Foreign Affairs: 100 Years
A New Americanism
Why a Nation Needs a National Story
THE current spectacle of the American Communist Party shedding crocodile tears over the fate of Catholics in Germany and protesting their undying love for the New Deal would excite an onlooker's indignation or amusement even if he did not know that this sudden concern for democratic "bourgeois" principles was prompted solely by opportunism and that this opportunism is dictated by the obvious failure of Communism to establish itself in any of the democratic countries. Marxism, in fact, has been partially established in only one important country. For centuries that country had been the most despotically ruled, the least industrially developed, the most illiterate of those ranking as the Great Powers of western civilization. Pre-revolutionary Russia was, in Marxist theory, the stoniest ground on which the seed of Communism could possibly fall.
This little irony of history is further emphasized for us today by the crop of anti-Communist despotisms which has been the response of the more advanced European nations to the ill-fated evangelists of the gospel according to Marx. Everywhere the ravages of Communism are marked by the bones of democratic government. Revolution was once the traditional monopoly of the Left; it has now become a more powerful instrument in the hands of the Right. As a result, Moscow has uttered the slogan which has sent all Marxists scurrying for the protection of the last remaining bulwark against totalitarianism: the United Front. The Marxists assume that they will be accepted by the free peoples of the world on terms of democratic equality merely because the aims of Communism are not those of Fascism. They pretend not to see that Communism is merely another totalitarian régime, and that the democratic nations abhor totalitarianism as such, in any shape or form, however praiseworthy the theoretical end in view.
A gem of prevarication in Lenin's "The State and Revolution" will show both the distortions of Marxist logic and the fundamental acceptance of the totalitarian principle. "The theory of the class struggle," he wrote, "was not created by Marx, but by the bourgeoisie before Marx, and is, generally speaking, acceptable to the bourgeoisie. . . . A Marxist is one who extends the acceptance of class struggle to the acceptance of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Herein lies the deepest difference between a Marxist and an ordinary petty or big bourgeois." Herein also lies the reason why it is impertinence on the part of Marxists to presume upon the coöperation of the democracies in the struggle against forces which the Marxists themselves have been partly responsible for bringing into existence. Let us not forget the disdain of Moscow for the Weimar Republic and all that liberal Germany was striving to establish. The shortsighted exactions of the Allies were far from being the only factors in what Georg Bernhard has called "the suicide of a republic."
The psychological slavery of Marxism differs in no wise -- so far as mental servitude is concerned -- from that of all totalitarian states. All these despotisms rely essentially upon the suppression of the facts of history, upon the distortion of the universally accepted meanings of words, upon the conditioning of the mind through ignorance bred of censorship. Ingenuous intellectuals, now fervently in favor of the United Front, imagine that this is not the case. They point out triumphantly that reactionary capitalists do not make the mistake of confusing Communism and Fascism but always favor the totalitarian states which stand for capitalism and imperialism. This is very much like saying that baseball and cricket are not both games, because almost every American prefers the former. One hardly expects a capitalist to be a frenzied admirer of Lenin. The argument betrays the extreme indifference of the intellectuals to the issue at stake, to the principle of freedom of thought and speech. Every man to his own totalitarianism, in a word.
Some day the historian of ideas will be confronted with one of the strangest enigmas of this troubled era, the complete or partial conversion of a section of the intellectuals to the doctrine of Marxian infallibility. In the past, during periods of social and political upheaval, it has been the proudest distinction of individuals of first-rate intelligence that they resisted, defied, and in the long run overthrew, or at the least very seriously undermined, whatever current dogmas and superstitions prevented the free play of the mind and stifled the human spirit. Today when the darkness of the new mediævalism is obliterating all independent thought, when even the immortal thinkers of the past are banned or misrepresented by hooligans, we see intellectuals eagerly defending and coöperating with the very forces that spell their own extinction, accepting the disingenuous rhetoric of mob politics with its specious alternative: Fascism or Communism.
In this country the converts vary in the degree of their Marxian orthodoxy, many evading the issue by taking refuge in the subterfuge of the United Front. In the varying shades of their political colors, from pale pink to deep red, the most militant and vociferous intellectuals seem very largely to belong to that generation which was adolescent when the World War broke out and knows of prewar civilization by hearsay, so to speak. Many of them, after toying with half-witted Dadaism and Surrealism, have gradually lapsed into an amorphous Marxism, the most positive feature of which is a jealous, ill-natured and wholly ignorant denigration of all those who have been most successful during the last third of a century in developing an adult and emancipated American literature. Their successors in point of age are filled with the proselyte's zeal for questions of economics and politics: these were not the chief preoccupation of the prewar generation, which was engaged in other tasks. Sentimental Socialism is now the order of the day, and "proletarian" storytellers and dramatists are encouraged to outdo the pathos and bathos of the most lachrymose Victorian best-sellers.
If there is one factor in Marxism which is supposed to differentiate it from all other forms of social theory, it is that Marx alone has given the world "scientific" Socialism. Before he was liquidated by Stalin, the late N. I. Bukharin (Marx rest his soul!) put the matter in a characteristic nutshell. This, he said, is an epoch in which "all the real forces and potentials of a new world are marching with the slogans of a new, mercilessly bold, scientific and yet revolutionary doctrine which embraces the whole sum of the problems of our time, an outlook whose creator and founder was Karl Marx." Marx was full of scorn for "idealistic" Socialists, for the humanitarianism of the petty bourgeoisie. He alone was scientific, objective, and free from the trammels of old-fashioned moral concepts, and his modern disciples have extended his claims until Marxism has come to be a compendium of all human wisdom. "This universal genius," says Bukharin, "has built up a creative synthesis of all the conquests of thought." And on the same authority we are assured that Marx was not interested in any scheme of a rationally constructed ideal society. "He has a very stern attitude towards those splendid fantasies and sentimental ideologies which are fabricated out of illusory images."
Before the Comintern graciously decided in 1935 to admit the existence of "fellow-travellers," with a view to sheltering from the Fascist storm behind the bourgeois United Front, converts to Communism were severely scrutinized as to their motives when seeking admission to the Marxist fold. Poor Barbusse, for example, was at first suspected of heresy, not that his intentions were not pure, but that his motives were sentimental rather than scientific. Some of his Russian inquisitors doubted whether he had really mastered the objective truths of the Marxian philosophy, and they resented an adherent who was clearly swayed by old-fashioned humanitarian motives derived from the libertarian humanism of the eighteenth century. Since then the rules have been greatly relaxed, for the strategic purposes of Moscow -- on the same principle, apparently, that, when times are bad and funds are needed, clubs will admit new members who have been hitherto excluded. Hence the crop of misrepresentative Marxists who presume now to speak for the intellectuals. Most of them have little or no knowledge of the Marxian scriptures, whose hideous jargon alone is sufficient to rebuff any reader with a feeling for style. Their conversion is emotional and is rarely based upon the immutable "laws" of scientific Marxism. Neither dialetic materialism nor economic determinism has convinced them. They have simply assumed in desperation that Communism, in some form or other, is the only effective means of improving the lot of the proletariat, for whom they are genuinely sorry.
Marx himself would have regarded them (as Moscow formerly did) as heretics tainted with bourgeois morality. To him and his authentic disciples Marxism is not an expression of tenderness for the toiling masses. It is an analysis of the ineluctable process of evolution whereby the proletariat acquires control of the instruments of production and distribution and substitutes its own scale of values for those which have hitherto prevailed in the civilized world. It implies and involves a complete moral and intellectual break with that civilization and all its works. This fact was recognized and greeted as such by Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb in their monumental study of the U.S.S.R. Notoriously indifferent to spiritual and aesthetic values, their bureaucratic and sociological pulses beat faster when they observed the dreams of their lifetime beginning to materialize. Never Utopians, and always in favor of any means, from Poor Law reform to Fabianism, whereby the masses of people could be regimented into a general average condition of mediocre well-being, the Webbs are more after Marx's heart than the sob-sisterly Socialists of the American and the International Writers' Congress. However desirable the spread of model housing, tractors, highways and subways, it would seem that the intellectual should be the very last person to suggest that the aim and future of civilization are to be evaluated and determined by such tests. It is not necessary to wait until Russia has caught up with the material routine of Western civilization in order to realize that the widespread distribution of mechanical gadgets and standardized luxuries, so far from enhancing the quality of life, submerges precisely those elements in society whose effective presence has lent to human nature whatever dignity and grandeur it has achieved.
The misrepresentative Marxism of the Communists outside Russia, as André Gide and others have specifically admitted, is humanitarian; it derives from an uncomfortable feeling that oppressors and oppressed are the forces lined up against each other, and that the place of the intelligentsia is on the side of the oppressed. A simplification of such disingenuousness might pass muster in a political harangue, where emotion is substituted for thought; but surely an intellectual ought to be capable of using his brains. To support privilege or oppose it is not a rational decision made in the interests of the general welfare. It is a purely subjective impulse whereby feeling for one particular class or another enables the intellectuals to evade their self-evident duty of thinking objectively and in terms of civilization as a whole. While pretending to defend abstract ideals, they are in reality merely upholding the claims, the demands, the exactions of one class.
In order to grasp the extent to which humanitarian Socialism differs from orthodox Marxism we may consult the learned exponents of the Moscow gospel. There is no uncertainty, no ambiguity, as there are literally no limits to their pretensions. "Logically," writes Bukharin, "Marxism is a scientific system, a scientific practice, and for this reason alone cannot be stupidly 'compared' to the prophets of Judea, to the medieval Taborites, etc., with their corresponding eschatologies. It is utterly foolish to compare Marx's scientific forecasts to eschatological Utopias." Warming to his theme, Bukharin proceeds modestly: "On the basis of an astonishingly complete acquaintance with all disciplines, on the basis of an obstinate study of modern natural science, from mathematics to geology, of an exceptional acquaintance with the history and literature of all ages and peoples, of stubborn original work upon primary sources, of a first-class knowledge of world literature and world art, Marxism grew as the all-embracing system of ideas of a titanic class, formed by the titanic genius of Marx."
One gathers that the omniscience commonly attributed to Deity was Marx's, and it is not surprising to find A. M. Deborin reaching the conclusion that "only the teaching of Marx and Lenin can guarantee the further development and progress of humanity." All other social theories "have the same relation to Marx's scientific forecasts as the magic formulas of a witchdoctor to wireless telegraphy, or as books on elementary alchemy to Mendeleev's table." The harsh and sweeping dogmatism, the apocalyptic fervor of such utterances are the simplest confirmation of the fact that the delusions of Messianic Marxism preclude reasonable argument and discussion. A clear consciousness of their own fanaticism is betrayed by the anger of its proponents at the suggestion of a comparison between the Marxist faith and any other variety. Marxism, in other words, is the new "opium of the people," but it must not be called a religion, despite the abdication of reason in the perfervid asseverations of its evangelists.
It is to this feast of unreason that the pseudo-Marxists of the intelligentsia invite us. Whatever may be the sad fate of those within the Soviet Union who try to think independently, there is no reason why the democratic countries outside Russia should be required to make the abject surrender of the mind displayed by those who have swallowed the Marxist faith whole. No witchdoctor nor Grand Inquisitor could rival these incantations and fulminations, this fanatical absolutism masquerading as "scientific" Socialism. The whole farce of Marx's boasted "objectivity" is revealed by these doctrinaires. So far from analyzing the facts and reaching conclusions objectively, Marx and his disciples start with a definite bias in favor of a cause and a class. Their vaunted "historical materialism" consists in twisting the evolution of history to suit the demands of the proletariat, and their supposedly logical interpretation of the facts is a predetermined series of arguments in favor of the proletariat. By a strange coincidence, it turns out that the facts thus interpreted lead to the prophecy that the triumph of the proletariat is inevitable. In Marxism the humanitarian wish is father to the "scientific" thought.
Thus Marxism has the temerity to assign a purpose to history, and that purpose happens to be the cause of which Marx was the exponent and propagandist: the collapse of the capitalist system, the seizure of power by the proletariat, and the establishment of a classless Communist society. By no stretch of the imagination can a method be called scientific if it is applied exclusively to justify a preconceived idea. A philosopher may draw conclusions from history, but he may not arrange all the forces of history to suit those conclusions. If he considers that all forms of human thought and activity are determined by historical contingencies, then his own ideas must be subject to the same law. They may be good in their time and place, just as all systems may be desirable or undesirable, according to the particular circumstances. The rhythm of history rises and falls; there is no straight line of constant progression towards a definite end, much less to the proletarian apotheosis promised by Marx. That kind of "objectivity" is sheer sophistry.
The fundamental fallacy of Marxism is the doctrine of economic determinism. Economics represents one phase of social life, an important phase, it is true, but only one. The whole of life cannot be subordinated to it or explained by it. On the contrary, economics must be relegated to its naturally subordinate position in the social scale of values. A social order is not created by economics, for the exchange of goods and services already presupposes the existence of organized societies. In other words, economic determinism does not determine, but is determined by the human personality, by the vast complex of human society. Economics must submit to these natural laws of human development which antedate and are more elemental than the laws governing the exchange of goods and services. That Moscow is aware of this awkward flaw in the Marxian theory is proved by the tactics employed to encourage the Russian masses. Revolutionary idealism is more frequently invoked than scientific Socialism, and a sense of mystical devotion has been aroused to prepare the people to endure hardships and sacrifices. Here the technique is like that employed by the Right-wing totalitarian countries. Material changes are preceded by a mental or spiritual transformation. The myth of world revolution and the fetish of mechanical progress supply the necessary spiritual nourishment for those incapable of mastering the Marxian dialectic. In the one country of its election, dialectical materialism has had to have recourse to the derided tactics of ethical Socialism.
If they wish to escape the charge of mere opportunist demagoguery, Communist propagandists outside Russia must give an intellectually honest account of themselves. Converted to Marxism for sentimental reasons, impelled by the very idealism which Marx ridiculed and despised, they misrepresent Marxism, while professing to be its representatives. What is worse, if they are intellectuals, they are traitors to the class to which they belong by definition. "While an intelligent person is merely one who is not stupid or slow-witted," says Fowler's Modern English Usage, "an intellectual person is one in whom the part played by the mind as distinguished from the emotions and perceptions is greater than in the average man." This is surely a modest definition which can quite legitimately be applied to those whose profession it is to uphold and advance the claims of the spirit.
Not only are too many of our intellectuals either silent or evasive concerning the atrocious butchery of mind and body in the U.S.S.R., but they are deliberately lending the weight of their support, the dignity and responsibility of their special status, to a theory of history and a way of life which are the negation of that inherited civilization to which they belong and whose spokesmen they should be. Maxim Gorky characteristically declared that individual thought and meditation are for "idlers living on the outskirts of the community." To think abstractly -- the refusal to think collectively--he regarded as a sign of decadence and old age. The cult of work and science, with the impudent Communist assumption that work must be manual and science practical, sets the standard of collective thinking -- whatever that contradiction in terms may mean. "In our literature," Gorky continues, "we must not draw too sharp a distinction between an artistic work and a work of scientific vulgarization." Even children's fairy tales are not spared. "Fantastic stories must be justified by work and science, and children must be given stories based on the results and hypotheses of present day scientific thought." Presumably it was a child so trained who was rewarded some time ago by a month's vacation for denouncing its father as a Trotskyite traitor.
Russia's apologists are never tired of telling us about the wide distribution of books in that country, the tremendous decrease in illiteracy, the special consideration accorded to writers, artists and scientists. By omitting to describe the kind of literature, art and science that are encouraged, they conceal the fact that the Soviet Government does not honor creative artists and scientists as such, does not, in fact, allow them to exist. It treats them according to their usefulness as propagandists for the various myths currently being imposed upon the masses. The constant glorification of manual labor, of machines, of applied science, is a direct challenge to a civilization in which work (as thus defined) is regarded as a necessary but incidental evil, at all times subordinate to those higher activities which mark the great creative geniuses and the minority which has supported them and understood them. What the civilized world has regarded as a means, Marxism proposes as an end in itself. As a citizen, an artist may accept the régime under which he lives, but it is absurd for him to make that régime the exclusive preoccupation of his art. Material things have both aided and impeded human development, but they have never been the sole reason for existence, except to people barely distinguishable from animals.
Essentially individualistic, the artist, the writer, the scientist was, until the advent of totalitarianism, content with his own function. It was no concern of his who owns what or whether private ownership should be abolished. The disinterested services of those who have placed their brains and talents at the service of mankind would not have been possible had material rewards been their primary motive, whether in the form of commercial profits or Soviet subsidies. The strangulation of the mind in the totalitarian states works more havoc with man's creative instincts than such compromises and concessions as are made by intellectuals living under capitalism. They are not frightened by the Communist threat to private property, but they are revolted by Marxist threats to the privacy of the mind. The mental bondage of Marxism is more unendurable than the material pressure of capitalism. Death or exile is the only escape from the former; personal integrity has always preserved first-rate human beings from the latter.