A Communist Thesis

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23 Responses

  1. Avatar Will says:

    I don’t think we should mistake humorlessness and the shabby grandeur of propaganda for moral seriousness. What did you think of “The Lives of Others?”Report

    • Avatar David Schaengold says:

      @Will, There’s also a risk of mistaking genuine moral seriousness for propaganda. There was a time when Communism seemed to almost every thinker in the world the most morally serious position available. I find it natural that some of the old seriousness remained in the minds of the many self-convinced Marxists of Eastern Europe as late as 89.

      The Lives of Others is a much better movie, and while the West is essentially absent except as an absence, it offers a similar lesson in this respect: the only two characters in the film who truly believe in East Germany are also those who provoke its final enmity. But they really believe in East Germany. They’re not just stalking horses for Western ideas. One of the film’s failures was that at critical moments it glossed over this fact.Report

      • Avatar Will says:

        @David Schaengold, Isn’t that the tragedy of Communism, though? In “Lives,” the regime callously sacrifices its most fervent adherents. There’s something deeply, profoundly wrong about a system that gestures at moral grandeur while devouring anyone foolish enough to buy into that vision.Report

        • Avatar David Schaengold says:

          @Will, Sure, it’s one of the many tragedies of Communism, but Communism isn’t just a state system. One of the many interesting ideas that the Lives of Others broached without really addressing was the idea of Communism as a culture independent of the state apparatus.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          @Will, the idea of Communism as a culture independent of the state apparatus.

          Has this ever existed anywhere outside of academia? Ever?Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          @Will, There are communes all over the world, Jay. Probably where you live, even.Report

      • Avatar Tim Ellis says:

        @Jaybird, Absolutely. The Catholic church is a good example. The military is another (arguable I suppose, given its ties to the state government, but it’s internal communist structure is independent of the state political structure except at the highest levels of strategic command).Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

        @David Schaengold, “There was a time when Communism seemed to almost every thinker in the world the most morally serious position available.”
        The problem with ‘communism’ and/or any of the ideological malformations of the previous century is that it seeks to either destroy or “distrub the clarity of consciousness concerning man as ‘imago Dei.’ In obliterating man as created in the image of God the communist has not only destroyed the metalelptic possibilities of existence (the union of the human and divine; or the natural order of existence) but he has ‘disturbed’ the relationship with other humans. Consequently, Voegelin describes this as a “problem of estrangement,’ and here we can point to the additional burdens of the hypostatized state and its effects on the psyche, in terms of psychopathologies such as anxiety, and the establishment of a second reality which has the potential to give birth to what Voegelin referred to as the anti-spirit.
        No ‘thinker’ ever seriously
        considered ‘communism’ as anything more than the magical eruptions found in the line-of-meaning in the works of Marx, Hegel, Boehme.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    It struck me as a fair piece of propaganda apologizing for atrocities.

    Why was the mother a party member? Why, to protect her family. Why was everybody lying? Because they loved their mother. The old ways were seen as things to be nostalgic about while the new ways were shown as scary and novel.

    I enjoyed the movie, myself.

    Alex? That was the guy who was the sniper in Inglourious Basterds!Report

    • Avatar JosephFM says:

      @Jaybird, “The old ways were seen as things to be nostalgic about while the new ways were shown as scary and novel.”

      Is this ever not the case?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        @JosephFM, given that the movie opened with the proverbial boot stomping on the proverbial face at a protest against the government, it strikes me as somewhat off.

        Sort of a “sure, they threw innocents in jail and destroyed families of good party members, but the social cohesion was stronger!”Report

        • Avatar JosephFM says:

          @Jaybird,
          I guess I didn’t feel that the movie was saying “scary and novel” was bad except to the sadly deluded, and felt that the whole movie was actually ridiculing the mother’s nostalgia.Report

  3. Avatar MFarmer says:

    After reading Utopia in Power: The History of the Soviet Union From 1917 to the Present, by Mikhail Heller and Aleksandr M. Nekrich, I’ve never been able to romanticize the horrors.Report

  4. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I haven’t read Kierkegaard in some time, so I need to understand better how the ethical self-image of the Communist states led to the denial of true religion. Is this because ethical life became an official role of the citizens, instead of an individual struggle?Report

    • Avatar David Schaengold says:

      @Rufus F., K would no doubt say that no state can possibly abide true Christianity (not religion: no ecumenist he). Maybe because the social imaginary, to borrow a little jargon, of a society must be either ethical or aesthetic. That is, its members must see their individual aspirations as connecting to a social order that either gives delight or is just.
      So, if to be a real Christian is to have fully registered the futility of both the ethical and the aesthetic, then perforce one must be alienated from everyone in your culture, just as K said, even if unnoticeably to anyone except yourself and G-d.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        @David Schaengold, Okay, that’s what I thought the Kierkegaardian dichotomy meant.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        @David Schaengold,

        It’s funny. I see a great deal of justice in the supposed mere delight of this side of things. And I see neither justice nor delight in communism.

        If you want the moral seriousness of communism, it is available to you today. And I don’t even mean North Korea. Communes exist. Christian communes, even. Everything you want is there. Take it.

        But I’ll be damned if you’ll force me to come along.Report

  5. Avatar jamie says:

    Yes, I can’t really get around the concentration camps that existed as a necessary part of the USSR and its satellite states to be satisfied with the marxist ethic of individuals within those states.
    Maybe try a movie about a kibbutz, then I’d be more interested in hearing about the marxist individual ethics there.
    I also think you’re being unfair to the West-individual liberty is an incredibly valuable ethic in and of itself.Report

  6. Avatar Belinda Gomez says:

    Wasn’t the idea of communism, rather than the actual day-to-day practice, idealized by those “serious thinkers”, in the West? Lillian Hellman, et al, might have loved to think about the joys of the USSR, but they wouldn’t have liked living there. Unless of course they had all the comforts and privileges of the nomenkultura. She wasn’t going to queue up for eggs.
    I think most people in Prague and Warsaw were just trying to live through the day, without drawing unwelcome attention to themselves.
    The filmmaker wanted a big audience–if he’d made the film 20 years earlier, he might not have tried to make daily life in the DDR look quite so rosy because he didn’t have to attract anyone actually living there.Report

  7. Avatar Jeanne Whitmore says:

    He is right in a way. Jesus was a communist and lived in a commune, but even the Son of God could not make communism work. So yes and no.Report

  8. Avatar Matt Frost says:

    This is a blog post whose self-understanding, at least, is beautiful.Report