Part I

Visiting California a couple of months ago, I picked up a little magazine called "The Weekly People" or something of the sort. In one article, an author named Scott recounted his adventures in Florida, whither he had travelled to demonstrate against the injustice of globalized trade and of genetically modified soybeans.

Scott had an exciting time there, but there were also evil plotters, he confided darkly, trying to "split the movement." One detected a note of personal pique, as if someone had perhaps hinted that the movement would do better if he personally were to split for somewhere else. At the end of the article all became clear: our memoirist identified himself as "Vice-President, Communist Party USA."

Until the day before yesterday, Scotty and his colleagues were regaling us with whoppers about the Radiant Future, in which the New Soviet Man was to inhabit the Historically Inevitable Triumph of Scientific Socialism --- which would retroactively justify all the troubles that they imposed on the subjects of the great Communist Experiment. After this vast fake all collapsed, the Swedish Communist Party at least had sufficient self-awareness to change its name.

But in America it is assumed that nobody remembers even the TV shows of two seasons past. In fact, Scotty is indignant that anyone remembers his outfit's 60 years of passing counterfeit bills --- in his case, $3 bills bearing a picture of Howdy Doody. Anyone who remembers this record is, he says, guilty of McCarthyism and trying to "split the movement."

One almost admires Scotty's sheer chutzpah, blithely lecturing the rest of the world on how to organize society as if nothing at all had happened. It is as if the former Captain of the Titanic were to offer a series of public lectures on how to pilot a ship across the Atlantic. Could it be that Scotty simply doesn't understand that a gigantic shipwreck, or rather a terrible series of shipwrecks, demonstrates beyond question that there was pilot error?

This is somewhat the case with a much more serious writer than our Scotty --- namely, the distinguished historian Eric Hobsbawm. His recent autobiography Interesting Times is indeed interesting reading, and like all Hobsbawm's work it is gracefully written.

The book reminisces, amongst other things, on his long membership in the British CP, in which he remained long after the Moscow Trials, after the 1956 crisis, after Hungary, after Czechoslovakia, and, in fact, until the British CP dissolved itself along with the former Soviet Union in 1991.

Hobsbawm relates that he remained a quietly dissident member even after his own recognition of the lies and betrayals of Stalinism, and the inhumanities it inflicted on tens of millions.

Why did he stay in? There are two parallel explanations. He honestly admits that he stayed out of a sort of romanticism of his adolescence in Central Europe, where he joined the Party during the anti-fascist struggles of the mid-30s. On the intellectual level, however, his explanation doesn't add up. It boils down to a pious dream that all of the lies and betrayals and inhumanities of Communism would have been "acceptable" --- if only the Soviet Union had succeeded, or at least been not quite so disastrous a failure.

If Only? If icebergs were made of feathers, then the Captain of the Titanic would have been perfectly correct about the acceptability of steaming into one at full speed. One suspects that Professor Hobsbawm is oblivious of the way things like the pocket watch on his fob actually work. Physical mechanisms work because they embody an interior logic --- and if they don't work, something is wrong.

Or, to put it another way, the interconnectedness of ends and means is both obvious and inescapable in mechanisms of the physical world. Were he able to consider this principle, Professor Hobsbawm might begin to suspect that the lies, betrayals, and inhumanities had something to do with the ignominious collapse of the Soviet Union and its satrapies in eastern Europe.

Go on to
Part II


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