Thursday, June 24, 2010

Radicals of the left

I have a cousinly connection with a family, an exceptional family for whom I have affection and respect, who are seriously left-wing - the father in a quiet, intellectual, old-fashioned English Marxist sort of way, the children creating their own variations on the theme (e.g. syndicalism).

These may be dead issues for most of us, but I suspect that in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis and with hard times in prospect, many on the left have high hopes for a new order emerging, with the likes of Hugo Chavez showing the way.

Comparisons with the old pro-Soviet Marxists may be inappropriate, but there is a similar tendency perhaps to ignore the faults of any system which aspires to do great things for the downtrodden.

Leszek Kolakowski* had some interesting thoughts on what motivated European Marxists who implicitly or explicitly supported Moscow during the last phases of Stalinism:

"The intellectuals ... while they embraced Marxism and Communism as a universal doctrine, were well aware that the movement was wholly governed by Moscow and subordinated to Soviet political aims. They supported it nevertheless, and uncritically rejected all information ... that threw light on the true nature of the Soviet system ... Any who entertained doubts of the perfection of the Soviet system told themselves that 'after all' Communism was the only ... bulwark against Fascism, and must therefore be accepted a hundred per cent. The psychological motives of this voluntary self-deception were various. Among them were a desperate need to believe that someone in the world embodied the age-old human dream of universal human brotherhood; ... contempt for the democratic 'establishment' ... ; the ambition to be on the crest of the wave of history, in other words on the winning side; the cult of force to which intellectuals are especially prone. Desiring ... to be on the same side of the barricade as the deprived and the persecuted of this world, the Communist intellectuals became prophets of the most oppressive political system then existing... "

The new order of Hugo Chavez and his friends may rival the USSR in its totalitarian aspirations if not in its scope and effectiveness.

*Main currents of Marxism (W.W. Norton, 2005), pp.932-3