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Analyst of Totalitarianism—Reading Simon Leys Today

Simon Leys was perhaps the pre-eminent Western chronicler of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and it is worth returning to his work for its vivid first-hand accounts of life in Beijing during this period. But Leys was also interested in the process by which, under the right conditions and with the right ideology, a society can collapse into insanity and murder. His description of the Cultural Revolution showed how political hysteria and the legitimization of violence and hatred combined to ravage a nation.

These developments, however, are by no means unique to communism in general or China in particular, and Leys explored similar themes in his retelling of the harrowing true story of a ship wrecked off the coast of Australia in 1629. His book on the topic, The Wreck of the Batavia, is a short masterpiece about how the small society that the ship’s survivors tried to construct in the wake of the disaster was plunged into apocalyptic madness and murder by a psychopathic leader operating according to his own deranged totalitarian ideology. The parallels to Maoism—although Leys was too elegant a writer to belabour them—are obvious.

Leys’s work was not centered on abstractions or historical lessons. “I am not dealing here with esoteric abstractions, but with a living reality,” he wrote in the introduction to the anthology The Hall of Uselessness. He was preoccupied with the fragility of civilization, the vulnerability of human nature to the temptations of cruelty, and the complacency of advanced societies when viewing the barbarism of others.

The Cultural Revolution

Simon Leys was born Pierre Ryckmans in 1935 into a distinguished Catholic Belgian diplomatic family (his uncle was the governor general of the Congo). His adult life was spent in greater China or studying it from Australia, where he died in 2014. During the 1960s and ’70s, he was partially blacklisted in Paris for the candor of his indictments of Maoism and scathing criticisms of French Maoists like Roland Barthes. Despite these views, Ryckmans was never entirely ostracized in Paris, where the Situationists published him, nor even in China itself. But his opinions did require him to adopt a pseudonym in print so that he could take up a post as a cultural attaché to the Belgian embassy in Beijing in 1972.

Leys’s breakthrough insight into the Cultural Revolution was that it was not a spontaneous development but arose instead from a power struggle between Mao and the Central Committee which included Deng Xiaoping. Years earlier, Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” had led to a devastating famine and an estimated 30–45 million deaths. In response, Deng and the Central Committee forced Mao into a largely ceremonial role, or in the Chinese phrase, “laid him to rest in a sidetrack.” The Cultural Revolution was Mao’s instrument of revenge. Amid the ensuing mayhem and the mass murder of his opponents by the Red Guards, Mao was able to regain power. He then ordered the Army under Lin Biao to rein in the Red Guards who were themselves often massacred. In 1971, Lin Biao also disappeared. According to official sources, he died in a plane crash in Mongolia trying to flee the country. According to Leys and informed sources, Mao ordered Lin’s assassination inside China and the crash story was a fabrication.

“Mao managed to light the fuse that would lead to that huge explosion, the Cultural Revolution,” wrote Leys. The sequence of events he described that led to that upheaval makes the process sound methodical, but the rage and violence unleashed defy rational analysis. Roving mobs of Red Guards composed of teens and children murdered with impunity. Ancient statues, temples, and buildings were destroyed. All books, films, and magazines that predated the Cultural Revolution were withdrawn, and universities and schools were closed. Professors were harassed by the “Workers-Soldiers Propaganda Teams of the Thought of Mao Tse-Tung,” and were sent to factories or the countryside. “Proletarians” replaced them when the universities tentatively reopened in 1972. This policy did not prove to be successful. Re-educated professors were allowed to return to teaching, but only under the watchful eye of the worker-soldiers propaganda teams. The content of the classes was now predominantly political theory.

The traditional university entrance exam system was eliminated. Replacing it, Leys observed in Chinese Shadows, was an admissions system that was “tightly political: a candidate who is not the son of a worker or a poor peasant has practically no chance of admission, however brilliant he may be.” There was no risk whatsoever that these poorly prepared students, once admitted, would fail. Leys spoke to a University of Peking professor who told him, “As for failing a student who happened to be an activist or the son of a poor peasant, needless to say, this kind of foolhardiness did not occur to anyone.” (It was only after Mao’s death that university admissions based on competitive exam, rather than the student’s political background and social origin, were restored by Deng.)

Under Maoism, there was no objective truth and hence no objective science. A key Maoist document “The May 16th Circular” reads, “the slogan: ‘everyone is equal before the truth’… is a bourgeois slogan… completely negating the class nature of truth.” The class struggle was of course central to Maoism but Leys termed it “the great hoax.” The violent hunt for the bourgeoisie was all-consuming but there were no authentic bourgeoisie left in China, a society which consisted only of the Party and the People. The bourgeoisie needed to be invented, given they were “practically extinct in China,” wrote Leys. The source of the supply, he noted, was the ruling classes’ “perpetual merciless power struggle: the winning group always gives the unlucky losers a ‘bourgeois-capitalist’ label and then abandons them to popular fury.” History too, was subordinate to political truths and expediency. In The Burning Forest Leys reported a trip to a history museum during which a flummoxed guide was unable to answer visitors’ questions: “The leadership has not yet had the time to decide what history was.”

The Cultural Revolution marked an intensification of ongoing trends in China rather than a clean break. This can be seen most clearly in art and literature. In 1942, Mao delivered his “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art,” in which he declared:

There is in fact no such thing as art for art’s sake, art that stands above classes or art that is detached from or independent of politics… Party work in literature and art occupies a definite and assigned position in Party revolutionary work as a whole and is subordinated to the revolutionary tasks set by the Party.

The arts in Mao’s China closely followed these guidelines, with the edict to destroy creative “moods” alien to the proletariat, such as liberalism, individualism, pessimism, or “art for art’s sake.” Bookshops only featured the works of Chairman Mao. His calligraphy and sayings were stenciled everywhere and on everything: trains, factories, buildings, dams, and army barracks.

It is worth mentioning contemporary American art in this context, mostly to illustrate its limitations and inadequacies. The visual arts in the US, including painting, are increasingly what is known as “post autonomous.” That is, the ideas are all imported from other fields. Art is merely another form of political engagement, with a stress on ecological and identitarian themes. The goal is to bring about radical political confrontations, not aesthetic ones. Works and people—including even museum trustees—incompatible with the constantly shifting post-autonomous agenda are purged.

But if art is now merely a vehicle for ideas from other fields, what exactly is its value? This is a question no one in the arts is asking. But Mao did. In his “talk on Arts and Letters” he stated:

Politics cannot be equated with art, nor can a general world outlook be equated with a method of artistic creation and criticism… we oppose both the tendency to produce works of art with a wrong political viewpoint and the tendency towards the “poster and slogan style” which is correct in political viewpoint but lacking in artistic power. On questions of literature and art we must carry on a struggle on two fronts.

The solution to this self-imposed dilemma was found in Madame Mao’s Revolutionary Model operas. These replaced traditional operas, the most popular art form in China, with new operas with revolutionary themes. Leys wrote:

Theatres, movies, radio, and television, were taken over every day, all day for years, by Madame Mao’s six revolutionary model operas… Nothing else was produced. They are broadcast in restaurants, railway stations, and trains and planes… [giving] this catastrophic grotesque a nightmarish ubiquity, and its multi-repetition every day, all week, months on end, throughout the year, is a saturation that brings on nausea, a screaming boredom.

Leys didn’t turn to an analysis of Marxist theory to unlock the true character of Maoist rule because he didn’t feel this was driving it. His understanding of the dynamics of the regime came from his own observations, as well as the writings of Father Ladany, a Hungarian Jesuit and China watcher based in Hong Kong. Referencing Ladany, Leys wrote in an essay The Hall of Uselessness: “A communist regime is built on a triple foundation: dialectics, the power of the party, and secret police—but as to its ideological equipment, Marxism is merely an optional feature.” According to this analysis, the Communist Party is best understood as essentially a secret society that rules through terror and deception. The Party’s path to power was obscure, arising out of economic and social chaos of the 1940s. It used propaganda and tight organization to turn a miniscule movement into the embodiment of the nation’s will.

But Mao did formulate one theoretical innovation, which Leys took extremely seriously. “Mao explicitly denounced the concept of a universal humanity; whereas the Soviet tyrant merely practiced inhumanity, Mao gave it a theoretical foundation, expounding the notion—without parallel in the other communist countries in the world—that the proletariat alone is fully endowed with human nature.”

The end result was a deeply scarred society: “For those who knew it in the past,” Leys wrote in 1977, “Peking now appears to be a murdered town. The body is still there, the soul has gone.” The revolution disfigured the psyche as well. The constant political campaigns, revenge, and struggle sessions, eroded any notion of shared humanity. As Leys observed, “twenty years of systemic incitation to ‘class hatred’ and denunciation of basic impulses such as a compassion for suffering whoever is the victim… has brought about the general and willed lowering of the traditional virtues that gave harmony to Chinese life.”

Replacing that harmony was a New Man, with new qualities: kindness had vanished. This absence of kindness was true in Soviet Russia as well and is in some ways the defining characteristic of a totalitarian society. In Chinese Shadows Leys quoted Nadezhda Mandelstam on the impact of Stalinism: “Kindness is not, after all, an inborn quality, but it has to be cultivated, and this only happens when it is in demand… Everything we have seen in our times—the dispossession of the kulaks, class warfare, the constant ‘unmasking’ of people—all this has taught us to be anything you like, except kind.”

The Wreck of the Batavia

A 17th century shipwreck and mutiny off the coast of Australia seems at first glance like an incident remote from Mao’s China in almost every way. But it is actually a strangely related tale informed by similar totalitarian dynamics, so it is not surprising that Leys was so fascinated by the grim story of the Batavia. The story of what happened to the ship and its crew had gripped the world at the time it unfolded but was then largely forgotten until interest was rekindled by the re-discovery of the wreck in 1963. Leys’s research relied on documents from the original trial as well as the book Batavia’s Graveyard by Mike Dash.

The Batavia was a merchant ship which set sail on its maiden voyage in 1628 from the Netherlands to Java under the command of Dutch East Asia Company official, Francisco Pelsaert. The ship, for its time, was massive—it carried 330 people and was double hulled for the 15,000 mile journey. (It was, in fact, so tall that a replica could only clear Sydney Harbor Bridge at low tide.) Such a long and dangerous voyage in the largely unexplored Southern Ocean attracted only the most desperate crew, who were unable to find employment in the Dutch Navy or the Army. Pelsaert was a merchant, not a sailor. The actual skipper, a drunk named Ariaen Jacobsz, was therefore technically not in charge of the ship and the two men hated one another. Also aboard was Jeronimus Cornelisz, a failed apothecary who now worked for the Dutch East India Company. Cornelisz was a known associate of the painter Torrentius, who had recently been arrested for heresy and satanism, and the authorities were searching for any accomplices.

The atmosphere on the ship was stifling. “These ill-assorted individuals,” Leys wrote, “were bundled up in the heavy black suits that the Dutch sense of proprietary dictated they wear, even in the tropics.” Ten men succumbed to scurvy, the cause of which was not yet known. During the voyage, Cornelisz began sharing some of the ideas he had learned from Torrentius with Jacobsz such as, “Are crimes by God’s elect crimes at all?” and tried to persuade the skipper to join him in a mutiny to seize control of the ship from Pelsaert. The ship was carrying 12 treasure chests to buy spices, and Cornelisz wanted to divert to an English colony.

The mutiny didn’t take place as planned but the situation onboard the ship was tense and restive. Then, on June 3rd, 1629, the ship’s lookout saw what he thought were waves breaking over shallows. He alerted Jacobsz who told him this was impossible because he thought the ship was 600 miles to the north in open seas. But at that time there was no easy way to measure longitude. In reality, the Batavia was wildly off course, close to the West Coast of Australia, and sailing amidst an archipelago of tiny coral islands called the Houtman Abrolhos. It was there that the Batavia struck a reef.

This seemed to spell certain death for the passengers. The sea would break the ship apart and drown them all. Lifeboats had not yet been invented and few people could swim. Authority and discipline dissolved. “Mercenaries and sailors broke into stores of wine and spirits and engaged in a wild orgy,” Leys wrote. “Every taboo was swept away.” However, as the tide receded, it became possible to wade to a nearby island, and most onboard made it to safety. But 70 were too fearful to leave the wreck, and chose to stay on the ship until the very end. When it broke apart nine days later most of them drowned. But even for those who had made it to the island, chances for long-term survival were bleak.

The Batavia carried a small open boat, and under cover of darkness, the skipper and captain set off from the island to Java over 1,800 miles away to seek help (or simply to save themselves). The survivors of the Batavia awakened to find that they had been abandoned. Cornelisz was the most senior remaining Dutch East Asia Company employee and was therefore the natural leader of the survivors. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a psychopath. Under Company rule, all decisions had to be made by committee. Cornelisz had made certain that all committee members were his fellow plotters in the planned mutiny. Now, they controlled all of the weapons from the Batavia, as well as a few rafts constructed out of its wreckage. The committee almost immediately ordered the execution of a soldier accused of stealing wine. This was the first of many murders.

Next, Cornelisz culled the population, particularly the strongest men, by shipping them to remote atolls where he believed there was no water and where he left them without a boat. One group, led by a soldier named Wiebbe Hayes sent a smoke signal indicating that they had found water, which is not something Cornelisz anticipated. And there were abundant wallabies to eat! When other survivors took to rafts to join Hayes, Cornelisz’s men dragged the rafts back to shore and beat the men, women, and children to death on the beach.

Cornelisz established a terror state and ordered arbitrary executions. He retitled himself “Captain General” and made everyone swear loyalty to him. He and the committee wore beribboned officers’ uniforms salvaged from the Batavia and drank the wine. Women were held as slaves and raped. A Dutch aristocrat named Lucretia van der Mijlen, who had been travelling as a passenger along with her maid, was spared and told to become Cornelisz’s concubine. She refused until a deputy explained that either she accede to the Captain General’s request or she would be killed or raped or both. Upon receiving this news, she complied.

Although Cornelisz’s personal psychology explains some of this violence, Leys stresses that his actions were informed by the heretical and libertine theories of Torrentius, who claimed the Devil helped him to paint. Torrentius was jailed and tortured in 1628 and his paintings were burnt. Only one of his works has survived—“Still Life with Flagon, Glass, Jug and Bridle” was rediscovered in 1913 being used to cover a barrel of raisins and now hangs in the Rijksmuseum. It remains mysterious—with no visible brushstrokes it resembles a photograph, and Torrentius may have used an unknown chemical process in its creation.

But Cornelisz held his own heretical beliefs which were independent of the provocations of Torrentius. Cornelisz was an Anabaptist, an often violent millenarian sect that favored adult baptism—a profoundly shocking and subversive heresy at the time—and foresaw an apocalyptic struggle for salvation as described in the Book of Revelation. (In 1553, the Anabaptists established a millenarian proto-communist city state in Münster, characterized by common property, polygamy, and terror. Although Leys didn’t mention it, Maoism and Stalinism were intellectual descendants of Anabaptism. Here the millenarian ideology was delivered in secular form with leaders prepared to precipitate an apocalypse in pursuit of utopia.)

A handful of escapees managed to flee Cornelisz’s island on rafts and warned Wiebbe Hayes and his fellow soldiers about Cornelisz’s reign of terror. Anticipating an attack, Hayes’s group built a makeshift fort out of coral, the first European structure in Australia. Two months after the original wreck, Cornelisz’s men attacked Hayes and his largely defenseless companions with muskets. Amid the final battle, a ship was spotted on the horizon. The commander Pelsaert had made it to Java and had returned to rescue the company’s treasure chests and the survivors. Hayes got to the rescue ship first.

Pelsaert could hardly believe what had occurred in his absence. Cornelisz was arrested, tortured, and tried “on the spot,” and his hands were cut off. He was sentenced to death, along with six accomplices. He remained faithful to his heresy and declined to be baptized before he was hanged. Two of his junior henchmen were spared the rope and left on the Australian mainland to fend for themselves with toys to establish friendly relations with the natives. They were never heard from again. Leys ended his account by making his own trip to the Houtman Abrolhos islands which are now a nature preserve. A local fisherman shows him a skull he found when he was digging up his kitchen floor. He now keeps it in an ice cream tub.

The book closes with a quote from Euripides, “the sea washes away the evils of man.” This isn’t completely true—it can be memorialized in books. And there are ongoing archeological excavations of mass graves from the Batavia on what is now known as Beacon Island.

Conclusion: “Never take stupidity too seriously.”

Maoism had unique traits but Leys nonetheless always saw it as a member of what he called the “great totalitarian family”—ideologies produced by patterns of thought found across human societies, from tiny shipwrecked pre-Enlightenment microcosms to vast 20th century nations. History does not repeat itself, but ideas do.

The wreck of the Batavia and the Maoist disaster visited upon China both demonstrate that it takes a confluence of factors to turn a society upside down. There is a shock that triggers an upheaval—a shipwreck, a war, a depression, a famine, or political chaos. Authorities are discredited or absent and unable to mount an effective response. There also needs to be an organized authoritarian movement operating according to transformative, even apocalyptic beliefs, that can take advantage of the void. Finally, bad luck and the psychology of the society’s leaders both play a role. 

One general conclusion from reading Leys is that although totalitarian movements are immensely dangerous, that doesn’t mean we should give the theories behind them much intellectual weight. Leys quoted the Chinese saying coined by the philosopher Jacques Maritain: “Never take stupidity too seriously.” There was no point arguing economics with a Red Guard, or theology with one of Cornelisz’s murderous thugs. These movements were about power in the service of mad millenarian aims, and they were only defeated with countervailing force. Fighting totalitarianism takes organization and a coordinated response, not theory. And it takes adults who have a moral compass.

Simon Leys is by no means obscure—much of his work is still in print, and he was the subject of a major biography by Philippe Paquet entitled Simon Leys: Navigator between Worlds. But he deserves greater recognition as an analyst of totalitarianism, not least for the way in which he built upon Czesław Miłosz’s warning: “The man of the East cannot take Americans seriously because they have never undergone the experiences that teach men how relative their judgments and thinking habits are. Their resultant lack of imagination is appalling… If something exists in one place, it will exist everywhere.” To this, Leys added (in the Los Angeles Times of all places): “The everyday order of our lives may seem to us natural and permanent, but it is in fact as fragile and illusory as the cardboard props on a theatrical stage: It can collapse in a flash and turn at once into black horror. Our condition is forever precarious; even basic human decency can shatter and vanish in an instant.”

 

David Adler is a writer who lives in rural Connecticut.

Feature image: Author Pierre Ryckmans, who writes under the name of Simon Leys is photographed at his Canberra home 01 April 1998. (William West /AFP via Getty Images).

Comments

  1. Two things jumped out at me:

    1. I could easily substitute almost any major inner city, Portland for example, for China today.
      2) he was canceled, aka blacklisted, for pointing out the absurdity of the Maoist philosophy. Sounds oddly familiar.
  2. “ In 1553, the Anabaptists established a millenarian proto-communist city state in Münster …”

    To this day the Catholic Church in Münster hangs a cage from its steeple in which the insurgents were imprisoned and left to die. I used to think it was a little dramatic but now I see their point.

  3. From the article:

    “Roving mobs of Red Guards composed of teens and children murdered with impunity. Ancient statues, temples, and buildings were destroyed. All books, films, and magazines that predated the Cultural Revolution were withdrawn, and universities and schools were closed. Professors were harassed by the “Workers-Soldiers Propaganda Teams of the Thought of Mao Tse-Tung,” and were sent to factories or the countryside.”

    While the protesters in Portland certainly aren’t murdering with impunity, they are in fact murdering. The rest of this description sounds similar to the violence following the George Floyd protests. The BLM founders claim to be trained Marxist and I take them at their word.

    Yet I have been told by a couple people here that these protests are simply people who are opposed to an unjust society, and not the work of revolutionaries, following a plan.

    Hmmm.

  4. A nice article about a man I never heard of. Definitely widened my outlook.

  5. Systems which arise from voluntary exchanges can be hard. Especially where scarcity prevails, it can seem as though an element of coercion is at play, because individuals might only be able to pick the best of a bad bunch of options. But however difficult choices might seem in a system of voluntary exchanges, individuals are still free, hierarchies generally tend to establish themselves through competence and the main currency of interactions is trust. It may only start as the trust in a subordinates ability to follow relatively simple instructions and show a little initiative, but it can grow into so much more.

    The more we study totalitarian systems, the more we should understand that however hard and difficult individual circumstances may be for some in the West, the alternatives simply don’t bear contemplating as feasible options. I’ve often wondered what lies at the heart of the resentment, hatred and vitriol which the inherent tilt towards totalitarianism in Socialism unleashes, or stokes. The answer I think must be human distance.

    Of course, it’s perfectly possible to feel resentment towards a neighbour, and police are regularly called out to incidents which stem from an initial instance of leylandii abuse. But for this resentment to become airborne and endemic the ideology needs victims we don’t know. And this is where the more developed or culturally sophisticated societies possess an inherent flaw, driven by our evolutionary psychology. Because whilst we have evolved to work well in kinship groups, clans and even small tribes, we are not built to deal with distant or remote leaders or bosses we’ve never met.

    And this is where the pathology of resentment and vitriol can seep in, empowering those on the Left to rile the mob. Because its easy to revile business leaders and CEO’s when you’ve never met one, to imagine all their wealth isn’t earned. It’s easy to imagine that some charismatic demagogue has all the answers when they’ve deigned to speak to you once. It’s easy to see an ideology as a means to an ends when the Promised Land is the Faustian deal, or to be ignorant of the fact that often the means becomes an end in itself, especially when your schoolteachers have conveniently failed to mention that Socialism has never worked.

    The current strategy for implementing Socialism seems to be a combination of indoctrination and the idea of introducing Socialism by increments- slowly taking more and more of the communal wealth we generate, and then blaming the additional hardship and scarcity this generates on greedy businesses and capitalism. Of course, this is not to say that capitalism doesn’t leave some dispossessed. It does. But in any rational analysis, its likely that perhaps 30% of those who are dispossessed are in this position through capitalism, with the other 70% caused by poorly conceived Government policy- especially when we consider the absolutely reprehensible effect Government has had on housing in major cities throughout the West, and in the UK in general.

    And this is where it all comes back to distance. Because the activists assume that the shop owners whose businesses they burn down will have insurance, when many will not be covered. They see Police as systemically racist, when it’s disparate rates of violent crime which causes Police to bear down on petty drug crimes. They don’t know its the petty drugs crimes that cause the violence, although they might have heard about unregulated markets. So its very easy to construct a pathological ideology when all the groups of actors are unknown to you, and to believe that the system itself needs to be burned down.

    The worrying thing about this ideology is that it has all the hallmarks of the Maoist Cultural Revolution. Once the resentment, hatred and vitriol reaches a certain threshold, it won’t be too long till the mob aerosolises it. Activists are already warning other activists to cut off communications with friends and families who possess the wrong ideas- and it only takes a few mental steps of thinking in terms of the greater good, before young people start denouncing their own family members.

    And what is it all for? Because we know the history of transformative societal change. It’s a series of unmitigated disasters, without exception. Meanwhile the ideology only gets worse in its pathology, even going so far now, as infecting the scientific method. When you believe that there are ‘other ways of knowing’ and that a system of empirical evidence is inherently White Supremacist- you’re no longer playing with theories, you’re in a cult.

  6. Systems which arise from voluntary exchanges can be hard. Especially where scarcity prevails, it can seem as though an element of coercion is at play, because individuals might only be able to pick the best of a bad bunch of options.

    If they pick any option of exchange, then they reveal their preference for the state of things after the exchange over before the exchange.

  7. Very interesting article, all the more so that I never heard of Simon Leys : thanks.

  8. For my money, there is only one right condition; total, unremitting ruthless by those in power.
    As a keen follower of politics for most of my adult life and as an amateur economic historian the utter ruthlessness of the left is the clearest and strongest marker of behaviour in my 69 years of living.
    Stalin was a bank robbing terrorist early in his career, Harry Truman ran a haberdashery store early in his

  9. A great article and a truly fascinating read.

    @quillette: There was no point arguing economics with a Red Guard, or theology with one of Cornelisz’s murderous thugs. These movements were about power in the service of mad millenarian aims

    Somehow that sounds frighteningly familiar. Such totalitarian movements appear again and again over the centuries, whenever the number of fanatics exceeds the number of adults with an intact moral compass. We should probably hope that in the future no exciting books about our own time will be written to admonish posterity…

  10. You’ve hit on one of the problems we have with fully understanding the progressive movements of the twentieth and twenty-first century. The liberal carton history of the middle ages has the oppressive Church versus the noble, freedom-fighting heretics. But read about the history of these movements, which began in the twelfth century (e.g., Cohn, Pursuit of the Millennium) and you’ll discover that they were the ultra-violent totalitarian predecessors of those of recent history. It’s not a stretch to say that Marx and his followers secularized the heretical movements but without fundamentally changing their radicalism or destructiveness (on this see, e.g., Slezkine’s House of Government). We cannot let this cancer metastasize.

  11. Assuming you’re asking about the peaceful ways, making the movement conscious of itself as a religion will break the spell for enough of its members to sap its momentum. The other, more mundane fix is practical: Liberals have to reject it.

  12. I think that a lot of these movements succeeded in gaining great power because the great mass of people were living in deprivation and sick of seeing those who did not live so, in authority above them. Russian Serfs; Chinese peasants sick of war and want. Look at the US pre-COVID…I am guessing there were at least 250M, maybe more, people who were damn happy with their lives, and the upward economic progress they had not seen for years. Hardly the conditions for violent overthrow of anything but a few city blocks by ponytailed coeds on assignment from their feminist dance therapy class. Soros, he who likes to play with nations the way a kid burns out an ant colony with a magnifying glass, might have the $$ to bus/fly a few dozen agitating thugs around the country until he’s RICO’ed for it, but starting a civil war? Hardly likely outside a few deep-blue shitholes. I hear it from sorta-libs, mostly women who hate Trump because he reminds them of their overbearing daddy or abusive ex, but think that a water cannon or worse should be taken to the indoctrinistas of CHOP and Portland.

  13. Althoughh Ryckmans’/Leys’ books certainly come across as worthwhile, I do feel that the present day threat of totalitarianism is based on somewhat more novel conditions.
    For example, Mao was the face of Maoism, Stalin the face of Stalinism, Hitler the face of Nazism etc, who’s the face of the radical left extremism we see now?
    You could maybe argue George Soros. Although the Left dismiss this as conspiracy, it’s not irrational to question his role. He has had a giant hand in putting left wing extremists in power.


    Why is he doing this? Is it because he cares about black lives? He certainly didn’t care about Thai lives when he psychopathically engineered their country’s economic downfall for personal profit. Does he even have close black friends? If he is doing this, why? Has he bet against the dollar, or bet on the yuan? Does he like knowing he can wreck things, or is it because he is old and he wants to give the world a black eye because he’s dying? Your guess is as good as mine. But while I hate Marxism with a passion, it is weird how capitalism has created monsters. Be it Soros or Google or Twitter, we are now in a situation where a billionaires and oligarchies can manipulate politics without being elected. (William Randolph Hearst could be seen as a precursor to this, but while he was a prolific propagandist, he was not that proficient)
    Also, there’s the exponential increases in the world population. One of the reasons China has such a shitty human rights record is that large populations are unwieldy and potentially volatile, especially if resources are limited, so governments become ever more repressive to maintain control.
    Also, while the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan Civil War etc are all appalling, they are in a way explicable. By this I mean, I despise but understand how one “tribe” can hate another “tribe” What is unusual and novel is the number of whites who proclaim hatred for their own race. Why? Also, these are not the voices of the proletariat but the bourgeoisie. What madness is guiding this thought process?
  14. The driver of the movement is its existential appeal. In a demythologized world, progressivism is an all-encompassing theology of man in the world that provides you the opportunity to play a role in bringing into being a New Dawn where all is made right. The world has a meaning; your life has a purpose. It’s an ersazt religion that fills the void left by Christianity. This is why leaders can come and go: the dream abides because it fills the void. (Remember that progressivism is not someone’s idea for the adept; it’s history playing itself out. Leaders are merely avatars of history.)

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