Red October 1

It is a hundred years today since the October Revolution (October 24-25, 1917) plunged Russia into Communism.

Bruce Thornton writes at Front Page:

To mark the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution The New York Times has been running a series called Red Century. In the spirit of its Pulitzer-Prize winning Moscow correspondent and fellow-traveler in the thirties, Walter Duranty, the articles in the main are an exercise in rehabilitation rather than historical evaluation. Given communism’s historically unprecedented and copiously documented record of slaughter, torture, mass imprisonment, brutal occupation, and utter failure to achieve its workers’ paradise of justice and equality, the question why the Times would attempt to mitigate the evil of a totalitarian ideology that led to 100 million dead cries out for an answer.

Communism … was taken not as a political philosophy, but as a scientific discovery that only the irrational, the evil, or those blinded by bourgeois “false consciousness” would reject. … Communism was about progress, optimism for the future, and the liberation of humans from social and political bondage by improving the economic and social conditions of human life. It had “an inherent optimism for the future”, as one Times article gushed. This notion that humans can be shaped and improved by rational technique still remains a dominant sensibility in the West, which explains the continuing hold of leftist ideology. From Obama’s 2012 campaign slogan “Forward”, a traditional leftist motto, to the fads of “behavioral science” like “implicit bias,” our world is still enthralled to this superstition that “human sciences” can improve life …

Of course, this optimism is predicated on a category error. Humans, each a unique individual endowed with a mind and free will, lie beyond the “complexity horizon”,  and so cannot be reduced to mere matter determined by the laws of physics or economic development, as Marx believed. Communism fails because it must diminish this human complexity so that people can be shoe-horned into the theory. It is reductive and simplistic, and necessarily dehumanizing. And dehumanization has ever been the precursor to mass murder and totalitarian tyranny. In the case of communism, its followers’ fanatical certainty that their beliefs were the fruit of objective “science” and the vehicle of universal human improvement, made it easier to ignore their own destructive passions and flaws, particularly their lust for power and domination; and to remove “by any means necessary” the stiff-necked opponents of humanity’s glorious future––the “eggs” that must be broken to make the communist “omelet,” as Walter Duranty reported in the Times in 1933.

But as the history of communism has shown, its road to utopia runs over mountains of corpses.

So far, fairly good. But the writer goes on to mourn the passing of the old-time religion. He calls the increasing secularism of the Christianized countries “radical”. Radical secularism? Can there be a “moderate secularism”?

The second cultural transformation that has kept a failed and murderous ideology alive is the radical secularism of the last two centuries. The decline in faith created a vacuum of disbelief intolerable to human beings.

We are largely human, and do not find disbelief intolerable.

To us disbelief is freedom, and essential. To us, belief is a prison; doubt is freedom.

However, coming back to ideas on which we can agree with the writer, he goes on to point out the similarities between Communism and Christianity. As we ourselves have written about Communism being secular Christianity, we stay with him for a while.

Substitutes had to be found to explain existence and human nature, provide a meaningful narrative that identifies the good and the evil, and describe the destiny awaiting those who accepted the new revelation. Political religions, whether fascism, “blood and soil” nationalism, or communism, filled the spiritual emptiness of a secularizing age. But communism was more attractive and powerful than fascism, for it was the bedfellow of scientism, the other pseudo-religion of modernity that promised salvation, only in this world rather than the mythic “heaven” of oppressive and irrational religious belief.

It is true that sociology and Marxism are “pseudo sciences”. He uses the term “scientism” for the belief that they are sciences. And Marxism did indeed offer “salvation” – heaven on earth. His “inevitable” revolution – which for all its inevitability would need to be fought for – was the equivalent of the Christian apocalypse; an earthly eschaton, immanent in this world for this world, after which everything would be changed and the earthly heaven would dawn and last forever and ever.

Here is a nice cartoon that jokes about the idea:

 

The similarities between communism and Christianity are numerous …: “consciousness” is the soul, which when enlightened brings salvation; “capitalists” are sinners, “comrades” are the faithful, the “counter-revolutionary” is the devil, the “proletariat” is the chosen people; the “new man” is the born-again Christian, the “classless society” is paradise, and the “proletariat revolution” is the Last Judgement. The God who was once the power behind the providential order of salvation history, is replaced by the new god “History”, which inexorably unfolds according to the Marxist libretto, until history ends in the “worker’s paradise”. Finally, communism promoted the elitist superiority … that comes from possessing the real meaning of events and behavior, a gnosis lacking in the dullard bourgeois and irrational people of faith.

The religious power of communism is apparent from the memoirs of ex-communists who wrote about their experience in the classic The God That Failed. French novelist André Gide said of becoming a communist, “My conversion is like a faith”, and the Soviet Union seems “to point to salvation”. Arthur Koestler, whose novel Darkness at Noon, published in 1940, told the truth about the Show Trials that fellow-travelers denied were even happening, explicitly linked secularization to communism. He wrote that he “converted” because he “lived in a disintegrating society thirsting for faith”.  Like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, Koestler writes, “The new light seems to pour from all directions across the skull, the whole universe falls into pattern,” now there is “an answer to every question”,  and “nothing henceforth can disturb the convert’s inner peace and serenity.”

The intensity of this conversion in part explains the legions of Westerners who refused to credit the concrete evidence of communist tyranny that began under Lenin. In 1908, Lenin threatened “real, nation-wide terror which reinvigorates the country”,  and fulfilled that threat a few years after the revolution in the “merciless war”,  as he put it, against the Kulaks, the more prosperous peasants. When someone protested, Lenin answered, “Do you think we can be victors without the most severe revolutionary terror?” The horrors of Stalin were just expansions of Lenin’s brutal practices already well documented before Stalin came into power. As French historian François Furet has written, “Those who wanted to know, could have known. The problem was that few people really wanted to.” Only a cult-like blind faith can explain such a resistance to facts, one obvious in the comment of Europe’s most famous Marxist, Georg Lukács, who said, “Even if every empirical prediction of Marxism were invalidated, I would still hold Marxism to be true.”

Sounds very like a belief in Christianity or any other religion. Yet Bruce Thornton, who sees the similarity so clearly, wishes religious faith back upon those who have emerged from it.

The horrors of the Communist faith and its capacity to survive despite its proving to be, after all, a recipe for earthly hell, he describes vividly. Did not Christianity create its hells on earth too? Did not believing Christians go on believing despite its centuries of totalitarian terror?

The patent failure of Marx’s theoretical “predictions”, the proven record of mass murder and imprisonment, the pollution of social and family life by an infrastructure of surveillance and lies, the 1939 pact with Hitler that laid bare the true aims of an amoral gangster regime – none has been able to shake the faith of Western communists and fellow-travelers, who today still practice such willful blindness, whether it’s Bernie Sanders honeymooning in the old Soviet Union, Sean Penn shilling for a brutal thug in Venezuela, or Barack Obama cavorting with the Castro brothers in Cuba.

Today this affection does not seem to have the religious intensity of the early communist converts. But the persistence of communist apologetics has turned such unseemly admiration for the greatest killer in history into a mark of status and fashion for the caviar communist, the parlor pink, and the radical chic. These “useful idiots” 2.0 exist because admiration for communism has burrowed deep into high culture, popular culture, and the universities. So it is no surprise that large numbers of millennials prefer socialism – communism’s half-way house – to capitalism, and one-third think George W. Bush killed more people than Stalin did. Obviously, the thrill of being “subversive”, sheer historical ignorance, and moral flabbiness also account for this mysterious attraction to an ideology of murder and tyranny on the part of those who fancy themselves sophisticated intellectuals.

One hundred years after communism burst onto the world stage, it has survived the collapse of its most lethal state sponsor, the Soviet Union, and in modified form lives on in totalitarian regimes like China, and in political parties across Europe. The series in the Times reminds us that the discredited theories and allure of freedom’s greatest enemy must still be attacked and ridiculed.

Indeed yes, Christianity and Communism are similar religions. With their “proven record of mass murder and imprisonment, the pollution of social and family life by an infrastructure of surveillance and lies” – and their horrific tortures – the only significant difference between them is that Christianity offers you happiness in an imaginary There, Communism in an imaginary Here.

Both demand that you make sacrifices for future imaginary gains.

But neither will deliver the promised “salvation”- ever.

Fools! Your reward is neither here nor there!‘ wrote Omar Khayyam, an atheist Persian poet.  

Better far: America, capitalism, rule of law, freedom.

The darkness of this world (14) 5

Today we have posted essay number 14, Mystic Communism: Georg Lukács, in the series by Jillian Becker titled The Darkness of This World (Part 2). (Find it under Pages in our margin.)

Here is part of it. We hope you won’t neglect the footnotes (not added here). They are laden with information.

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Mystic Communism

Georg Lukács (1885-1971)

Georg Lukács was the quintessential revolutionary romantic of the twentieth century, longing to avenge his inner desolation on the civilization that nurtured him. And as an active participant in two revolutions and two despotic regimes, that is what he did.

With this essay we come to the nub of the whole series. Like all the other self-absorbed intellectuals we have talked about, fictitious and real, Georg Lukács advocated the doing of evil as the necessary means to a higher good. But unlike the others, he found himself actually in possession of the power to harm and destroy other lives, and he used it with passion and pride.

He was born in Budapest in 1885. The son of a banker ennobled by the Emperor of Austro-Hungary, he was nurtured in luxury. In his late teens he started writing professionally, reviewing plays for a small circulation periodical. He promoted the staging of avant-garde drama. He also tried to write plays, but without success. He realized and accepted that he “would never be a producer” and regretted that he “was no writer” – by which he probably meant a writer of plays, novels or poetry.

In fact he wrote prolifically. His first book, Soul and Form, appeared in 1910; a collection of essays mostly in literary criticism. Their dominant themes are art, Romanticism, longing, God, love, death, and bourgeois life. The volume was greeted with critical acclaim. No less a judge of literary merit than Thomas Mann – who was later to be the most insightful and devastating critic of Lukács’s character – praised the work as “beautiful and profound”.

One of the essays is about some German and Swiss writers who, Lukács allows, created admirable works despite being bourgeois. “The bourgeois way of life signifies only a denial of everything that is beautiful, everything the life-instinct longs for”, he states with conviction.

This was not the disdain of the aristocrat for a class beneath him. (The von Lukács family, for all its wealth and title, would in any case have been classed as haut bourgeois rather than true nobility.) Nor was it (yet) a revolutionary’s contempt for the established order. It was the romantic artist’s repudiation of the average and ordinary. Lukács deemed himself an artist because, he wrote, “the essay is an art form”, and essays such as his could be “intellectual poems”.

He concedes that a degree of genius is to be found in the works of those ordinary bourgeois men who were nevertheless writers. “This bourgeois way of life,” he wrote, “has no value whatsoever, in itself. For only the works which it brings forth confer value upon a life lived within such a framework and within such a form.”

What makes a life bourgeois, Lukács explains, is “first and foremost by the exercise of a bourgeois profession”. (One of the writers he examines earns his living as a judge, another as a clergyman, another as a government clerk. Lukács himself had no need to earn a living.) “A bourgeois profession,” he goes on, “as a form of life signifies, in the first place, the primacy of ethics in life”. These ethical men “do their duty”. The characters in the stories of one of them are “incapable of evil”; there is “no real sin” in their world. But that, to Lukács, far from being a fine thing, is a fault. The artistic achievement of these merely ethical men is, he declares, “great after its own fashion”. But he himself valued the aesthetic far above the ethical. The highest art could not be achieved by a person who binds himself to duty, but only by one who is capable of sin, intimate with beauty, and whose life-spirit longs for … the unreachable. For years his life-spirit burned with longing, seeking what it could not find; the search, and its frustration, being the tragic fate of such a soul as his.

This longing is more than just something waiting for fulfillment, it is a fact of the soul with a value and existence of its own; an original and deep-rooted attitude towards the whole of life, a final, irreducible category of possibilities of experience,” he wrote. Such a soul “will always long for something he can never reach”.

In 1911, Lukács wrote a story titled On Poverty of Spirit. It is told in the form of a letter from a woman to the father of a young man who has killed himself. She recounts a conversation they had two days before his death, about the suicide of her sister, who had been the young man’s lover. He talks at length about his ideas and feelings, for the most part philosophically, but he does state plainly that he is guilty of her death “in the eyes of God”, in that he failed to “help” or “save” her. One can discern through the thicket of beautiful profundities, that he had refused to marry her because he wanted to dedicate himself wholly to his work as a writer. Furthermore, “she had to die so that my work could be completed – so that nothing remains in the world for me except my work.” But after all the argument about it and about, Lukacs wants us to understand that the young man did the right thing when he shot himself, because of his guilt and for other sound, if rather obscure and certainly long-winded, philosophical reasons.

On Poverty of Spirit was written after – and about – the suicide of his own lover, Irma Seidler, whom he had not married, being dedicated to his work as a writer. She had married someone else, had not been happy, and had drowned herself. The story he wrote was a confession of his guilt. But he himself did not do the right thing. It was enough that his alter ego did it in the story: the brilliant young man tragically performing an extreme act of penance in fiction rendered it unnecessary for Lukács himself to perform it. Besides, what he, the author, did was something better, higher: he gave the episode a “form” as a work of art. When Lukács spoke of “form” he meant art – always expecting the word to resonate in the minds of his cultured readers with Plato’s theory of “Forms” or “Ideals”. To him, a work of art was a revelation, or representative, or reminder of the “noumenal” reality that – so Plato and Kant have convinced Middle European intellectuals – lies behind, beyond, above this “phenomenal” world in which we live.

When he wrote Soul and Form, Lukács believed that the two worlds were irreconcilable; that a soul belonged to one or the other. (He does not say, but almost certainly knew, that in the creeds of the old Gnostic cults, the souls of the “Perfects” or “Pneumatics” belonged to a transcendent world, while the souls of the common “Hylics” were bound to the earth). His own soul – he knew – belonged to the higher, better, mystical world, the world of “essences”; the unreachable world. Here in this world, “abandoned by God”, he felt he was a stranger, an alien on earth; that humankind did not belong here; and that there was “an antagonism between the soul and the world”. That is what he meant when he asked rhetorically- cried out, so to speak, in his writing – “How can one bring essence into life? How can life become essential?” For years he searched for an answer. Morbidly pre-occupied with death, tragedy, and the condition of the human soul – above all his own – he wrote: “Man is abandoned to immanent meaninglessness.” He longed for “an extinction of selfhood” through “complete absorption of the ego into a higher being”.

Often he conjectured that the only answer was in death, and he brooded on suicide.  He declares in Soul and Form: “Life is without value, without significance, and we [presumably he and all those who suffer the same spiritual anguish] would be ready to consecrate it every moment to death.”

His was an intensely religious temperament, but he was drawn neither emotionally nor intellectually to any organized religion; not to the Judaism of his ancestors, nor to Christianity – though his parents had him baptized in the Lutheran church in 1897 so that he could attend a good Lutheran school.

Karl Jaspers – later a famous philosopher – met Lukács in Heidelberg in 1913 and had no difficulty recognizing the nature of his contemporary’s mystical beliefs. He records: “Many came to Heidelberg [University] who were men of letters and potential candidates for Habilitation. Among them was Georg von Lukács from Budapest and Ernst Bloch from Mannheim. … At that time, they were Gnostics who shared their theosophical fantasies in their social circles.” It is probable that Lukács simply announced to Jaspers and all the company that he was a Gnostic. He was calling himself a “gnostic activist” in his writings years before he became in any way active in public life.

By “gnostic” he meant possessed of that intuitive knowledge which is a special gift to the specially gifted. What he intuitively knew which the ordinary (bourgeois) person could not know in the same way, was that there was a higher better world, the “intelligible” world: the “essential” world; the “noumenal” world. What he meant by “activist” is less clear. He seems to have meant that he not only thought philosophically that there is a higher better world, but that he also felt it. The activity was not muscular but emotional. It was not worked out by the intellect but immediately known by “intellectual intuition”, through which one might become “good”.

Become good? But had he not rejected ethical behavior? Certainly he had – and by “goodness” he did not mean anything so bourgeois as ethical behavior. He expounds his idea of what goodness is in Poverty of Spirit:

Prince Myshkin [hero of Dostoyevsky’s novel The Idiot] and Alyosha [hero of Dostoyevsky”s The Brothers Karamazov] are good; what does that mean? … [T]heir knowledge [gnosis] became realized in deed, their thinking left the purely conceptual realm of knowledge, their view of mankind became an intellectual intuition: they are Gnostics of the deed.” … “Goodness is the miracle, the grace, and the salvation. The descent of the heavenly realm to the earth. … It is an abandonment of ethic. Goodness is not an ethical category; you’ll find it in no consistent ethical system. And with good reason. Ethics is general, binding, and far removed from men; it is the first – the most primitive – exaltation of mankind over the chaos of everyday life; it is man’s moving away from himself, and from his empirical condition. Goodness, however, is the return to real life, man’s true discovery of his home.” … “Goodness is madness, it is not mild, not refined, and not quietistic; it is wild, terrible, blind, and adventurous. The soul of the good one has become empty of all psychological content, of grounds and consequences; it has become a pure white slate upon which destiny inscribes its absurd command to be followed blindly, recklessly, cruelly to the end.”

In the First World War, Lukács was conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian armed forces; but he dodged the draft with the help of a certificate from Karl Jaspers (who was a qualified doctor and psychiatrist), and through the use of his father’s connections – the calling in of a favor owed to the banker by a personage close to the royal and imperial government. Duly declared unfit for active service, Lukács did his patriotic duty as a letter censor in Budapest for a few months in 1915.

It was after the war, when his country was in the abjection and disorder of defeat, that he found the answer to his spiritual search, a solution to his loneliness, despair and longing. He recognized that the “higher being” into which his “ego” might be “absorbed” was the International Communist movement. In December 1918 he joined the newly formed Hungarian Communist Party.

The commitment of his soul to the Party was no less religious for being political. He saw Communism as a cure not only for his own discontent – his despair, or loneliness, or Faust-like boredom with the contemplative life – but for everyone else’s too. He assumed that everyone suffered from the same malaise as he did. As a general social phenomenon he called it “alienation”, and declared it to be the result of capitalism and the bourgeois order. Communism, he believed, was the salvation of all mankind, provided only that each soul had faith enough and submitted utterly to its church. …

 

Jillian Becker   July 19, 2015

The Communist zombie rises 0

The Left, as a whole, in the Western World, has become far more extreme in this century than it was in the last. The Socialist and “Conservative” parties of Europe, the Democratic Party of America, the universities everywhere, the media and the film industries, book publishers, song writers, judiciaries, and a slightly varying half of the voters in almost all Western countries, are predominantly of one opinion, consciously or semi-consciously, articulately or silently, that Marx and Lenin, and even (though their names may be spoken a shade more sotto voce) Stalin and Mao, were right.

This is from Front Page, by Vladimir Tismaneanu:

It has become fashionable among leftist circles to invoke a return to Lenin, to radicalism, to utopia. Among those who advocate such imperatives to “retest the communist hypothesis” one can count French philosopher Alain Badiou, a former admirer of the Khmer Rouge, and Slovene thinker, Slavoj Zizek, the new idol of Western university campuses, subject of documentary hagiographic movies, and prophet of a new phantasmagoric world revolution.

To know more about Slavoj Zizek, see our post Red alert, January 21, 2009. And to get the flavor of the man, watch the video at the foot of this post.

Did the partisans of such positions ever stop to think how it would sound a call for “retesting the Nazi hypothesis”? One must be totally oblivious to history, an incurable cynic, in order to ignore the fact that Leninism, just like National-Socialism, means political terrorism, the apotheosis of fanatical partisanship, the boundless cult of violence and nihilism, etc. In short, Leninism presupposes … the destruction of the inner man. Leninism is theoretical and practical anti-humanism.

‘The inner man” in this context means the individual for himself alone, not as a unit of “society”.

There have been conferences and symposia where Lenin is presented, in an academic context and without any trace of compassion for the millions of victims of “the great experiment”, as the philosopher of the break with an order putatively condemned by history.

The “order putatively condemned by history” is of course capitalism, or the free market. Those who condemn it and praise “the great [Communist] experiment” have not noticed that the free market has brought widespread prosperity wherever it has been allowed to, or that Lenin’s experiment, the miserable Soviet Union, failed and fell and lost the Cold War.

All in all, it is unsurprising that the prophets of violence worship Lenin. What is surprising is that intellectuals, who should have learnt from the catastrophes of the 20th century, are engaged in an endeavor driven by  programmatic irresponsibility. It is simply shocking that in countries where the Leninist model was implemented, one can still read and hear hymns honoring the architect of a criminal system.

Should we be amazed by all this? What could one expect from the epigones of Georg Lukacs, the Marxist philosopher who declared … that he preferred the worst form of socialism to the best incarnation of capitalism. …

Georg Lukacs was the Hungarian Commissar, and philosopher of drama and art, on whom Jillian Becker’s character L is based in her novel L: A Novel History.

Real history does not matter for such sectarians. What does matter is the dogma to which they are faithful in total disregard of reality. … It is quite telltale that one of Hugo Chavez’s intellectual heroes was Istvan Meszaros, one of Lukacs’s former students who … has remained a flaming Marxist, faithful to the dialectical sophistries of his mentor.

An excellent example of such world-view is a recent memoir by a Romanian Marxist intellectual, Ion Ianosi, who happened to be deeply involved for long stretches of time in the ideologization of the country’s culture during communism. The volume’s title is My International. Some critics glorify the book as testimony of heartfelt sincerity. What is missing in those more than 800 pages is an honest analysis of Bolshevism as justification of social genocide. Ion Ianosi seemingly excels on topics such as “Marx and Art”, “Lenin and Art”, pretty much the same fields for which his expertise was called upon during his activity within the Romanian communist party’s Agitprop. But Ianosi shies away from trying his expert pen on topics such as the crimes against humanity inspired by the Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Even before the Bolsheviks’ coming into power, it was clear that Lenin was a fanatical propagandist, a utopian ideologue fixated on social purity and purification, an heir to Robespierre and St. Just, but no philosopher. Philosophy implies doubt and Lenin was the man without doubts. …

Lenin was the practitioner of a simplistic, partisan, and exclusivist philosophy. He rejected emphatically any possibility for a middle path, of a tertium datur between what he called “bourgeois ideology” and the “proletarian” one.

We at TAC are all for “bourgeois ideology”, if the bourgeoisie as such – the successful middle class – can be said to have such a dusty thing as an ideology. We value the middle class, anyway, above the others, because out of it has come almost every one of those men (and handful of women) who have advanced our civilization and augmented the glory of our culture in the last five hundred years. (Though also most of those who’ve done our civilization the worst harm, such as Marx, Lenin, Lukacs …)

Lenin’s Manichaeism [bourgeois bad, proletarian good] was inexorable. For Lenin and his followers, ideas were (are) always the manifestation of class interests. … This is the meaning of a notion essential for the Leninist conception about ideas, ideologies and philosophical consciousness: partiinost – partisanship, class position, militant commitment, total and abject subordination to the party line.

Leninism is a revolutionary doctrine that sanctifies political violence and condemns entire social categories to state-engineered extinction. It is … rooted in the visceral contempt for the rule of law, legality, and the universality of human rights. “Back to Lenin” means a return to barbarism, blindness, and murder.

We are not enamored of the phrase “human rights”. We prefer to speak of human freedom, which we suppose is what Professor Tismaneanu, who has lived under Communism in Romania, probably means.

Now here’s Slavoj Zizek. He starts at about the 2 minute mark. Don’t expect to be rewarded for over 15 minutes of  paying attention with any impressive ideas. He says nothing much, but with strong emphasis, and what he does say is notably wrong. For instance, that Norway is intolerant of immigrants! (Go here to test this notion, and to any other of Bruce Bawer’s numerous articles on the same subject.) He thinks the major political groupings in Europe are now the “capitalist anti-immigrants” on one side and the [Islamic] immigrants on the other. (Would it were so! ) He calls himself a Leftist, though oddly declaring that in America there is “an excess of  anti-capitalism”; calls Fox News “the enemy”; and implies that the worst problem facing mankind is … you guessed it … global-warming.