Today we have posted essay number 15, The Fun Revolutionaries, in the series by Jillian Becker titled The Darkness of This World (Part Two). (Find it under Pages in our margin.)
It is about the New Left rebel movements in Europe in 1967 and 1968; the Baader-Meinhof gang; the “Paris May”; and the political philosophers who incited and excused the violence that led to terrorism.
Here is part of it. As usual, we draw attention to the importance of the information in the footnotes (not added here).
The Fun Revolutionaries
Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979)
Louis Althusser (1918-1990)
Guy Debord (1931-1944)
The New Left arose in the Western world in the late 1960s. Its name was not intended to distinguish it from the Leftist regimes of Russia and China, and its philosophers and activists did not become famous for criticizing Stalin and Mao Zedong. What made it “new” was chiefly a momentous change in a central Marxist doctrine, forced upon it by History herself: the working class was no longer the bearer of “revolutionary consciousness”.
What had happened? The workers in the capitalist West had simply let the side down by becoming prosperous, and – what was worse – happy in their prosperity. They could not, would not, be persuaded it was in their interest to overthrow a system that provided them copiously with the good things of life.
It was a disappointing and downright treacherous development, and Communists found it hard to get their heads round it. While the revolution was still inevitable, who would become the dictator of the new order if not the proletariat? Some theorists reached in desperation for the Lumpenproletariat, the underclass of vagabonds, beggars, low-life criminals, which Marx himself had rejected as revolutionary material. But most shifted their hopes to the underdeveloped Third World with its vast reserve of underdogs, the “victims” of “imperialism” and “colonialism”.
One of the most prominent theorists of the New Left, Herbert Marcuse – considered by many to be its progenitor – reached for both the underclass and the Third World. He wrote: “The people [ie. the workers] recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment … [But] underneath the conservative popular base is the substratum of the outcasts and outsiders, the exploited and persecuted of other races and other colors, the unemployed and the unemployable. They exist outside the democratic process. … Thus their opposition is revolutionary even if their consciousness is not.”
He recognized, however, that the revolution needed to be led by persons who could understand what he was talking about. Who could those be but the young educated sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie?
They represented, Marcuse said, “the most advanced consciousness of humanity”. It was their mission to lead the exploited but ignorant “substratum” against the established order. They could understand that while the capitalist order might look good, really it was bad. Its material abundance lulled people into an illusion of contentment. Its tolerance was really a form of repression. By leading the revolution, they could liberate the free from freedom and rescue the well-provided-for from plenty. And they did not actually have to give up anything, or go anywhere to do it. They must only “give themselves to the Great Refusal”; say “no” to liberal democracy and capitalism, and with their advanced consciousness, feel at one with distant victims.
The thousands of young rebels who marched down the streets of West European university cities on Sundays and fine spring evenings in 1967 and 1968, did not have to read the works of Sartre, Foucault, Lukács, Marcuse … to know what they thought and taught. The intellectual atmosphere of the West was saturated with their ideas. Rising generations had only to breathe to be intoxicated with a passionate hatred of freedom and everything else the West stood for.
They knew Marcuse’s flattering description of them; and they knew that not every Marxist professor agreed with it. Louis Althusser did not think the student protestors could or should lead the revolution which he continued confidently to expect the workers to bring about. But he did allow them to consider themselves working class; to “identify with” the proletariat. Louis’s wife Hélène told him that she saw no proletariat – or none likely to make revolution and establish a dictatorship in fulfillment of Marx’s prophecy. In Louis’s eyes, that was sin and apostasy. So he strangled her to death.
What did the student protestors say it was all for, the anger, the tumult and the shouting? Gently-reared, well-nourished in safe and comfortable homes, educated in lavishly equipped academies, these beneficiaries of Western Europe’s post-war economic recovery (greatly assisted by America’s Marshall Plan) had no cause of their own. But Marcuse told them they were oppressed by plenty and repressed by tolerance. And Althusser told them they could be let off being bourgeois as long as they felt they were working class. They did not have to be for anything, only against their country, class, and civil order: against capitalism; against the bourgeois; against “authoritarianism”; against having to taking exams; against the “military-industrial complex”; against nuclear arms in the hands of Western powers (but not in the hands of the Soviet Union); against war in general, and the current war in Vietnam in particular, where America was supporting the South in conflict with the Communist North. America embodied almost everything they were against. America was “imperialism” itself.
Released by Marxist philosophy from the bonds of conventional morality, and being well supported materially by their compatriots whose labor allowed the country to afford the luxury of gesture politics, they joined together fiercely and joyfully in the marches, the sit-ins and teach-ins, the interruptions of public events in lecture rooms and concert halls, the abuse of figures in authority, and sometimes in actual physical clashes with the police – those ready representatives of “authoritarianism”. They felt brave, while knowing that the police would not hurt them. When, occasionally and without intention, in the midst of a skuffle, the police did hurt one of them, they were blissfully outraged, and claimed they had “brought the fascist out of the policeman” so everyone could see how right they were to protest.
Most of the demonstrators were satisfied after a while with making angry gestures and shouting for revolution. Before the decade was over they had had enough of it, and the movement petered out.
But in Germany there were a few who could not bear to give up the fun, the excitement, the romantic pretence that they were leaders of a revolution. To prove their worthiness for that role and show themselves to be more dedicated, more daring, more active, more heroic, more self-sacrificing, more angry in the cause of pacifism than all the rest, they resolved to use violence in the cause of anti-violence. They would kill for peace. They would bomb for the revolution and the Communist paradise that lay on the other side of it.
So it happened that in Germany small gangs of terrorists emerged out of the student protest movement. One of the first bombs planted by German terrorists maimed a child for life, and destroyed the livelihood of a painter who was working through the night on the walls of a newspaper office, by blowing off his hand. The most notorious group called itself the Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Fraktion). It was better known by the name the media gave it: Baader-Meinhof, after one of the men, Andreas Baader, and one of the women, Ulrike Meinhof, who formed and led it.
“There is nothing I would not do, however base, to change the world,” Ulrike Meinhof said. And she and her merry band did abominable things: kidnapped, killed, burned, shot, and bombed, to improve the world.
For a while they felt quite safe. Their parents were professors, politicians, lawyers, teachers, doctors, clergymen, journalists, businessmen, some even movers and shakers of the Federal Republic of Germany, and most of them had been sympathetic to the protest movement. Many of them were impressed – as their children expected them to be – by the lengths the “absolutists” were prepared to go to for the higher good and their own liberation from bourgeois values. The older wiser heads opined, “Their hearts are in the right place, only their methods are wrong.” Only maiming and slaughtering their neighbors; only putting fear of injury, agony, and death into all who went about their business in public places.
As a result of this indulgence, the terrorists were genuinely astonished by the punishment meted out to them when they were arrested, tried, and found guilty of grave crimes. The fun was over for them then. They finally had to believe that they would actually be imprisoned for a very long time, perhaps for the rest of their lives; they, “the most advanced consciousness of humanity”, who had only done what the best minds of their parents’ generation had urged them to do! The courts did not appreciate that what they had done was necessary for the establishment of heaven on earth. The Judges did not share the opinion the status quo had to be swept away so that the inevitable new world could be born. They and the general public had only to peer over the Berlin Wall at that part of Germany which had been flung – along with the other east European countries – under the jackboot of Soviet Russia after World War II, to be sure that they would rather be repressed by tolerance and enslaved by plenty than live over there with scarcity and fear.
Some of the terrorists, including Ulrike Meinhof, who passed through Communist Germany on their way to and from terrorist training camps in the Middle East, did not like what they glimpsed. The glimpse told them that a life there would not do for them. Although they had voluntarily taken the lampshades off the lamps in their West Berlin communes to demonstrate their scorn for luxury, they had never had to go without central heating, ample food and good quality clothes; and they who had chosen to drive to the scenes of their robberies, arsons and murders whenever possible in a (stolen) Mercedez Benz, laughed and shuddered at the cheap plastic-bodied Trabants with their noisy two-stroke engines and their smelly exhaust which they sighted and smelt in sparse numbers on the strangely empty and ill-kept roads of East Berlin.
In truth the entire student protest movement was frivolous. It was all posture and gesture. All fake, the pity and the indignation – everything except the conceit. Worse, it was mockery. For such as they, the most fortunate of the human race, to claim to be fellow sufferers with selected victims of oppression and poverty, was to make mock of them and their plight. The charade of insurgency was performance art on a grand scale. But neither they nor their hooray-chorus of philosophers and professors saw it for what it was. Despite their “advanced consciousness”, they were oblivious to the cruel sarcasm of their masquerade. …
Full substantiation of what is said here about the Baader-Meinhof gang can be found in Jillian Becker’s book Hitler’s Children. (Click on its cover in our margin.)
Why was Obama, the Islam-loving communist, twice voted into the presidency of the capitalist, Islam-attacked United States?
Why do most Americans “think” that Obama is doing a good job – though they know the economy is bad, millions are unemployed, businesses are overburdened with regulations, travelers are manhandled and humiliated at airports, an American ambassador is killed abroad with impunity, the Taliban is back in business in Afghanistan, the Middle East is in flames since Obama assisted the displacement of allied rulers with Islamic fundamentalists … and so on and on?
Why do millions of Americans “think” that economic equality is morally desirable?
Why are tens of millions content to live on state support without attempting to improve their standard of living by their own efforts?
Why do millions of university students in America admire intellectuals who hate America, such as Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, and why do they make an icon out of the sadistic mass-murderer Che Guevara?
The broad general answer is simple. They’ve been told to. They’ve been told that good people do and “think” these things. They want to be good. They believe what they’ve been taught. This is so obvious that the statement “they believe it because they’ve been taught it” could be dismissed as a truism.
It is why Muslim women believe they must put up with being sexually mutilated and enslaved to men. Why multitudes the world over believe that there was a nation called Palestinians who were driven off their land by aggressive usurping Jews. Why Christians believe that a man who once lived and died lives on as one part of a three-part god. Why Muslims and Christians imagine that when you are dead you are still alive in another place. Why Jews believe that their benign and omnipotent God has some unguessable but just purpose in having six million of them enslaved, starved, tortured and murdered by Germans.
They believe it because they were taught it. It was drummed into them. They were raised to know that that is how it is.
Yet few if any ideas are easy to spread. To get an idea accepted by large numbers of people takes patience, persistence, conviction, tireless energy on the part of those who want to spread it. The idea need not make good sense, be reasonable, come with proofs that it will work as its advocates say it will. It doesn’t even have to appeal strongly to the emotions. It just needs to become what “everybody” accepts. How?
If you want your idea to prevail over others, this is what it takes. First the conviction that it is right and everyone should know it. Next, a decision to spread it. Then it takes energy, persistence, patience, time, repetition – and eventually force.
What made Christianity catch on? It wasn’t the life-style – poor, austere, hard, humble. Even the promise of eternal life was not a reliable recommendation as anyone’s eternity could as easily be endless agony as endless bliss (it was a 50-50 tossup). The theology was so hard to make sense of that the Church itself to this day has not settled it. And the morality it demanded was against human nature. So what made it succeed? Energy, persistence, patience, time, repetition, force.
Look how long it took. From the time St Paul invented “Jesus Christ” to the time the emperor of Rome accepted the new god and the doctrines that had accreted to him, thus making it fashionable to be Christian (just a few decades before force was applied and it became compulsory), nearly three hundred years had passed. Three hundred years of persistent, patient, energetic proselytizing. Even then, it was not securely implanted in the minds of the subjects. One Emperor – Julian – came along and actually tried to reverse the trend by suppressing Christianity and re-instating paganism. He didn’t have enough time. He died in battle, his successors went back to favoring Christianity, and finally the Emperor Theodosius decreed that Christianity was to be the religion of the state. With him the last phase of force arrived.
Marxist Communism took less time to get a real grip on the minds of multitudes. Means of communications had speeded up considerably between the 4th and the 19th centuries, but still it took half a century (if one arbitrarily dates it from the first publication of Marx’s Das Kapital in 1867 to the success of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917). And still the same method had to be employed: energetic, patient, persistent, repetitous proselytizing. The fever of enthusiasm had to be caught by two generations of intellectuals before the infection became a pandemic.
The creed must become the norm. So pervasive must the doctrine be that anybody who does not subscribe to it wholeheartedly will appear egregious; an oddball, a rebel, a danger to everyone else and even to himself. The orthodoxy must be accepted without question as good, so anyone who opposes it is ipso facto a bad person.
By the late 20th century communications had become even faster, so the New Left could achieve irreversible success in Europe in less than thirty years, in America in forty (1968 to 2008). It started as a weak revolutionary movement which brought nothing good with it to Western Europe and America, but much that was bad: recreational drugs, AIDS, terrorism as self-expression. New Leftists complained that they had too much freedom, too much choice, that tolerance of their politics was repressive. (That’s what Leftist theorists mean by “the dialectic” – every concept is also its own opposite.) And this irrational case was widely accepted, even while, on the other side of the iron curtain, a young man burnt himself to death to protest against the lack of freedom, choice, and tolerance.
The New Left movement was ignorant, blind, puerile, unreasonable, sadistic – yet it became, it has become, the prevailing belief-system of the greater part of the Western world, and at present in almost all “free” countries the standard ideology (or religion) of the state, no matter what political party is in power. How?
The plan was made. The plan was put into execution. Antonio Gramsci, founder of the Italian Communist Party, proposed the strategy: “The Long March through the Institutions”. It wasn’t enough that the New Left should protest, should threaten and carry out violent attacks, should shout and write and publish, should display their slogans, should bomb their native cities and maim and kill their neighbors. They must take over the institutions of power, every one of them, by achieving a majority of votes in them: from the smallest citizens’ groupings – such as library committees – to town councils, news media, boards of education, the schools, the universities, the civil service, the publishing industry, the legal profession, the law courts, a major political party, the country’s legislative body, and eventually prime-ministerships and presidencies. Police forces and the military were formidable challenges. The tactic with them was first to discredit them, then pressure them from outside by means of public opinion guided by the converted press, then to infiltrate them, and finally to bend them from within to conform to the doctrine and so advance the cause.
Books, films, articles, lessons, lectures, systems of reward, prizes must all promote the cause. It took the three or four decades, but it succeeded.
How otherwise could the free Western world, whose policies and armies opposed the oppressing, enslaving Communist Eastern world, have been successfully converted to the very doctrine that in the East oppressed, enslaved, tortured and mass murdered? The idea itself was no more innately and manifestly true and good than the idea of Christianity. But as in the case of Christianity, it took conviction, decision, planning, energy, persistence, repetition, and finally (now even in America, under the Obama administration) force.
Only Lefist doctrine – government control of the economy, government provision of welfare, confiscatory and punitive taxation – is politically correct now in America. Collectivist thinking is the norm. Good people vote left. (When, in 2008, a Californian woman came upon a stall set up on a main street to canvass votes for the Republican presidential candidate John McCain, she called the police, and was astonished to learn that to solicit public support for the Republican Party was not illegal.) Again, as with Christianity, the allegiance to the doctrine has little or nothing to do with the innate worth of the ideas themselves. Most adherents to either Christianity or Leftism could not explain what the ideas are. But they know that good people find them good, that good people vote for them. And that is all they need to know. Who doesn’t want to think of himself as a good person?
But the question of how did this become the case has not been fully answered. There is another aspect to the story. In order for one doctrine to succeed, it is necessary for counter doctrines to fail. If the ancient world had had enough confidence in paganism, enough enthusiasm for it, hadn’t taken it for granted, hadn’t become bored with it, hadn’t ignored the Christian missionaries with their crazy talk, could the weird, obscure, muddled, sorrowful, other-worldly new religion of Christianity have conquered it?
And the success of Leftism now – would it have happened if the conservative Right had been paying attention? The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and the Right was not being vigilant. It took little notice of the Long March. It didn’t bother to argue against political correctness. It disregarded the cynical shenanigans going on in the United Nations as if it were nothing but a zoo housing many clamorous beasts who were safely confined and could in no way threaten American life, liberty or happiness. If the Right was made to feel now and then the bullying, deceitful, sly, sometimes violent tactics of the Left, it shrugged them off. Conservatives went on being civil when the world’s mood had changed to favoring crassness, vulgarity and abuse. They put their confidence in the fact that America had been founded as the political embodiment of the idea of personal freedom; had demonstrated to the world – forever, they believed – that freedom brought prosperity and might and stunning innovation. They assumed that the rightness of individual liberty, the capitalist system, and government by the people had been established forever. So strong and free a country could afford to be tolerant. Let some wild, immature, misguided persons preach despotism (Communism, Socialism, Progressivism, Greenism, Feminism, whatever), the system was strong enough to be hospitable to alien ideas, and to allow dissent or even rebellion. Tested, it would prove itself inviolable. It could not only withstand opposition, it could absorb it and dissolve it. No special effort was required. American history was on the side of those who would defend freedom and the Constitution. The separation of powers would protect them. The free press would dilute propaganda. Open enquiry in the academies would ensure that all points of view were argued and the most rational, the most humane, would persuade serious scholars. But they were wrong.
In their complacency they did not even notice the Long March. They could not mark its stations of success. Only now, late in 2012, the Republican Party has woken up with a shock on discovering, in the November presidential election, that most of America likes collectivism; that it doesn’t object to electoral fraud; that it has no objection to a failing economy; that it would rather live on government handouts than become rich; that being rich has become a bad thing; that it’s okay for foreign powers to develop weapons that could kill vast numbers of Americans; that the press does not report what is happening in the world but only what it wants to happen; that courts of law are willing to apply foreign laws; that it doesn’t matter if American representatives abroad are attacked and murdered; that the concept of personal freedom is worthy only of derision; that American history is a trail of shame; that aggressive Islam is being protected by the government.
How did this happen? It happened because people patiently, energetically, persistently planned it and made it happen.
What can we do about it? What needs to be done to change the minds of the people?
Those who would change this state of affairs must first be sure that they want the free republic the founders established; that they want to maintain free markets; that they don’t want a welfare state; that they do want to preserve national defenses; that they want to stop indoctrination in the schools; that they want to forbid the application of foreign law; that they do not want to go on funding an institution – the UN – that consistently works against their interests; that Islam is inimical to their civilization. Then they must decide that their own political philosophy is right, uniquely right, and must be implemented at any and all costs. Then they must start teaching it with energy, persistence, patience and fiery enthusiasm. It will take time. Teach, preach, use every method of persuasion that works. Take back the institutions. Give up the idea that it’s better to be gentlemanly than sink to using the low methods of the opposition. The Left has made the fight low and dirty. Leftists will cheat, lie, turn dirty tricks. Will the Right, before it is to late, get down in the dirt and fight in the same way?
Have they – Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, the Tea Party – got the stomach for it? How badly does the conservative Right want to win power in America? How important is it to them that they should?
Are they prepared to shout down the shouters? Criticize and mock Islam? Make Communists feel passé and nasty? Tolerate only the tolerant and tolerable?
Will they start a process and persist with it, energetically and patiently? Or do they imagine that the innate rightness of their ideas, if politely explained, will win the electorate over to their side?
Will it be enough just to tell them?
Tell them that the free market is the only means of creating general prosperity, and why. Tell them that central planning of an economy cannot work, and why. Tell them why competition is good for everyone, producers and consumers alike. Tell them what profit is and why it is essential for ensuring abundance. Tell them that only where people are free can there be discovery and innovation, improvement in everyone’s daily life, better technology, the advance of civilization. Explain why. Show them the proofs of history.
Tell them the truth about life in other countries. Not politically correct sentimental drivel, but the actual awful facts about life in most other countries.
Tell them why impartial justice is the only justice. Why all sane adult citizens must be treated equally by the law. That people must be judged by their actions, not their intentions or feelings.
Tell them why government should be kept small and its powers limited. Tell them what the essential tasks of government are: protection of the nation, of the individual, of the rule of law itself. And why government should not be allowed more powers and money than it needs to fulfill its few essential functions.
Will that do the trick?
No. It will not be enough just to tell them.
Just how low and dirty the fight will have to be, just how hard the task necessarily is, can be learnt from David Horowitz’s book Radicals*. Here are a few indicators to be found in it:
Lenin “declared that the purpose of a political argument was not to refute one’s opponent but to wipe him off the face of the earth”.
“Because the left is inspired by the fantasy of a future that can never be realized, it is never defeated by its defeats.”
Alinskyites [eg Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama] “will say anything (and pretend to be anything) to get what they want, which is power.”
Alinsky’s advice: “Advance your radical goals by camouflaging them.”
“[Lenin] was always engaged in a total war, which he used to justify every means he thought might advance his goals. These included summary executions, concentration camps that provided a model for Hitler, and the physical ‘liquidation’ of entire social classes. Lenin was the most dangerous kind of political fanatic – ready to resort to any means to get what he wanted, even if it meant pretending to be a democrat.”
“This is the art [Alinsky] taught to radicals trying to impose socialism on a country whose people understand that socialism destroys freedom: Don’t sell it as socialism. Sell it as ‘Progressivism’, ‘economic democracy’, ‘fairness’, and ‘social justice’.”
“[I]dentify one’s political enemies as instruments of evil and thus … justify the total war against them.”
“[Alinsky explains] to idealistic radicals who think of themselves as creating a world of perfect justice and harmony that the means they must use to achieve that world are dishonest, deceitful, and ruthless – and therefore indefensible by the moral standards they claim to be upholding. The radical organizer has no such standards … he ‘does not have a fixed truth – truth to him is relative and changing; everything to him is relative and changing. He is a political relativist.’” [Italics in the original.]
“[Alinsky writes;] ’To say that corrupt means corrupt the ends is to believe in the immaculate conception of ends and principles. The real arena is corrupt and bloody. Life is a corrupting process … he who fears corruption fears life.’”
Terrible, terrible! And of course immoral means pervert the ends.
The moral Right cannot do as the immoral Left does.
So how will the Left be defeated?
Jillian Becker December 17, 2012
* Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Passion by David Horowitz, Regnery,Washington D.C., 2012