On the London Underground there’s a station towards the eastern end of the Central line called Gants Hill. Generally tube stations have unremarkable designs and so I take little or no notice of my surroundings as I pass through one, but Gants Hill is a station that had me looking up and around with a quizzical brow. It has a large barrel-vault ceiling that looms over you as you emerge onto the open concourse, which is flanked either side by the platforms. Gants Hill’s interior is significantly different to the formulaic designs of most other underground stations. I noticed there was a poster (pictured) that explains the unusual design of Gants Hill station, it read:
“In the 1930’s London Underground advised on the design of Stalin’s Moscow Metro, which is why the magnificent barrel-vaulted halls of Gants Hill station echo its Russian counterparts. Discover more comrades at the new Museum.”
I certainly found this explanation interesting from an architectural point of view, but what I found even more interesting was the poster itself, its tone and what, in my view, I think it indicates about our society. But before I go into that, let’s remind and/or enlighten ourselves about Joseph Stalin.
Joseph Stalin was the first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s Central Committee, from 1922 until his death in 1953. According to wikipedia, estimates for the number of people killed under Stalin’s regime range from 3 million (the figure from official soviet records) to 60 million, broadly as a result of either famine or state execution. The fact is no one will ever know exactly how many people died, – most historians estimates are much more than 3 million however – but whatever it was it remains a truly horrifying number of extinguished human souls.
Between 1936 and 1938 Stalin orchestrated what was known as “The Great Purge”, which was a series of campaigns of political repression and persecution in the Soviet Union. The Great Purge led to “Hundreds of thousands of victims being accused of various political crimes (espionage, wrecking, sabotage, anti-Soviet agitation, conspiracies to prepare uprisings and coups) and then executed by shooting, or sent to the Gulag labor camps. Many died at the penal labor camps due to starvation, disease, exposure, and overwork. Other methods of dispatching victims were used on an experimental basis. One secret policeman, for example, gassed people to death in batches in the back of a specially adapted airtight van.”
It’s really the stuff of nightmares, but it was all too real of course for those who had the misfortune of being alive during Stalin’s reign in Russia. Stalin, it would seem, was an abhorrent, deranged sociopath with no regard for human life who was capable of sanctioning the most unimaginable acts of violence.
With this in mind, is it not rather perverse that Stalin could be mentioned in such a nonchalant manner on a public poster about barrel-vaulting? One that uses the word ‘comrades’ in a derogatory manner as if to suggest being a Communist/Socialist was a crazy idea that some silly foreign people had in the olden days. Can you imagine a poster that mentioned Harold Shipman, Myra Hindley or some other notorious serial killer in such a frivolous manner? Perhaps something like this:
“Being a patient of Harold Shipman was murder, and we know being on the tube in the summer sometimes can be too, that’s why you should carry a bottle of water with you at all times.”
Do you think an idea for a poster such as this would not be considered distasteful and morally objectionable by London Underground management? Of course it would. I would certainly be happy to bet that such a poster would never see the light of day. And yet a light-hearted poster that pokes fun of Communism/Stalinism is acceptable despite the fact that this was a period in human history in which tens of millions of people were brutally slaughtered. I can only imagine what someone whose parents or friends were murdered under Stalin’s regime might think when they see this poster. I imagine I would feel a certain revulsion at seeing that large red star. Just as someone whose mother or father was killed by Harold Shipman might feel if they were to see my hypothetical poster with the face of Harold Shipman on it.
The question is then, how can we explain such inconsistent and contradictory ethics? I think the answer is in how people think about violence. Those who believe The State/Government is benevolent necessarily create a disconnect, a separation in their minds between violence committed by politicians/rulers/leaders (those in power) and violence committed by citizens (those not in power). In reality there is no difference between violence by politicians and violence by citizens – violence is violence. But in most people’s minds (the minds damaged by 11 years of State ‘education’ and by the beliefs of their parents) there is a difference, which is sufficient enough to enable a group of people to produce a frivolous public poster belittling a human tragedy like Stalinist Russia and think nothing objectionable of it.
I think nationalism (another effect of statism) to some degree has played a part in this instance too, as people generally tend to feel less empathy towards people and events in other countries, even more so when they are historical. Wherever someone is from their nation’s pain and suffering is always the greater and always considered first above any others’, not for any rational reason of course but simply due to the sense of belonging that the delusion of nationality creates.
The most damaging effect of all this is that belittling violence only helps to further disguise it from our moral safeguards by softening, distorting and moulding it into something that passes our ethical tests. Once it’s done that it can roam freely throughout the minds of people, strengthening the poisonous idea that some violence is not violence.
In today’s world there’s an almost complete lack of moral sensitivity to State/Government violence, we barely recognise it. And even when we do recognise it we think those instances in history in far away lands are somehow fundamentally different to anything that happened or is happening in our society.
It is my hope that a few generations from now the self contradictory rule, some violence is not violence, that has been unwittingly injected passed down from generation to generation and reinforced by State education will no longer exist. It is my hope that the painful experience of the inevitable collapse of democracies based on state-controlled capitalism will leave people with no choice other than to replace the ethical rule, some violence is not violence, with violence is violence. Only then will people finally feel something objectionable about producing a poster belittling State/Government violence. But for now, State/Government initiated violence will continue to masquerade as something-not-quite-like-violence in the minds of good people.