A kinder gentler Communism? 5

It is commonly said of Communism (as also, incidentally, of Christianity): “You can’t say it hasn’t worked because it has never really been tried.” The idea is that only rogues and sadists have led Communist revolutions and ruled Communist countries, but if that really nice Communist that everyone knows in private life were to implement his ideas, then – voila! – Utopia.

Sometimes one of the Communist faithful will speak of Alexander Dubcek as an example of a man who could have headed a Communist government that would have made Czechoslovakia happy if he had not been stopped by the wrongly-led USSR.

Question: Can any collective, any serfdom, ever make for human happiness?

Our answer: No.

Vladimir Tismaneanu, professor of politics at the University of Maryland gives his answer to the question in an article at Front Page. Here it is, almost in full:

In August 1968, the Warsaw Pact tanks and half a million-strong military killed the Prague Spring. It was not simply the end of a daring political experiment, but also a gigantic defeat for the dreams of reconciling communism and democracy. Marxist revisionism, the utopian endeavor to rediscover the presumably forgotten thesaurus of left-wing radicalism, suffered a terrible blow. In the words of a Polish dissident, “We then realized that there was no socialism with a human face, but only totalitarianism with broken teeth.”

Even Jean-Paul Sartre, the philosopher who in the 1950s had been silent (to put it mildly) about the Gulag, lambasted the invasion as “the socialism which came in from the cold.” It was the Leninist communism of barbed wire, fear, suspicion and lies. Stalin, as famous East European dissidents showed, was Lenin’s most faithful heir. He was also the most successful disciple. Post-Stalin Soviet leaders refused to allow for genuine democratization, remained faithful to the original one-party autocracy.

A joke of those times captured this continuity: “What are Brezhnev eyebrows? Stalin’s mustache at a higher level.”

The leader of the Prague Spring was Alexander Dubcek, a Moscow-trained communist apparatchik with reformist propensities. Elected Communist Party leader in January 1968, he launched an ambitious renewal program. In a few months, many Stalinist institutions lost their power. Censorship was disbanded, intellectuals were excited, civil society returned. Warsaw Pact leaders, headed by the sclerotic Leonid Brezhnev, panicked. Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu supported Dubcek not because of solidarity with the attempt to humanize socialism, but rather as a way to challenge Soviet imperialist claims.

Adopted in April 1968, the “Action Program” of the Czechoslovak communists pledged to put an end to repressive policies and engage the party in a genuine dialogue with the citizens. One its main authors, Zdenek Mlynar, had studied law in Moscow in the early 1950s. He shared a dormitory room with a young Soviet student, an arduous Komsomol militant named Mikhail Gorbachev. They became close friends. Years later, Gorbachev would resume the Prague Spring agenda hoping against hope that democratic communism could somehow be accomplished.

In June, writer Ludvik Vaculik issued a document that entered history as “The Two Thousand Words” manifesto. The Soviets and their allies went ballistic. The Manifesto was an unmitigated, outspoken, unambiguous call for political pluralism. Millions supported it expecting a multi-party system to emerge soon. As events unfolded in breathtaking speed, the neo-Stalinists East European despots acted pre-emptively and crushed the Prague Spring. Dubcek and his comrades were arrested, transported to Moscow and forced to sign a humiliating capitulation. A few months later, Dubcek was expelled from the communist party.

A new freeze followed under the name “normalization.” It was the normalcy of jails, denunciations, terror. …  Opposition activists were harassed, besmirched, jailed. They acted heroically in spite of the most unpropitious circumstances. Among them, critical intellectuals like Vaclav Havel who argued in favor of the power of the powerless.

Then in March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Moscow. In his belief that communism included such a humanistic dimension and his insistence that Stalin had been a vicious traitor to the original Marxist and Leninist messages, Gorbachev was part of a long tradition within the communist chapels. Students of Marxism refer to the attempt to turn such beliefs into policy as revisionism.

Of course, Gorbachev was not the first celebrated revisionist. Before him, attempts had been made by others to reconcile socialism with democracy and to jettison the repressive features of the system as distortions of an intrinsically healthy order. Consider Imre Nagy*, Hungary’s premier during the 1956 revolution, executed in 1958, and then Alexander Dubcek. Both Nagy and Dubcek failed because Soviet intervention crushed their experiments and dashed hopes of renovating socialism from within. But when Gorbachev came to power in March 1985 and announced his program of renewal, there was no foreign force to threaten the great shaker in the Kremlin. The seeds of the negation of the old order were planted in the empire’s innermost sanctum.

What have been the main illusions of Nagy, Dubcek, Gorbachev and other revisionists?

First, that the Communist Party, as the initiator of reforms, should preserve a central role during their implementation.

Second, that there was a middle way between the conservation of Stalinist structures and their complete disbandment.

Third, that a compromise of sorts could be reached with the exponents of the old regime.

And fourth, that the population at large was ready to enthusiastically espouse the revisionist program and endorse the new leaders in the frantic search for modernization. The revisionists naively believed in their popular mandate.

But this logic was basically flawed. The system could not tolerate structural changes and secreted antibodies. In the case of the Soviet Union, instead of foreign intervention, Gorbachev was faced with the morose inertia of the bureaucratic colossus. His exhortations increasingly fell on deaf ears, as economic performance failed to improve. The work ethos was plagued by apathy and indifference.

Were Dubcek and Gorbachev true believers? In a sense yes, because only a true believer would have engaged in such destructive action while hoping that there was enough loyalty to the system among its subjects to keep the regime alive.

The crushing of the Prague Spring was justified as defense of socialist internationalism. In fact, Marxist internationalism was nothing but hollow, ludicrous rhetoric, a facade for Soviet imperialism, ethical dereliction, civic paralysis, and bureaucratic domination. …

It demonstrated a truth that East Europeans had been long familiar with: There is no communism with a human face.

*We have doubts that Imre Nagy would have tried very hard to “reconcile socialism with democracy and to jettison the repressive features of the system as distortions of an intrinsically healthy order”, but every other point in the Professor’s expert demolition of the starry-eyed argument for a kinder gentler Communism supports our own convictions.

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.