Grifters and Suckers

I’m tempted to say the biggest problem with ideology is that they’re not true. Why this is is complicated. Perhaps a good rule of thumb is that the more force an ideology requires to enforce, the more likely it is to have departed profoundly from reality.

I’m down to the last ten pages of Lenin’s STATE AND REVOLUTION. I’ve been carrying this little book around since I got kicked out of the class it was for in college. Decades.

In Lenin’s view, socialists who aren’t in favor of replacing the democratic state with a dictatorship of the proletariat whose will is enforced by self-organizing armed militias are “opportunists” distorting socialism to satisfy the bourgeoisie.

“Socialism”, for Lenin, is the precursor to communism, this latter being the condition where everyone gives according to their gifts and receives according to their need. When people say “true communism has never been tried” they are, from Lenin’s perspective, delusional, insofar as they think true communism could be “tried”. “Trying” communism is an infantile delusion.

Rather, true communism is only possible after a period of fundamental social reeducation, accomplished by force so overwhelming and coercive that there is nowhere to escape from it. This period of enforced social reeducation, in Lenin’s terminology, is “socialism”, itself only achieved after the proletariat has achieved sufficient political power to smash the existing state institutions and stick it to the capitalists. This power, after destroying the existing state and social order, then turns its focus to reeducate the entire society, so that ultimately, after who knows how long of complete control of thought and behavior, the coercive state just falls away, and the whole society walks into a communist utopia where no one can even think to behave selfishly, and if they do, their peers knock them down immediately.

Reading Lenin puts Orwell’s 1984 into what I think is the proper perspective. Somewhere along this passage from socialism to communism is where we find Winston Smith and his fellow editors of the Newspeak Dictionary. We only learn much later in the book that the Party elites have given up on the fantasy of ever arriving at utopia. The fantasy is for the common people, so that they don’t become demoralized by the recognition that the true Grand Vision is not – as claimed – austerity and control leading ultimately to freedom and individuality in some indefinite but actual future. Instead, it’s a boot stamping on a human face forever and ever.

In short, for Orwell, the radical socialist vision breaks down in reality into a society of grifters and suckers.

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