London: Anniversaries notoriously bring out the historian in us all, and this year the pull is virtually irresistible. The half century from 1917 to 1967, it is true, has seen some upheavals which complicate the pattern: room must, after all, be found for the wars of 1914 and 1939. In purely European terms it would be more plausible to take 1914 as the starting-point and go on from there. But Europe is no longer the fulcrum of world affairs. We have become used to the notion that 1917 is the really important date, for it was then—three years after the outbreak of war in Europe—that the United States came in, while Russia underwent the first stage of her immense convulsion. In 1914 the old order was still intact. By 1917 new forces had appeared on the scene: Wilson was promising to make the world safe for democracy; Lenin announced the coming of universal revolution. Behind them, working through them, America and Russia were laying claim to the European inheritance. So the half century shaped itself in ways unsuspected by the statesmen who unleashed the last purely European cataclysm, though not unforeseen by a distinguished galaxy of 19th-century European thinkers (Marx, Burckhardt, and Tocqueville among them) who had been growing increasingly gloomy over the old Continent’s future. By the time the Second German War (it was not a “world war,” current orthodoxy to the contrary notwithstanding) ended in 1945, anyone could see what was happening. The division of Germany along the Elbe was symbolic. By now there can hardly be a newspaper reader or television viewer in the world who has not heard of the Soviet-American condominium. In China, where television has not yet universally penetrated, the lesson is spelled out on wall posters.
Is the condominium going to last, or will it prove to be no more than a brief truce? And if it does last at the governmental level, will it inhibit the struggle for control of the “third world,” or render it fiercer, as China takes the lead in the “anti-imperialist” campaign? These are the issues that are going to dominate the remainder of this century. Everyone knows it. Almost everyone within reach of a typewriter has spent this anniversary season putting down some thoughts on the subject. The present writer is no exception—why should he be? It is mere affectation to pretend that the topic has become a bore, or that everything possible has already been said. Nor is it sensible to shrug the matter off as one for the experts. Who after all are the experts? Most of them are specialists, laboriously putting together bits of factual information. However essential, these parts do not by themselves add up to a coherent view of the whole.
But have the “generalists” done any better? Have they not, over the past half century, distinguished themselves by floating impressive ideological balloons which were invariably shot down in the actual course of events? Certainly one cannot in 1967 read without pain what either democrats or Communists had to say in 1917 about the future of the world. Who today takes Wilsonian rhetoric seriously? Who indeed does not recognize that this was the moment when Gladstonian liberalism gave up the ghost? (One does not need Mr. William Bullitt’s pompous twaddle about Wilson’s role at Versailles to get the point.) Who among the present generation of Soviet leaders, on the other hand, still believes in the world revolution as Lenin conceived it in 1917? Their every word and action, at home and abroad, is proof that they are seeking to escape from their mental straitjacket. For that matter, do the Chinese believe in it? What does the Maoism of 1967 have in common with the Leninism of 1917? Lenin and the Bolsheviks thought they were giving the signal for a proletarian revolution in the advanced industrial countries of the West, starting with Germany. Mao and his followers have written the West off as hopeless and are trying to rouse the submerged peasant masses of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Realism? That remains to be seen. Certainly it is not Leninism.
The world Communist movement is split wide open. Indeed, it is falling apart before our eyes. The discordant elements of the original synthesis—proletariat and peasantry, Marxism and Populism—are no longer held together, as they were in Stalin’s day, by dictatorial fiat from Moscow. They have been torn asunder, and Leninism as a faith is now as dead as the stuffed mummy of its founder in his glass case by the Kremlin wall. Nothing, nothing remains of the vision of a universal socialist revolution, carried forward by that “alliance of the working class and the peasantry” which was the pivot of Lenin’s thought, and on which Bolshevism staked its fortunes while Lenin was still alive. The subsequent disintegration of this faith, in the intra-party struggles of the late 1920’s, could still be concealed from an audience bemused by the elaborate shadow-boxing among Stalin’s successors. And the excruciating boredom inspired by the official literature on this, the fiftieth anniversary of the Revolution, is not significantly lessened by the contemplation of those dying embers of the original fire which continue to be stirred by the heirs of Leninism. Isaac Deutscher’s last piece of work before his recent death, The Unfinished Revolution: Russia 1917-1967,1 is a case in point. Anyone curious to know how the current world scene mirrored itself in the mind of a veteran East European Marxist is advised to read these learned, labored, and curiously scholastic lectures delivered to a British academic audience. Deutscher knew all there was to be known about Bolshevism, save for one thing: that it had no precise relevance to any country beyond Russia’s borders. To the end he went on arguing that, but for Stalin’s deplorable mismanagement (due, it seems, to fear of what the “class struggle” might do to his position at home) there could have been “proletarian revolutions” in the West. He even thought there might have been one in China, in 1927, if Stalin had not botched it up!
But even if the Leninist system has disintegrated, it may be said, can its elements not be put together again? Granted that its original constituents have fallen apart and been redistributed among the warring factions of the international Communist movement: who is to say that tomorrow another genius may not arise and reintegrate them “at a higher level,” to employ the Hegelian phrase? Are there not indeed some master chemists in the field, busy with precisely this task? Indeed there are—so many of them that it is becoming difficult to keep track of them or of their pronouncements. But there’s the rub: the very proliferation of these apprentice sages (and also, it must be said in all candor, the intellectual poverty of their manifestoes) is evidence of the uniqueness of Lenin’s achievement.
In restrospect one sees quite clearly that what he did (quite unbeknownst to himself) was to fuse the European Marxist tradition with the heritage of his precursors among the Russian Populists, the narodovoltsy. But one also sees why the mixture came apart almost immediately after his death, and why neither Trotsky nor Stalin was able to reconstitute it. The mixture was an unstable one. All such mixtures are. But Lenin’s synthesis was so uniquely personal to himself, so intimately bound up with the hopes and aspirations of the most radicalized section of the Russian intelligentsia at one particular historical moment, and so dependent upon a fleeting convergence of worker-peasant interests during the civil-war period of 1917-21, that it began to dissolve even in his own lifetime. If complete shipwreck was to be avoided, the Bolsheviks thereafter had to construct post-haste the industrial-military complex Russia did not possess before the Revolution. But this meant the destruction of the worker-peasant alliance, and the establishment of a totalitarian terror regime distinguishable from Fascism chiefly by its rhetoric.
What earthly use can this example be to revolutionaries in the “third world” who do not hope (or even wish) to emulate the Stalinist achievement? And how can anyone imagine that these new radicals are going to inspire themselves by reading Mr. Kosygin’s lectures to industrial managers about improved methods of production? Contrariwise, what can the New Left in Western Europe and North America do with the Chinese form of Communism, which starts from an even more primitive economic level, and hence is even more obsessed with national chauvinism and the mania for forced-draft industrialization? After all, the whole point about the anarchist philosophy of the New Left is that its adherents do not want to be bothered with either political dictatorship or economic determinism. They take material life for granted and seek to build new human relationships in the interstices of modern civilization. Their natural allies in this endeavor are the intellectuals in the USSR and in Eastern Europe, especially the young. But these people are at the furthest possible remove from everything that China stands for. They are fed to the teeth with revolutionary rhetoric, and long for personal freedom and a civilized existence. After fifty years of material privation, plus mendacious propaganda over the state radio and in the state press, they envy their Western opposites the freedom to be their own masters and to say what they like. And these are the people whom a section of the New Left hopes to conscript for its world-revolutionary campaign! Let them read Solzhenitzyn, and they will discover the direction in which the intellectual elites of the USSR are henceforth going to travel. As for the average Soviet citizen, one may confidently expect that he will find a permanent spiritual resting-place in the simplest and most natural of all civic faiths: that of patriotism.
Grant you all that (says the political strategist with his global chessboard and his planetary worries), but there’s Castro; and the guerrilla champions who attended the recent Havana conference; and Che Guevara; and Ho Chi Minh; and the ultra-Left in general. Even if the Soviet Union becomes more conservative, and its government forms an under-the-counter alliance with the U.S., there’s still bound to be plenty of trouble. Why, even an old traditionalist like de Gaulle abandons NATO and makes revolutionary noises when he visits Canada. What may not happen if anti-Americanism becomes the political creed of those two-thirds of humanity whom the Maoists and the Castroites are trying to stir up!
An outsider like the present writer finds it tempting to reply (plagiarizing Senator Fulbright) that if such a thing were to occur, it would be the fault of those in control of American foreign and domestic affairs. However true, such a rejoinder misses the point, for even a renunciation of imperial attitudes, and an infusion of greater realism into U.S. home and foreign policy, is not, at this stage, going to alter the nature of these revolutionary movements, though it may remove some inflammable stuff. The real answer—abstracting for a moment from short-range considerations linked to the disastrous struggle in Vietnam—must be sought at a different level.
The “third world” is not a unity, and is not going to become one under Maoist leadership, if only because China’s rulers have a remarkable gift for antagonizing even their well-wishers. Nor is it likely to follow the lead of those self-appointed strategists assembled at the Havana conference last August. The reason is simple: nationalism is still the dominant force in all the emergent countries, and its fusion with either Maoism or Castroism is rendered difficult by the specific ideological blinkers currently fashionable in Peking and Havana. Mao’s failure to win converts in India is revelatory in this respect. Matters have now reached the point where even the radical wing of the Indian Communist party—originally pro-Chinese and hostile to Delhi’s foreign policy—has been driven back upon a patriotic position, which in practice means an anti-Chinese one. Nor has Peking made solid ideological conquests in Japan (not to mention the Indonesian disaster which was directly attributable to Chinese interference with a domestic struggle for power). China is not merely too backward to become the leader of Asia: it is positively feared and hated by most Asians, including the majority of Asian Communists. The “irrational” aspect of Maoism may be attributed to China’s cultural isolation or—more plausibly—to the fact that all national revolutions pass through a bellicose phase. Whatever the cause, Chinese chauvinism is certain to set up hostile reactions abroad.
As for Castro, Guevara, and their various disciples, what Lenin once said of Trotsky holds for them too: they may know something about war, but they don’t understand politics. Specifically, they don’t understand the role of the party. They seem to think the political stage can be bypassed in favor of straightforward armed confrontation between the forces of “reaction” and “revolution.” It can’t be done—not even in Bolivia. The Cuban case proves nothing, or rather, it proves that guerrilla operations are always marginal to the decisive struggle, which must be fought out at the political and ideological level. This is something the orthodox Communists in Latin America—who have after all been brought up on Lenin—are now vainly trying to explain to the Castroites. The latter, however, are in a hurry and have no time for Lenin (let alone for Gramsci, who might teach them something about the realities of that “class struggle” they are always talking about, apparently without understanding what the term signifies). Nor are they likely to find much enlightenment in Sartre’s writings or in those of his Parisian disciples. Of all these people—some of them highly gifted and all of them unquestionably courageous—one can only say what Marx on one occasion said to some impatient fellow-revolutionaries: “Ignorance has never been of use to anyone.”
But then, whatever may be affirmed to the contrary by Western sympathizers, this new breed of radicals does not have its roots in classical Marxism, nor even in un-classical Leninism. It represents a throwback to the pre-Marxian age, the 1830’s and 1840’s when the heirs of the French Revolution sought contact with the emerging industrial proletariat. That veteran conspirator, Auguste Blanqui, would have understood these Latin American heirs of the “Jacobin Left,” as Robert Alexander has called them. So would Bakunin, or any other Russian Populist of his generation—even that amiable bellettrist, Alexander Herzen, who never harmed a fly, but was always ready with a word of encouragement for youthful rebels at home or abroad. There is some advantage—if one is a Latin American—in being within this tradition: the one that goes back to 1793. The trouble is that it cannot be exported to non-Latin cultures, least of all to the Protestant soil of North America.2
It would be agreeable to stay at this plane of generality, but a writer who presumes to comment upon current affairs must, however reluctantly, descend from the heights onto level ground. The political struggle is still conducted, for the most part, among and between nation-states and their governments. In this respect at least, a revolutionary movement that comes to power is in no different case from the most conservative and traditionalist regimes: it too must play the game according to time-honored rules. Tito, Castro, and their various Afro-Asian imitators or rivals, have all had to jockey in an arena dominated by the superpowers, and the latter in turn are constantly embarrassed by the antics of their followers. Since the advent of Maoism and the growing tension between the industrialized lands and the “third world,” it cannot even be pretended any longer that the fundamental bipolarity of Washington and Moscow is, in the last resort, the controlling factor. A number of American commentators from Walter Lippmann to Ronald Steel, have in recent years been patiently explaining to their countrymen why this picture has become inadequate. They are, if I may say so, treading in the footsteps of French and British authors from Raymond Aron to the experts of Chatham House. The Russians have not yet caught up, but then they always take a little longer before noticing the obvious. In the West, at least, we are all polycentrists now—if only because de Gaulle won’t allow us to forget it. The old simpleminded slogans of NATO days no longer evoke much response.
What then is taking their place? So far as one can judge, a grudging acceptance by the Big Two of the truism that stalemate is better than nuclear war; and on the part of all the lesser powers, a sense of relief mingled with worry at the prospect of a possible Soviet-American conflict at some future date. In Western Europe this theme is now commonly associated with Gaullism, and it is true that the General, in his public pronouncements, has been trying to turn it into a doctrine sufficiently elastic to be of service to every nationalist movement from Algiers to Quebec. But Gaullism is only one manifestation of this universal worry; it is, moreover, by now hardly distinguishable from European neutralism.3 De Gaulle’s reasoning (setting aside his personal eccentricities, which are not really so very important) has a logic which can easily be grasped by anyone familiar with Europe’s record over the past half century: whatever the outcome of a Soviet-American military showdown, Europe is bound to be ruined by it. Consequently the first duty of any European government, East or West, Communist or anti-Communist, is to send the Big Two packing. This goes down well with audiences in France and elsewhere, and it even finds a secret echo in places like Warsaw or Bucharest. But it is not a universal doctrine. Its appeal is to Europeans only, and the Gaullist attempt to inflate it into a message capable of inspiring black, brown, and yellow men, can be made to look plausible only by ignoring the realities of strife in the newly emergent countries.
These areas are torn by civil wars—or, as in the Arab-Israeli case, by national conflicts—quite independent of the Soviet-American antagonism, let alone the Sino-Soviet quarrel. Even where the contending parties align themselves along the familiar East-West axis, they do so largely for tactical reasons. Thus the Israelis fought the British and the Arabs with Czechoslovak arms in 1947-48, allied themselves with England and France against Russia and Egypt in 1956, fought alone (this time with French equipment, and despite official French disapproval) in 1967, and just now are worried about an American-Soviet understanding at the expense of their recent territorial gains. The Arab states for their part count on Chinese prodding to make the Russians more responsive to their claims, but are otherwise determined to have as little as possible to do with Peking. Tito counsels Nasser to make peace with Israel (after first siding with the more extreme among the Arabs), in part at least because he does not want Moscow to promote a settlement which would limit his own freedom of maneuver. Nasser welcomes his support, as well as that of Spain and the Greek colonels (whose putsch last April currently ranks in the mythology of the New Left as a CIA-inspired overture to Israel’s “aggression” against the self-styled “socialists” in Damascus).
It takes a good deal of faith in the vocabulary of the cold war—or a good dose of ignorance—to reduce these chess-moves to a simple pattern wherein Israel figures as a “tool of Western imperialism” and its opponents as “progressive forces.” There are, of course, a few constants: e.g., the steady support Israel has been getting from the democratic Left all over the world, and the equally unflagging hostility of Stalinists and Fascists (even while Stalin was shipping Czech arms to Palestine in 1948 for use against the British, he was murdering half the Jewish intellectuals in Russia on grotesque charges of “Zionist espionage”). But the constants are embedded in a shifting pattern of tactical moves quite unrelated to the propagandist slogans fed to the unthinking. To take only one example: Israel was among the first to recognize the new Communist regime in China in 1949, whereas all the independent Arab countries for years continued to recognize the Nationalist rump in Taiwan-Formosa. In response, Peking for six years stayed out of the Arab-Israeli dispute until at the Bandung Conference in 1955 Chou En-lai suddenly came out for the “Palestine Liberation Movement.” Why? Because he had finally obtained some unofficial Arab support for Peking’s claim to ownership of Taiwan! From that moment onward, “Palestine” and “Taiwan” figured in Maoist writing as issues whose similarity was due to “American imperialist intervention.” And a decade after this volteface, the simpletons of the New Left (including a few Arabs who had grown disillusioned with Nasser) suddenly discovered that Moscow was letting them down, and that Peking was their one true friend, and always had been—though for propagandist purposes this line was wrapped up in language borrowed from the Havana conference and the Castroite faction generally.
An example of this kind of thinking was disclosed in Le Monde of August 11, 1967, on the subject of the dispute then raging in Cairo between Nasserites anxious for a chance to tackle Egypt’s domestic problems, and “radicals” echoing the Castroite line: the Arab fight against Israel must be seen as part of a global struggle against “American imperialism”; and the “progressive forces” (meaning primarily the USSR) must stop “retreating” before the “American offensive” in progress ever since the Cuban confrontation of 1962. This was more or less what Tito told the Soviet leaders last June, except that he went back on it when it was explained to him that Washington and Moscow had been equally embarrassed by the Middle Eastern explosion. Result: Titoism was once more solemnly excommunicated at Havana (along with the Communist party of Venezuela whose only crime was to have emitted a few squeaks of doubt about the usefulness of terrorism as a political weapon). To make up for these defections, Peking and Havana can now count on the support of Lutfi el-Kholi and his journal Al Talia in Cairo (at any rate so long as Nasser’s secret police permits them both to function).
How little sense Maoism as such makes in the Middle Eastern context was clearly demonstrated by Peking’s reaction to the brief war last June and its political aftermath. Upon the first news of fighting, Chou En-lai sent messages (in Mao’s name of course) to Cairo, to Damascus, and to Ahmad Shukeiry, as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, wishing them well and affirming his faith that the Arabs, “like the heroic people of Vietnam,” would fight on until victory.4 The cease-fire was duly greeted with denunciations of Soviet “treachery,”5 while at the same time Egypt was offered some wheat shipments as a consolation prize for having resisted an aggression “stage-managed single-handed by U.S. imperialism.” Unlike Moscow, the Maoists have never let up in their attacks on the U.S. for supposedly masterminding the whole affair, while almost ignoring the role of the Israelis. But then China has no Jewish problem, and the People’s Daily has no need for the Stuermer-like cartoons which are the daily fare of the Soviet reading public. From the Chinese viewpoint the Arab-Israeli conflict is of interest chiefly as a stick to beat America with. Yet there is also a genuine ideological tie-up between the Maoists and the more extreme Arab nationalists: both believe that armed conflict is the only road to victory. The difference lies in determining the political goal. For the nationalists it is simply the physical destruction of their enemies. For the Maoists and their Latin American disciples it is the mobilization of the masses, who can then be led round to “socialism” after having been “awakened” and shaken out of their apathy in the course of the “anti-imperialist struggle.” What matters is that the struggle must be an armed one. Nothing less will do; and since armed struggles are not practicable in industrial areas, the focus must be shifted to the countryside, especially wherever topographical conditions favor guerrilla warfare.
All this is so remote from anything Lenin (let alone Marx) had to say on the subject that one can understand the despair of orthodox Leninist Communists when faced with such notions. Yet to nationalist movements in some primitive countries the idea makes sense—provided they are not expected to take the goal of Communism seriously. For this is where the equation breaks down. Mao & Co. may believe that new Vietnams can be started all over the globe, but the Russians (and the anti-Maoists in China) know better. Nor are even the most extremist Arab nationalists really sold on Mao’s doctrine: they are after all fanatical anti-Communists (none more fanatical than the Syrian Ba’athists, or Colonel Boumedienne, that paragon of Islamic orthodoxy). What holds them together in a temporary alliance is simply the doctrine of “armed struggle.” As pressures were building up last year for another Middle Eastern explosion, Peking was quoting a typical article in which the director of the Palestine Liberation office in Damascus argued that “Mao’s thesis of people’s war is the only way to liberate Palestine.”6
When Nasser had fallen into the trap laid for him by the Damascus regime, with its hysterical scare stories about an imminent Israeli attack, Peking took the Arab defeat philosophically. True to Maoist form, the People’s Daily wrote: “The war has awakened and educated the people. In a few days and nights of war, the political consciousness of the Arab people rose more than in any normal year.” The editorialist felt sure that the Arabs would “destroy U.S. imperialism and its flunkey Israel” if they were willing to undertake “a protracted heroic struggle.” The real culprits were the Russians, with their treacherous counsels of cease-fire. In view of all this artificial frenzy, the Kremlin clearly had to do something to restore Arab self-confidence by replacing some of the lost military equipment. At the same time this gave Moscow a useful leverage against a further growth of extremist tendencies. Much to their annoyance, the Russians have now been let down by the majority at the Havana conference, with its quasi-Maoist insistence on “armed struggle.” Such talk can only interfere with Moscow’s campaign for gaining influence in the Islamic world, for this campaign depends for its effectiveness upon the credibility of the thesis that the “progressive forces” will get nowhere without the backing of the USSR. It all depends, of course, on how one defines the meaning of “progressive.” Some people might even think that Israel, with its parliamentary democracy and its legal Communist parties (two of them, one almost totally Arab) has a better claim to this designation than the regime of Colonel Boumedienne.
In the Maoist perspective, all this is trivial. An important point at issue in the Chinese inner-party struggle has been the applicability of the Maoist “mass line” to countries outside China. Plainly the more orthodox Stalinists, headed by Liu Shao-ch’i and others, favored a strategy allowing for peaceful penetration of the existing nationalist parties, leading in the end to Communist domination of the entire movement; whereas Mao and his supporters opted for “armed struggle” as a means of mobilizing the masses and simultaneously getting rid of bourgeois elements among the leadership. The Maoist line is now being tested in the Middle East, after having failed in Indonesia and elsewhere. Its immediate aim is to get rid of Nasser, suspected of being an uncertain ally in any really determined struggle to “crush U.S. imperialism.” From the Maoist viewpoint there is something to be said for the notion that Nasser is at best another Sukarno. But then who is their present favorite, Boumedienne? At best another Kemal Ataturk! Someone ought to tell Mao what happened to the Turkish Communists in 1920, when Kemal launched his war of independence: they were taken out to sea in ships and thrown overboard, tied in sacks weighed down with cement. Which did not prevent the government of Lenin and Trotsky from signing a treaty of friendship with the founder of the Turkish Republic. Of such is the kingdom of politics.
1 Oxford University Press, 128 pp., $3.75.
2 Theodore Draper has justly observed that Castro made use of the Cuban Communists, rather than the other way around; see his Castroism: Theory and Practice (praeger, 1965), p. 133. This seems to confirm my own hypothesis that Lenin, for all his departures from Marx, was still too traditional for Latin America, at any rate in this generation. After all, he had once been a Social Democrat. and his party possessed some links with the embryonic Russian labor movement, although he sacrificed it to his wider aims. Castro is essentially a caudillo for whom the Communist party (or any other structured organization of that kind) is an embarrassment because it incorporates sectional class interests. What he wants, and what his imitators want, is a vanguard representing “the revolution” in the abstract. The adherents of such an elite must be totally declassé, possessing no organic links with any class of society, and embodying no aims save those they themselves formulated. One sees here why existentialism is important to the ideologists of such a movement, and also why its meaning constantly eludes them.
3 Cf. the General's broadcast of August 10, with its barely concealed appeal to the Europeans (not only the French) to stay out of future confrontations between the Big Two.
4 See The World Today (London, August 1967), p. 318.
5 See the Peking Review of June 30, 1967, p. 34.
6 New China News Agency, August 21, 1966, quoting the Damascus Arab Journal Al-Ba'ath. The cry was subsequently taken up by Boumedienne's followers in Algiers, and after Nasser's discomfiture it became the principal slogan linking Algiers with Damascus in an “axis” representing the extreme wing of the nationalist movement. Not, however, the Arab Communists, who cleave to the Moscow line—if only because they know what sort of fate awaits them if National Socialism ever has its hands free to deal with them: the fate suffered by their Indonesian comrades who foolishly allowed themselves to be drawn into an alliance with the local variant of Fascism.