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Communism and love?

PostPosted: 17 Aug 2014, 20:32
by Elliott
I have been watching a video on Youtube in which a right-winger mentions a remark made by Jean-Paul Sartre:

Other person wrote:There are [death] camps in the Soviet bloc.

Sartre wrote:Oh... but they're based upon love...

I am unable to find a source for this remark, so it may well be apocryphal. But this is unimportant; we know for a fact that the many "useful idiots" of the West did take this attitude towards the Soviet Union under Stalin.

Now, our first reaction as right-wingers is probably to laugh at the remark, to dismiss it as preposterous and irresponsible self-delusion. But I think we are going rather easy on ourselves when we do that - and perhaps even doing what we often accuse the Left of doing: claiming that we and only we have a monopoly on goodness.

So, I wonder if there is any truth to the claim that Communism was based upon love.

We probably have to consider different types of Communist:

  • the Western "useful idiots", who never actually see the reality of what they are advocating
  • the "amateur" Communists who help to bring about a Communist regime, driven by genuine concern for the working-class
  • the administrators and bureaucrats who keep a Communist regime going
  • the psychopathic Communist leaders - Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, et al.

I think we can easily write off the first, third and fourth groups.

The Western "useful idiots" were the (equally disgusting) Laurie Pennys of their day: spoilt middle-class and upper-class inadequates driven by self-indulgence, self-delusion and an entirely faux, self-serving concern for the poor.

But there were also working-class "useful idiots", and I am more charitable towards them. At least they would have had personal experience of struggle (we're talking 1910s, 1920s, 1930s...) and so could have a legitimate grievance in their own lives towards the rich and powerful, and thus could understandably extend that grievance to the poor abroad, in countries that have become Communist. One can understand them thinking that, since the present system hurts the poor, the Communist alternative is well worth trying, despite (or perhaps precisely because of) its radical nature.

The administrators and bureaucrats in Communist regimes were, I would expect, largely pragmatists, the type of people who can thrive in any situation that requires organisation, because they can change their convictions to suit and know how to organise (whether successfully or not) and are driven by a desire to survive and prosper within the bureaucratic hierarchy. Convictions are not important to these types (as TD has reported) and love, I can only imagine, is even less important - certainly I think they would be adept at keeping it out of their professional lives, which would necessarily be conducted in an amoral way.

As for the psychopathic Communist leaders, I would guess they were driven by a relish of, and obsession with, power. Lenin seems to have been much more of an intellectual than Stalin, so perhaps we could add an additional motivation for him, but it still isn't love. Anyone who can say:
Lenin wrote:If for the sake of communism it is necessary for us to destroy 9/10ths of the people, we must not hesitate.

is not motivated, or perhaps one should say hampered, by love.

This leaves the second group. Here, I believe that love may well have been a factor in their support for Communism. These are the activists, the campaigners, the amateurs who perhaps precisely because of their concern for people would never rise very far in the Communist hierarchy; they would at some point be shot for being hindered by decency - assuming they even rose high enough to be that relevant.

These are the types who would believe in the revolution because of the suffering they saw around them. They would continue to believe in the revolution for some considerable time, perhaps a very long time depending on their ability to rationalise away things like the Red Terror, the Holodomor and the gulags. Eventually, however, they would reach a crossroads where they had to choose whether to admit that the revolutionaries did not share their love for people in general, or to delude themselves forever.

My reason for making this investigation is to determine whether it is fair for us to condemn Communism as something that is always driven by hate, power-madness, control freakery, inadequacy, envy, etc. I think we can fairly say that, hitherto, every Communist regime has ended up that way. Perhaps it simply goes against human nature so much that the only way (so far) to implement and sustain Communism is to become psychopathic towards the great mass of the public. However, this does not mean that Communism always originates from hatred/envy.

I am not even sure that Communism is always doomed to become a system of hatred/envy; perhaps in a more hi-tech age, with computerised systems of production that can react intelligently to resource fluctuation, the Communist utopia would be possible, peacefully.

Of course, I am referring in the above paragraph purely to the material aspects of a Communist regime - the production of enough food and living materials for all. The more "spiritual" aspects of a Communist society - the equality, the enforced atheism, the levelling of everybody into one class - are much more problematic. This aspect of Communism might well still be motivated by love, but I think it is mistaken, inherently.

This has become a much longer post than I had intended. I originally just wanted to ask what other people thought. So I'll leave it here. Do you think Communism was ever based upon love?

Re: Communism and love?

PostPosted: 17 Aug 2014, 23:29
by Kevin R
The theory of communism was based upon a materialist conception of reality. The aim being abolition of private property and to limit the concept of ownership merely to consumption, abolition of politics, and the dictatorship of the working-class (though if everyone is then working-class it's difficult for me to see who they dictate over).

I don't think it originated from bourgeois conceptions of love. And I wonder if Marx ever pondered on whether these conceptions were part of the idealist philosophy he requited anyway. Blanquism had a hand in incorporating plans for praxis, but it's been questioned just how unified a mass the international working class were, and whether they were ever spiritually unified anyway (Lenin knew this), or to what extent they felt a bond with the initial tenets of Marx's vision of economic relations. The manifesto proposed an ending of the urban/rural polarity, but Lenin's attitude towards the rural peasants (as opposed to the urban proletariat) was just as fearful in it's implications as the Tsarism it toppled. Many just wanted bread, and assistance against the perilous dangers of peasant existence. Unlike the moaning emigres he despised, Lenin's determination to punch through the metaphysical babble and bring the whole edifice down was driven by something certainly.. a sense of his own destiny in the flow of history perhaps? But was it love purely and simply? He believed the philosophy unquestioningly, but he also knew that he wasn't the only one who was apparently acting from profoundly altruistic motivations; the social democrats had their own ideas about how a love for the well-being of the workers was to be accomplished. Anyway, events at the second Internationale galvanised his plans about how to deal with that. Revolutionary fervour is intoxicating (as some who were present later wrote).

I agree with you about the pragmatists though. Rich pickings for those canny comrades further up who loved the party .

Re: Communism and love?

PostPosted: 18 Aug 2014, 16:30
by Kevin R
I can imagine that if the alleged riposte was actually uttered by Sartre, then perhaps he was being somewhat sardonic.

His rhetorical gifts seemed to me to be convincing only as dramatic depiction of the post apocalyptic soul after two World Wars. His theology is not one of conventional love, but that of anti-heroism, criminal chic, rejection of bourgeois values, a demonic war-dance against the enemy of false-consciousness and bad faith. Everyone familiar with his thought knew he was very fond of seeing the criminal consciousness as a by-product of existential crisis. Commit yourself to being for others and you are caught in the rat-trap of a spurious objectivity. But if one accepts Satre's philosophical creed concerning transcendental freedom, then how is one still not then abiding by the conception of someone else's consciousness? And if one sweats under a communist regime, how is one to relate to the idea of eternal struggle if all one wants to do is ameliorate the eternal struggle of daily living? That is where the intellectuals and despots stoke the fires for burning the heretics, not for warming the masses.

Re: Communism and love?

PostPosted: 18 Aug 2014, 16:38
by Kevin R

Re: Communism and love?

PostPosted: 29 Aug 2014, 00:51
by Kevin R
Thinking about this thread again today reminded me of a classic BBC drama series from the 1970's. It was called 'Fall of Eagles', and chronicles the political story of the decline of the great houses of Europe from the 'fin de si├Ęcle' up to the Great War. One of the episodes (link below) deals with the rise of Lenin , who is played by Patrick Stewart, and bears a not dissimilar look to the old Red rogue himself. The script is intelligent and articulate, and the whole series is presently available to watch on Yoof-Tube if this episode whets your appetite..