The Sunday Book Review

J.R. Nyquist reviews Comrade J by Peter Earley:

At the end of Pete Earley’s book, Comrade J, Russian master spy Sergei Tretyakov tells why he defected to the United States seven years ago. It had to do with his “growing disgust and contempt for what has happened and is happening in Russia.” According to Tretyakov, he and his wife were not naïve about the “immorality, cruelty, repression, and ineffectiveness” of the former Soviet regime. “Yet it was our motherland,” he said, “which, like your parents, you cannot choose.” He was hopeful when Gorbachev arrived on the scene. “I believed that Gorbachev would start a new era of democratization in the Soviet Union.” The outcome of Gorbachev’s reforms, however, was hardly encouraging. “The economy collapsed, and people became desperate and miserable,” Tretyakov explained. “Since then Russia has been repeatedly raped and looted by its leadership. I call this process GENOCIDE of the Russian people performed by a group of immoral criminals.”

In this column I often attempt to describe the dangerous thugs who dominate Russia. In response I regularly receive outraged emails. Why should I write about corruption and tyranny in Russia when the real corruption and tyranny is here in the United States? It is hard to argue with ignorance, especially when that ignorance is bolstered by ideological presumption. No country is perfect, to be sure; but let us consider the testimony of someone who knows both Russia and America. Sergei Tretyakov was a Russian master spy who spent many years in New York. He is in a better position to judge which country is free, and which is governed by criminals who ruthless exploit the people.

“I want my new compatriots to know who and what I am, and why I am in this country,” wrote Tretyakov. “Speaking out enables me to give my qualifications, and after giving them, I can sound an alarm.” According to Tretyakov Americans think the Kremlin is an ally, a friend. “In speaking out,” he wrote, “I hope to expose how naïve this is.” Since he and his family have become American citizens, Tretyakov said he has been offended by natural-born Americans who take their liberties for granted. He wrote: “Sometimes I believe only someone who has lived in a corrupt society can truly understand the importance of America’s liberties. I find this frustrating.”

I had an opportunity to talk last Wednesday night with a courageous man from Russia, Dr. Andrei Illarionov, who previously served as Vladimir Putin’s senior economic advisor. In December 2005 Illarionov surprised the world by stating, at a press conference, that Russia “is no longer a democratic country. It is no longer a free country.” Needless to say, Illarionov left the Kremlin. He is now a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. He told me that the problem with Russia was not the imposition of a new system of strict authoritarian rules. “The most important element in this new system,” he explained, “is the absence of the rule of law.”

The old totalitarianism in Russia was, as George Orwell described it, “a lawless order.” The new totalitarianism is a lawless disorder. “In the case of modern Russia,” Illarionov explained, “there is no rule of law and no rule of man. In Russia it is the rule of thugs. It is not the rule of one person…. It is rule by people who in most civilized countries would be [in jail].”

During the past century Russia has not developed a solid, civil society. It has descended from tsarism to Stalinism down to a regime of competing thugs. Before coming to power Stalin robbed banks. He was a Georgian thug who stole power. His example was contagious, spreading throughout Russia like a plague. “Socialism was not a great system,” Illarionov said. “It was a dictatorship. It was a terrorist type system.” The men at the top were thugs, perhaps, but there were rules. “As long as you followed those rules you had a high level of safety,” Illarionov added. “Today nobody knows the rules.”

Yet there is a rule, if you can call it a rule: The Kremlin regularly seizes control of companies that are making the most money simply because they are cash cows – ready to be milked. “The criteria,” said Illarionov, “is to take companies that can generate cash.” He further explained: If society develops from nomadic banditry to stationary banditry to a civilized state, then Russia is going backwards.

“In Russia,” said Illarionov, “we see an enormous destruction of civil society, but sometimes we see very impressive economic growth. We see one of the fastest growing economies in the world.” According to the best theories of political and economic science this shouldn’t be happening. “So we have to ask if some new law, new pattern, is observable in Russia.”

Andrei Illarionov is a brave man, and so is Sergei Tretyakov. Both these men are trying to warn us about the same thing. History teaches that rulers who rob and butcher their own citizens will not hesitate to bomb and invade their neighbors. It must be remembered that the thugs in the Kremlin have thermonuclear weapons. They are improving these weapons, day by day. They arm terrorists throughout the world. They are supporting North Korea, Venezuela and Iran. And here is what I find most disturbing. Illarionov pointed out that “George Bush sees Vladimir Putin as his personal friend.”

This is a mystery, and Dr. Illarionov has no “good explanation for why it is so.” It is normal for Western governments to isolate gangster regimes. But the Kremlin has not been isolated. The Kremlin has murdered or poisoned various Russian and Ukrainian politicians. The facts are widely known. “Anyone who would behave remotely similar would be immediately isolated,” said Illarionov. But Russia has not been isolated.

“It is something really special,” Illarionov conceded. Russia is growing economically while breaking free of the pattern of civilized life. This is reminiscent of Nazi Germany. It creates a psychological feeling within Russia, a sense of superiority. “All those people believe they have found a way to make a successful political system,” Illarionov warned. It makes violence and banditry seem like a workable alternative to civilization. People begin to believe that banditry has a future. Why not become a looter? Why not follow the bandit’s example?

From all of this we learn that the struggle for freedom is also a struggle for law and order. It is also a struggle against moral nihilism. Civilization exists because of standards. These standards refer to “right” and “wrong.” If there is no objective right and wrong, recognized as a basis for the rule of law, civilized society cannot long endure.

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