On a cold February morning in 1970, a long-haired hippie boarded a plane at the Bombay airport and flew to Athens. His clothes, accent, and companions seemed like graphic proof of his self-proclaimed lifestyle: “traveling India and smoking hash.” But unlike other hippies disembarking the plane, this particular man was met by CIA agents and debriefed. His name was Yuri Bezmenov. He had been a KGB agent and informant for the USSR—but upon entering Greece, he became a defector.
Bezmenov was born to a high-ranking Soviet officer and lived a privileged childhood. He studied languages and Indian culture at Moscow State University and underwent mandatory military training. Eventually he ended up working for a Soviet press agency in India—and simultaneously working as a KGB informant.
Bezmenov began to love his Indian home, which led to a growing horror for his duties as an agent. Eventually, defection became his only option. For several months, he stayed in hiding in the most unexpected place: a hippie commune inhabited by tourists. It was his best chance for escape and survival, as “nobody could possibly think that the Soviet diplomat would be as crazy as to join a bunch of hippies.” From the commune he slipped into a tour group and boarded the plane for Athens.
After adopting a new identity and being granted asylum in Canada, Bezmenov went on to deliver lectures about his role in the KGB, detailing the strategies that he used to spread disinformation and the ways that societies could offer resistance. Bezmenov’s past as a KGB agent gave him unique insight into some of the dark realities of what allows communism to flourish and grow, which in turn helps to clarify the true nature of this murderous ideology.
For Bezmenov, deceit is the key factor that makes totalitarianism viable. He believed that communist ideology could not flourish unless enough individuals first compromised their values. This does not necessarily require large, dramatic lies—merely an overall willingness to cooperate with an untruth. In an interview, Bezmenov described the individuals the KGB sought out: “cynical, egocentric people who can look into your eyes with angelic expression and tell you a lie. These are the most recruitable people: people who lack moral principles, who are either too greedy or too [greatly] suffer from self-importance.”
His assessment makes sense: the effects of communism throughout history serve as a testament to the ideas that must be present before it can occur. It arises when enough individuals choose to take the easy path, to look the other way, to remain silent. Only then is the road paved for those more outrightly resentful and murderous. From there, the mass starvations in Cambodia, the forced abortions in China, and the gulags of the Soviet Union are no longer unimaginable. Bloodshed becomes a distinct reality.
How do we respond? Bezmenov has an answer to this as well. If communism is only made possible when a community is willing to cooperate with a lie, the task is to create and promote an environment devoted to the truth. Through a commitment to virtue at the individual level—cultivating a life aimed at the transcendent good—anyone can actively combat the evils connected to communism. Bezmenov advises, “Strike with the power of your spirit and moral superiority. If you don’t have that power, it’s high time to develop it.” The message may seem simple, but embedded within it is an undertaking that will last a lifetime.
It is a message we hear repeated from many who have studied or experienced communism. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in The Gulag Archipelago, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” His challenge is clear: change begins from within.
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, a longtime scholar of murderous ideologies, gives similar advice. “To overcome tyranny and malevolence, and chaos and nihilism and the desire to bring everything to a halt, you have to repair the fissures and the rift that’s in your own soul.” Only then can we begin to hope for true freedom.
The fight is not yet over, and it isn’t just affecting those living in the five still-remaining communist countries either. Instead, we all have a duty to engage in personal change. This is not a directive reserved for a select few. It’s a hopeful pursuit, however. If the countermeasure to communism is a life aimed at the highest good, to fight against that murderous ideology is also to cultivate a brighter and more virtuous future.