The Captive Mind. Understanding the Imposition of Communist Rule. The Socio-economic Context.
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Understanding the Imposition of Communist Rule
According to Jan Gross, we must consider WWII and the Nazi occupation as crucial factors explaining the relative ease with which communist rule was established in Eastern Europe and the context in which individuals responded to that imposition: “comprehensive processes of social change conducive to the etatizationand leveling of the affected societies were set in motion. Apparently, the Soviet victory over the Nazis did not entail such a radical break as is customarily portrayed.” (p. 23, “Themes for a social history…”)
Cumulatively, these behavioral patterns meant that the imposition of communist labor practices did not radically conflict with existing standards and practices.
The Communists were able to take credit for both outcomes thereby helping to legitimate their rule.
While the socio-economic conditions of occupation facilitated the imposition of Soviet rule, political and ideological circumstances also determine the extent to which local elites will collaborate with invading powers. As Gross elaborates, collaboration with the Nazis was determined by several factors that can also inform our understanding of why local populations in Eastern Europe collaborated with Soviet authorities.
In Milosz’s account of his friends and colleagues who decided actively to support the imposition of Soviet rule in Poland, he attempts to comprehend the reasons behind this decision while also judging their actions, thereby attempting to hold them accountable for succumbing to the “logic of History.” And he hopes that they too have some awareness of the terrible decision they made as in the case of Gemma: “But sometimes he is haunted by the thought that the devil to whom men sell their souls owes his might to men themselves, and that the determinism of History is a creation of human brains.” (p. 174)
But is his judgment valid according to Gross’ criterion that only in the context of free choice can collaborators be held accountable? Are the life stories he recounts constructed to show fateful moments of choice and conscious decision or do they show the painful inevitability of their behavior given their particular psyches? And how their psyches interacted with the war torn environments they found themselves in.
Remarkably, given the fact that Milosz wrote his book in 1953, his account prefigures the social history of the era suggested by Jan Gross writing in 2000. While Gross does not mention memoir and individual memory in this particular essay, in general his work does build on memoirs – using individual memories to challenge conventional accounts of history, so, implicitly at least, he may have been drawing on Milosz’s account to inform his social history.
Milosz’s account depicts the interactive dynamic underlying collaboration as outlined by Gross: how/why collaboration is offered as an option by occupiers (E.g., “Because Communism recognized that rule over men’s minds is the key to rule over an entire country, the word is the cornerstone of this system.” p. 161 --hence the offer of collaboration made to writers and poets), and how/why it is accepted by those targeted.
Milosz’s account also provides insights into why the issue of who supported the communist regime and who collaborated with the secret police is still such a polarizing issue in Polish political life. Specifically, he demonstrates the extent to which these individuals were willing to overlook the extent to which the Soviets were as culpable as the Nazis in the destruction of Polish life and society. For example, those Poles who passed the war in the SU, like Gamma, were well aware of the crimes of Stalin, including the murders of Polish officers at Katyn (p. 156). From the perspective of current conservative-nationalist politicians, to knowingly assist in the imposition of such a murderous system on Poland is a treason for which there should be no statute of limitation.