Jan 3rd 2018 by msgessi • 21 Questions • 38 Points
Hello, my name is Anatole Konstantin. You can click here and here to read my previous AMAs about growing up under Stalin, what life was like fleeing from the Communists, and coming to America as an immigrant. After the killing of my father and my escape from the U.S.S.R. I am here to bear witness to the cruelties perpetrated in the name of the Communist ideology.
2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Communist Revolution in Russia. My latest book, "A Brief History of Communism: The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire" is the story of the men who believed they knew how to create an ideal world, and in its name did not hesitate to sacrifice millions of innocent lives.
The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has said that the demise of the Soviet Empire in 1991 was the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century. My book aims to show that the greatest tragedy of the century was the creation of this Empire in 1917.
My grandson, Miles, is typing my replies for me.
Here is my proof.
Visit my website anatolekonstantin.com to learn more about my story and my books.
Update (4:22pm Eastern): Thank you for your insightful questions. You can read more about my time in the Soviet Union in my first book, "A Red Boyhood: Growing Up Under Stalin", and you can read about my experience as an immigrant in my second book, "Through the Eyes of an Immigrant". My latest book, "A Brief History of Communism: The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire", is available from Amazon. I hope to get a chance to answer more of your questions in the future.
Amazing work, is there a particular reason or spark that got you into chalk art specifically?
What was the status (class) of your dad before the October revolution? What were the contents of the messages he sent to people on the outside?
I went to art high school and college (Savannah College of Art and Design). There was a sidewalk chalk festival in my hometown (Savannah, GA) and I started when I was 17. After I went to college I kept doing the festival and really enjoyed the medium and temporary nature of the art form. I was commissioned by some local businesses to create chalk art for events. I then applied to a larger festival, Marietta Chalktoberfest in 2013. There were out of state artists there. I learned that there is a whole group of chalk artists that follow a circuit of festivals across the US and Europe. I have been doing it ever since!
My father was a photographer which would be middle class. The messages he sent to his parents were about his wife and children - the usual stuff discussed between parents and children. He was never involved in politics which meant that he was not a member of the Communist Party.
Cool! There’s a spot here at Easton Town Center in Ohio, it’s awesome to see all the chalk art. You should check it out for this year :)
As a history student, I've learned that there's many different explanations to why the Soviet union eventually collapsed. Whilst they probably all contributed, which do you find was the most decisive?
I think it was the spiritual crisis caused by discrepancy between the rosy propaganda and totalitarian reality that made the Soviet people lose faith in the system. I think there is a lesson in this for us.
Why wasn't Stalin assassinated?
What do you think of the Russian War effort in WW2
What do you think of Putin and his role in Syria?
What is a good book that provided a fair analysis of Communist Russia
According to rumors, Stalin was assassinated by Lavrenty Beria who arranged for a larger than normal dose of blood thinning medication be given to him. Beria felt his life was threatened when Stalin was preparing another purge of the leadership.
I am not an expert in matters of the war.
As for the book question, my new book "A Brief History of Communism" analyzes life in Communist Russia.
What if any parallels do you see in Putin's increasingly autocratic government and the Soviet government?
The fact that he is approved by 80% of the Russian population shows that because Russia never had a real democracy, an autocratic government is acceptable to a majority there and so is Putin's objective of restoring military power and influence in the world.
What party/ideology do you identify with in the US? What do you think about Bernie Sanders being painted as a communist for wanting to incorporate socialistic programs into our capitalist society?
I am in the middle of the road between the republicans and democrats.
We should differentiate between Communism and Socialism. Bernie Sanders is not a Communist. I think he would like to see a system more like what they have in Sweden, which is a monolithic society and would not work here.
As a survivor of Stalin's regime, what would you say to demonstrate how bad it really was to someone who's romanticizing the communist ideology?
Stalin's regime caused the death of over 24,000,000 of his citizens. They killed my father and many others just for writing a letter to their family abroad. They starved millions of people during artificially created famines in order to force farmers into collective farms.
I would recommend reading "Gulag: A History" by Anne Applebaum.
Do you think that the hardships you endured are related to an inherent evil in Communism? Or is it that the people in power were corrupt?
What I mean is, do you think in a perfect world Communism would work and the problem is we are imperfect creatures, or is Communism evil even if it is implemented perfectly?
Considering that the same system in other countries like China, Cuba, and Cambodia led to the same results, it shows that it was the system that is incompatible with human nature. It couldn't be implemented in any other way. Powerful people in other ideologies are also corrupt and yet they did not murder millions of their own citizens.
What is your opinion on educated people in America who openly support communism, as well as dictators and their dictatorship?
As the son of a Cuban whose family was prosecuted and killed in Cuba, it infuriates me to hear people who praise those like Castro. So many people see only what they want to see.
Edit: after some responses and questions I went to talk to my father about the family history. Turns out my direct family (grandfather, pregnant grandmother) left Cuba because my grandfather, a doctor, helped both Batista's men and the men they were fighting during a shootout. Batista put 500,000$ on my grandfather's head for aiding the others. They also disagreed with Batista and later Castro, who ran the rest of my family out of Cuba.
My father said to relay a few things, first that Batista was bad, no denying that, but Castro was worse in his opinion. Batista was a murderer, but he mostly just messed with the political class and left the rest alone if they didn't interfere with the money. Castro messed with everyone, and ran the country into the ground.
My grandfather, Maximo/Luly Viera, was smuggled out, while his cousin Mingolo was not. Mingolo was on Batista's bad side, so he was caught, shot 150 times, and thrown on his mother's front porch.
Edit 2: My father said to post, if communism was so good they wouldn't need fences and walls and machine guns to keep people in.
I think these people are not sufficiently educated because schools are not doing a good job teaching history. I wish history teachers themselves knew more about what went on. Those who don't know the past are liable to repeat it.
Hi Mr. Konstantin,
Thank you for making yourself available for an AMA. I stumbled late onto your AMA last year and commented on how influential your book was to me while I was in high school. Your grandson Miles came across my message on that thread and reached out to me last week that you'll be doing an AMA and again reached out earlier today to let me know it was up - thank you, Miles! This actually reminded me the book would be a great gift for my sister who is interested in studying 20th century history - I found the last hardcopy on amazon at the moment :D
I have a few questions if you are able to answer:
Are you still speaking at local schools on life in the USSR? Do you have comments from speaking with students/teachers on your life? You comment on how education does not sufficiently emphasize lessons from history, and I think hearing and seeing someone speak, or writing personal accounts, will likely always be a lesson that finds more connection than watching an aged documentary or reading from a dry school textbook.
Apart from writing, do you have other hobbies?
Do you think communist or other harsh political ideologies would be harder or easier to find root today compared to the early 20th century?
Thank you - best of luck to you and your family in your business and personal endeavors!
Thank you for your message.
I am no longer speaking in schools, but I am still being interviewed occasionally in local libraries. I found that most history teachers I met are not knowledgable about Communism and therefore their students are not familiar with it.
As for hobbies, I try to follow scientific developments in all areas.
I think that with jobs being lost to automation and artificial intelligence it may become easier in the future for these ideologies to take root.
Is it communism or dictatorship and lack of free speech that made life under Stalin so bad? Can you have a democratic communist country with free speech?
A Communist system cannot tolerate another political party or ideology. Therefore, perhaps only after they exterminate all of their opponents, they would accept "free speech" from their supporters.
Do you think Troksky would have been able to bring about a more wholesome, successful, and supportive form of socialism than Lenin did?
Since Trotsky wrote, "The Red Terror is a weapon used against a class that, despite being doomed to destruction, does not wish to perish," I do not think that his rule would be any more benevolent than Lenin's.
What do you feel about the current state of the American hard left? And the polarization of the political landscape in general?
I think that the hard left is balanced by the hard right and neither are compatible with democracy as we know it. This is the most polarized time in our history and I think this too shall pass.
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this! Your insights are fascinating and I'm definitely hoping to pick up your book soon!
Do you think there are any artistic/fictional representations of life under Stalin's regime that have a particular resonance with your experiences?
Yes, there is a Russian movie with english subtitles that is called "Burnt by the Sun" which is available on Amazon.