Heaven and Hell (1) 0

What persuaded us to believe that socialism, having begun everywhere so badly, should possess the power to reform itself into something better? To be something other than it has been? To pass through the inferno of its Stalinist tragedies to become the paradiso of our imaginations? – from a letter by David Horowitz

Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it – from ‘Dr. Faustus’, by Christopher Marlowe

Hell is other people – from ‘No Exit’, by Jean-Paul Sartre

*

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the years of the New Left, there was a commune of young revolutionaries in Vienna, housed in a beautiful old building with wide curving stairways and grand halls, monuments to the skills of architects and builders, and to the achievements of owners who had won fortunes in manufacturing, commerce, and the professions round the turn of the twentieth century, in the belle époque.

When the communards moved into one of the spacious apartments – as squatters, not rent-paying tenants – its walls were richly clad with glowing, dark, polished wood paneling. They tore it off. They considered it ‘too bourgeois’. Holes remained where the panels had been pinned into the brick. The communards – every one of them born of bourgeois parents who indulged and supported their idleness, along with the welfare state that the affluent young revolutionaries ached to overthrow – said they liked the damaged look because it ‘proletarianized’ the apartment.

One wall only they had repaired: the holes filled in, the surface plastered smoothly. There they planned to paint a mural. One of them drew a vertical line down the middle. On the left they would depict Hell, and on the right, Heaven.

They started (‘There’s an artist in all of us’, they opined) painting their vision of Hell, but soon became disappointed with the way it was shaping up and decided to hire a professional artist to realize their vision.

The artist, an American, was found, agreed to terms, and arrived on the appointed day with brushes and paints ready to carry out their instructions.

The communards were unanimous on what Hell looked like. It was Vienna; its streets, traffic, monuments, palaces, art galleries, houses, theatres, open-air market, department stores, banks, schools, sports grounds, factories, a prison. There were shoppers, children, prisoners, police brutally breaking up a protest rally, fat men in big shiny cars smoking cigars (‘capitalists’), and so on. Everything had a dingy look, the colors predominantly ‘’like mud, excrement and vomit’, as per the communards’ orders.

It took the painter about a month to finish Hell to their satisfaction.

‘Now,’ he said, moving to the other side of the line, ‘describe your Heaven to me. ‘

‘Um,’ they said. ‘Take a few days break while we think about it.’

They never did come up with a vision of Heaven. It wasn’t that they couldn’t agree among themselves on what it should look like; the trouble was none of them had any idea of it at all.

They paid off the artist with their parents’ money, and the right side of the wall remained permanently blank.

Jillian Becker   December 16, 2009

Posted under Articles, communism, Europe, Miscellaneous, Religion general, revolution by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, December 16, 2009

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