08 November 2009
Praising with Faint Damnation
Over the past week all kinds of commentators have been commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall and its significance as the symbolic end of the Cold War. Predictably, the anniversary inspired some comment from American conservatives who feel that Communism has still been insufficiently denounced since the demise of the USSR. Since the appearance of Martin Amis's book Koba the Dread there's been an attitude that anyone who sympathized with Communism at any point should be as contrite about it, or as ashamed, as anyone who had a good word for Hitler. This raises an issue that requires a little clarification. If you'd like me to help celebrate the end of the Cold War by denouncing Leninism or Bolshevism, sign me up. Intellectuals like Slavoj Zizek are trying to rehabilitate Leninism as a model for some sort of secular religion, presumedly complete with an inquisition, based on "fidelity to the event" rather than faith, but Lenin has always struck me as a power-mad jerk driven mostly by a desire to tell everyone what to do, however marginally more civilized he might have been about it than Stalin. I'd like to think that the 20th century discredited Leninism or any vanguard-party concept for all time. But I have a feeling that my cursing Lenin's memory wouldn't do for some people. They'd want me to denounce not just Leninism but Marxism as well and Socialism in general. They definitely argue in their own right that the follies and failures of Leninist states prove that no sort of Socialism can ever work anywhere. Were I willing to concede that point some people still wouldn't be satisfied. What they're after is not just a denunciation of error, but an affirmation that capitalism is the best socio-economic system that has ever existed and can ever exist. What they want to hear from everyone on occasions like this is an admission that humanity can never do better than capitalism. Understandably, that's a lot to swallow for some thoughtful and conscientious people. There's no similar string attached when someone denounces or even renounces Nazism, and that's probably why Nazism is denounced more full-throatedly whenever the appropriate anniversaries come around. Nazism was a misguided alternative among a multitude of alternatives for mankind, and condemning it has never required anyone to repeat the Thatcherite formula that "there is no alternative" to the one right way of life. If any celebration of the ruin of Leninism must be forced into such a formula, then who are the totalitarians now?