Sometimes the confluence of events reach across the centuries. One can’t help but contemplate the flow of news against the sweep of history.
I was chatting with a local business executive Monday about how his company was faring specifically and about the economy and politics in general. Somewhere in the conversation he mentioned that his grandparents had fled the Bolshevik Revolution and I suggested he might appreciate Harrison Salisbury’s 1977 “Black Night, White Snow” history of Russia’s revolutions form 1905 to 1917. (OK, I remembered the name of the book but none of those details.)
Then, today I was reading an L.A. Times news analysis by Peter Wallsten and Jim Tankersley titled “Obama takes step over the line that separates government from private industry.”
In one passage the writers noted that Obama’s “automotive task force concluded, for example, that the Chevy Volt, the electric car being developed by General Motors Corp., would be too expensive to survive in the marketplace. It declared that GM was still relying too much on high-margin trucks and SUVs, and that Chrysler’s best hope was to merge with a foreign automaker, Fiat.
“Judgments like those are usually rendered in corporate boardrooms or announced in quarterly reports. But this time they were coming directly from the White House.”
That power and control and ruling by fiat struck a chord.
I pulled my yellowed copy of “Black Night, White Snow” from the shelf and started flipping through the chapters. I stopped on one called “Permanent Crisis,” in which Salisbury told about Vladimir Lenin’s tightening grasp on Petrograd.
This is what he described: “Lenin flung himself into a frenzy of activity. His first step was an attempt to seize control of all channels of information. Petrograd up to October 26 had enjoyed an extraordinarily free press. It represented every view from extreme reactionary to opinion far to the left of the Bolsheviks. …
“As his first act in the new Soviet of People’s Commissars Lenin presented a decree abolishing freedom of the press (freedom of the press has always been a basic Bolshevik demand) in Russia — a freedom stifled to this day. The decree called the bourgeois press a powerful weapon directed against the Soviet power, no less dangerous than bombs and machine guns. It must be quashed. Any newspaper judged antagonistic to Soviet power or charged with publishing untruthful reports about the Soviet would be suppressed and its editors tried for criminal responsibility.”
This, Lenin asserted, “would provide real freedom of the press for all and not just for the rich. It would be state aid to the people’s enlightenment and not to their stultification and deception.”
Rather like a Fairness Doctrine, right?