28 September 2014

The strange fate of the counterrevolutionary communist

Petro Symonenko, leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine

It is rather a truism, dating back possibly all the way to 1688, that revolutionary movements have a tendency, after devouring their enemies, to turn upon their own, and eventually to turn into counterrevolutionary parties. This was true of the French Revolution; this was true of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and its Dengist reaction; and this is still true even of post-communist countries like Kazakhstan, Russia and the Ukraine. It is a strange thing to witness, this cooling and souring of the revolutionary fervour and its turning into something very different – even its opposite, when it is confronted with the same forces that swept it into power in the first place.

If one considers it a wise thing to strive for success in remaking the social order in your own image (which I don’t, by the way), Mao Zedong was wise to try to completely overturn the entire institutional structure of the country he led. But now his failure – if I may paraphrase Anakin Skywalker – is complete. It is now the case over the world, that left-wing parties that once overthrew entire social orders have congealed into the form of those same social orders, and have become defenders of those same social orders.

I speak of a general tendency. The way this tendency appears and generates itself varies from context to context. Thus, whilst you have a militantly atheist party in control of China, which espouses Marxism-Leninism-Maoism on paper but in practice uses a mushy amalgam of authoritarian methods and progressive-pragmatist goals; you also have an increasingly religious (as in Russian Orthodox) Communist Party of the Russian Federation in opposition to Putin under Gennady Zyuganov, which is also taking on a very ideologically-conservative cast. In Kazakhstan, the old-guard Communists have adopted a similar kind of technocratic nationalism, conservative in the sense that they want to conserve and restore what is left of the old Soviet social safety net.

In the former Soviet countries, we therefore have some very interesting tendencies cropping up. The old Communist Party of Ukraine led by Petro Symonenko, for example, had been taking a stand on federalism, localism and minority rights prior to being banned – a stand which, in the United States, would be characterised as a conservative one. Likewise, the counter-revolutionary movement in Donetsk and Lugansk regions has a distinctly communistic flavour to it – they first called themselves ‘People’s Republics’, and now call themselves the ‘Federal State of New Russia’. Their official programme blends a strong commitment to public ownership (i.e. of land, of key industries) with a strong link with the Moscow Patriarchate and a decentralised confederal state structure which appears to be based on the old soviet council system.

They are to be considered ‘counter-revolutionary’, precisely because they originally supported the Yanukovych government and opposed the Maidan protests – even more so when those protests turned violent and murderous. The actual substantive issues on which they based their own protests were against state uniformity of language and education; against the wanton destruction of the social safety net by Yatsenyuk, Turchynov and their cronies; and against the dismantling of the backyard industries on which they depended for their livelihood (before being sold off to American and Western European concerns). As observed from their early history of peaceful occupation of government buildings, they were ready to adopt the tactics of the early Maidan movement, though their goals were diametrically opposed. This is the public stance of the Federal State of New Russia.

Whether or not this public stance is sincerely held, and whether or not the left-conservative programme of this counter-revolutionary movement can be sustained without succumbing to the totalitarianism of its Soviet predecessors, are both questions which are still very much up-in-the-air. But this movement is one to watch carefully.

My blogging-friend and fellow-traveller John at EifD has been doing so for some time, and has a thoughtful series of essays (here, here and here) on the substantively counter-revolutionary and conservative trends within socialist – even Marxist – thought. At the time, my agreement with them was highly qualified, but on further consideration I think he may have been getting at a possible confluence of thought with a number of tantalising ramifications. (And also quite a few dangerous ones, but that’s a topic for another essay.)

It stands to reason, however. The Old Left for all its grim and inhuman excesses has still somehow, in some of its manifestations, managed to hold onto the key Pauline insights which undergirded their ideology going all the way back to Marx himself. These Pauline insights into sinful human nature and the way it fetters us (secularised in Marx’s thought as alienation and exploitation) and into the nature of property, work and the inherent worth and dignity of human beings, are precisely what the Chinese Communist Party seems to have jettisoned with Deng, and what the Communist Parties of Ukraine and of the Russian Federation have been progressively re-unearthing under Symonenko and Zyuganov.

It is always worth a note of caution, however. The Pauline insights which informed Marx were (and in many cases remain) heretically warped. Marx, being a materialist, was therefore also an adherent of predestination and indeed of a form of chiliasm (albeit with the messianic class of the global proletariat in place of Christ; the world revolution in place of the Parousia), which at the end of the day constituted a denial of human transcendence and human freedom. Unless and until the Old Left can rediscover the insights of Nicaea along with those of Acts – and thereby reject the violent, inhuman chiliasm of Marx in favour of something more personalist in orientation – it will be doomed to the fate of all such heresies. As Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn himself once said in an interview with Joseph Pearce:
Untouched by the breath of God, unrestricted by human conscience, both capitalism and socialism are repulsive.
We shall see if the counterrevolutionary communism of the type on display in Eastern Europe is or is not touched by the breath of God, and amenable to the restrictions of human conscience. As its current direction is tending, I may give it one tentative cheer. Давай!

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