Monday, 23 August 2010

History Speaks

I am a member of the Labour Party and Labour Representation Committee, but not uncritical of either. Sometimes I plug events or causes, but this blog is not intended to play a broad ‘noticeboard for the left’ role. All opinions expressed on this website are mine alone and do not represent the stance of any political organisation…

… My comments policy is probably one of the most libertarian found anywhere in the UK political blogosphere, because I believe in freedom of speech and the healthy clash of ideas. (David Osler)

The voice of History. Can you hear it? Those portentous tones, the confidence that everyone will listen (‘not intended to play…’) and the confidence he knows and understands the world (‘my comments policy… one of the most libertarian…'). Yet who is this writer – how many people on the web know of his existence? How many blogs and websites does he actually read?

Murray Kempton writing about the radicals in 1930’s America captures something of this state of mind, when he says that Communism removed a person’s sense of sin – the party members knew they were right, and thus had the moral purity that comes from being part of a movement, of marching on the right side of History. He illustrates his point with a scene between Whittaker Chambers and an unrepentant Communist, J. Peters, at the House Un-American Activities Committee. It is Chambers who looks away, as Peters stares straight ahead with his “enamel smile”; and it is Chambers who is full of guilt and weakness. Once back into the ranks of the ordinary mortals, normal service has resumed, says Kempton.

It is interesting question why this should be so. As humans we are consumed with ourselves, our daily ignorance, the little moral weaknesses, the pettiness we can’t help – you’re in a supermarket queue, do you never feel resentful of the old woman fumbling with her bags? The one chance of escape is for us to get away from ourselves; through talent, hobbies or love. Or through religion…

Religion, which is another name for politics, is in many ways the best antidote to Self. For our weaknesses can become our strengths.

To be a Communist is to feel the thrill of fascination in recognizing Joe Stalin plays for keeps…. It is, and it has been in so many thousand cases, to have a very good friend and then cut him from your consciousness because he has left the Party. It is to give full play to your hates because they are necessary hates. (my emphasis)

Thus all the petty emotions can be used to help the cause. This if often why religions based on peace and equality end up as conveyers of war and tyranny – the worst emotions are given free reign, and they can be justified (because History allows it). Why the worst emotions? Damn braces.  Bless relaxes (William Blake). Of course, the majority in any movement will not reach these egregious heights; and there will be many who are saints; but the ordinary and the godly do not usually run the party apparatus; or at least the ordinary don't during the movement’s formative years; usually the time of the most extreme passions.

Life can be made simple. To think things out for yourself is hard work (David Hume, mentally battered by this philosophical reasoning, had to give up his scepticism and return to convivial company for this sanity); for you must understand both the complexities of the material – whether it be political, philosophical or aesthetic – and create the standards by which they are measured. You have to make your own judgements; which if you are honest will often be full of doubt and scepticism; thinking is a strange business, unsettling too. Do we want this? Of course not! It is so much easier to reduce all aesthetics to bourgeois art and history to the class struggle. Once that formula is in place you do not have to think; we are comfortable again in our habits and customs, and the twice weekly meeting in The Horse and Plough. All those complexities, those thousand of facts and conflicting interpretations, reduced to a few simple ideas; perhaps its why some people like uniforms – the daily choice of skirt and blouse, polka dot dress or white trousers is much too much!

And we need to strive – it is the only thing that can save us. A movement makes it easy, with its canon of sacred works, its rituals and orders; it pushes us forward, onwards and upwards, we march with History!

Try to do it on your own – can we; is it possible?

Yes, those doubts again, those weaknesses, as the mind gets in the way. Ultimately, perhaps, this is what sin means– too much thought, or more precisely, too much self-reflection. Communism takes the mirror away.

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Schloss,

    Kempton was never kindly disposed towards my grandfather, Whittaker Chambers. Such was the norm in the United States during the 1950s, following the Hiss Case and amidst the McCarthy era.

    (BTW, there is a long-researched book on J. Peters that may come out this year, by a distinguished American professor fluent in Hungarian.)

    Sincerely - David