were full of stories about him, and songs were sung in his honor. Pavlik was portrayed as a young pioneer and young Communist (he almost certainly had not been either) who courageously went against his own family risking certain death, to expose his “counter-revolutionary” father’s crimes.
The official propaganda made him into a hero who chose the good of the society over his family ties. Soviet pupils were taught to emulate him, and he was viewed as an example of a perfect Soviet child. Schools were named after him. Monuments to him were built. Children swore allegiance to his ideals. He was a hero. Every child was expected to report on his parents, if he or she suspected them in disagreeing with the State policies.
Years passed. Stalin’s age came to a close. In the relative privacy of their kitchens, Soviet people slowly started reevaluating some of their history. By the time I was growing up at the end of Brezhnev’s rule and up to Gorbachev’s Perestroyka, Pavlik Morozov ceased being a hero to be emulated by most people. Reporting on one’s family or friends’ dissent from the official Party line has firmly passed into the realm of things that honorable human beings simply do not do.
Far from being the epitome of heroism, the name “Pavlik Morozov” became a common name for a despised rat. It became a byword in the Russian language to the same degree “Benedict Arnold” is in the American English.
Officially, of course, things changed slower. Well into Gorbachev’s years, the State still implicitly expected people to report on each other. However, even the Soviet Union’s political apparatus stopped propagandizing children betraying their parents, friends ratting out friends. Even the Communist Party adopted these elementary basics of human decency.
Enter the era of Barack Obama.
According to precious few news accounts, the White House recently requested that its supporters forward, to the Obama Administration, any e-mail messages and Web sites that are critical of the president’s health care plan. This, from an official White House Web blog entry entitled “Facts Are Stubborn Things”:
There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If this short paragraph sounds chilling, that is because it should. Imagine what would have happened had Richard Nixon or George W. Bush come out asking people to send the Government copies of private correspondence critical of their plans. Nixon came close enough by asking that photographs be taken of leftists protesting the Vietnam War, yet the program was stopped as unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court. Yet this Most Ethical Administration Ever sees nothing wrong in calling on its supporters to report their friends and family if they happen to vocally disagree with the Administration’s views on health care.
What happened to the concept of freedom of political speech in our country? How could it happen that those few major news outlets that reported on this latest Obama propaganda blitz fail to even mention the report-your-friend’s-email-to-us aspect of it? How come it took Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, to bring the nation’s attention to this outrage? The very lack of interest in this story in the media is telling.
It is an oppressive government that has such a need to monitor and eventually try to control the thoughts of its population. It is an oppressive government that feels threatened by a free flow of information, especially if that information is critical of it. It is an oppressive government that encourages its citizens to report on their family, friends and neighbors, if they disagree with the State’s positions.
However, a population that submits to such encroachments on its freedom of expression deserves an oppressive government. A population that participates in them deserves being manipulated, controlled and treated like sheep.
People like Pavlik Morozov, who came from a background of serfdom, who had never known the feeling of liberty, who as young children had only been indoctrinated into the supremacy of the State over everything else and nothing more, those are the people who deserve pity. Free people who surrender their freedom deserve nothing but contempt.
The public response to this NKVD-style politics from the Obama Administration, as well as the future of the Democratic Party’s statist reforms will soon show which kind of a population the American citizenry has become. We will see if the spirit of the Land of the Free is still alive in this country, or if we have been turned into the nation of Pavlik Morozovs.
Samuel Fain is a software engineer who left socialism only to find it again, emigrating from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s only to end up in Massachusetts upon arriving in the United States. Sam has since relocated to southern New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state, where he lives with his wife. Sam wrote a few pieces for America’s Right within months of its inception, and began again in February 2009.