Alf Siewers | firstname.lastname@example.org
“War is the health of the state.”
When the Bucknell Humanities Center recently announced its series of Tuesday afternoon talks this fall in a flyer, I was surprised to see that it featured a 1924 Soviet propaganda poster, in Russian, which related to none of the events. (Please note that this piece is a critique of Bucknell’s intellectual culture and not of the Humanities Center or its truly fine leadership, which I support.)
A little background:
The image included a young woman yelling “books” and was an advertisement for the state publishing house, which according to the Handbook of Russian Literature (Yale 1985) had by 1919 assumed control of all publishing activities in much of the former Russian Empire, including literary publishing, ranging from allocation of paper to what would be published. The model in the photo was a well-known Soviet artist, Lilya Brik, who in 1922 secretly became a member of the NKVD (a predecessor agency to the KGB), as agent 15073 of its 7th Secret Department, as revealed in a 1990 article after the fall of the Soviet Union. During the 1920s Brik had been rumored to be a secret police agent or informer because of her interactions with agents. Only a couple years before this poster was made, in 1922, scores of intellectuals had been forced to leave St. Petersburg in the so-called philosophers’ ships, expelled from the Soviet Union. This was during a time when, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn documented, the use of terror and persecution on a wide scale by the Soviet regime was already well underway.
Nazi terror bad, Communist terror, ok?
Now, admittedly, if a piece of Nazi propaganda art had popped up randomly in this context, or a piece of propaganda art associated with the regime persecuting the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan Buddhist followers, or maybe even a positive image promoting Donald Trump, I would have been more surprised. And I would have expected an understandable outcry. But there was no outcry about this flyer, although we are on the cusp of the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The new post-revolutionary order resulted in tens of millions of deaths, including millions in my own faith community, which is not coincidentally an historically under-represented religious minority in Bucknell’s predominantly White Anglo-Saxon Secularist Privilege (WASSP) culture today. According to scholars writing in The Black Book of Communism (Harvard 1999), a total of 80 to 100 million deaths worldwide occurred at the hands of communist regimes during the 20th century, following from establishment of the regime whose propaganda was featured on the flyer.
So, again, imagine the understandable outcry, if a Bucknell office used Nazi propaganda art featuring an SS agent, from minority groups persecuted by the Nazis, or those generally opposed to Nazism. Why not a similar outcry or exercise of better judgment in this case?
Partly I would guess because the culturally genocidal regime in question was Marxist and anti-Christian. Its attitude in that respect is socially acceptable sadly to some on our campus. Also it was targeting a form of Christianity that does not fit into the mold of Bucknell’s historic White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) background, now morphed into WASSP (again, White Anglo-Saxon Secularist Privilege). The latter tends to lump together all forms of Christianity globally in a stereotyped mass of “dominant” and “oppressive” ideology. Campus WASSPness in some ways parallels the idea of “whiteness.” It’s so totalizing that it rarely if ever notices itself. It is a supposedly elitist frame of mind that is now trans-ethnic in American dominant culture as others aspire to join it. The fact that my faith community includes a variety of global racial and ethnic backgrounds with a very different history and generally a lower socioeconomic background from Bucknell’s WASSPness probably does not help increase sensitivity regarding the persecutions it has endured on three continents. So Slavic, Armenian, Arab, and African Christians are targeted by cultural genocide—so what?
WASSPness in America more generally undoubtedly is responsible also for our ho-hum attitude toward genocide of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, under the foreign policy of President Obama as endorsed and carried out by former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. In Clinton’s case, what other presidential candidate in modern times would be getting a free pass for having contributed, as Secretary of State, to genocide? Yet US efforts to support “moderate” Islamicist rebels against the Syrian government, to support the goals of allies such as Saudi Arabia, have led directly to funding and arms and aerial cover for forces killing and “cleansing” Christians and other groups from their ancient homelands, or forcing them into exile. It’s only one example of how the US remains in a state of perpetual war, even risking conflict with the world’s other greatest nuclear superpower, Russia, to support those Mideastern policies with their genocidal results. With the approaching 2016 election, the US is likely to morph even further into a one-party neoliberal/neocolonial regime pursuing such wars of aggression, under a Democratic Party incorporating the neoconservative wing of the GOP elite along with its ramped-up Wall Street backers.
Meanwhile, look in vain on campus for memorial events and speakers lamenting the centennial of the start of mass communist persecutions against various faiths and other cultures, or for the victims of genocide in the Middle East today, or even last year for recognition of the Christians singled out and killed for their faith at Umpqua Community College in the US. Affected minority faith communities in the US can expect cold or no comfort amid the centennial and current genocide supported or tolerated by the American government. American WASSPness sadly seems capable of celebrating the achievements of selected culturally genocidal regimes of the past, even while tacitly supporting by its silence genocidal policies of the US in the present. Apparently, to parallel Orwell, in the eyes of certain kinds of privilege, some murderous totalitarian systems are more equal than others.