I’ve been reading Victor Serge’s From Lenin to Stalin the past couple days. The hagiography of Lenin is desperate–Serge really wanted to believe the revolution had been betrayed instead of Stalin being its natural consequence–but his portrait of Stalin is one of the better ones. It’s interesting to read as a historical document, especially his assertion that Lenin’s would-be assassin Fanny Kaplan was still alive at the time of publication. (Note: She wasn’t, she’d been shot almost immediately in 1918.) Lenin was a masterful liar and manipulator, dedicated to Marxism no less than to the myth of his own inerrancy, and the only thing that saved him from becoming Stalin was his relatively early death.
What’s also interesting is the absolute predictability of abusive, fascist shitheels. They all operate off the same playbook. The revolution that survives long enough eats its young and becomes tomorrow’s dictatorship. Those who survive the revolution and profit from the exhaustion afterward aren’t the bravest, the brightest, or the best–they’re the most violent, the ones most capable of pulling levers in committees, the ones who can terrify a group into submission to their whims, the already-advantaged. All this led me to a realization.
I am struck, over and over again, by the type of the Little Man.
The Little Man is a bigot, soaked in toxic patriarchy and raised to believe he is superior but prey to a gnawing sense that his benefit on an uneven playing field means he is secretly weak. (It’s true, but telling him so carries a high risk of being brutalized or shot.) He is the absolute autocrat of his home–or tries to be, and any resistance to his rule is met with overwhelming violence, at first emotionally but then, inevitably, physically. On a larger scale, resistance to his primacy is met with discrimination and violence against women, different skin colors or cultures, or anyone not prepared to ritually lick his boots. If he is rich, his sense of grievance is doubled by the gnawing suspicion of weakness, and if he became rich by trumpeting that sense of grievance, it becomes the hill he will, if at all possible, force others to die upon.
I grew up under the heel of a Little Man. There is practically no difference between his regime and Stalin’s, it’s only a matter of degree. The domestic tyrant’s only variance from the nation’s dictator is scale.
Resistance to the Little Man’s rule is at once treated as trifling and overwhelmingly dangerous. Stalin’s regime at once believed that “Trotskyism” was weak, ineffective, stupid–and so overwhelmingly powerful that only mass arrests and shootings held any chance of eradicating it. The domestic tyrant belittles his victims, calling them weak and stupid, but at the same time malicious and crafty enough to bring down all order within the house. The cognitive dissonance is overwhelming–the victims are at once all-powerful and powerless, a threat to be met with overwhelming force and mere insects easily crushed. He must be at once infallible as a ruler and endangered by the machinations of the weak. For example, let’s not forget Lenin saw the NEP as merely a temporary stopgap, and planned to go back to shooting peasants and confiscating grain as soon as politically feasible; his sole concern was making his backtracking seem like something he’d endorsed all along and making sure the violence would be, too. Or that Stalin’s bugbear Trotsky was everywhere and nowhere at once, the original 1984 Goldstein. Or the current administration’s harping on “Muslim terrorists.”
The Little Man desires, wants, needs to be a god. He will have nothing around him but cringing servility, but when faced with an external authority he becomes the servile cringer. He abuses his spouse, his children, his mistress with seeming impunity, but also threatens them to keep their mouths shut. Sunshine on his private peccadilloes is feared above all else. A totalitarian state, seemingly all-powerful, menaces its citizens with divide-and-conquer and the threat of nine grams of lead–but sunshine on its inner workings lights the fuse of resistance. The Little Man craves legitimacy, and will beat, murder, rape, and rob until he has a facsimile of it.
Above all, the Little Man requires that his victims not only submit physically but emotionally, spiritually, invisibly. It wasn’t enough for the tyrant I grew up under that I was physically incapable of fleeing, that I stopped outward resistance after a protracted beating. He wished, he required, that I make my debasement complete by thanking him for his abuse, flattering his vanity, telling him he was right. The ritual–first physical abuse, then mental and emotional debasement–was set in stone, and refusing to submit to the latter half inevitably brought more physical abuse. The tyrant, domestic or national, wishes to be told he is the best, the biggest, the smartest, the bravest, the alpha and the omega. He wishes hosannas of praise to temporarily drown out consciousness of his final impotence, to temporarily salve the consciousness of playing a game rigged for his benefit and hence meaningless.
God, to the Little Man, is merely the Little Man in charge, made in his image, given lip service. Freedom, to the Little Man, is merely his own to force compliance on others. Justice, to the Little Man, is the deck stacked in his favor and the victims adoring and thanking him. The Little Man is a workplace harasser, a domestic batterer, a domestic terrorist, a fascist functionary, a totalitarian dictator. Again, the only difference between all those species is of degrees, the size of their victim pool. A group of Little Men will smile and scrape at their leader until the time seems right for knives in the dark, then the next Little Man will take his place.
Oh, I grew up with a Little Man. I dated several of them. I married one, and divorced him posthaste. I’ve worked for them, I’ve seen them in power, I’ve had to deal with them every moment of my life. I know their games, their inadequacies, their vanities. I was forced to learn all about them to survive. It’s faint comfort to be able to predict them.
I’ll leave further, obvious comparison to current events and regimes to your own imagination, dear Reader. I’m tired, and there’s a run to get in and work to do. Reading history makes me cynical, and leaves me with only one thought.
May all the gods save us from Little Men.