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”The Wild Children” by Felice Holman

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“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

The latter, rather confrontational quote was written by Winston Churchill in an attempt to describe the provocative state that communism entailed, more specifically the provocative state Russia had become after the Civil War of 1818 and furthermore as Joseph Stalin began his term as head of the newly formed, USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). Unequivocally, one of the strongest examples of this quote is the mass presence of homeless children that plagued communist Russia throughout its history. Known as the Bezprizorni, or wild children, these young adults and small children alike, became homeless as they lost their only relatives to the government directed Great Purge and the famines and wars that beset the people of this “Great Union”. “The Wild Children”, a book written by Felice Holman, depicts the life of a boy, Alex, whom becomes one of these bezprozorni after his family is taken away by the secret police.

This great piece of literature not only captures the great struggle that these children had to face, but the plight all Russians had to succumb to in Communist Russia. How the communist leaders demanded utmost obedience and control over all factors of life and the lives of their comrades. How one was to be merely a comrade and nothing different, disallowing individualism, ownership and any aspirations or hope. How one was coerced not to think for themselves and rather blindly obey the position and perspectives of the leadership of Russia. How one was not to accept but rather, appreciate everything, they were to receive, without thought or hopes to something better. It ultimately, expresses the human desires and needs that are unaccounted for in a communistic society and proves it’s inevitable disambiguation; a theoretically possible, yet realistically implausible government form that aims at the equalization of all the social conditions of life.

The achievement of this goal required much more than equalizing property. It called for the communistic leaders to assume utter control over all forms of influence of the people and economic factors of the nation. The communist leaders, firstly, removed the magisterium of the Catholic Church as it controlled far too much undaunted influence. An influence, the communists hoped to assume in their absence. Furthermore, though they did not restrict religious practice, they hoped that in removing its structure and restricting religious gatherings, that religion would slowly lack any company in Russian life. Additionally, with the protective deans of the church removed, faith and hope in religion was greatly reduced, as noted when Alex journeys to Katriana’s. “He passed the old church… and thought he could run in and ask the help of the old priest…But just as quickly[,] the idea was trampled by the true recollection of a night a few years ago when the soldiers had stormed the church… Hundreds of the faithful had fought to try and save the ikons but were beaten and the ringleaders shot.” [Holman, p. 5]

Nevertheless, the communist regime was unable to control everything, which was essential to the theoretical world communism tried to create, causing grotesque inefficiencies and inabilities in concept, forcing unjustified consequences. For example, “The weather blocked Moscow from food from the outside” [Holman, p.74] causing herds of wild children and other peasants to move further south for new ways to find and acquire food. This food being rationed for other areas besides the mouths of these starving, migrating Russians, thus, causing inefficiencies and forcing the action and involvement of the military. Most disheartening to the government, however, was their inability to quell individualism and the western ideas of capitalism in its simplest forms for, as Kostia enigmatically put it, “We have to find opportunity where we find it…” [Holman, p. 66] Truly, proving the presence of natural human perseverance, the assistance it finds in capitalistic acts and the struggle the individual had against the state in communist Russia. For, “All government — indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act — is founded on compromise and barter,” unduly to the contrary of the universal control communist Russia tried to obtain and there forth maintain. Neither were ever achievable for the individual was the victor, and rightfully so.

Individualism was therein the ultimate enemy of the state, as it incited disobedience in the forms of aspirations and ownership. In a communistic society, the leaders were to be the only aspirants, and the only justified holders of perspective. Perspectives, in which all others were to share or at least act as though they did or suffer the consequences, “You would be wiser, Alex, not to think about whether this government was better or worse. If you live your life in an orderly and honest way, be obedient, do your work well, and mind your own business you will prosper.” [Holman, p. 4] Furthermore, the communists chose to ignore the fruits of possession and the natural human desire to possess that which he/she earns or creates. A prevalent attachment to objects and other beings is the nature of all humans and is demonstrated when Boris scolds a boy for taking hemp seed that belonged to “his bird” [Holman, p. 46] and when the chemist, in protection of his goods, begs Ivan to take leave from “his store”[Holman p. 59].

These natural possessive urges can only be eliminated through the removal of our most primal and cherished possessions: our thoughts and will, therefore our individuality. For, “Man is a being of free will [and yearns to be individuated]. Man can choose to think, drift, or evade — but choose he must. His thoughts determine: his character, his values, his emotions, and his actions, and so his thoughts determine his destiny.” It is in this yearning to be individuated and separate as we are, that pride arouses and empowers the struggle to be admired for ones differences and abilities. To be individual! Something that is implausible in a society where everyone is equal and only a predetermined few are aspirants. The Bezprizorni knew this well, and Kostia put it rather simply, “As soon as the government does something for you, you are a slave. The bezprizorni are not slaves, at least.” [Holman, p. 111] This is a rather crude yet substantial claim for “Individualism is not opposed to man living in society. Individualism is opposed to man living in society as a slave.”

Lenin and Stalin were unable to directly destroy individualism but did have the ability to directly quell reason, as it was a main component to revolt and venture. It was combated with both propaganda and military presence that successfully developed a habitual ignorance in Russians to the extremity of their surroundings and the political climate. Unfortunately, for the communist party, reason and choice are inseparable clauses to life for “man is a rational animal, and reality dictates that to survive, man must be rational – by choice.” In the single, first page of the novel, Alex demonstrates his underlying obedient, yet questioning, reasoning nature, seeing no need for argument. As so, instead of protesting their lose of free will and reason, many Russians embraced it. Alex demonstrates this when he begins his two day trek to Moscow on foot, without money or food and a mere 24 hours previously, he had awoken to be both family-less and homeless.

Yet, “Alex [simply] tried to pretend he was on a great adventure to a foreign land, a pioneer, an explorer, a discoverer.”[Holman, p. 25] He even ventures to imagine, “[combating] wolves” [Holman, p.25], posing the question which would he rather face, wolves or reality? During the trek he also chewed snow to give “him the illusion of eating” [ Holman, p.27] and the more he tried not to think about food, the harder it became, angering him that he had to dwell upon the subject and the reality it imposed. Moreover, as Alex drew closer to urban Moscow he states, “he had found, long ago, that squinting made things less real, and he did it now without thinking”, [Holman, p.35] truly the strongest indictment for ignorance is truly bliss in communist Russia.

Bliss, however, was an emotion far felt by Russians in the bittersweet chill that was communism as it continued to freeze their wills and emotions, albeit through ignorance, as aforementioned. In fact, some of our most cherished, philanthropic emotions such as appreciation and charity were actually rejected in communist Russia. This truly being extremely ironic as the whole point of communism, ultimately, was to share and truly care about one another. However, the generous act of supplying everyone with equal food eventually stagnates in the hearts of people, as we are possessive and eventually we will “hunger” for more, better or simply different options. Alex demonstrates this when he begins to eat as a waif and regrets throwing away his burnt oatmeal and crusts, previously giving no appreciation to them, “a piece of bread the size, Alex thought, of a crust he might leave on his plate in the morning or toss to the birds.”[Holman, p. 46] Additionally, though equality of incomes can ensure certain equal economic outcomes there is a trade off that further proves the implausibility of communism. It is that, when incomes approach equality, productivity declines.

For in a capitalistic society, people, as Prof. Arthur Laffer eloquently put it, work to make money to support themselves, not to pay taxes. Moreover, as the degree of economic inequality (or a more “acceptable” term, equality of opportunity) rises, productivity consequently increases. For when all incomes become equal there is nothing to achieve by working harder or longer, sequentially causing people to become idle. In all, the lack of anything albeit “equal” portions of food and money, restrict charity and generosity even though we as humans are compassionate and naturally are inclined to share. This is unequivocally understood after Peter’s pleas for the old women to do something about Miska’s fatal sickness, cause her to reply in resignation, “Don’t scream at me! I’m just an old woman who has to live, too. I do my job.” This “Disincentification” was the final step to bringing humans to become robots of society or more appropriately, slaves of society.

Communism is truly a superimposing form of government that is unrealistic, implausible and unachievable. It calls for the equality of people to who all possess different feelings, beliefs and most importantly abilities and traits. It calls upon the abolishment of possessiveness, applicable only when we lose all emotions and reason. It calls upon people to free themselves of worry and rationale, yet plagues people with force and supplies rights to none. Furthermore, in its attempt to equalize and share the resources of a nation with all, it incites division, possessiveness, greed, parsimoniousness, idleness and hatred. Finally, it calls humans, individuals, peoples to be that which WE cannot, inhuman. To be without hopes, thoughts, visions, beliefs, purpose or love.

Communism is truly an impossibility, a trick of the mind, and all attempts of it have failed or are failing. The Soviet Union fell, as did the Eastern Bloc, as did the Berlin Wall. North Korea is starving to death, while China becomes more and more capitalistic with every passing day and Cuba remains in poverty under a dictator responsible for numerous massacres and other human rights violations. In the words of Ronald Reagan, communism is indeed evil, and remains the only system, which requires a wall and armed guards to hold its people in. First, it denies freedom to individuals, liberty if you will, after which everything else follows…

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