Thursday, 10 May 2018

Puzzling--Yet Understandable

Why Western Intellectuals Love Stalin

One of the more puzzling phenomenon of Western Europe in the twentieth century has been the way intellectuals doted on Stalin.  Many still do.  A good contemporary example of the trope in our day is found in Jeremy Corbyn and the present Labour Party in the United Kingdom.  The question is begged as to why this might be.

The historian, Tony Judt endeavours to explain:
Western intellectual enthusiasm for Communism tended to peak not in time of "goulash Communism" or "Socialism with a human face", but rather at the moments of the regime's worst cruelties: 1935-39 and 1944-56.  Writers, professors, artists, teachers and journalists frequently admired Stalin not in spite of his faults, but because of them.  It was when he was murdering people on an industrial scale, when the show trials were displaying Soviet Communism at its mot theatrically macabre, that men and women beyond Stalin's grasp were most seduced by the man and his cult.  It was the absurdly large gap separating rhetoric from reality that made it so irresistible to men and women of goodwill in search of a Cause.  [Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (London: Vintage Books, 2010), p. 216.] 
So, here is the problem: how can it be that men and women of Western Europe and Great Britain could could not just overlook the barbarism and cruelty of Stalin's regime, but glory in it?
  It was because of the end, the glorious end that was in view.  Truly, the end did justify the means.  As the old proverb says, "You cannot have the omelette without breaking a few eggs."  If skulls in Stalin's gulag were not being crushed on an industrial scale, the glorious fruits of the revolution would never set, let alone ripen on the tree.  It was the sheer scale, the huge proportion of the crimes and cruelty, which captured the imagination of Western chattering classes.  These things would reify the coming universal glorious dictatorship of the proletariat.
Communism excited intellectuals in a way that neither Hitler nor (especially) liberal democracy could hope to match.  Communism was exotic in locale and heroic in scale.  Raymond Aron in 1950 remarked upon "the ludicrous surprise . . . that the European Left has taken a 'pyramid-builder' for its God".  But was it really so surprising?  . . . .  The idea that the Soviet Union was engaged upon a momentous quest whose very ambition justified and excused its shortcomings was uniquely attractive to rationalist intellectuals.  The besetting sin of Fascism had been its parochial objectives.  But Communism was directed towards towards impeccably universal and transcendent goals.  Its crimes were excused by many non-Communist observers as the cost, so to speak, of doing business with History.  [Ibid.]
If we are able to grasp what Judt is saying, we can then understand the mind and heart of Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party in the United Kingdom.  The "universal and transcendent goals" of Communism, of the Hard Left, amply justify the crushing of more than a few human beings along the way.

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