Veronica is reading Animal Farm for the fourth time.
I read it to her the first time on the anniversary of the forming of the Soviet Union, to give her the basics.
Kid loves to hear us tell her about history, especially at bedtime.
“Mommy, I was thinking you could tell me more about World War 1.”
Chris knows more details, but I am better at making the stories work for her child ears.
Still, we are coming to the end of tales easily told. It was time to move on.
“Veronica, do you know what the Cold War is?”
“Oh yeah, that’s about the Nuclear Bomb!”
Yes, that’s part of it.
I wanted to tell her about current events, most specifically what’s been happening with Korea. That this meeting between North Korea’s president-for-life and American’s president, this one that hasn’t happened yet, is a very significant historical event.
But there’s a lot of ‘splaining to do before we can get to the part about why it is significant.
I made some inroads into why America had trouble trusting Russia after the 2nd world war, which prompted her desire to revisit Animal Farm.
Orwell, you did a good job. It’s a grim story, but very approachable.
Thing is, it’s a very broad allegory. Having written allegories myself, I know how that can be. This character and that has to be fictionalized.
But the characters, all of them, in Animal Farm, have real life counterparts. And the horrors of that story are light compared to the real horrors that were performed by the actual historical figures.
I secured a promise from Veronica that she would listen to the story of what REALLY happened.
But that meant I had to do some homework. I had to go get my facts straight, and I made some notes.
I remember as a teenager in the 80s, the year we studied WW2. At that moment it time, the Cold War was breathing its frosty breath through our daily lives. Russia–the Soviet Union–was the biggest, baddest evil villain ever.
So why didn’t my history class talk about how the Soviet Union was formed? Wasn’t that even MORE important than the terrifying but DEAD Hitler?
The books did not talk about it. And no one could give me a straight answer.
I went to Russia itself before I got an answer. And in the years since, I have pieced it together.
The Soviet Union was very diligent in re-writing history to suit the needs of the current power structure. Communism also had and has a lot of people who want it to succeed. There was a lot of smoke and mirrors to wade through.
This is basically what I explained to Veronica.
Karl Marx was a German man who lived in England during the Industrial Revolution and the heyday of colonialism. At that time, a lot of people were wondering why THEY worked in the factories and were poor, but the people who owned the factories seemed to do no work at all but they made all the money.
This idea was circulating and a lot of people were thinking of ideas of how it could be different. These ideas were known as Communism and Anarchism, which seemed almost the same thing to a lot people at that time.
Karl Marx wrote two books The Communist Manifesto and Das Capital, to explain how Communism should work and would overthrow the current monarchs and rulers of countries.
This completely scared the rulers of the countries who considered their overthrow to be scary Anarchy. Plus the Anarchists were plotting and sometimes succeeding in Assassinations of world leaders.
Someone who looked a lot like those crazy anarchist Communists assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and that started World War 1.
Germany was fighting Russia and England at that time. Russia has a little bit of a revolution in February 1917.
Now, there was this guy called Lenin who had been stirring up communism in Russia, and he had been thrown out of Russia because the Tsar wasn’t happy about it.
He was hiding, and stirring up trouble from far away. But after the February Revolution in Russia Germany helped him get back to Russia to overthrow the current Russian government. By so doing, Germany snuffed out Russian opposition to Germany.
Lenin led the October Revolution of 1917, and that revolution established the communists as the power in Russia.
However, there were a lot of factions and opposing parties even in this communist government. Power and alliances shifted constantly, and it was very hard to trust anyone. It was a vicious and bloody power struggle. The entire infrastructure that people relied on to live (food water, fuel to heat their homes) was vanished, and the struggle for power raged on.
Lenin eliminated this by established a one-party system, halting debate. All those who disagreed with his rule were killed or imprisoned during this time known as the Red Terror.
But Lenin could not live forever. There were two people likely to take over after him: Joseph Stalin and Lev Trotsky. Trotsky hung out at this bedside, but Stalin was out solidifying his own support structure. Lenin is said to have expressed concern about Stalin before his death.
But when Lenin died, Stalin seized power and exiled Trotsky. The merest hint of “Trotskyism” was a death sentence for communist supporters. Stalin would not tolerate any disagreement.
He erased Trotsky from the history books.
There was a plan that started while Lenin was alive to change the farms. Joseph Stalin created a Five-year plan that collectivized the farms in the Soviet Union. Rather than allow people to own land and farm it as they had before, he arranged for all the land to be owned and managed by the state. About 11 million people died, in particular starving to death during this time in 1932-33. Ukrainians suffered the most.
In 1936-38 Stalin ruled over the Great Purges in which Soviet’s records show 1,548-366 people killed, many by gas chambers, which probably inspired the death camps of the Nazis so soon after.
Stalin would not tolerate any disagreement, naming it “Social disorder” and eliminating anyone he suspected.
News of these inconceivable tragedies did not leak. How easy was it to keep the people too afraid to say anything? When death owned the boulevards, it was best to stay quiet.
Great Britain and America did not fully trust Russia, but during World War II, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Russia lost even more lives fighting Germany, an estimated 20 million.
When the Nazis were finally defeated, the Soviet Union spread this one-party “democracy” of communism in what became known as the Eastern Bloc of Europe.
But before World War II ended for America, nuclear weapons were unleashed upon the world. By America, no less. Russia developed nuclear bombs as soon as they possibly could, and that is when this Cold War became a thing.
America and the Communists played the world as a chessboard with smaller countries as pawns. Revolutions and Counter-Revolutions were masterminded from Moscow and D.C.
Both countries were sure that Science and Technology were the answers to being the ultimate authority. And in 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world-orbiting satellite that inspires me from this distant point in the future, but which scared Americans sleepless at the time.
Which bring us to 61 years ago. And there is still a lot more to explain before I can give the story of Korean the description it deserved.
Thank you for reading this far. It took me a long time to comb out the facts of this part of history, and I know this will give you all something to think about, even if you disagree with my conclusions.
I will say this is the opinion I have formed mostly from novels and my personal experience. I am an American, and that informs my opinion. I know that there are many things I have not considered and others will have a very different interpretation of events.
These books have informed my opinion:
Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Thing Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Frida (2002 movie)
Animal Farm and 1984 helped to confirm what I had pieced together
A number of English books I read in Russia during my stay by blacklisted American authors that are so obscure to not be google-able