Briefly Noted: On Communism, Fascism, Liberalism, & the Search for a Utopia

I’ll see your one, and raise you another. In a recent edition of the Times Literary Supplement, John Gray reviews Vladimir Tismaneanu’s The Devil in History, which provides an extended criticism of communism in relation to fascism.[1] Gray’s account of Tismaneanu’s book spurred me to mediate some of his thoughts in blog format, and to add a criticism of my own.

In the book, Tismaneanu argues that in many respects Communism and Fascism in the 20th-century were at one. He makes clear that “‘Communism is not Fascism, and Fascism is not Communism. Each totalitarian experiment has its own irreducible attributes’” (p. 7). The two political philosophies share similarities, however, that must be acknowledged by those of us living in the 21st-century. Tismaneanu especially wants the attention of political liberals and utopians who think Communism is essentially good even if the Russians and Chinese applied its principles poorly.

Tismaneanu notes that Communism and Fascism shared the view that mass-killings are good for society. He writes, ‘Communism, like Fascism, undoubtedly founded its alternative, liberal modernity on the conviction that certain groups could be deservedly terminated. The Communist project, in such countries as the USSR, China, Cuba, Romania, or Albania, was based precisely on the conviction that certain social groups were irretrievably alien and deservedly murdered.’ (p. 7)

Communism and Fascism also shared ethnocentric, racist, and anti-Semitic beliefs which underlay their political philosophies. Tismaneanu writes as one with first-hand experience, as a child of Jewish parents who directly fought Fascism. His parents joined forces with Communists in order to fight the Fascists. Ironically Tismaneanu’s book endeavors to show “that Communism acquired some of Fascism’s defining characteristics” (p. 7).

In the end, Tismaneanu’s burden is to challenge a liberal intellectual infatuation with the “communist Utopia” (p. 7). These utopians are ones who believe that communist principles are true but that its historical application in recent history went awry due to unforeseen events, circumstances, or psychologies. For instance, Tismaneanu rejects the view that Stalin’s ruthlessness did not stem from his communism but merely from his sociopathic personality. Undoubtedly Stalin was a sociopath. However, Tismaneanu shows “methodological violence and pedagogic terror were integral features of Bolshevik doctrine” (p. 7). Stalin did not invent mass-killings; rather he perfected what Lenin taught.

As Gray notes, not every scholar will find Tismaneanu’s treatment of Communist totalitarianism convincing. Yet, Tismaneanu is certainly correct that in 1918 Russia Bolsheviks spoke of opponents as “byvshie liudi (former people),” which implied that those who were so-called were in fact considered sub-human. Thus these sub-humans could be discarded without much thought. So Gray reminds us, “in politics, the other face of radical evil is an inhuman vision of radical goodness” (p. 7).

This inhuman vision of radical goodness was underlain by a passionately held eschatology. Both Communism and Fascism, Tismaneanus writes, “were fuelled by millenarian religion ….[and] both were militant chiliasms that energized extraordinary ardor among unconditionally committed followers” (p. 8). Although Leninism, which grew into Communism, and Nazism denied alternative construals of meaning (like religion) and progress (like science), they both established themselves on particular world and scientific views: Nazism on the basis of racial hierarchies and eugenics, and Communism on the basis of historical-materialism. It is no surprise, then, that both laid hold of “militant chiliasms” in search of their power.

As a complement to Tismaneanu’s thesis, I wish to add that Liberalism falls under the same scourge. In fact, if I had written the book, I might have eschewed Fascism in favor of Liberalism. Both Liberalism and Communism emerged during an age of Revolution which sought to bring society into conformity with the Enlightenment faith. In order to buttress the Enlightenment vision (which had fallen on hard times in light of the social misery of the Industrial Revolution), true believers in Enlightenment Progress felt the need to compose an even greater myth.

Marxists and Communists applied Darwinism to the social realm, arguing that history is propelled by class conflict. Humanity progresses via class revolutions that eventually would lead to a utopia marked by the redistribution of wealth.

Liberals based their myth on the sovereignty of the individual, and focused on sexual, economic, and political freedom. This freedom often was conceived as autonomy in relation to God, rather than merely freedom in social and political affairs. Their response to the 19th century’s suffering was either to explain it in terms of evolutionary progress (Herbert Spencer) or seek a government-based social justice (John Stuart Mill).

An example is Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man. Fukuyama’s thesis is that the end of the Cold War signaled the rise of “a form of society that satisfied its deepest and most fundamental longings.” All of the really big questions will have been settled; hence there will be no further progress in principles and institutions. For him, Western values would triumph. In particular, democratic capitalism would have no competitor; it would be the final form of society. Even religious ideologies would not overturn this. Fukuyama’s is a Hegelian view of history, utopian and wildly optimistic. (It does, however, have some dark strains, such as his focus on the Nietzschean concept of The Last Man.)

One of Fukuyama’s strongest critics has been Samuel Huntington. While he rightly rejects Fukuyama’s Hegelian method and utopian aspirations, however, Huntington himself fares no better by rejecting all “universal” history and leaving himself with only the particulars. In other words, Huntington rejects the notions of God, something beyond this world, and the idea that God is guiding history towards a triumphant ending.

For those of us who are believers, however, there is a master narrative that interprets this world and points towards a time of restoration and hope. In four plot moves—Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation—we learn in broad stroke form both the direction in which history is moving and the framework for interpreting the events, times, and developments of this world. God through Christ is redeeming for himself a people and one day will restore even creation itself. Moreover, the people he redeems for himself will consist of worshipers from among every tribe, tongue, people, and nation—a phenomenon that transcends not only cultures and civilizations, but even history itself.

In response to the Enlightenment faith and its utopian myths which reject God and the hope of divine redemption, we offer the Christian faith as the true story of the whole world.

 

 

 

 

 



[1] John Gray, “Casualties of Progress” in Times Literary Supplement (January 4, 2013: pp. 7–8); Vladimir Tismaneanu, The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century (U. of California, 2012).

 

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  1. dr. james willingham   •  

    I had several Marxist theoreticians for professors during my many years of attending colleges and universities (10). My problem with the whole charade of Fascism and Communism is that they are different facets of the same beast. The students of one professor I had all agreed that he had to be a Communist (he was forever presenting us with the fait accompli that Communism was going to beat Capitalism). I wrote a paper for him, “A Critique of Marx’s Theory of the Emancipation of the Working Class.” Basically, all Communism did was create a New Class (milovan Djilas’ theory backed by facts) that was more greedy and rapacious than any class in history. He gave me his best grade on it, “good” in red. Later, one of the truly leading anticommunist intellectuals told me that the fellow was a theoretician for world communism and wrote books telling the leaders how to govern communist countries. Still later, a sociologist from Princeton Univ. would refer to my professor as an “unsung Marxist Hero.” On down the road, our son in his second yr. at UNC-CH came home and flopped a course outline for Marxian theorists on my desk. “Hey, Dad,” he said, “I’m gonna study your professor.” There in the middle of the semester of his course outline was my professor.

    A helpful book on the whole situation would be Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope and his the Anglo American Establishment with Cleon Skousen’s The Naked Capitalist. There is also Tony Brown’s Empower The People, and Bella Dodd’s The School of Darkness (I think that is the title). She was the chairman of the American Communist Party at one time. What turned her off was orders from Moscow that she should take orders from one of two capitalists living in the Waldorf Astoria.

    But back beyond the 20th century there are the writings of many others, even to the 18th and early 19th century, with some experiments by the Jesuits with Communism in Uruguay and Paraguay in South America in the 1600s-1700s. Then there are the ties in between the French Revolution, the Illuminati, and others. The links are not all that hard to trace.

    We could go back for the founding of capitalism, my professor’s researches, back past the Protestant Reformation to the founding of the city of Venice and the rise of banking and finances. The very source of Capitalism is the source of Communism, a logical development of monopolistic capitalism. Just consider what banks finance communism or as is well said, follow the money trail, which has been done concerning Wall’s Streets financing of the Russian Revolution with the agents of Mi6 being the control agents for various Communist Leaders in that Red Revolution. And see also who is financing the rise of Hitler and Mussolini. Same folks, same institutions.

    O yes, and you will want to look at pages 1028,1029 of the download from the PDF on the Internet of Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope in which the folks behind these, ahem, adventures spell out their theology which they call orthodoxy (very pluralistic, wouldn’t you know, and the theology they oppose, which they call determinism but also refer to as the theology of Edwards and the Puritans.
    Really?

  2. dr. james willingham   •  

    Dear Dr. Ashford: I was hoping for a comment in response to the above information offered as a supplement to your worthwhile discussion of the issues. I especially appreciated your calling attention to Marxists and Communists and their application of Darwinism to the social realm, something that the Fascist and Nazis also did. In fact, one of my areas of study in Intellectual History was Social Darwinism, and you would have, likely, appreciated the comments by the Kellogg Commission, circa early 1920s, concerning the effects of that philosophy on the German populace and the likely fruits of it in the future.

  3. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Dr. Willingham,

    Fascinating! I never had the opportunity to study under such a Marxist intellectual. I’ve read a few of them… Thank you for your reflections and for the reading you’ve suggested. I’ll return the favor and recommend Frederic Jameson’s “Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Later Capitalism.” He’s a Duke prof who argues that postmodernism is the result of capitalism.

    sorry it took me a while to respond. i was out of the country when this blog posted…

    Blessings,
    Bruce

  4. dr. james willingham   •  

    Thank you Dr. Ashford for your suggested reading. If I can round it up through my local library, I definitely will read it. I fear we are headed down the road to a complete rejection of the Christian Faith, due to the desire for indulgence on the part of our Capitalists (for the most part). The majority seem to brook no restraints, and with Darwinism fiddling the multitudes are beginning to dance to the tune of no supernaturalism. Having been an atheist and having encountered such unlikelihood, I find myself totally disenchanted with the day’s “isms” and the “clash of confused armies on darkling plains of night” (Alas! I have not Arnold’s poetry to make sure the citation is correct. but then conspiracists according to the brainwashing precepts of the present are never supposed to be right…even when they are).

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