Reflections on a Visit to Moscow

Moscow State University (photo by author)

Moscow State University (photo by author)

Greg Laxer

I have just returned from nearly two weeks in Moscow, my first visit to Russia. Just from the sights I absorbed on the ride from the airport to downtown, I appreciated that Russia is a great nation and justly deserves to be recognized as such by the U.S. and other hostile governments.

This city, said to be home to about 12 million people, is an incredible mix of the old and the new. Renovation of older buildings and construction of new was going on all over town. The world famous Metro (subway) system is everything that’s claimed for it: massive, clean stations, trains remarkably frequent and fast-moving. Far more efficient than New York City’s system, at a cost of less than one U.S. dollar per fare. The streets are also far cleaner than those of American metropolises–each morning, you will see workers sweeping and hosing them down. Many people apparently are still employed by different levels of government, more than 20 years after “socialism” was officially discarded in favor of “Wild West” capitalism.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “horror” of Soviet architecture? Bollocks, I say! Stalin’s “Seven Sisters,” office and housing complexes of monumental proportions–still sporting red stars at their peaks–impressed me greatly. They were built with the people’s resources to represent the imposing power of the people’s will. The growth of an elite caste which siphoned off disproportionate chunks of society’s riches resulted from a human flaw, not the fault of socialism as a theoretical approach to societal governance.

I was absolutely stunned by the beauty of many of the women I saw bustling about in their everyday activities. I encountered many beautiful children, and many of the young men have finely chiseled features. I cannot conceive of there being a capital of any other nation with more beautiful people than I encountered in Moscow. I was surprised, actually, at the very public display of affection I observed, primarily among the young, but older couples were necking as they rode the very long escalators into/out of the Metro.

This appears to be a young society on the whole, or perhaps it is Moscow that draws in the young. These are the children of the children of the Soviet citizens who lived under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War. I couldn’t help but reflect on those days when “my” government was firmly committed, in principle at least, to deploying those weapons, and certain elements within that government were positively champing at the bit to pull the trigger.  (Of course, the Soviet Union was also committed to this MAD dance, as in Mutually Assured Destruction.)

There is much one may criticize, human rights-wise, in the policies of today’s Russia. But as a citizen of a nation which just sentenced a young soldier to 35 years in prison for blowing the whistle on criminal U.S. military activity, and sends murderous drones to kill citizens of other nations that it claims are “terrorists,” I don’t feel like being the first to cast a stone toward the great nation I just returned from.

Greg Laxer is a lifelong peace activist who served time in military prisons for opposing the War against Viet Nam from within the Army.

5 thoughts on “Reflections on a Visit to Moscow

  1. Readers take note: The reference to the USSR embracing the “MAD” Doctrine was inserted by the Editor of Contrary Perspective. My position is that this was an embrace forced on the Soviets as a defensive measure, and trying to keep up with the heavily-armed USA drained the Soviet economy to the breaking point. I make no apologies for being a socialist at heart, though intellectually I recognize that the world isn’t yet ready to be governed sanely. Socialism does NOT automatically equate to Stalinism. The whole struggle really boils down to this: Which is more important, the well-being of Capital or that of the overwhelming majority of the human race? It’s pretty clear which way lean the “values” of the world as it is now.

    • Greg..” if you are not a communist at 20 you have no heart. If you are still a communist at 50 you have no head”.
      Dr. Astore is correct that both the US and the Soviets were expansionist. History is very clear on that. As WW II was ending the Brits and Americans sent troops into Greece to brutally suppress the Communist led guerrillas who had led the fight against the German occupation. The Marshall Plan was all about buying off the French and Italian population from continuing to vote the Communist Party into power. MI 5, the British intelligence arm was parachuting operatives into the Ukraine to subvert the Soviets.
      And there is the Soviet Union overthrowing the Social Democratic governments of Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, etc. My relatives lived in Romania under a Communist dictatorship that was installed by the Russians after they overthrew a Social Democratic regime.
      Both sides played the game. Who started it.? I would tend to think both. The Soviets would never forget the US- Brit expeditionary forces that invaded Russian in 1918 on the side of the Whites. US governments have always felt we were the bastion of democracy even while we expanded our icontrol in South America ( Monroe Doctrine) and installed and supported repressive dictatorships . There is enough evil on both sides that the citizens of both countries should learn from lest they repeat it b. traven

      • I think this is a case where actions (imperial ones) speak louder than words (ideologies). Put differently, our ideologies (US/USSR) are not so far apart, therefore our actions are also similar. The U.S. expands and intervenes in the name of democracy and freedom. The USSR expanded in the name of communism and bringing freedom and equality to the proletariat. But both empires are/were concerned with control, power, wealth, markets, self-protection. And those on the receiving end of American/Soviet intervention were usually most concerned to get rid of the foreign intruder.

        Today in the U.S., we spend enormous sums on the military and on our intelligence networks, which we now know spy on Americans (in the name of protecting us from “terrorism,” naturally). How is this that much different from the enormous military complex of the USSR and its KGB apparatus? The Soviets had their kleptocratic elite and its proles; so do we (the 1% versus the 99%). How can we brag about our “freedom” when so many Americans have to work long hours just to tread water, just to service their own debt? And if they lose their job, there goes their health care. That’s freedom?

        That said, in World War II the average American soldier was far more decent than his Soviet counterpart, for many reasons. The Soviet soldier had endured years of Nazi brutality in a war of annihilation. The Soviet soldier had also endured brutality at the hands of his own superiors. So the Soviet soldier, brutalized as he was, showed no mercy in 1945.

        The American soldier, true citizen-soldiers, had not been brutalized to that extent, had not been mistreated (usually) by his superiors, and therefore behaved decently on the whole in 1945. Germans wanted to surrender to Americans, not Soviets.

        But then came the Cold War, and all the posturing, misunderstandings, opportunistic fears (the witch hunts of McCarthyism), and all the rest. America slowly lost its way; put differently, the dollar truly became the Almighty Dollar. America is now lost in materialism and militarism, a world in which even our youth are treated as “products,” as consumers, as data points. As b. traven has noted, we don’t even speak of “citizens” anymore, and our soldiers are now “warriors” and “warfighters.” Our president, much like a Soviet dictator, plans and implements military attacks without the consent of Congress, i.e. we the people.

        Yet we still trick ourselves into believing that America stands for democracy and freedom. Well, enough ranting.

  2. That’s a strong dose of reality. The adoption of the term “homeland” in the US post 9/11 is a good measure of the parallel between the US and the USSR. For a country dedicated to the emancipation of the international proletariat, the USSR despised nationalism… until Stalin adopted it, and the term “homeland,” to rally the troops to defeat Germany.

    Or as the Beatles so aptly put it, “Back in the US, back in the US, back in the USSR… you don’t know how lucky you are, boy!”

  3. The basic ethic of war destroys civilized behavior. No military force escapes that reality. The difference between U.S. and Soviet troops in uncivilized behavior in WW II was a matter of degree not .behavior. Even Steven Spielberg, in his series, Band of Brothers, deals with this in one episode.
    The company walks by a group of German prisoners and gives them cigarettes. A squad officer stays behind as the squad walks on and soon the group hears multiple shots and they turn and know what happened.

    A close friend of mine who was a German POW, escaped a POW camp after being tortured by the Germans. Upon reaching the Allied lines he was given a machine gun and told to march a group of “Werewolves” ( young children given guns to kill Allied stragglers) . When they started to sing a Nazi youth song he shot them all.

    An American fighter pilot whom I knew, during the early air war in Africa, saw one pilot in his squadron shoot down a slow moving German transport plane that they were told was carrying Allied POW’s. And so it goes.. The film based on the book by James Jones, The Thin Red Line, and Spielberg’s series , The Pacific, show similar acts of brutality on American’s part. There is no ” American exceptionalism” in war.

    With each new war we wage our military shows more and more depravity. Vietnam was no exception. The new mercenary army we now have shows many signs of even more depraved behavior like urinating on dead people or the well know helicopter film released by Wiki leaks where they shoot a group of innocents and then, after learning that hey have killed a child and his father pass it off as “they shouldn’t have been there”.

    For the last 16 years we have had presidents who have never seen war nor been in the military. But all have been more than ready to send other people’s children into the maelstrom.

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