Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Lives of Others - 2

Further thoughts on my earlier post dated today. This is one of those films that you'll think about for a long time afterward. That's what is happening to me, at least.

If you've seen the film (or even if you've just read the review), you noticed that the two heroes are Communists. They're not just Communists in name only, they are true believers. They really believe that they are moving toward a true Communist society which will be some kind of a utopia. Perhaps life was hard for them, but they had hope.

Before the end of the film, both heroes were disillusioned, and I suppose that's what happened to the rest of the Communist bloc.

Since the wall came down there's been a new kind of hope in Eastern Europe, and nearly everyone still seems happy about it.

Sometimes, however, I wonder about the old USSR and especially Russia. From the reports we receive in the West, the country has been handed over the the robber barons. Even as we have rejected Communism as unworkable and eventually corrupting (absolute power corrupts absolutely), we cannot help but recognize that there was a certain morality specific to Communism, which was inspirational to many. Now, all that seems left to inspire the Russians is the get-rich-quick ethos. This reminds me of my great grandfather's impressions of the new city of Milwaukee, where he spent a year in 1857-1858. On May 2, 1857, Henry Brown Richardson, then 19 years old wrote to his parents:
This is a great country, this ‘out west’ but I would not advise you to come here. Most of the people around these parts live by plunder. They make it a point to let no strangers escape with more than the skin of their teeth. It is on good authority that a man who has lived here long enough to be called a Western man (I did not learn his name) has been heard to say in good earnest that ‘if an Eastern man comes here with money or any other property, we are bound – by hook or crook to have it – or a part of it’ and that is the ‘sense’ of the community at large so far as I can learn. They get bitten and bite. It is believed by competent judges that there is not an honest man in this State or even a man that pretends to any sort of honesty, not even thieves’ honesty.
Maybe that's one reason why Henry eventually preferred the South. I'll explore that question further in my book, expected at the end of the year.

Getting back to Russia, perhaps our western observers are unduly pessimistic. If so, and if you are a Russian or a frequent visitor, please post a comment and set me straight.

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