Friday, June 04, 2004


Reader MG wrote to ask "in what way is The Left the spirit behind all the carnage of the 20th Century". The answer might properly begin with the words of the Internationale (1871), which took as its starting point the notion that men born to the world had nothing to lose but their chains.

Arise ye starvelings from your slumbers
Arise ye prisoners of want.
For reason in revolt now thunders
And at last ends the age of cant. ...
No more deluded by reaction
On tyrants only we'll make war
The soldiers too will take strike action
They'll break ranks and fight no more
And if those cannibals keep trying
To sacrifice us to their pride
They soon shall hear the bullets flying
We'll shoot the generals on our own side.

It set the theme which was to endure for more than a hundred years: that the familiar world is not worth fighting for. Only the unseen tomorrow gives life any meaning. The present could never be ended too soon. The odious aspects of life in the early 20th century were clear enough, and nowhere better portrayed than George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier. Who can forget his portrayals of coal workers and their daily lives? From its earliest inception, the Left cried that the world was not good enough. It held that any attempts to find happiness in the present were not only doomed, but immoral. Religion, Marx said, "is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness." He claimed that capitalism could never feed the poor. Lenin said Marxism could, and defined Communism as "socialism plus electricity".

What they forgot to add was that the world would never be good enough. That not a single Marxist state ever managed to provide either the food or electricity in adequate quantities remained beside the point. Shortages were always in the present and the present was unimportant anyway. When capitalism provided wealth in quantities that Lenin could only dream of, then food and electricity themselves became hated in turn, the way starvation once was. The Left, as typified by McSpotlight.Org, now accuses capitalism of creating obesity.

"Chinese authorities at the weekend launched a campaign to get their people to revert to Chinese food when in search of a fast fill. An increase in levels of obesity - as much as 10% of the population of Shanghai is now overweight - has led Communist Party officials to pledge that comparable standards of speed and hygiene would be introduced into indigenous catering outlets in an attempt to fight off the foreign invader. How wise they are. Consumer goods are the vanguard of the forces of capitalism. Fast food outlets are its shock troops. And it is the burger which is the standard-bearer of Western economic hegemony."

As for electricity, what could be worse? The environmentalist Gar Smith in his article Third World Poverty: Why Powerlines Aren’t the Answer says:

Surrounded as we are by streetlights, neon signs, movie houses, 24-hour shopping malls, TVs, radios, microwave ovens, audio-, video-, CD- and DVD-players, it’s easy to forget that our material comforts are a historical fluke based on a premise built on an illusion -- the illusion that Earth’s oil resources are infinite. A parallel and therapeutic illusion (one that helps assuage the guilt over our material self-indulgence) is that someday everyone on Earth will be able to live like a citizen of Manhattan or Paris -- with full access to all-electric kitchens, HDTVs in the den and SUVs in the garage. But, if you pause to think about it, electricity is a luxury, not a necessity.

Lenin's future was attractive only for so long as it didn't exist and was legitimate only when its promises were not provided by capitalism. John Buchan could tell his son, when he wrote "Memory Hold The Door", which described friends who died in the Great War, that "they held up the world for you". But a true Leftist could only ever dream of boasting to his progeny that 'I tore down the world for you'. The present was always too hateful to endure. In 1933, as Hitler began to arise in Europe (and Stalin was hosting the Reich's reconstituted armored forces in rehearsing blitzkrieg techniques in the Ukraine), it was an article of Leftist faith that nothing in Western Civilization was worth fighting for. At Oxford University, the flower of Britain recited the famous Oxford Pledge never again "to fight for King and Country". There was a less famous version across the Atlantic, where American students were urged to "refuse to Support the government of the United States in any war it might undertake." Nothing was worth preserving -- even against Hitler -- for so long as Stalin was his ally. It is hard now, after sixty years, to recall that in Britain's darkest days in the summer and fall of 1940 that Stalin was still Hitler's ally. Only in the summer of 1941 after the Panzers invaded the Soviet Union, did Uncle Joe become an ally and World War 2 finally become the "Good War".

Yet the fruits of victory instantly became hateful. The destruction of Hitler, the end of rationing, the postwar boom -- all these counted for nothing. In the shadow of the Cold War, the Left counseled unilateral disarmament. Nothing was worth the risk of nuclear annihilation, the unbearable tension of living Ten Minutes Before Midnight -- certainly not the England they fought Hitler five years to preserve. In Bertrand Russell's memorable phrase, it was "better to be Red than dead." The future, even the dark Stalinist horizon of 1950s, was preferable to the present. It would always be. The Left lived in the mansions of both the past and the future; its present was a hovel.

The naive scholar who searches for a consistent Leftist program will not find it. What there is consists only in the negation of the present. Is there piety in current society? Well, "men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest". Are there mullahs who would stint at nothing to destroy the West? Why, the BBC News reports that lifelong Marxist Carlos the Jackal has happily converted to Islam. Was Pat Tillman so foolish as to fight for his country? The Indymedia commented "Dumb Jock Dies for Pipeline in Afghanistan." Are any of Saddam's men ready to mine the roads in Iraq? Well, here are a few words of encouragement from Ted Rall. "Thank you for joining the Iraqi resistance forces. You have been issued an AK-47 rifle, rocket-propelled grenade launcher and an address where you can pick up supplies of bombs and remote-controlled mines. Please let your cell leader know if you require additional materiel for use against the Americans." None of these positions are inconsistent. They only reflect a higher truth. As Orwell wrote in 1984:

Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible. ... The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed -- if all records told the same tale -- then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'

In all of Marxist literature, which reaches considerable heights, there is never a moment comparable to Christ's sermon on the Lilies of the Fields, a moment of certainty in the invincibility of love. In its place stands the conviction of the futility of life; of the awareness of existence in a dark room. Like Faust at his desk, it laments: "I have studied philosophy, jurisprudence and medicine, and worst of all theology, and here I am, for all my lore, the wretched fool I was before." Faust made a pact with the infernal spirits to accept damnation on the instant he found happiness, provided he was empowered to pursue the future, and failed. Yet like the Left, it was the simple happiness of others that shielded him in the end. When, after having ruined maidens by falsely pledging love and plundering the world of treasure which he unhappily piled up, Faust finally plants a garden and bequeaths it to the poor; and in so doing unintentionally experiences pure happiness, Mephisto comes to claim his due. And barring the demon's way was a cascade of flowers strewn by the simple girl whose love Faust took and whose pity he could not destroy. The Left should look out the window, and ask why Osama is not there.

The greatest apostasy in Marxist literature has always been to find value in the present. Hemingway's Robert Jordan departs the path of the true believer when he tells Maria, as he stays to hold off pursuers, not to fight for Communism's glory, but to go to Barcelona and see it for "the two of us". And it is an un-Marxist kind of heroism that impels the ordinary man to leave the simple things he loves to preserve them for a mere hour more. The most moving scenes in Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire occur when Leonidas pauses to embrace his wife to remember the scent of her hair and the fictional Xeo bids goodbye to the only woman he has ever loved, lost and found anew by a convent on the Aegean shore, before going without hesitation to Thermopylae. Neither gave thought to the future, only to what was and should remain; and cast their fortunes on the tides of faith.