There is none. Jean-François Revel, writing in Without Marx or Jesus:

Jean-François Revel

Jean-François Revel

When the state becomes no more than a device for preserving the state, then it matters little what its origins were.  It is, in any case, totalitarian, and therefore reactionary.  It is a mistake to think that Stalinism is a betrayal of Leninism.  Neither Lenin, if he had lived, nor Trotsky, if he had remained in power, would have acted any differently from Stalin.  All of their writings, all of their actions, and all of their speeches between 1917 and 1924, reflect the practice and the theory of a thoroughly Stalin-style dictatorship.  They began in January 1918 by dissolving, with the help of the army, the Constituent Assembly set up by elections – elections in which the Bolsheviks had received only one quarter of the votes.  From that moment, as Rosa Luxemburg has pointed out so well in The Russian Revolution, Lenin and Trotsky began from the principle that they knew the minds of the people better than did the people themselves.  As Lenin remarked at the Tenth Party Congress, held in March 1921, the Party “alone is capable of grouping, educating, and organizing the avant-garde of the proletariat and of all the working classes – that avant-garde being the only force able to offer opposition to the inevitable oscillations of the petit-bourgeoisie.”  And Trotsky, on the same occasion, added that “the Party is compelled to maintain the dictatorship, regardless of temporary wavering, and even regardless of the transitory hesitations of the working class”

Politics And Pipe Dreams

On April 22, 2010, in Culture, Politics, by marc

Jean-François Revel in 1999; Photo by Elsa Dorfman

Still working my way through the early chapters of Without Marx or Jesus, and I must say I found the following passage to be sort of charmingly obvious and yet instructive:

The function of politics is to react to real situations, and not to line up realistic situations, side by side and on a footing of equality, with pipe dreams.  If a waiter asks you to choose between spaghetti and potatoes, explaining that there is nothing else on the menu, there is no point in saying that you prefer caviar.  The question is, spaghetti or potatoes; and nothing else.  In politics as in the kitchen, one may dream of circumstances in which the fare offered would be more palatable; but to dream is not to act in accordance with a given reality.  To act is to make a decision in conformity with reality, and not according to nonexistent alternatives.  Reality, no doubt, is often only imperfectly satisfying; but, at a given moment, we must sometimes learn to accept and live with such imperfection.  Later, we may be able to evoke the vision of a different alternative; that is, we can convert a preferred alternative into a concrete choice.  But the prospect of a valid course of action for the future does not relieve us of the responsibility of making a choice with respect to reality as it exists at present.  If we are faced with two hypotheses both of which may be realized in practice, and if we refrain from comparing them to hypotheses which have no chance of being verified in the immediate future, we automatically limit ourselves to considering the respective advantages and disadvantages of the concrete solutions which really exist.  For, politically speaking, to make a decision because of, or in favor of, something which will never happen, is the same as making no decision at all.  IN other words, a realistic political solution always has concomitant disadvantages.  Therefore, if we reject every solution which has disadvantages, we are soon left with no solutions.

A bit wordy, perhaps, but a point well worth bearing in mind for those of us who engage in the dreadful world of politics.

Without Marx or Jesus by Jean-François Revel

Without Marx or Jesus by Jean-François Revel

In light of the fact that Jean-François Revel’s Last Exit to Utopia turned out to be the most fantastic political book I’ve read in a very long time, and the first book that I read cover-to-cover without interruption from another book since forever, I decided to see if I could pick up one of Revel’s earlier works to explore his thought a bit more.  Thanks to Amazon Marketplace, I now have a copy of  1970′s Without Marx or Jesus: The New American Revolution has Begun, in which Revel argued – very much against the current of the times – that the only nation in which true revolution could occur anymore was the United States.  I’m still waiting to figure out what he means by the title, but I do see that the anti-totalitarianism that marked Utopia is very much present in this earlier book.  A sample:

For the past fifty years, every road seems to have led to increased socialism.  Every road, that is, except the socialist road.  And the reason is obvious.  The purpose of the second world revolution is to create real equality among men, and to give men the political means to decide for themselves on the great matters affecting their destiny.  Therefore, the concentration of all power – political, economic, military, technological, judicial, constitutional, cultural, and informational – in the hands of an oligarchy, or even, in certain cases (Stalin, Tito, Castro), of an autocracy must be the method least likely to lead to such a revolution.  And, in fact, what happens under these oligarchies and autocracies is that the oligarchs and the autocrats become more and more entrenched in their positions of power, and the solutions that society expects from them are more and more rarely forthcoming.  For, unfortunately, the qualities necessary to acquire power (even heroically) and to exercise power (even ineffectively) are not the same as the qualities necessary to resolve the problems of modern society.  The result is that, as authority increases, competence decreases. And since no amount of criticism seems able to halt either the increase of the former or the decrease of the latter, society is becoming more and more dominated and less and less governed.  In such a predicament, the question of whether one social system is better or worse than another becomes a matter of purely academic interest.

It strikes me as I type that paragraph that the bolded section could be a commentary on the problems in the American political system in the 21st century.  We have politicians who are fantastic campaigners, skilled in the art of “retail politics,” but who lack the principles and the experience and the restraint that would allow them to become actual effective leaders.  Not to mention that the people often fail to recognize this fact, at least until it is far too late.  Hence – Barack Obama.

Jean-François Revel’s Last Exit to Utopia is a fantastic book, and I have found it difficult to pull a representative quote that would demonstrate why I love it so much for the simple reason that there are so many points in the book that are worth quoting.  There’s actually one in particular that involves responding to an accident by driving an ambulance directly into a crowd of bystanders that completely cracked me up when I read it, but for some reason I can’t find it (even after a few runs through the multiple post-it flags that are now populating the pages).

Jean-François Revel

Jean-François Revel

In light of current events, however, I think it might be worthwhile to include an extended quote from Revel from Chapter 8 – “Truncated Memory” – on the Katyn Massacre in Poland, the 70th anniversary of which recently passed:

I have often noticed that the place name “Katyn” means nothing to most young people, for the reason that their teachers and the media are careful not to mention it.  So here is a brief summary of the facts: in September 1939, after the defeat of Poland – which had been invaded simultaneously by the Nazis from the west and by the Red armies from the east – an occupation zone of 200,000 square kilometers was tossed by Hitler as a bone to his Soviet friends, along with other territories in the Baltic region, to reward them for their invaluable help.  Stalin immediately set out to purge the Polish office corps of undesirable elements, and on his express written orders, many thousands of prisoners were murdered, including over four thousand at Katyn, a village near Smolensk and the location of the best-known mass grave, and about twenty-one thousand at various other places.  To these must be added some fifteen thousand enlisted troops who were probably drowned in the White Sea.  Carried out over a few days according to a pre-established plan, these mass murders of defeated Poles, exterminated for the sole reason that they were Poles, indisputably were crimes against humanity and not simply war crimes, since the war was over as far as Poland was concerned.  According to the Geneva Conventions, to execute prisoners from a regular army who have fought in uniform constitutes a crime against humanity, especially if the conflict in question has been terminated.  The orders from Moscow were to eliminate all Polish elites in the Soviet-occupied zone: students, judges, landowners, state officials, engineers, professors, lawyers, and of course military officers.

Excavation of Katyn Forest mass graves

Excavation of mass graves in Katyn forest - 1943

When the mass graves were discovered, the Kremlin blamed the killings on the Nazis.  The Western left, naturally, rushed to obey its master’s voice.  Here I am not alleging that all the non-communist left was servile, but those who did have doubts remained very discreet – plaintively perplexed rather than categorically accusing.  For forty-five years, to say out loud that Soviet guilt was highly likely, if only for the simple reason that the crimes were committed in the Soviet-controlled zone and not the German-controlled area, was to get yourself instantly classified as one of those obsessive “viscerals” of  ”simplistic” anticommunist prejudice.Then lo and behold, thanks to Gorbachev and glasnost, the Kremlin in 1990 acknowledged, in a formal TASS communiqué and without attenuating evasions, that “Katyn was a grave crime of the Stalinist era.”  And in 1992, after a preliminary inventory of Moscow’s archives, a secret 1959 report made for the KGB chief Alexander Shelepin was released for international inspection.  It recorded “21,857 Poles of the privileged classes, shot in 1939 on Stalin’s orders.”

The matter thus resolved by the Soviets themselves, one might have hoped that Western revisionists – who for decades had been wheeling out the “fascist” epithet for anyone who believed in the Soviets’ culpability – would now make honorable amends.  But that is not to know them.  Likewise, it would have been nice if the French prime minister had made a small “touristic” gesture of remembrance by visiting the Katyn graves, to show that leftists had recovered their memories and had finally stopped being moral and  intellectual self-amputees.

This persistent discrimination stems from the no less tenacious aberration that holds fascism to be the antithesis of Communism, and hence the victims of the latter, in their tens of millions, to be somehow less victimized than those of the former.  One would like to challenge the deniers and demand of them, “On what grounds do you remain silent?”  It isn’t fascism that is Communism’s foe; it is democracy, that eternal enemy of freedom’s assassins.

A voluntarily truncated memory is not equitable; it is really not memory at all.  Memory will continue to be absent as long as the left and the right alike continue to apply a double standard, treating the conquering criminals differently from the vanquished criminals.

Ravel here and elsewhere demolishes the argument that there is any fundamental difference between the crimes of Naziism and Communism.  Both ideologies are evil; only one is acknowledged as such by left-leaning intelligentsia, to their eternal shame.

Last Exit To Utopia

On April 10, 2010, in Culture, Economics, History, Politics, by marc

U·to·pi·a [yoo-toh-pee-uh]- noun - an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. The word was first used in the book Utopia (1516) by Sir Thomas More. The opposite of dystopia.
ORIGIN based on Greek ou not + tóp(os) a place

Last Exit to Utopia

Last Exit to Utopia by Jean-François Revel

Note, dear reader, the origin of the term “utopia”: the Greek root indicates that utopia is, literally, nowhere.  It is not a place.  It does not exist.  Sir Thomas More, who first used the term, certainly never considered such a place to be realistically possible.  And the truth of the matter is that anyone remotely acquainted with the reality of human nature and history must admit that we do not live in a perfect world, and that such a place is impossible to create.

Anyone, that is, besides leftist intellectuals and politicians, who continue to insist – against the overwhelming evidence of history – that socialism can work, that indeed it must work!  They argue, in spite of all the plain evidence against them, that socialist solutions are more efficient and equitable than market solutions, and that the classical liberal system that has created the most vibrant societies and powerful economies in world history should be at least reined in and subjected to strict scrutiny, and at most outright replaced by a “more humane” socialist system.

Jean-François Revel was a French intellectual, a member of the Académie française, and one of the greatest French political philosophers of the 20th century, at least in the seemingly small branch of 20th century French political philosophy that wasn’t completely enamored of totalitarian schemes.  Prior to his death in 2006, he penned a book called Le Grande Parade, which has now been translated into English and re-titled Last Exit to Utopia, in which he exposes the intellectual and moral failure of leftist intellectuals who have served as apologists for the brutal communist regimes that brought misery and death to millions in the last century, and examines the project that was undertaken by the left after the fall of communism to rehabilitate Marxist and socialist ideas.

Anthony Daniels – AKA Theodore Dalrymple – contributes a fantastic preface to the English edition of the work.  An excerpt:

As Jean-François Revel establishes very clearly in this book, the left-leaning intelligentsia’s long infatuation with the Soviet Union and other Communist countries was not merely an intellectual error but, if not quite a criem itself, at the very least complicity with crime; and moreover crime on a scale virtually unparalleled in human history before the Nazis came on the scene.  With very few honorable exceptions, the whole of the left-leaning intelligentsia devoted a great deal of its formidable powers of sophistry to denying or exculpating the crimes of Communism, thus siding with the mass executioners rather than with the victims in the mass graves.

When the moral, economic, social and philosophical failure of Communism was admitted in the land of its birth, the Western left-leaning intelligentsia found itself with a serious and embarrassing problem.  It stood revealed for all to see as having, for many years, been morally not very different from, and not any better than, M. Le Pen of the French National Front, who once famously (or infamously) declared that the Holocaust was nothing but a detail of history.  While it is relatively easy, especially as one grows older, to admit to having been in error, even in gross error, it is very difficult to admit to having been a willing accomplice to evil, and evil of the most obvious and evident kind.  As M. Ravel convincingly explains, this accounts for the difference in the reception in France of two magisterial books about Communism by French scholars, François Furet’s Le passé d’une illusion, and Stephane Courtois’s Le Livre noir du communisme.

The first deals with what might be called the fashion for Communism as an intellectual error.  Anyone can be mistaken in his philosophy, and few people never change their philosophy in the light of experience and further reflection.  (An unchanging person would be suffering from what a medical friend of mine once called “a hardening of the concepts.”)  Therefore, however preposterous Marxism-Leninism might be as an intellectual system – “a farrago of nonsense,” as Professor Acton once called it – those who adhered to it do not stand convicted of wickedness or defect of character.  Hence Furet’s book, whose exposure of the errors of Communist doctrine could hardly be denied, was received respectfully and even with acclimation.

It was quite otherwise with Livre noir.  This book showed implacably that evil was implicit in both the theory and the practice of Communism, and that everywhere and anywhere it was tried, it resulted in the same appalling conduct of affairs, differing only as to scale.  Evil was in Communism’s DNA, as it were; and the crimes of Communist polities were not the result of a perversion of noble ideals, but were caused by the adoption of evil ideals.

Thus, those who espoused or sympathized with Communist ideals were convicted of harboring evil within themselves; and this is not an easy thing for people, especially those without a belief in original sin, to accept.  Courtois’s book was roundly condemned, therefore, by France’s left-leaning intelligentsia; and since it could not actually point to any serious factual errors contained in this massive work of scholarship, it resorted to defamation and the raising of smokescreens, such as that the book would bring relief and confort to the Front National.

Revel’s perspective seems to me a necessary antidote to the statist surge currently underway here in the United States.  Goodness knows this book is (unfortunately) on very few shelves among the current cadre of Washington “leaders.”  One can only hope the an electoral corrective is on the way, and that those who assume positions of power after the coming vote will take Ravel’s message to heart.

I was made aware of this book via a book review in the Wall Street Journal.  You can read it here.