The concluding sentence of Roy Medvedev’s superb account of Russia during the Stalin years reads:
When the cult of Stalin’s personality was exposed [in the XXth and XXIInd Congresses in 1956 and 1961 respectively] a great step was made to recovery.
It’s a vital point, similar to that made by the incredible truth and reconciliation commission event that followed the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, and that point is this: before any society can really advance it must recognise and admit to itself the mistakes and crimes perpetrated by its own trusted leaders. Or, as Rosa Luxemburg once put it:
Self-criticism – ruthless, harsh self-criticism, which gets down to the root of things – that is the life-giving light and air of the proletarian movement.
Yet self-criticism of our own governments is almost impossible. Infinitely more effective than state censorship – which can restrict criticism – is self-censorship, and that’s pretty much what we have: a society which is incapable of seriously challenging those in power, let alone calling them to account for any wrongdoing – not through any state-imposed censorship, but through creating a culture that’s utterly brainwashed into believing the perfection of their constitution and therefore refusing to even imagine its very considerable imperfections. Whilst we do not have the domestic death squads and concentration camps of Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia to enforce domestic obedience,…