In my last post on “Terrorism and Communism“, I laid out a set of questions that I wanted to ask – the question of rule by the proletariat vs. rule by all classes equally, the question of rule by the proletariat vs. rule by a certain political party, the question of emergency powers vs. constitutional powers, and the question of means, justified by the end or not.
Now, the easiest of these questions to answer is the third – that of exercising emergency rule by exceptional powers, or abiding by the normal constitutional procedures. The reason it’s easy to answer is that almost nobody in the world seriously believes that the same tenor of political activity that’s appropriate in peace is appropriate in war.
For example, if the constitution prescribes a checking procedure that tends to take about 5 days, and the White Armies are 2 days away, the idea that the normal procedures should be suspended in order to make rapid decisions is fairly obvious.
So in that sense, the idea of a dictatorship of the proletariat, in the main sense that the phrase would have had in the 19th century, as meaning the ‘martial law’ of the proletariat, is easy to justify – it requires only the assumptions that 1) the situation resembles a warlike one, with hostile forces sitting ready to assault each other, and 2) that the victory of the revolutionary forces is desirable. If 1. isn’t obvious then hooray, we’re unrealistically lucky, and if someone doesn’t agree with 2., then T&C is hardly the book for them to be focusing on.
So this post isn’t really going to try and answer that question, with its obvious answer, it’s going to talk about moral goodness, and why sometimes, it’s a bad idea.
I often hear non-Christians say something along the lines of “I don’t think Jesus of Nazareth is divine, but I agree with his ethical teachings.” Now some of what Jesus says is quite cool – it would be surprising if it weren’t, given how much value people have historically found in it. He was clearly an exceptional individual, so I’m certainly not saying that he had nothing good to say.
At the same time, I think many of his teachings are conspicuously objectionable. Let’s take one of the most famous: the ‘turn the other cheek’ idea. The ‘love your enemies’ idea. The ‘do not resist’ idea. This is in many ways a conspicuously bad idea. It’s bad in two ways.
First of all, it is prone to make the victim of injustice allow that injustice to continue suffering that injustice. In the words of Malcolm X, “it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”
And secondly, it doesn’t impede the oppressor’s ability to oppress other victims. In this way it can plausibly, perhaps, be seen as betrayal of those other victims. To take an example from today’s earlier post, who did more to undermine whaling as a safe, profitable enterprise, the whales who were easily caught and killed without doing any harm to their killers, or the sperm whale bulls who rammed and sank whaling ships?
The issue of animal rights is perhaps a good example (though obviously not a perfect, one, due to the differences between animals and humans – e.g. humans can articulate their concerns, which animals generally cannot). The lack of organisation on the part of the animal victims of human violence has made them unable to resist – every imaginable cheek has been turned. And has this somehow “conquered hatred with love”? No, it has allowed for more chickens to be murdered in one year than there have existed human beings in the last century.
A related example is Jesus’ frequent assaults on hypocrisy (remove the sand from your own eye before you remove it from your neighbour’s). Now (if I may be forgiven an exaggerated stance), as a vegan, I am quite fond of hypocrisy. It is hypocrisy which allows me to condemn our practices of wantonly destroying animal life in growing crops, while also eating food. If I ever became seriously ill, it would be hypocrisy that allowed me to take life-saving medicines produced by the sacrifice of animal lives. And if some miracle cure had been discovered by Mengele in the unspeakable barbarities of the Holocaust, it would be hypocrisy that allowed people – even Jews, homosexuals, Roma, to benefit from it.
Evil is not an aberration. Contrary to what every children’s cartoon tells us, evil is a system. And we are all implicated in it. Given this, we have three options: sainthood, in the renunciation of everything tainted with evil, hypocrisy, to condemn evil while still benefitting from and participating in it, or silence. Sainthood is very rare. So we can either be hypocrites (like me) or be silent. The condemnation of hypocrisy, which JON is so active in, leaves two options – impossible sainthood, or silence. But silence is what allows evil to continue.
How is this relevant to “Terrorism and Communism“? It is relevant in that we need to, at some level, disengage ourselves from moral goodness if we truly want to help others. Or rather, if we want to help others without making really exemplary and amazing sacrifices. There are two options – to praise the exmplary and amazing sacrifices (in vegan terms, the willingness to abstain from every practice that destroys animal lives or harms the necessities of such lives, i.e. the ‘environment’) and thus doom oneself to noble impotence, or to embrace hypocrisy and compromise in seeking to fight evil in whatever way is most effective. For example, trying to balance personal non-participation in animal exploitation, with propagandising an accessible and attractive face of veganism.
So in relation to the Russian revolution. Clearly there is something that I think we should reject, namely the consistent application of moral principles, which issues in noble impotence. If we want to end evil we must accept that sinking whaling ships is sometimes necessary. So there is a certain leeway we should allow to revolutionary movements, to ignore a certain style of “moral goodness”.
But this doesn’t tell us much, other than to distrust a certain style of criticism. The other questions which I noted – about methods, party vs. class, proletariat vs. other classes, etc. remain important. I will attempt to answer them in future posts.