Re: (OPE-L) dreams and nightmares

From: Nicola Taylor (19518173@STUDENT.MURDOCH.EDU.AU)
Date: Sat May 17 2003 - 00:33:27 EDT

Hi Jerry, I agree with Michael's response to you (below).  Especially, I
appreciate his reference to Naipaul (who is on my best-loved author's list).

Another great book on the debate of means and ends (vis a vis human being)
is Arthur Koestler's 'Darkness at Noon' (1940; Penguin 1947) which came out
of Koestler's own bitter experiences as a communist operative in Spain
during the civil war (probably you will have read this).  The book
centers on the interrogation of an old Bolshevik awaiting execution in a
G.P.U. prison:

"For forty years he had fought against economic fatality.  It was the
central ill of humanity, the cancer which was eating into its entrails.  It
was there that one must operate; the rest of the healing process would
follow.  All else was dilettantism, romanticism, charlatanism.  One cannot
heal a person mortally ill by pious exhortations.  The only solution was the
surgeon's knife and his cool calculation. But wherever the knife had been
applied, a new sore had appeared in place of the old.  And again the
equation did not work out" (p.204).

In contemplating why 'the equation did not work out' Rubashov arrives
(albeit in different words) at Michael's question which was:

> The question is rather why
> these kinds of society have never been (and never will be) in a position
> to allow dissenters, never strong enough to bear the freedom of
> individual civil rights.

To which Rubashov answers:

"It was a mistake in the system; perhaps it lay in the precept which until
now he had held to be uncontestable, in whose name he had sacrificed others
and was himself being sacrificed: in the precept that the end justifies the
means [the end being precisely the survival of the revolution against
imperialist aggressors, such that 'opposition is a crime and the leaders of
the opposition are criminals' p. 190].  It was this sentence shich had
killed the great fraternity of the Revolution and made them all run amuck.
What had he once written in his diary?  'We have thrown overboard all
conventions, our sole guiding principle is that of consequent logica; we are
sailing without ethical balast'.
    Perhaps the heart of the evil lay there.  Perhaps it did not suit
mankind to sail without balast.  And perhaps reason alone was a defective
compass, which led one on such a winding, twisted course that the goal
finally disappeared in the mist" (p.206).

Rubashov, in defeat, does of course cling to a new dream: a different
society where 'only purity of means can justify the ends' and where 'the
tenet is wrong which says that a man is the product of one million divided
by one million...'

If the choice were between dreams, I guess I would opt for Rubashov's
final version.  But, since dreams are inherently unattainable (with a
tendency to take a turn towards nightmare) one surely does better to think
through what it means to conceive of a better world.  Here one can do
something: one
can practically and theoretically argue AGAINST capital punishment and
torture and, more than that, one can ask openly what possible ends these
means are supposed to serve.  Whatever Castro's own justifications, I
suspect that his attempts to *suppress* opposition and drive debate
underground have had the (unintended) consequence of *fuelling* it, both
internally and without.  That this opposition includes the voices of
socialists and communists (not only liberals and imperialists) should surely
raise alarm bells for anyone who wants to support the *people of Cuba*
against state aggression (be this internal or external).


> Jerry,
> I don't think that helps (excusing the regime because of threat from
> US). It smacks of the hedging of an ideology. The question is rather why
> these kinds of society have never been (and never will be) in a position
> to allow dissenters, never strong enough to bear the freedom of
> individual civil rights. It is not a question of historical
> circumstances. It is a question of the essence of socialism, i.e. what
> it _is_.
> You say, "we have to ask *who* these "dissenters" are".
> I find that this comment has the flavour of bitter irony. I've been
> reading V.S. Naipaul's "Among the Believers -- An Islamic Journey"
> (1981). He starts off in the Iran of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and
> is being guided around by a young communist who claims:
> "True freedom had existed only once in the world, in Russia, between
> 1917 and 1953. I [Naipaul] said, 'But there was a lot of suffering. A
> lot of people were jailed and killed.' He pounced on that. 'What _sort_
> of people?' " (p.59)
> There's something to be said for abstract-universal individual human
> rights. Why is socialism always caught in apologetics, always in a
> process of deferment?

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