THE POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY OF A DISSENTER
Not unlike many people of my age, I hated growing up in a communist country. Born in Hungary in 1947, my early years were greatly influenced by the trauma of living in a paranoid, closed society. The pathologically evil government and, above all, the omnipresent Communist Party took advantage of their control of the minds, media, and educational institutions and exercised an absolute monopoly over the commanding the youth.
The postmodern culture in which we live is a niche culture, where definitions of words are niche definitions. What passes for conservative in my interpretation may not be your definition of “conservative.” My notion of being a conservative excludes any permanent attachment to a political party or a public policy. In my view, “conservative” is a philosophical term, and it designates an attitude grounded in philosophical and existential premises.
I can offer a philosophical and an existential reason for why I choose to be identified with things “conservative” rather than something “progressive” (leftist) or “liberal.” The philosophical basis has to do with language and the difficulties in understanding our ability to use it. Briefly, the Right’s explanations concerning the mystery of language seem more convincing to me than those provided by the Left. The existential reason for my conservatism is described below.
My parents, born and raised in Hungary around the First World War, came from bourgeois families. After 1945, Hungary’s bourgeois middle-class (therefore “minority”) citizens had their properties confiscated, nationalized, appropriated without any compensation. Some of them were expelled from their homes and sent to the countryside to live like peasants, following similar justification what the Khmer Rouge used in Cambodia a few decades later.
The dispossessed German expellees’ situation after 1945, the hardships they endured while getting deported from Czechoslovakia, Poland, and other Eastern European countries to the parts of Germany occupied by the United States, Great Britain, and France were simply horrible. However, I consider them to be the lucky ones; they could leave and start new, meaningful, useful, and everyday lives in safety and security. The “natives” had to stay and rot under Soviet-Bolshevist rule, eking out a living for many hopeless decades to come while being not only brutalized and oppressed but having their very lives taken away from them.
I still remember traveling as a little boy in cattle cars, occasionally left somewhere on side tracks to languish. There were no toilet facilities and little food. My father could only give me small, hand-made, wooden toys for Christmas, which I cherish as treasures. I remember my parents’ joy when they could get me a lemon while being sick at home sometime in the 1950s — my father could obtain the fruit from a goodhearted Soviet officer who also had probably children somewhere.
There was no Marshall Plan in socialist Eastern Europe as there was in Western Europe to rebuild ruined cities and industries. The destroyed cities, towns, and villages exposed to the hostile and consecutive occupations by Germans and Soviets were stripped of whatever valuable “assets” they still possessed. Everything had to be rebuilt from scratch — and the products shipped to the Soviet Union as “war compensation.” There were no weekends; Saturday was a working day.
Such were the hardships of life in Soviet-occupied Hungary in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. All too often, rationing was a cover-up for shortages. Coupons did not guarantee a purchase; if the shelves were bare, there was no rain check. There were shortages of everything except bread, so there was no starvation but pervasive malnutrition. By “shortages,” I mean that such items as shoes or toothpaste were unavailable for months and sometimes years. “Shopping” in the contemporary sense of the word did not exist. Bartering existed — if one had some extra butter for sale, one could buy a piece of fabric from a coworker who had obtained it illegally from a cousin who worked in a store catering to the communist party officials and offer it for butter.
An entire population of under 10 million, except the privileged class who occupied leading positions in the party and administration, was not given proper wages but only tiny allowances, the kind one gives to children. Salaries in postwar Hungary were in the range of 400 Hungarian Forints. On the black market, one dollar was worth at least 100 Forints. Thus monthly salaries were worth from about three to ten dollars. My mother made four dollars per month; my father made about eight dollars — and we were the lucky ones. Yes, bread and city transportation cost pennies, but virtually all daily-use items cost real money. Shoes and winter coats were the hardest to come by. A pair of good shoes cost 1000–2000 Forints on the black market or three times the average monthly salary.
In Hungary, as in the other Soviet-occupied East European socialist countries, the intimidated, oppressed, and exploited people lived like this for decades. Little has been written about this communist crime; it is about to fade into oblivion. It should not. It was the tendency to seek to humiliate the population that refused to be obedient that I find the most objectionable feature of the Soviet-manufactured political system that overtook half of Europe. The desire to put down the weak reached monstrous proportions under communism.
However, as a young, impressionable, and enthusiastic boy, I was taken by “my country’s call” at first — and wanted to be a good soldier, a real patriot. This unquestioned enthusiasm, one could say blind fanaticism typical of young boys the world over, lasted until I reached about 14–15 years of age. Then, as if I had been touched by a magic wand lifting the veil from my eyes and giving me the light to see, my brain cells connected, and I started to think. I wanted to start asking questions, but whom could I have asked? Nobody would dare to tell the truth.
The situation was frustrating; I was getting more and more desperate, like a person drowning in the storm. More and more questions and more and more confusing thoughts. Could it be that I had been lied to? Could it be that even my parents would not tell me the truth?
Finally, I ran away or at least tried. I was 15 years old when caught near the Austrian border. There I was arrested and put in jail — in three different prisons to be exact, first a military prison of the border guards followed by a “normal prison” under police surveillance, then finally a juvenile detention camp. The charge was the “attempt of forbidden border crossing,” an anathema to the ruling communists. They would consider any act of trying to leave the “dictatorship of the proletariat” by anyone as outright treason. I was only released due to the direct intervention of one of my mother’s colleagues at work, a woman whose family had been in the communist “movement” long before the war and therefore enjoyed all the special privileges of the communist nomenclature. Only because of such fortuitous and high-level protection was I released without any further charges but had to periodically present myself before the communist authorities for a “personal conversation” for years to come.
I quickly learned that I had to play the game, their game if I wanted to survive. I had no other choice; I was locked in a prison, a country-sized jail this time. Soviet Bloc countries were large prison camps disguised as “People’s Republics.” Like in any penitentiary, inmates of the Bloc could not leave at will. There were only a few ways of crossing the border that did not involve the risk of capture, injury, or even death. Nevertheless, I vowed then and there to leave the “workers’ paradise” should the opportunity ever arise.
The outlook was not good. The communist rule seemed assured as long as the Soviet occupation continued and no one harbored realistic hopes about their leaving voluntarily.
Accordingly, I passively pretended to be a “believer,” just like everybody else, a nominal and silent follower of “their” socialist system, but the hatred of communism grew within me with time. Between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five, socialism’s vocabulary, words, phrases, definitions, and its repertory of tools, procedures, practices, mannerisms, had become etched in my brain. Party functionaries spoke as if playing back a tape from a deck inside their skull; every vile deed was done for the sake of “world peace,” the source of all virtue was the Soviet Man; the source of all evil was the Imperialist Oppressor. Accordingly, good people were “progressive,” bad people were “reactionary.”
After finishing technical high school, I could get into engineering college, completed the army reserve officer’s school with distinctions — while keeping one and only one goal in mind: away from here, away from these people, from this system, from this life. How much I despised them and how much I was forced to pretend and wait for ten more long years.
Then, after years of careful planning and preparations, I could escape in 1972, exactly five days after receiving my engineering diploma. I crossed the Hungarian border to Romania, then continued to Yugoslavia and finally to Italy where, without any official papers or a valid passport, they put me in one of those “refugee camps” that were maintained by the West for the escapees who could, one way or another, get through the Iron Curtain.
In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, refugees from the Eastern Bloc communist states called the three Italian towns of Padriciano, Capua, and Latina home for months as they waited to be processed. I was housed in a former World War II prisoner of war camp just outside of Capua, the worst camp of the above three. Breakfast consisted of bread and black coffee, and lunch was a plate of spaghetti every day. There were occasional incidents with the Italian residents of Capua getting into fights with refugees who (illegally) visited the town, but nothing too serious. Many refugees were merely a source of cheap manual labor for local farms, where many people picked watermelons for hours and either got the promised payment or did not. The payment often consisted of a big sandwich and a bottle of Coca-Cola, a rare treat after months of eating nothing but spaghetti.
I was “free” to stay in these “facilities” under police guards, technically not allowed to work or leave the compound, delivered to the whims and grace of unknown and unseen bureaucrats somewhere, who could care less about alien refugees coming from Eastern European countries. Welcome to the West.
West? What kind of “West” was that? The “enemies” of communism? The democratic countries enjoying “freedom” and offering refuge to the few who could get away from the “dictatorship of the proletariat”?
I had to endure eight months of humiliation living as a stateless person under prison-like conditions while followers of the Italian socialist and communist parties kept marching and demonstrating under my window. They were free to do that in their democratic and free country — I was not. They were free to protest against the “capitalist West,” they were free to support the socialist and communist parties from whose “brothers” and criminal accessories I had just escaped — and I was free to watch and tolerate them silently.
While the “official West,” the “Free World,” the “democracies” ignored the Eastern European anti-communist and anti-leftist refugees, some private citizens, civic organizations, members of the clergy, even sympathizing police and carabinieri officers tried to help in their own way — and I will never forget their understanding, support, and courage.
Yes, they needed courage to help us, fellow Europeans, refugees from the communist East, in the “free, liberal, and democratic” Western European countries in 1972–1973. Their help was a statement, an unofficial, political protest statement of the Right helping the escapees from socialism.
Therefore, I duly noted that the “official,” “liberal,” if not already socialist, West was silent, disinterested, ignorant, and, above all, hypocritical — the characteristic that I find to this day the most negative attribute of “liberal democracy.”
I finally arrived in the United States in May 1973. I was incredibly thankful, inspired, and thinking that socialism was forever behind me.
It was a new country and new world, America, for me, with a new language, new culture, and new life — but that much was to be expected.
Richard Nixon had already been elected to the presidency with a landslide for a second term. The Watergate protests were at their peak. I could not understand it: weren’t “we” fighting the most evil political force on earth? Communism maimed the lives of my peers, ruined the lives of my parents, and destroyed the lives of generations. Bolshevism thwarted the intellectual development of at least two age groups in Central Europe (and perhaps four in Russia) by limiting access to what could be read and discussed. It subjected my fellow citizens in Hungary to socialism-induced poverty that required bartering skills and a certain kind of alertness unknown in the West merely to procure household goods. It made them live on monthly allowances of $10 or $15. It further injured them by making it virtually impossible to advance in many professions without joining the communist party.
American students did not know or care about any of this, and when I went back to college to study business administration, my liberal professors did not want to know. They psyched themselves into believing that socialism represented a new era in humanity’s development, and interference with it was highly inappropriate. They taught their students accordingly.
I remember the protesters in New York chanting that Nixon was worse than Hitler. But to me, a naïve newcomer from the East, Nixon was a champion for trying to stop communism in Vietnam, and I considered American intervention to be a heroic action by a great power that would hopefully prevent the spread of Bolshevism around the world.
The brainwashing performed by socialist sympathizers on American soil was universal in those days, and only persons on the Right dared to say that the pro-Soviet indulgence was based on wishful thinking rather than fact. The liberals were like sleepwalkers in the fog.
How did it happen that in a supposedly free country like the United States, the entire academic community, the media, and a significant part of the intelligentsia had fallen under the spell of the discreet charm of socialism? Mild criticism of the Soviet Union was pervasive, but the liberal intellectuals treated Soviet culture and politics as if it were genuine and not a cover for one of the worst periods of barbarism in history. How was it possible that they did not wish to understand that communist practice was grounded in a profound contempt for humankind? Even in a free society, it is possible to fool most people most of the time.
The deliberate indifference toward the criminality of the Soviet enterprise made me take a second look at other “generally accepted ideas” (i.e., misconceptions) of Western liberal thinkers.
I noted that they generally praised the French Revolution, which started the change of direction of Western civilization, just as it had been in the school textbooks I endured in Soviet-occupied Hungary.
I noted that in the American academic establishment, just as in Soviet-occupied Hungary, the Spanish Civil War was described in black and white terms, the right-wing Franco being all Fascist-black and the left-wing republicans all snow-white.
I noted that the rise of communism in Hungary (and in Germany) after the First World War was gently smoothed over in books as if the Hungarian (or German) communists were the good guys opposing the all-bad “fascist” establishments.
I noted that in the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919, the second communist takeover in the world after the Russian revolution in 1917, the communist misrule causing lawlessness, political anarchy, economic chaos, and enormous suffering in that newly truncated, defeated, and humiliated country, with a corresponding aftereffect not only on Hungary but also on Germany (meaning the consequent rise of National Socialism there) and, indirectly, the world, is only a relatively neutral footnote in the history books with only some superficial, apologetic leftist remarks.
I noted that the Polish-Soviet war of 1920, in which the newly reconstituted Poland miraculously defeated the Red Army, thus stopping the march of communism westward, was erased from America’s historical memory.
I noted that the lighthearted commentaries on the Soviet Union supplied by American “Sovietologists” (Richard Pipes being a rare exception) falsified the relationship between the Soviet Union and the subjugated nations of Central and Eastern Europe.
I noted that no one on the Left cared that, had it not been for Stalin’s friendship with Hitler expressed in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939, there would have been, perhaps, no Second World War.
I noted that to get accepted in “sophisticated intellectual circles” in America, one had to swallow a great deal of the politically correct misconceptions that I knew were wrong and profess disinterest in any historical inquiry that did not correspond to an agenda friendly to the Left. In these circumstances, the additional factor of “the amazing power of money” (to borrow from Great Expectations) made brilliant writers side with the Left and keep inventing reasons to do so. With skills and talents worthy of a better cause, liberal writers and professors drummed into their students’ heads a version of twentieth-century European history that I knew was inaccurate.
I noted that any anti-communist action, like the Chilean coup d’état by General Pinochet preventing a second Cuba in Latin America by the Soviet-supported socialist government of the Marxist Salvador Allende or the Argentine military’s desperate fight against the Bolshevist-Maoist guerillas terrorizing South America in the 1970s, was met with blanket rejection by the West, the media demonizing the forces fighting communism and giving lopsided, biased, and manipulated “news” about the facts. It was not unlike the media coverage of the Vietnam War. Who remembers today the Marxist Tupamaros guerillas or the Montoneros mercilessly gunning down people on the streets of Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, or Brazil? All these terrorists have become “martyrs” brutally killed by the military dictatorships while forgetting the indiscriminate killings perpetrated by the communist-supported terror-brigades to bring about society’s total collapse.
With incredulity and disgust, I noted that even the Republican President of the United States, Gerald Ford, claimed that Poland, the “People’s Republic of Poland,” was not “dominated” by the Soviet Union.
I noted when, among others, the Time magazine published a sympathizing article about János Kádár, the communist ruler of Hungary since the people’s uprising there in 1956, claiming his “goulash communism” being so successful and popular in the country that he would probably be even elected — provided there were free elections there.
The only people who proclaimed that the evil empire was indeed evil were on the conservative Right.
As years went by and my political and philosophical horizons broadened, I also realized that, although it is not exactly what I had expected, the most acceptable and persuasive arguments about reality also came from the Right. I also discovered, albeit rather slowly, that to be intellectually a “liberal” in this world, one needed to ignore the facts, logic, and reason.
What I had not expected, however, was an early political awakening, maturing, my “sobering up,” only after a relatively short time. This “lessons learned” was a sort of “political enlightenment” which, after the long and painful experience gained in the socialist East and burned indelibly into my brain, seemed suddenly familiar and surprising to me even then. I was quite aware, sensitive, conditioned, “well trained,” or, simply, experienced to pick up any suspicious signs of either latent or conspicuous similarities with the socialist East in the “free and democratic West,” such as using the media for official propaganda, political double talk, manipulation of the masses, confusing and misleading reasoning, corruption, hypocrisy, etc.
About 40 years ago now that I first put together some notes analyzing “the world’s most critical political issues” at that time, at least from my perspective. It is striking how much of those issues have changed since my thoughts were first put down on paper in 1982. Not only did the Eastern Bloc disappear in its entirety, with the Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact, Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, et al., but also a complete turnaround took place in the political ideologies of the one-time adversaries, between East and West. It is stupefying for those rising against the Soviet system to see the 180-degree turn the world has taken since the 1980s.
The West has since openly adopted a left-leaning liberal, essentially socialist, philosophy hoping to stem the tide of the upward moving, fast-developing, non-Western, and largely non-democratic nations by “spreading democracy” around the world. At the same time, the West kept “westernizing and democratizing” (meaning “socializing”) the one-time European dictatorships like Spain, Portugal, and the ex-socialist countries that had not been progressive leftist in the Western sense of the word.
However, the once-socialist Eastern European countries are still searching for their own national identity, just like Russia, which, after a rather painful and desperate attempt at “Western democracy,” started going down its own “Russian-liberal-conservative” path that was interrupted in 1917. Meanwhile, China, adopting state-controlled capitalism as its chosen economic system while retaining one-party rule Singapore-style, already having the second-largest economy in the world, is striving to become the world’s leading power — as it had been before. None of these countries, including India, Brazil, and South Africa, is “left-liberal-socialist” in the Western sense: politically, they are rather nationalist; economically, they are pursuing their own form of state-controlled capitalism, which is the most critical single element they took over from the West.
Has the world turned upside down? The West, condemning and even physically attacking other countries to push “democracy” and Jacobin definitions of human rights, identifies itself with the International Left. Russia is reasserting her historic role as leader of the International Right. On the surface, this all seems to be a reversal of historic importance, but is it truly that?
Isn’t it only the eventual political, philosophical, and historical realignment according to the old precepts? After all, isn’t the West supposed to be the birthplace of liberalism, socialism, leftist movements, and revolutions while the East is the home of morality-based conservatism and religion-supported self-identity?
As the above developments show, the once “conservative,” anti-communist, capitalistic West of the Cold War period has quickly changed itself into a left-leaning, modern-liberal, and international socialist bloc politically, morally, and, correspondingly, economically. Meanwhile, the once “communist” East became generally conservative, identity-conscious, and capitalistic.
Who would have thought all this in the middle of the Cold War, more than 30 years ago? Does the seeming unpredictability of these changes tell us it is futile to pretend we can foretell anything real and tangible that could happen in the future?
I wanted to find the reasons and correlations of the systemic changes first in the Soviet Union, then in Central Eastern Europe, and finally in the West. My representation of the events differs in many respects from what the media typically reports on the subject. Significant events, such as wars, revolutions, and major crises, do not always take place in reality as the newspapers and other media pound the readers and viewers to believe. What happens in the backstage theater is different from what the audience is presented to see.
That applies in particular to recent times concerning the upheavals after the end of communism in Eastern Europe, the so-called “Arab Spring” in North Africa, the Ukrainian “developments,” or the “War against Terror” in the Middle East. Important facts do not come to the fore because the framers of politics, for whatever reasons or interests, do not want them to.
It has been a commonly held and eagerly disseminated opinion of the liberal Western media that the Left is somehow “good“ and the Right is “bad.“ This thread allows not enough characters to expose the folly of this opinion.
But the sad legacy of two world wars, fascist and communist dictatorships, socialist revolutions, and “anti-revolutionary” uprisings followed by a left-liberal assault is that the Western bourgeoisie is massively weakened, and the middle-class has disintegrated.
The cultural vacuum was filled with mediocre, flighty but prejudiced ideas, which pointed almost categorically to the Left in the 1960s. These partly anti-democratic and totalitarian ideologies led to political radicalism. It was not surprising when Oskar Lafontaine, at the time in the leadership of the West German Social Democratic Party (SDP), was against German reunification; arguably less because of the cost than rather out of sympathy for the former socialist system.
It cannot be that every leftist provocation is considered “fair “and “just,“ but any hint of mildly critical, centrist ideas is branded as “extremist.“ Nobody with a modicum of historical consciousness can remain unmoved when once-cultural cities such as Berlin, London, Paris, Athens, Stockholm, or Vienna are burned and looted by black-clad thugs today. And this happens in the great cities of the European Union and the United States of America pretending to be the flag bearers of Western Civilization.
While cars burn day and night, there is massive violence against police officers, who are regarded as attempted murderers; meanwhile, leftist violent criminals do not hesitate to attack even police stations. This condition is already close to a civil war known only from Afghanistan or Iraq — and some still rant about the danger to Western society coming from the Right.
The supposedly “right-wing,“ thus purportedly “national-conservative“ perpetrators often call themselves skinheads or “patriots” or write in black English Gothic print. They look and sound more like a handful of bewildered, confused, desperate, and disoriented creatures (e.g., the attackers on the U.S. Capitol), whose violent actions relative to the massive Leftist acts of terrorism can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
The Leftists, however, with their consistent and successful marching through and taking over the Western state institutions since 1968, have changed the entire political and cultural landscape of the Western world. They have made the United States a degenerating mutation of its previous self and reduced Europe from a post-war international success story to a sick and socialist “EUtopia.” Nevertheless, their helpers and supporters warn us in unison that, in accordance with the old cry “stop the thief,” the danger is coming from the Right.
Whoever orchestrated this absurd theater did it at the expense of Western society, which has already lost to a large extent.
I worry that civil society’s breakdown in the Western world has been caused by individual rights not paired with personal responsibility. The growing culture of entitlements has convinced Westerners that any failure is the political-economic system’s fault — and never theirs. Once charity becomes an entitlement, the stigma of living on charity disappears. As a result, entitlement costs outpace government resources, resulting in huge debts for future generations. In the meantime, the West’s political leaders kick the can down the road to win elections. Westerners have abandoned an ethical basis for society, believing that all problems are solvable by a “good government.”
The “Age of the West” is ever so slowly but inexorably coming to a close, and the new world will need new peoples replacing the enervated ones of the old. Even if, for example, a “United States of Europe” would ever come into being in some form (although I see no danger of it ever happening), its role in the new world will still become similar to that of Spain’s within Europe: old brilliance, past power, honorary glory, but without any real authority, strength or influence. It is like when the senile old man is revered for his age.