LITTLE STALINISTS: The Rise of the comrade babies
Manners are not frivolous. They tell you much of what you need to know about a person, and about a group. The DSA are a portent, not a political party. Not much has been made of the convention voting to endorseopen borders, which must be a first for a national labor party. While we laugh at their jazz hands, the DSA threatens to pull the Democrats towards a policy that will prevent them from winning a national election for the foreseeable future.
For much of the 20th century, socialism offered its followers a powerful, moving vision of a radiant future. It was Leon Trotsky, in Literature and Revolution (1924) who offered up the most memorable rendition of this utopia:
‘Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser and subtler; his body will become more harmonized, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise.’
Trotksy’s words are hard to type now, and even harder to take seriously. They are grand, certain and immodest. The failure to perfect man in the 20th century hollows them out and mocks them. Average human types did not reach the heights of Aristotle; they slumped to the lows of Beria, Blokhin, Dzherzhinsky and all the rest.
To be fair, Trotsky’s utopian drivel neatly fits into Sir Thomas More’s original definition of the word “utopia” as “no place,”something that Trotsky himself would discover the hard way when he found himself at the business end of an ice axe dispatched by Stalin in 1940. A few years before Trotsky’s demise, George Orwell, while still a socialist himself, had the number of his fellow leftists in his book, The Road to Wigan Pier:
The first thing that must strike any outside observer is that Socialism, in its developed form is a theory confined entirely to the middle classes. The typical Socialist is not, as tremulous old ladies imagine, a ferocious-looking working man with greasy overalls and a raucous voice. He is either a youthful snob-Bolshevik who in five years time will quite probably have made a wealthy marriage and been converted to Roman Catholicism; or, still more typically, a prim little man with a white-collar job, usually a secret teetotaller and often with vegetarian leanings, with a history of Nonconformity behind him, and, above all, with a social position which he has no intention of forfeiting. This last type is surprisingly common in Socialist parties of every shade; it has perhaps been taken over en bloc from the old Liberal Party. In addition to this there is the horrible —- the really disquieting —- prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.
One day this summer I was riding through Letchworth when the bus stopped and two dreadful-looking old men got on to it. They were both about sixty, both very short, pink, and chubby, and both hatless. One of them was obscenely bald, the other had long grey hair bobbed in the Lloyd George style. They were dressed in pistachio-coloured shirts and khaki shorts into which their huge bottoms were crammed so tightly that you could study every dimple. Their appearance created a mild stir of horror on top of the bus. The man next to me, a commercial traveller I should say, glanced at me, at them, and back again at me, and murmured ‘Socialists’, as who should say, ‘Red Indians’. He was probably right-—the I.L.P. [Independent Labor Party] were holding their summer school at Letchworth. But the point is that to him, as an ordinary man, a crank meant a Socialist and a Socialist meant a crank. Any Socialist, he probably felt, could be counted on to have something eccentric about him. And some such notion seems to exist even among Socialists themselves. For instance, I have here a prospectus from another summer school which states its terms per week and then asks me to say ‘whether my diet is ordinary or vegetarian’. They take it for granted, you see, that it is necessary to ask this question. This kind of thing is by itself sufficient to alienate plenty of decent people. And their instinct is perfectly sound, for the food-crank is by definition a person willing to cut himself off from human society in hopes of adding five years on to the life of his carcase; that is, a person out of touch with common humanity.
Old and busted: You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.* The new hotness? Not only is the omelet not vegan, the noise of the eggs cracking is too loud for the quiet room.
* Though as Orwell asked, where’s the omelet?