Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Myth of the Beautiful Soul.

A persistent characteristic of liberalism is a kind of irresponsibility, liberal leftism may appeal to grand projects of social justice and freedom but shirk from the harsh price to be paid for an ideal such as solidarity. The anti-capitalism of liberals might be just a concern over the excesses of capitalism, but the liberals shrink and avoid the consequences of applying their principles. So we can watch Vince Cable "attack" capitalism as he jumps in bed with the Conservative Party along with all the other gutless liberals. It would seem we have reached the point that the liberals are incapable of defending even their own ideas. It is true today that the liberals will talk about justice and rely on the conservatives to do the necessary dirty work for them. So we find the Democrats essentially colluding with the Republican Party on fiscal policy to attack the base of voters who elected Obama. But still Obama hangs onto his 'Beautiful Soul' even though the disagreement over the debt-ceiling was only over a difference in proposals of 2%. This is the shame of the self-described 'moderate' Left, the dirty secret of liberals and progressives everywhere.

It was this that drew the disdain of Rudyard Kipling for the liberals of his day, who relied on conservatives to do the dirty work for them. The same attitude of utter contempt is befitting for the liberal Simon Hughes who abstains from voting on tuition fees whilst quietly relying on his Tory cohorts to do the work for him. The liberal Left might even want a true revolution to bring down capitalism, but the liberal shrivels in the face of chaos and avoids the costs that need to be paid for a revolution. The liberal favours, at best, a revolution without a revolution. Even at the level of activism and civil disobedience the liberal prefers to stand back where he can maintain his convictions. The consequences of the application of such convictions don't have to be acknowledged and the liberal can remain in safe illusions. This is what we saw with the student protests in the UK, the liberal Left effectively took the side of the Right in order to oppose "violence" and "extremism". In that case the liberals sought to maintain the purity of their principles - their 'Beautiful Soul' - but in the end effectively took the side of the common enemy. 

The name Vladimir Lenin is not often mentioned in the same tones as Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln, for obvious reasons, but the common ground between the three of them is significant. It is the difference between the politics of responsibility and the politics of conviction. We find Lenin can be located alongside Churchill and Lincoln as each of these men assumed the full responsibility for the consequences of his decisions. Neither of them had any illusions about power, when it was necessary to exert it and what it really took to handle it. This was true as Lenin led the fight against the encroaching forces of imperialism and fascism in Russia as it is when he pulled back from War Communism and implemented the New Economic Policy in 1921. It was a pragmatic move necessary for the times. The New Economic Policy opened up a space for market relations, as well as private industry and services at a small level whilst the peasants received a fair price for their products. War Communism had done its job and was abandoned after the Civil War, as the transition to a minimal functioning of society was achieved, then it was time for the NEP to be imposed.

Perhaps we should think of Abraham Lincoln, certainly the greatest of American Presidents as well as the most tragic. Abraham Lincoln loved the work of Shakespeare, particularly those work focused on powerful men. Above all he adored Macbeth which is significant given that the Scottish play is about the guilt of the King who has murdered his predecessor. This is symptomatic of the awareness Lincoln had for what it meant to lead the US in such times and what the enormity of his decisions amounted to. The tragedy of Lincoln was that he had brought on the American Civil War, it could have been avoided, 3 million would not have had to fight and the lives of over 630,000 people would have been spared. The savagery unleashed to fight and win the war should not be forgotten, we should not forget that Abraham Lincoln was a syphilitic racist who suspended habeas corpus. But to do so is not to dampen the greatness we attribute to Lincoln with urine. Part of the greatness is down to the kind of man he was and we shouldn't revert to a crude hagiography.

Before the official abolition of slavery there was a conflict between the gradualism of liberals and the radical abolitionism of John Brown, which almost functioned to introduce the Jacobin logic to the US. These are the radicals possessed by what Badiou calls the passion of the Real: if you say A - equality, human rights and freedoms - you should not shirk from its consequences and gather the courage to say B - the violence required to really defend and assert A. The attempts to incite an armed insurrection to abolish slavery certainly acted as one of the sparks that set the nation ablaze and the Civil War began. Notably the last written words of Brown were "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood. I had as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed, it might be done." John Brown considered himself a complete egalitarian, it was vital for him to practice egalitarianism on every level and he made it clear that he saw no difference between white and black - not by saying it, but by what he did. Brown embraced the cause in an unparalleled manner.

We ought not forget it was Winston Churchill who flirted with eugenics, harboured racist views, disliked the poor and held the British Empire in the highest of esteem. It was not an angel who bombed Dresden and defended Stalin in cabinet meetings. This is the same Churchill who assumed the responsibilities of Prime Minister at a time when Britain faced war and the possibility of German invasion. The man stood out as a maverick in his opposition to the appeasement of Fascism in the Parliament of the 1930s. He did so in full awareness of what the situation demanded of him. As the war raged in 1940, and it looked like the Third Reich might actually invade, Churchill suspended habeas corpus in order to detain fascists and sympathisers without charge. It was a necessary evil which he described as the "foundation to all totalitarian government". Once it became clear that the Germans would not invade the power was repealed. Recall the words of Winston Churchill in September 1943 "To achieve the extirpation of Nazi tyranny there are no lengths of violence to which we will not go."

Bare in mind, it was Lenin who fought a vicious civil war against the White Armies that had been mobilised to crush the Russian Revolution and the Entente Powers who came to the rescue of the old ruling class. If the White Army had been victorious the word 'fascist' would be Russian and not Italian, thus the labels with which we pin to the chests of both Hitler and Mussolini would be entirely different had the Red Army lost the Civil War. Besides that, if the White Army had been able to forge Fascism in Russia there would have been an unprecedented slaughter of Jews in the country. This would also mean that Moscow would have stood behind National Socialism all the way for ideological reasons and not just out of pragmatism as seen under Stalin. The pact between Russia and Germany may not have come to an end, or at least not to the benefit of the Allies in WW2. We should take this very seriously given that the Third Reich could have won WW2 had Germany waited to invade Poland until 1942.

For all the talk of the backward conditions in Russia it was the fifth industrial state in the world before the orgiastic slaughter of the First World War. The country had an enormous peasantry and as the country was devastated by war it was left on the brink of social collapse. It is feasible that the process of industrialisation could have been achieved without a revolutionary event at all. But that is not a sufficient case for Tsardom and it seems absurd to hold that this process would have been accomplished in a "humanitarian manner" under the Tsar. The tragic loss for Russia is that the revolution of 1905 failed, which is what Lenin and Trotsky had worked for so hard, had it succeeded it is possible that it could have forestalled the First World War and consequently political change in Russia might have been achieved without carnage.

It is symptomatic of the liberal Left, and infantile leftisms in general, that there is a desperate need to cling to the vestiges of a powerless status in order to maintain a "pure" adversarial position to power itself. The push for change is restricted in this way as the liberals revert to a passivity as demonstrations turn violent. When the need for unity is most dire the liberals are the first to call on the Left to point the guns inwards and open fire. It is better to be a noble loser with a Beautiful Soul than a radical who went too far. Note the person who gets his hands dirty has always gone too far. This stance is unsustainable and impractical, it is one of comfortable resistance when the very nature of resistance is uncomfortable by definition. It was true of the British liberals whom Kipling despised as it is of the student representatives who distanced themselves from 'violence' only to lose their authority in doing so. It is just as we drink decaff coffee, we want coffee without caffeine which is just coffee without coffee essentially. We can't always avoid the harshness of our choices. In the words of Bayard Rustin "The proof that one truly believes is in action."

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