Jon Atack

No copyright is asserted in this work, save that it must be published in full attributing it to the author - Jon Atack - and that it may not be published or distributed in the UK without the authors prior written consent. Quotations are taken from Milan Kunderas The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Faber & Faber, London, 1985 edition.

Fanatics - a quick comparison of Scientology and Soviet Communism

A few months ago, I finally read Milan Kunderas remarkable novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which is set in the Prague Spring and the resultant Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Somehow the movie, although splendid, cannot encompass the profundity of the novel. Here is a great work about human nature and about that perverse stain on the twentieth century called Bolshevism. Elsewhere, I have commented that both the Nazis and the Bolsheviks were destructive cult groups and can be assessed using the criteria established by Robert Lifton and Margaret Singer (see, for example, Singers excellent Cults in Our Midst). Whether cult groups are based in therapy, religion, sales or politics makes little difference to their practices. These practices are based upon exploitative persuasion.

But those who keep the system running are not necessarily manipulative cynics. They are true believers, with the highest motives. Kundera sums up the nature of all fanaticism well in this paragraph:

Anyone who thinks that the Communist regimes of Central Europe are exclusively the work of criminals is overlooking a basic truth: the criminal regimes were made not by criminals but by enthusiasts convinced they had discovered the only road to paradise. They defended that road so valiantly that they were forced to execute many people. Later it became clear that there was no paradise, that the enthusiasts were therefore murderers.

The Road to Paradise? Hmm.

In October 1995, I had the good fortune to attend a conference held by the Dialog Centre International in Berlin. Among the other speakers was my friend professor Alexander Dvorkin. In his talk, professor Dvorkin quite readily used terms which I associate with Soviet communism. He lived under the Soviet sysem and so has no difficulty in seeing Scientologys similarity to it (perhaps it is unsurprising that when Dianetics arrived in Russia one of its first advocates was the head of the KGB). In his talk, Dvorkin referred to Knowledge Reports as denunciations. Now, I knew that the Hitler Youth were encouraged to report their parents, but here was a different parallel to Hubbards totalitarian system. Kundera reminded me of the Latey child custody case in England, where the parents parental capacity had been assessed by the cult in accordance with their performance as Scientologists and nothing more. The Soviet system had its equivalent, as Kundera shows:

Assessing the populace, checking up on it, is a principal and never-ending social activity in Communist countries. If a painter is to have an exhibition, an ordinary citizen to receive a visa to a country with a sea coast, a soccer player to join the national team, then a vast array of recommendations and reports must be garnered (from the concierge, colleagues, the police, the local Party organization, the pertinent trade union) and added up, weighed, and summarized by special officials. These reports have nothing to do with artistic talent, kicking ability, or maladies that respond well to salt sea air; they deal with one thing only: the citizens political profile (in other words, what the citizen says, what he thinks, how he behaves, how he acquits himself at meetings or May Day parades). Because everything (day-to-day existence, promotion at work, vacations) depends on the outcome of the assessment process, eveyone (whether he wants to play soccer for the national team, have an exhibition, or spend holidays at the seaside) must behave in such a way as to deserve a favorable assessment.

Scientology also has the Completed Staff Work (how did Hubbard think up these grotesque terms? But then Orwell points out in 1984 that Newspeak has to be ugly) or CSW which staff members or course students must fill out prior to being given a leave of absence. How will the loyal party member get his stats up when he returns from vacation?

A few years ago, I spoke with an Eastern European who had walked out of a cult training programme. He asked his supervisor why Scientology used Stalinist brainwashing and was met with the usual who told you that? He replied that no-one had told him. He had lived under the regime, and had seen it in practice in the cult during his training. In the Soviet countries, he said, he had learned to think one thing, say another and act out yet a third. And in the Sea Org he saw this all the time. We have much to learn from our friends in Eastern Europe!

Jon Atack,
februari 1996