The Clare Spark Blog

October 7, 2012

Christian Socialism as precursor to Orwell

Orwell’s legacy is controversial. I see his tragic vision as a continuation of the moral reformers reacting to the Chartist movement in Britain, 1839-1850.  This book essay lays out the case for “a change of heart” as opposed to structural reform. It is my contention that Orwell’s most important precursor was Thomas Carlyle (identified by Orwell during the war years, as a precursor to fascism), whose claim that all social relationships were subsumed under the “cash nexus” in industrial society was taken up by Marx and his followers all of whom continue to rail against “finance capital.” (The defeated Winston Smith recites this rhyme at the end of 1984: ‘Under the spreading chestnut tree /I sold you and you sold me –‘. This alleged commodification of human relationships is crucial to all modern socialist ideologies, including populism; i.e., you must purify your heart of the love of money that is the root of all evil.)

In my book, I show how Kingsley’s archetypal “agitator” bears a close resemblance to Melville’s character Captain Ahab. Note especially that Benjamin Netanyahu cited the Hebrew prophets as the founders of “civilization” in his UN speech. (See last sentences in https://clarespark.com/2012/09/28/bibi-and-the-human-nature-debate/.) For more on the origins of social democracy (e.g. the New Deal), see https://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/.

[book excerpt, Hunting Captain Ahab, chapter 5 (the chapter that got me into trouble with Verso):]

The Old Testament Jewish prophet as “the agitator” was developed by the English cleric and Christian Socialist Charles Kingsley in his cautionary tale, Alton Locke tailor and poet (1850), published anonymously while Melville was composing Moby-Dick.[i] Kingsley’s book purports to be the confession of a genuine repentant radical who has died of consumption. Inspired by the “old Jewish heroes” Moses, David, and Jehu, and rejecting (conservative) Calvinism, the tailor Alton Locke was fired by the aspirations of other “working men whose craving is only for some idea which shall give equal hopes, claims, and deliverances, to all mankind alike!” (12,13). For Ishmael, the radical Enlightenment was a snare and a delusion: those who strive for truth, justice, and equality in a world purged of wickedness, but who are armed, like Ahab (or the dark angel depicted in Dürer’s Melencolia I or Rosa’s Democritus in Meditation) solely with the tools of earthly (not Right) Reason, will end their efforts in despair, wrecking the rest of humanity along with themselves. But we must not push the comparison too far. Alton Locke leaves us with ex-radicals tearfully but gladly chastened and regenerated; Moby-Dick leaves a regenerated orphan, dying into life, as Howard Vincent says, but, as Vincent does not say, clinging to Queequeg’s coffin (primitivism), a coffin lacking a keel. The coffin had breached like a whale; Ishmael was rescued by a whale/coffin without a conscience, without balance.

Alton Locke recalls his collapse into the monomania of Chartism (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chartism) , prepared by harsh poverty and mother’s levelling religious zeal:

Female “Chartist”

“…those old Jewish heroes did fill my heart and soul. I learnt from them lessons which I never want to unlearn…they were patriots, deliverers from that tyranny and injustice from which the child’s heart,–’child of the devil’ though you may call him,–instinctively, and, as I believe, by a divine inspiration, revolts. Moses leading his people out of Egypt; Gideon, Barak, and Samson, slaying their oppressors; David, hiding in the mountains from the tyrant, with his little band of those who had fled from the oppressions of an aristocracy of Nabals; Jehu, executing God’s vengeance on the kings–these were my heroes, my models; they mixed themselve up with the dim legends about the Reformation martyrs, Cromwell and Hampden, Sidney and Monmouth, which I had heard at my mother’s knee. Not that the perennial oppression of the masses, in all ages and countries, had yet risen on me as an awful, torturing, fixed idea. I fancied, poor fool, that tyranny was the exception, and not the rule. But it was the mere sense of abstract pity and justice which was delighted in me. I thought that these were old fairy tales, such as never need to be realized again. I learnt otherwise in later years (12, 13).”

No Melville scholar has proposed that Alton Locke might have been a source for Moby-Dick (or if not a source, then a work carrying identical baggage). However, the Illustrated London News recognized the political referent of The Whale (the title of the English edition of Moby-Dick): “the personages are so conceived as to be types of the principal different parties and classes into which the late Aggression agitation split up the community.”[ii] Kingsley’s character Crossthwaite, a Chartist who fascinates Alton (as Ahab fascinates Ishmael, as Isabel fascinates Pierre), resembles Narcissus/Ahab and his reflection or double, the Whale: “Wild grey eyes gleamed out from under huge knitted brows, and a perpendicular wall of brain, too large for his puny body.”[iii] Here is Crossthwaite’s defiant speech as proletarian Christ to his fellow tailors, meeting to discuss their response to the newly (Jewishly) imposed system of piecework. Perhaps Crossthwaite is a source (or parallel) for Ahab with the “crucifixion in his face”:

‘…Every one fancies the laws which fill his pockets to be God’s laws. But I say this. If neither government nor members of Parliament can help us, we must help ourselves. Help yourselves and Heaven will help you. Combination among ourselves is the only chance. One thing we can do–sit still.’

‘And starve!’ said some one.

‘Yes, and starve! Better starve than sin. I say, it is a sin to give into this system. It is a sin to add our weight to the crowd of artisans who are now choking and strangling each other to death, as the prisoners did in the black hold of Calcutta. Let those who will, turn beasts of prey, and feed upon their fellows; but let us at least keep ourselves pure. It may be the law of political civilisation, the law of nature, that the rich should eat up the poor, and the poor eat up each other. Then I here rise and curse that law, that civilisation, that nature. Either I will destroy them, or they shall destroy me. As a slave, as an increased burden on my fellow-sufferers, I will not live. So help me God! I will take no work home to my house; and I call upon every one here to combine, and to sign a protest to that effect.’

‘What’s the use of that, my good Mr. Crossthwaite?’ interrupted someone querulously. ‘Don’t you know what come of the strike a few years ago, when this piecework first came in? The masters made fine promises, and never kept’em; and the men who stood out had their places filled up with poor devils who were glad enough to take the work at any price–just as ours will be. There’s no use kicking against the pricks. All the rest have come to it, and so must we. We must live somehow, and half a loaf is better than no bread; and even that half-loaf will go into other men’s mouths, if we don’t snap at it at once. Besides, we can’t force others to strike. We may strike and starve ourselves, but what’s the use of a dozen striking out of twenty thousand!’

‘Will you sign the protest, gentlemen,[iv] or not?’ asked Crossthwaite in a determined voice.

Some half-dozen said they would, if the others would.

‘And the others won’t. Well, after all, one man must take the responsibility, and I am that man. I will sign the protest by myself. I will sweep a crossing – I will turn cress-gatherer, rag-picker; I will starve piecemeal, and see my wife starve with me; but do the wrong thing I will not! The cause wants martyrs. If I must be one, I must’ (104-105, my emph.). [v]

Later, Crossthwaite becomes a professional labor organizer, an “agitator” resembling Ahab:

He scribbled, agitated; ran from London to Manchester, and Manchester to Bradford, spouting, lecturing–sowing the east wind, I am afraid, and little more. Whose fault was it? What could such a man do, with that fervid tongue, and heart, and brain of his, in such a station as his, such a time as this? Society had helped to make him an agitator. Society has had, more or less, to take the consequences of her own handiwork. For Crossthwaite did not speak without hearers. He could make the fierce, shrewd artisan nature flash out into fire–not always celestial, nor always, either, infernal. [Cf. Isabel’s face, “compounded so of hell and heaven.”] So he agitated and lived–how, I know not (187).

Chartist meeting

Compare Kingsley’s fantasy with Ishmael’s in “The First Lowering”:

But what it was that inscrutable Ahab said to that tiger-yellow crew of his–these were words best omitted here; for you live under the blessed light of the evangelical land. Only the infidel sharks in the audacious seas may give ear to such words, when with tornado brow, and eyes of red murder, and foam-glued lips, Ahab leaped after his prey (223).

Alton Locke contrasts the Chartist’s integrity with his own as a hack writer, in terms achingly reminiscent of Melville’s complaint to Hawthorne (1? June, 1851), “Dollars damn me…What I feel most moved to write, that is banned,–it will not pay.”

It was miserable work, there is no denying it–only not worse than tailoring.–To try and serve God and Mammon too; to make miserable compromises daily, between the two great incompatibilities, what was true, and what would pay; to speak my mind, in fear and trembling, by hints and halves, and quarters; to be daily hauling poor Truth just up to the top of her well, and then, frightened at my own success, let plump down again to the bottom; to sit there, trying to teach others, while my mind was in a whirl of doubt; to feed others’ intellects, while my own was hungering; to grind on in the Philistine’s mill, or occasionally make sport for them, like some weary-hearted clown grinning in a pantomime…as blind as Samson, but not, alas as strong (Alton Locke, 188-189).

[Clare:] Kingsley must drop the truth he has laboriously dredged up, lest he become an agitator, a monomaniac diagnosed as the prisoner of a fixed-idea, as the carrier of a fatal disease (the doomed revolution). And yet, with Ishmael, Kingsley fears the “tornado brow” of his own raging disappointment, flying into “a whirl of doubt” when he chooses Mammon over God. Resubmerging poor Truth has turned him into an exhausted Pierrot. Like the repentant Wandering Jew, the compromised intellectual is cursed to pace and tarry sleeplessly until the Second Coming, to preach that slavery is freedom, ignorance is bliss, that universalist notions such as political freedom, equality before the law, and the amelioration of suffering are ploys dreamed up by demagogues to manufacture “difference” within the Volk.[i] The richer Truth that roots the torn-up Kingsley and Melville is the appetizing menu of the monarchist, railing against republics breeding furious, leveling and regicidal mobs.[ii]

What about these retreats into “pragmatism”? I have made a case for a masqued Melville arguing for vast structural transformations while hiding behind the narrator, but even if I am wrong, the Tory relapses could be products of depression leading to the temporary ascendancy of a conservative program of individual moral reform, resignation to permanent earthly bewilderment and the retraction of Isabel’s lawless wandering. Alton Locke understood his error but too late to avert an untimely death from consumption.[iii] “Fool that I was! It was within, rather than without, that I needed [structural] reform” (110). Likewise, the other fanatical genius, Crossthwaite, is brought out of the Charter and into Christ by an upper-class radical, Eleanor, “her figure dilating, and her eyes flashing, like an inspired prophetess”:

‘…Denounce the effete idol of property qualification, not because it happens to strengthen class interests against you, but because as your mystic dream reminded you, and therefore, as you knew long ago, there is no real rank, no real power, but worth; and worth consists not in property, but in the grace of God. Claim, if you will, annual parliaments, as a means of enforcing the responsibility of Christian rulers to the Christian community, of which they are to be, not the lords, but the ministers–the servants of all. But claim these, and all else for which you long, not from man, but from God, the King of men. And therefore, before you attempt to obtain them, make yourselves worthy of them–perhaps by that process you will find some of them have become less needful. At all events, do not ask, do not hope, that He will give them to you, before you are able to profit by them. Believe that He has kept them from you hitherto, because they would have been curses, and not blessings. Oh! look back, look back, at the history of English Radicalism for the last half century, and judge by your own deeds, your own words; were you fit for those privileges which you so frantically demanded? Do not answer me, that those who had them were equally unfit; but thank God, if the case be indeed so, that your incapacity was not added to theirs, to make confusion worse confounded! Learn a new lesson. Believe at last that you are in Christ, and become new creatures….’

Crossthwaite had kept his face fast buried in his hands; now he looked up with brimming eyes–

‘I see it–I see it all now. Oh, my God! my God! What infidels we have been!’ (End book excerpt: 362, 364-365).

[Clare’s wrap up:] I have reviewed a persistent trope: Tories attributed Jewish characteristics to the Puritan rebels after the English Civil War, while reserving all civic virtue and balance to themselves, the moderate men. English Tories applied the same discourse to America after the American Revolution; they denounced the ex-colonists as hypocrites, preaching godliness and equality while abusing non-whites and Nature. Few critics note the conservative strain in George Orwell, who at times follows this trope.  Happy Columbus Day weekend.

George Orwell passport photo


[i]               24. [Charles Kingsley], Alton Locke Tailor and Poet: An Autobiography, ed. Elizabeth A. Cripps (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1983). Cf. Mary Wollestonecraft, An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution and the Effect It Has Produced in Europe, 1794, 4: “Locke, following the track of these bold thinkers [English emigrants to America], recommended in a more methodical manner religious toleration, and analyzed the principles of civil liberty: for in his definition of liberty we find the elements of The Declaration of the Rights of Man, which, in spite of the fatal errours of ignorance, and the perverse obstinacy of selfishness, is now converting sublime theories into practical truths.”

[ii]               25. 1 Nov. 1851, reprinted in Harrison Hayford and Hershel Parker, eds., Moby-Dick as Doubloon: Essays and Extracts (1851-1970) (New York: Norton, 1970), 18.

[iii]              26. Cf. Lavater’s caption to his sketch of the Prophet-type, “After Raphael”: “Prophetic seriousness and apparent inexorableness/ The Eyes penetrating and immoveable, the Eyebrows choleric, the Nose firm & commanding, the Forehead hard and always forbidding, the Hair characteristic.”Physiognomical Sketches by Lavater, engraved from the original drawings by John Luffman (London, 1802), 46.

[iv]              27. I.e., no aristocrat would submit to such slavery.

[v]               28. The villain is Schechem Isaacs; Schechem was the name of George Walker’s benevolent Jew in Theodore Cyphon, 1796. With respect to Crossthwaite’s martyrdom, compare Mary Glendinning’s speech (quoted above), fearing that Pierre will darken himself as a “hope forlorn,” i.e., as a figure of the political/moral vanguard, sacrificing himself to a good cause.

[i] The distinguished German Professor Hans Ulrich-Wehler addressed the UCLA History Department Mar. 19, 1997, on the evolution of German nationalism since 1800. Self-described as a pragmatic advocate of Gesellschaft, he suggested that a regional nationalism (The European Union) would be an improvement on the older nationalism that seemed susceptible to right-wing radicalism during periods of crisis. When I asked why he did not prefer international solidarity grounded in science and universalist ethics [the radical Enlightenment vision] rather than a new bloc, he responded “Universalism creates difference.”

[ii]               30. Cf. Georg Brandes, Revolution and Reaction in Nineteenth-Century French Literature (N.Y.: Russell and Russell, 1960), 58-59: “Human reason had risen and freed itself with athletic strength. Everything that existed had to justify its existence. Where men heretofore had prayed for a miracle they now investigated into causes. Never before in history had there been such doubt, such labour, such inquiry, such illumination… For the time being the emancipatory movement was checked. It began once more to be inexpedient not to profess faith in revealed religion… The majority of the men without private means who had prepared themselves for government appointments, and could not overcome their irresistible desire to eat every day, were entirely reliable supporters of the re-establishment of the church. No one over twenty-five years of age will be surprised by the number of supporters orthodoxy gained from the moment when it advanced from being an absurdity to being a means of subsistence. To such converts add the great party of the timorous, all those who live in fear of the Red Republic, and in whose eyes religion was, first and foremost, a safeguard against it. It was among these that the army of the principle of authority obtained most recruits. From a religious body the church suddenly turned into a political party.”

[iii]              31. Alton Locke predicts his imminent demise: “No,–I shall never see the land [the New World]. I felt it all along. Weaker and weaker, day by day, with bleeding lungs and failing limbs, I have travelled the ocean-paths. The iron has entered too deeply into my soul…” Alton Locke, 388.


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September 28, 2012

“Bibi” and the human nature debate

CNT poster 1937

(This blog should be read along with https://clarespark.com/2015/01/22/orwells-wartime-essays-some-surprises/ and https://clarespark.com/2012/10/15/orwell-power-and-the-totalitarian-state/.)

Recent historians are acknowledging that the transition from pre-capitalist societies to capitalist societies is prolonged, tempestuous, and violent.  At the bottom of all the fights between political factions in our country (the U.S.), can be discerned sharp differences over the precise content of “human nature.”

For instance, in David Horowitz’s recent book Radicals (2012), he concludes that progress (linked by him to utopianism and perfectionism) is a leftist/fascist illusion; that human nature is evil, and the best we can expect in the route to amelioration is “compromise.” He thus marks himself as a moderate man, and is aligned with some of the figures most criticized on my website, notwithstanding DH’s strong support for Israel and opposition to jihadist Muslims. (For instance, Harvard Magazine is promoting “The Case for Compromise” in its Summer 2012 issue.)

This last week I carefully read George Orwell’s famous work Homage to Catalonia (1938). It is a confusing work, though much admired by anarchists and Trotskyists for its testimony as to Orwell’s experiences during the Spanish Civil War, in which he witnessed the destruction of POUM by Stalinists, leading him to denounce all bourgeois influences as fascist, and also to complain about non-peasants and non-laborers as “money-grabbing.” He went on to denounce journalists and Communists for betraying the facts of the Spanish Civil War.

This populist term of abuse (“money-grabbing”) led me to wonder if Orwell’s critique of Communism, Fascism, and “Ingsoc” in 1984 was not at least partly motivated by an aversion to the “jewification” often ascribed during his lifetime to the modern world, a “materialist”/anti-“spirituality” modernity that seen as inducing “degeneration” from the late 19th century onward. Indeed, in the last words of 1984, the rehabilitated Winston Smith sings ‘Under the spreading chestnut tree /I sold you and you sold me –‘, suggesting that the modern world has been commodified, reducing all human relationships to the cash nexus; but more, he is as hard as any Frankfurt School “Western Marxist” on the horrid influence of mass media in controlling the proles, the “85%.”  [In prior blogs I have noted that Hitler had been assumed to carry cunning Jewish blood;  that Hitler himself viewed Soviet Communists as fronts for finance capital; and that J. A. Hobson’s influential study Imperialism (1905) blamed a conspiracy of wealthy Jews for war, which they instigated through their control of international finance and mass media (in his case, newspapers).] I am not concluding anything in particular about Orwell’s possible Jewish problem, but noting that it is worth exploring. (For pertinent blogs see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/13/klara-hitlers-son-and-jewish-blood/, https://clarespark.com/2009/09/18/bad-sex-in-the-new-york-times/https://clarespark.com/2011/06/19/index-to-links-on-hitler-and-the-big-lie/, and https://clarespark.com/2009/11/17/melencolia-i-and-the-apocalypse-1938/.)

On September 27, 2012, Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Few of the press reports I have seen mention the beginning of his speech, in which he explained global conflict as a fight to the death between modernity and medievalism. In the process, he highlighted the Enlightenment elevation of science, technology, and medicine, fields in which Israel excelled, but which threatened their hostile neighbors who worshipped death and promoted unquestioning obedience to authority (i.e., to the medieval order).

“Bibi” also urged that his formulation of conflict was more precise than a rival formulation between “tradition” and “progress” (much used in the culture wars, I might add).  The Jewish tradition, he argued, looking back to Isaiah, Amos, and Jeremiah, comprised the very foundation of “civilization.” This is an argument that one rarely hears in public these days. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/09/30/bibi-as-warmonger/, for the photo used by the Wall Street Journal, which may have chosen to depict Bibi as the bossy and militaristic Jewish deity promoted by Talcott Parsons in 1942.)

Now, Netanyahu and David Horowitz are both known as conservatives, yet they differ considerably on the subject of human nature.

The Enlightenment view of human nature relied upon travel narratives, that demonstrated that the material resources of cultures and their modes of exploitation/production that were just being discovered during the period of Renaissance exploration, determined their belief systems: thus was derived “cultural relativism,” a notion that has been resisted by some believers and manipulated by leftist “anti-imperialists” to discredit modernity tout court. The notion of “progress” was a distinctively Western notion that in turn depended on worldliness, science, reason, and the determination to lift up humanity to unprecedented heights. Moderns learned to understand their ancestors, but not to  worship them and their mores.  With economic and political development, perhaps wars and less cosmic conflicts over land, markets, and resources could be eliminated one day.

We have just completed the Jewish New Year, in which Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, caps the period of inner examination and resolve to improve one’s relations with the Jewish God. Repentance and fairness is an obligation every day in the year for Jews. Clearly, a view of human nature is implied in the notion of self-improvement and reparations. That view is not oriented to a better world after death, nor to the notion that we are necessarily befuddled by our evil propensities, carried in the very DNA of our species. Christopher Hitchens’s 2002 Orwell study (Why Orwell Matters) ends with a stunning revelation about the “radical” Hitchens view of human nature:   Like other British intellectuals with a highbrow education, he doesn’t see sadomasochism in Orwell,  but thinks it normal: “With a part of themselves, humans relish cruelty and war and absolute capricious authority, are bored by civilization and humane pursuits and understand only too well the latent connection between sexual repression and orgiastic vicarious collectivized release. Some regimes have been popular not in spite of their irrationality and cruelty, but because of it.” (p.191)

Freud himself noted that aggression was part of our natures, and often difficult to control, but he would never have agreed with Hitchens on S-M as normal. Part of human nature, in the rationalist Enlightened view that I share, is in the development of curiosity about the past, including those unresolved conflicts that linger into the present to the confusion of our political culture (world-wide), which is highly heterogeneous and internally conflicted.

Sadly, the counter-Enlightenment influences remain strong enough to halt appropriate curiosity in the young, to the detriment of the progress that the more advanced parts of humanity still find compelling and swear by. In our New World scenario, the Devil (or the demonic) is a relic of the dead past and his persistence in the belief systems of some political entities and societies should be strongly resisted. Nothing less than the survival of our species and the planet depends upon it. Medievalism was not only bad for the Jews, it was bad for all of humanity.

August 20, 2012

Ernest Hemingway, Carlos Baker, and the Spanish Civil War

Orwell, 1938 dust jacket

This blog is not a defense of Trotskyism. The Spanish Civil War and its treatment by literary historians is important because only the “Trotskyists” of, say, Partisan Review or The New Leader in the late 1930s nailed the Stalinists and their fellow travelers for covering up such events as the purges of the old Bolsheviks (1936 onward), and for penetrating liberal organizations devoted to cultural freedom, turning them toward statism, dialectical materialism, silencing criticism of the Soviet strategy in Spain, and joining with the “only” antifascist forces, i.e, the Comintern and its docile filmmakers, novelists, screenwriters, and other artists.

The “liberals” (who succumbed to the Popular Front during the 1930s), and who continue to opine on the course of the Spanish Civil War, leave out the Soviet-directed destruction of Jose Robles, POUM, and the Anarchists, thus passing over these atrocities but also skipping over the twists and turns of the Comintern during the 1930s and early 1940s. (Examples: from 1928 on, Communists were devastating critics of the “social fascism” of the New Deal and of Social Democracy in general; but the Popular Front was effectively in charge from 1935 onward; then the Nazi-Soviet Pact (1939) reawakened the older critique of the Western democracies as really imperialists, like Hitler; but then the Nazi invasion of the S.U. reawakened the Popular Front with the American bourgeoisie in order to defend the Soviet Union and to quash isolationist sentiment.) (See Stephen Schwartz’s article on Stalinist treachery in Spain here: http://www.jewcy.com/post/cheapest_transaction. )

Carlos Baker’s 1969 biography of Ernest Hemingway had no problem describing Joris Ivens as a Communist filmmaker: I don’t know enough about Baker’s own political allegiances to say why. Perhaps Baker agreed with those for whom the communists were just another form of enlightened and moral liberal, maybe a bit more serious about uplifting the masses and rooting out nativism and American sympathizers with Hitler and Mussolini. Such naiveté was how communism infiltrated the New Dealers and their populist sympathizers: Only the Stalinist Left was held to be serious about fighting fascism or criticizing the Neutrality Act of the Western democracies that prevented the supplying  of arms and oil to the Spanish Loyalists. “Trotskyites,” the Comintern declared, were in league with fascism and Nazism! The Comintern-controlled Abraham Lincoln Battalion is still presented as comprised of idealistic young Americans, for instance in the atrociously slanted and mendacious HBO movie Hemingway and Gellhorn, most of which is devoted to the Spanish Civil War, and which ignored the bloody, faction-ridden history of that crucial conflict, without any political criticism from dozens of reviewers all over the world. (For a brief review of the HBO offering, see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/09/hbo-does-gellhorn-in-red/,)

Princeton professor Carlos Baker was oblivious to George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938),* a deafness that allowed him to record, without comment, that Hemingway sent his editor Maxwell Perkins as a taste of what to expect in For Whom The Bell Tolls, “Pilar’s” account of the Anarchist massacre of the “Fascists” of [Ronda]. Worse, Baker described Gustav Regler only as a friend of Hemingway’s. But Regler’s 1959 memoir The Owl of Minerva (cited by Baker) did describe a conversation with Hemingway in 1940, wherein Hemingway chastised Regler, the former political Commissar of the Twelfth International Brigade, for deserting the Communists! Having read Regler’s fascinating memoir and having quoted from his book regarding Hemingway’s feisty defense of the Communists in Spain (see https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/ernest-hemingway-and-gellhorn-in-china-1941-4/) I was not amazed that briefly opened Soviet archives revealed that Hemingway was recruited by the KGB in late 1940, despite his strong criticism of André Marty and Dolores Ibárruri (La Pasionaria) in his popular novel—a criticism that did enrage such American Communists as Mike Gold or the reviewer writing for The Daily Worker.

La Pasionaria

And while well-situated liberals in the most prestigious newspapers might have thought in their own minds that they were allies to “the common man,” they were in practice tolerant of their friends on the Soviet-controlled Left. After the war, these same Popular Fronters hated to be associated with (vulgar) McCarthyism, so that the identification of communist penetration of American institutions left the nailing of an American Fifth Column to the far Right. Since the Soviets had defined the Right (Big Business) as fascist, the “liberals” would characterize these “loons” as paranoid extremists, a label that persists to this day, notwithstanding the archival research of Mark Kramer, Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Alexander Vassiliev, to  name a few.

And that is how we lost the Cold War and the struggle for hearts and minds—until the Soviet Union collapsed from within. Sadly, it was too late for the better American universities. The Popular Front had done its work and generations of Americans were disabled from seeing into the wildly successful cultural work of the Soviet Union and/or Communist China.

*[Added, August 23, 2012: A dispute has broken out in the Comments section to this blog, regarding Orwell’s intentions in his novel 1984. John Dos Passos wrote a biographical chapter on Orwell in his Century’s Ebb (1975): “Orwell’s mind was shaking loose from the Socialist dogma. He began to see history whole: ‘What is obviously happening,’ he wrote in his offhand way, ‘is the breakup of laissez-faire capitalism and of the liberal-Christian culture. Until recently the implications of this were not foreseen because it was generally imagined that Socialism could preserve and even enlarge the atmosphere of liberalism. It is now beginning to be realized how false this idea was. Almost certainly we are now moving into an age of totalitarian dictatorships–an age in which freedom of thought will at first a deadly sin and later on a meaningless abstraction.'” (p.64). Dos Passos finishes with this thought (relating how Orwell had become an invalid, afflicted with tuberculosis): “Relapses took him to hospitals. All the while he stuck with ferocious tenacity to the novel he was writing. 1984 was a bitter parable of the totalitarian world he saw developing out of German Nazism, Russian Communism, and the decay of the spirit of liberty in Britain….(65-66) I.e., Dos Passos sees the parable as the last stage of Orwell’s gradual disillusion with the libertarian promise of Socialism and Communism. The following chapter is a scathing account of the indifference of Hemingway and Gellhorn to his search for his friend Jose Robles, using fake names.]

June 3, 2012

Connecting vs. connecting the dots

George Wallace, ca. 1960s

In this campaign year, pundits are constantly complaining that Romney is not “connecting” with the electorate, because he is wealthy (but lacks “the King’s touch”?). The same accusation was directed at him by his populist competitor Rick Santorum, who did “connect” with Pennsylvania coal miners, because, he stated, it was in his blood. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/04/02/touch-me-touch-me-not/.) This emphasis on a vaguely stated  blood and soil “connection” should scare us, for it evades the question of policy, and which candidate offers better economic and diplomatic policy recommendations to maintain American institutions and national security. In the blog that follows, I will try to show how two major books, in their zeal to keep America steady,  fail to inform us of lingering irrationalism in American political culture, an irrationalism that is characteristic of the middle, not the “extremes.” These books are

Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, The American Communist Movement: Storming Heaven Itself  (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992), and Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab: The Politics of Unreason: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970 (N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1970).

Here are two meticulously documented books written for the general reader. The first, by Klehr and Haynes,  concludes that although the communist movement was messianic and directed from Moscow, it was never a substantial threat to the American consensus; indeed, Communism did itself in through such errors as the blunder in running Henry Wallace for president in the Progressive Party campaign of 1948, preceded of course, by the zig-zagging moves of the late 1920s-early1930s, as it veered against the New Deal (seen as “social fascism”), followed by the Popular Front of 1935 onward, then the shock of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 (that killed the Popular Front), then after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, shifting back to Popular Front politics, only to be sunk once again by the revelations of Khrushchev in 1956. Klehr and Haynes see the years from 1960-1990 as “twilight years.”

I remember reading Ellen Schrecker’s book, No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities (Oxford UP, 1986), when I first started my dissertation research.  She claimed that communism had always been relatively weak, and that the crusade mounted against it by the Right and by Trotskyists, had over-reacted to the detriment of our political culture. When I finished the Klehr-Haynes survey of (now defunct) communism in America, I had the sinking feeling that their book was not incompatible with Schrecker’s argument; that two scholars I greatly admired had not deviated from the “moderate” line of liberal anticommunism, which, while stigmatizing Marxist-Leninism as a religion, did not demand that it, along with its statism/bureaucratic collectivism, be banished from the democratic pluralist spectrum of competing interest groups; nor were they alarmed by the arrival of New Leftism and black nationalism from the 1960s onward. Such a drastic erasure would have linked the authors to the dread anti-intellectual, paranoid extremism of the far right, i.e. to the subject of Lipset and Raab’s survey of irrationalist social movements in the U.S.

In my own experience, both as programmer and for 18 months as Program Director at a Pacifica  radio station (KPFK-Los Angeles), then in graduate school at UCLA in the Department of History, I felt the sting of Communist ideology and organizing: Stalinists were entirely entrenched at Pacifica, and CPUSA organizing got me fired when I put a few Trotskyists on the air, programmers who were complaining about the Spanish Civil War and other insults to the amour propre of such as William Mandel, who used to read from Pravda as a legitimate source of news. Trotskyist intellectuals called their “progressive” competition Stalinoids, and that is an accurate term, though the CPUSA, directly and indirectly, continues to influence mass media, alternative media, and the humanities departments of the major universities, not with a nod to Stalin, but rather to Third Worldism and what they insist is the lamentable history of crooked capitalism in America. In other words, Klehr and Haynes did not consider the penetration of communist ideas into the progressive mainstream, though they point out several times communist initiatives that were taken up by the Roosevelt administration, also the general communist/populist hostility to “finance capital.” While at UCLA, there was no animus directed against Stalinism; rather I met many famous Communist academics, and those (Leninists) on the faculty supported separatist ethnic and women’s studies, just as 1930s Communists supported a Black Belt in the American South to compensate the descendants of slaves; i.e., the racialism of the multicultural discourse did not discourage Communists in the UCLA Department of History, and the most anti-imperialist students were rewarded with fellowships and jobs.

Moving on to Lipset and Raab. These authors come out of the Harvard school of sociology and social relations as it developed from about 1939 onward, linked most famously to the cultural anthropology  (or “structural functionalism”) of Talcott Parsons and the political science “typology” of Max Weber, along with the diagnosis of urban anomie postulated by Durkheim.  Here are the liberal anticommunists who contrast “democratic pluralism” with the “patterns of prejudice” they see as a continuing theme in U.S. political culture, all too given to hysteria. They too are progressive pundits, though, unlike journalists, as academics they were at the top of their profession and remain hegemonic. Among their targets such easy prey as the anti-Masons, the Know-Nothings, Joseph McCarthy, the John Birch Society, and George Wallace. They are big on how conservative elites ensnare unwary little people suffering from status deprivation. (And it was the “moderate” line after WW2, that the Nazis won by capturing the lower middle class, atomized by “mass society.” Democratic pluralism is their antidote to “mass culture.)

It was in their big book from 1970 that I saw multiculturalism/groupiness in action, with the notion of multiple group affiliations as the heartfelt solution to excessive cerebration by such “economic determinists” as Ralph Bunche in his late 1930s memoranda to Gunnar Myrdal (see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/).  Lipset and Raab’s most important revision of class analysis was to redefine class altogether. Whereas Marxists defined class as a specific relationship to the means of production, analyzing power as distributed in given institutions, these Parsonians define class as a ladder, as “status” (i.e. “caste”) encompassing life style and income. What such a definition does is remove the question of contracts and their potential asymmetry from consciousness. All of mass media buy into this Lipset and Raab managerial definition. This erasure of classes as standing in a particular relation to each other, instead of “life style choices” demonstrates to me that such intellectuals have taken on the task of managing conflict by defining everyone who sees structural problems in our society as extremists. They cut out the anti-statist libertarian right who see free markets as wealth creators and the road to opportunity, and they cut out what is now called “the hard left” who make their case on the premise that capital/capitalism exploits not “labor” but a vaguely defined “middle class.”

Prometheus, Heinrich Fueger, 1817

Say what you will about the failures of the Soviet Union. At least its better advocates saw the communist experiment as the culmination of the Enlightenment and the realization of individuality. The best that the moderate men came up with has been “the inherent tension between social egalitarianism—the democratic impulse—and political liberty—democratic restraint.” (Lipset and Raab, p.514) By restraint, the authors mean the stamping out of excessive moralism and resentment, a moralism exemplified by the awful romantic New England Puritan. Moderates like us do not storm heaven, do not copy Prometheus, are generous of spirit; indeed our groupiness is spirituality personified. Orwell anyone? (For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2010/09/11/is-wall-street-slaughtering-the-middle-class/.)

October 1, 2011

Updated index to Melville blogs

https://clarespark.com/2009/11/18/the-radicalism-of-the-founders-and-herman-melville/

https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/.

https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/.

https://clarespark.com/2009/09/03/advice-for-the-lovelorn-with-thoughts-on-hero-worship/ (Retitled Manifest Destiny or Political Liberty?)

https://clarespark.com/2009/11/07/disparities-between-image-and-text-some-cases-of-lobotomy/

https://clarespark.com/2009/11/13/supermen-wanted-early-freudians-and-the-mob/

https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/

https://clarespark.com/2010/03/05/organic-conservatives-and-hitler/.

https://clarespark.com/2010/04/04/what-is-truth/.

https://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/.

https://clarespark.com/2010/09/02/spinoza-as-culture-critic/.

https://clarespark.com/2010/06/12/preface-to-second-edition-of-hunting-captain-ahab/

https://clarespark.com/2010/12/29/f-o-matthiessen-martyr-to-mccarthyism/.

https://clarespark.com/2010/11/27/melville-unpainted-to-the-last/.

https://clarespark.com/2011/01/02/the-watchbird-state/

https://clarespark.com/2011/03/11/review-excerpts-re-hunting-captain-ahab/.

https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/

https://clarespark.com/2011/06/12/call-me-isabel-a-reflection-on-lying/.

https://clarespark.com/2011/11/12/the-woman-question-in-saul-bellows-herzog/

https://clarespark.com/2011/09/29/the-abraham-lincoln-conundrum/

https://clarespark.com/2011/11/21/cormac-mccarthy-vs-herman-melville/

https://clarespark.com/2012/09/21/milton-mason-melville-on-free-speech/

https://clarespark.com/2012/10/07/christian-socialism-as-precursor-to-orwell/

https://clarespark.com/2012/10/27/melville-orwell-doublethink/

https://clarespark.com/2012/11/23/historians-vs-pundits-the-eric-hobsbawm-synthesis/ (Hobsbawm’s reading of Moby-Dick as great indictment of capitalism/imperialism.)

https://clarespark.com/2013/01/05/the-gentlemanly-rochester-synod-1984-in-1948/.

https://clarespark.com/2013/01/07/some-backstory-for-hunting-captain-ahab/

https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/

April 8, 2010

Racism, Modernity, Modernism

Columbus taking possession of the New World

[Added: Columbus Day, 2010. Because Herman Melville’s great-grandson Paul Metcalf had associated Columbus with Captain Ahab, it occurred to me that what the “anti-imperialist” anti-expansionists feared most was discovery as such. Finding out new things–for instance that admired authorities have been lying to you, or painfully over time finding out new truths in science and medicine–can get you fired, not hired, thrown out of graduate school or your profession or worse, much worse. So let us celebrate today the risky process of discovery, and honor those of our ancestors and contemporaries who are making the Ahab-ish leap from light into darkness that few of us would imitate. This is such a big subject that I wrote a recent blog about it: https://clarespark.com/2013/02/21/discovery-anxiety/.]

I have linked the problem of “race” and “racism” to “modernity” because numerous scholars and other writers on the Left blame modernity for racism. For them, the modern world begins with, and is defined by, the gold and resource-driven Western expansion into Asia, the New World, and Africa. Hence the primary feature of expansionism (i.e., imperialism) is the subjugation and exploitation of non-Europeans. Racism was said to originate in the need to explain the contradiction between Christian ethics and the cruelty and degradation visited upon native peoples, for example in the notion of “the White Man’s burden”—the moral imperative to uplift and rescue pagans through the superior religion of Christianity. But other voices would have preserved the pagans, either as primitivists or perhaps holding to the theory of polygenesis: the idea of separate creation. In that theory, humanity evolved separately in the different regions of the world—hence “races.” For these racists, there was no original set of homo sapiens in Africa that wandered the earth, mutating and adapting to drastically different environments. There are some white supremacists today who probably adhere to this polygenesis view of human evolution, and I have come across some on Facebook who call themselves by evocative names including the word “renaissance” but their aim is not humanism or the unity of our species, but the secession of white people from a multiracial polity (they are also interested in the subordination of women). These latter men are impressed by such as Carleton Coon, and the specter of miscegenation must give them hives.

Although it is true that the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries A.D. witnessed European expansion, there is another way to define modernity, and when I use that term, I refer to the transition from feudalism or other pre-capitalist economics to market economies.  That transition remains far from complete, as I have written here numerous times. The postmodernists/post-colonialists  believe they have not only dredged up the “submerged” cultures of native peoples, but have transcended the modernity that spun nativism (WASP supremacy), bureaucratic rationality and hence the Holocaust, but have they?  Was Nazism “the revolt of the masses” and the excrescence of modern Jacobins? Moreover, the Great Chain of Being or similar hierarchies of “interdependence” remain intact because the scientific revolution and the rise of industrialism and a burgeoning middle-class challenged  former ruling aristocracies with a newly literate class that was educating not only itself, but the lower orders. Enter team playing, the lovable fatherly Leader, and hierarchies would be preserved against the threat posed by the too-curious literate masses, including women. (For a perfect example of a model hierarchy see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/15/the-christianization-of-ziva-david-ncis/.)

Don’t scratch your head about the deficiencies in our public school education.  There is no moral imperative for those who identify with aristocracies, new or old, to give students the analytic tools they need to judge their superiors or elected officials. If there was serious education in our country, all students would study the sciences, economics (including the basic elements of accounting), the history of every social movement in the U.S. and the conflicts that they addressed, the wily ways of those who have governed us, and how to decipher the propaganda that urges deference to corrupt authority—from pre-school on through graduate school! (And I am not exempting the scrutiny of both high and popular culture from this menu. See the Ibsen excerpt here: https://clarespark.com/2009/11/02/a-ride-through-the-culture-wars-in-academe/.

Modernity, then, is founded upon the invention of the printing press and the spread of mass literacy and numeracy. It is about the growth of competitive markets, and the hatred of the bourgeoisie expressed by aristocrats threatened by displacement. Many a New Left “cultural radical” was a would-be aristocrat, spurning the middle-class, and getting down with the lower orders (who were viewed as less uptight—indeed as the source of instinctual liberation). In came George Orwell, folklore and rock ‘n roll, out went classical music and the bourgeois entertainments that were related.

    Primitivism—a habit of mind in both the pre-war and post-Great War modernist movement in the arts—is a form of racism, though it is not the nasty kind that we associate with lynch mobs, institutional exclusion, segregation, and worse. Primitivism and irrationalism are overlapping categories: we let in what Freud called the Id forces to relax that persecuting, insomniac, maternal Hebraic puritan superego, just enough to keep us “balanced” and ecologically hip.

(See Freud’s 1933 topography of Superego, Ego and Id: the Superego reaches down and connects to the Id.* Or see the sequence of Picasso drawings elsewhere on this website: https://clarespark.com/2009/11/02/picasso-drawings-dreamy-mother-and-son-to-entwined-peasants/.) But since primitivism is a release, not a way of life that takes up the challenge of modernity in order to improve everyone’s material condition, it cannot help non-whites achieve the American Dream: rather primitivism idealizes the lives of “carefree” non-whites and helps recruit middle-class kids from authoritarian families (or subtly authoritarian) to support for “wars of national liberation.”  At least that was the 1960s-70s protocol. So when the elite universities and the national government instituted multiculturalism, accommodating and supposedly defusing militant cultural nationalist movements among minorities, the hipper white kids got on the bus, not bothering to look back upon the history of racial theory.

Had they done so, they would have quickly discovered the origin of “multiculturalism” and its associated moral relativism in the theories of J. G. von Herder and the German Romantics who followed. They would have discovered that there were two Enlightenments: one promoting the careful and exhaustive empirical study of this world; its competition—the pseudo-Enlightenment–reacting to the proto-jacobin “mechanical materialism” of the Enlightenment with corporatism and the notion of national or racial character, a “different” Enlightenment or Aufklärung that preserved hierarchies, favoring the Greek way also known as “socially responsible capitalism.” There was nothing democratic or egalitarian in the rooted cosmopolitan thought of Herder, Goethe, Fichte, and the hordes of social theorists who followed. The omnipresent word “diversity” today refers to the mystical organicism of Herder, Goethe, and their neoclassical, “tolerant” successors (e.g., Saint-Simon as elucidated by Frank E. Manuel, in his The Prophets of Paris). As I have said before, multiculturalism is an elite strategy to micromanage group conflict with their version of reparations; MC has nothing to do with unifying our species or spreading the skills that will help all of us to survive the numerous looming emergencies that beset us. It is collectivist and pseudo-functionalist at its core, does not lift up non-whites (but demeans them with administrative pseudo-remedies like affirmative action that recognize “race” as something real in the world, not as a category that has been socially constructed and reconstructed), and will marginalize or destroy discovery, other innovations, and all dissent.

*The (tentative) diagram may be seen in Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (Hogarth Press, 1967): Lecture 31, p.105. “You will observe how the super-ego goes down into the id; as the heir to the Oedipus complex it has, after all, intimate connections with the id” (p.104).

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