The Soviet Hunger Games
Leslie Ford /
The Hunger Games has captured the imagination of the entire nation. The book-turned-movie is set in a dystopian world where 12 districts are held under the tyrannical rule of a far-distant Capital. To keep the districts from rebellion, the Capital uses an age-old tactic to manipulate the people: constant fear of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and death.
A very real hunger game took place during most of the past century in the Soviet Union. From 1917 to 1991, the Soviet Union was controlled from Moscow, which subjugated the 14 nations surrounding Russia. The Soviet dream of a worker-led utopian paradise led to families ripped apart by the secret police in the night, gulags filled with thousands of prisoners convicted for whispering their dissent, and 20 million murdered.
In the 1940s, the hero rebelling against tyranny was not a young girl but a brilliant middle-aged journalist named Whittaker Chambers, who was born this coming Sunday, April 1,1901.
Though he had been a spy for the Soviet Union, the terror of Stalin’s reign drove Chambers to reject communism root and branch. Chambers testified to the terrors of communism and the choice to turn away:
On one side of that moment were nearly forty years of human waste on all paths and goat paths of 20th-century error and action. On the other side was humility and liberation, the sense that the strength would be given me to do whatever I must do, go wherever I must go.
In 1948, Chambers stunned the world with his autobiography Witness, where he wrote that “what I had been fell from me like dirty rags.” In it, Chambers exposed the Soviet dream: to control society and remold human nature.
Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chambers still has lessons for the modern world. As Richard Reinsch writes, “Chamber’s enduring relevance abides in his diagnosis of a West ‘sick to death’ from philosophical and religious choices.” Though communism is no longer a threat to the West, the administrative state grows stronger as our civil society becomes increasingly frail. We still are in need of Chambers’ Witness.