On the Thread of Time
"Sul Filo del Tempo - Fantasime carlailiane", Il programma Comunista, n. 9, 1953
Geniuses, leaders and heroes
It is really astonishing that quite a few of Marxism’s avowed militants, whose ’militant lives’ have been of no sort duration (maybe sound Marxism and long militant lives are inherently incompatible) haven’t understood that the historic thesis about the radical dethronement of the exceptional individual, of ‘the elect’, is not a side issue, but rather a central and fundamental plank of our doctrine, and one that is entirely incompatible with any lingering faith in the role of the great person.
A still greater blunder is made when distinctions are made between
various fields of human activity, and the assumption is made that
the role of the great innovator, the man of genius, can easily be
from fields such as economy, politics and social history, it cannot be
from others such as Poetry, Music and the Arts in general, where the
for such a personal mission remains intact. Allow such an amateurish
free-play for even one minute, and the theory of historical materialism
collapses, and the theory which entrusts human destiny to the ’advent
geniuses’, or even to ’God’s chosen ones’ dispatched to earth, becomes
One, no-one, and one hundred thousand
Of course, our thesis mustn’t be confused with the idea that all individuals have the same mental capacity, or that historically they have tended to have the same mental capacity. In economics as well we have long since dispelled the stupid opinion that Marxism is to do with equitable economic contribution and retribution, even as a demand for the future. Under communism not only will the relation between effort and consumption always be unequal, but whether it is or not will be a matter of complete indifference.
Our battle against individualism must be seen both in a historical and social sense, and in all fields we have plucked the feathers of both the general individual and the special individual, of both the plodding chickens and the high-flying eagles.
As far as society is concerned, we deny that it is driven by ideas or discoveries that arise in particular ultra-powerful and enlightened minds; ideas which, since they are so powerful, are later transmitted to other minds and thence become accepted opinions and operational will. But such a denial isn’t enough to set us apart from flat bourgeois egalitarianism of the juridical-democratic stamp. The original Marxist element lies in having rejected the notion (also as regards individuals considered en masse) that opinions and conscious will precede the determination of those actions which are defined as of a social and political nature and which shape the course of History. The connexion which exists between general conditions – which along with the underlying form of production include the entire collective endowment of ideas and knowledge understood in the broadest sense, and all the collective institutions, as per quotations which won’t have been forgotten by those who, whilst not geniuses, have read them thoroughly – the historical course, and the alternation of classes and of class powers, doesn’t pre-exist in the mind of everybody, nor in the mind of some historical condottiere, but in a more or less obscure way both accompanies and arises after the event. Hitherto even the ruling classes and their agents have only expressed their historical task in a confused way. The first class to express it clearly is the modern proletariat; but not the entire proletariat, not some particular person who guides and leads them, but rather a minority collective: the class party. The long past and the long future of humanity (and even the brief stretches of it containable within the span of one generation) do not exist in the minds of everybody nor even in the mind of that person who first makes the connection; they lie instead in a collective organism, whose birth in its turn depends on the general conditions of historical development.
Therefore we see the future shaped neither by everybody’s (or the notorious majority’s) will, nor by the will of one person, and it is in this sense we deny the function of the individual. Neither the general ‘ego’ nor the particular ‘ego’ are the motors of historical events: these are understood as the operators. A similar distinction exists between different types of machines; between the motors that provide mechanical energy, and the machine tools that work the material to be transformed. The ‘ego’ isn’t a prime motor, but a final tool. Now then: how can we hope to uphold our anti-democratic and anti-educationist theory in support of the ego-everybody, if we are so foolish as to incautiously give in to the arrogance of the lone ego-person? We did not hesitate to get rid of humanity-consciousness, are we then to genuflect before Battilocchio-consciousness?
Once the ‘people/actors’, and the ‘person/actor’ too, have been correctly assigned their rightful place within the social dynamic, a historical distinction can be drawn. The function of the actor is a passive one; our ancient ancestors, the early human species, proceed passively among the uncontrollable and unknowable forces. As the mode of production becomes increasing complex, people, unconscious actors, become increasingly aware of external conditions, and in the end come to dominate them to a certain extent. Collective man, the species, will increasingly sacrifice less to blind necessity; only in this non-individual sense, and in a classless society, will it achieve liberation.
As this process unfolds, the individual actor, the star who sets himself apart from the common people in the rudimentary types of production, becomes increasingly superfluous; and over the course of history he has become increasingly unimportant in all the innumerable fields of human endeavour.
This schema is bound to attacked by anti-Marxism, which portrays a future humanity still dependent on the leadership of higher Unities, only with the difference that if once they came from God, then from the progeny of a particular bloodline, they will eventually be installed by universal suffrage: the same old illusion peddled in a more plausible way...
But how can a Marxist abandon one side of this social form that
ego and egos, and forecast that until such time as one
emerges we will continue to live under a social form in which it is
Culture or sentiment
Back in 1912, a congress of young socialists in Bologna gave rise to an important battle between the ‘culturalists’ and the ‘anti-culturalists’. The former thought the youth organisation should merely be a school of Marxism; that it shouldn’t have any political activity of its own nor offer suggestions to the “adult” party regarding the movement’s tactical questions. The young pupils would be emancipated, after suitable preparation, when they came of age as... voters. The most that can be said about such a formula nowadays is that maybe there is a case for a ‘senior federation’, as a place to stick the extremely elderly when they start getting a bit wobbly.
The anti-culturalists protested vigorously that historically culture and education have been traditionalist and anti-revolutionary factors, and that amongst the young the direct determinism of the revolutionary clash with the old forms has always had more impact. The acquisition of theoretical consciousness – which the Left nevertheless staunchly defended as common patrimony of the party and of the youth movement – mustn’t be used as a condition to paralyse all those who are moved to fight simply under the impulse of the socialist sentiments and enthusiasm which social conditions provoke in the natural course of things. Those who were incapable of understanding such a dialectical position and who even perceived it – as far as the driving forces acting within in a young soul are concerned – as putting faith and ‘fanaticism’ before science and philosophy would talk a load of absolute rubbish, and speak of it as a revival of the cult of the hero, and... of an abandonment of Marx in preference for Carlyle!
Evidently there are two interpretations of heroism. The fighter for the masses, anonymous and forgotten by History, who sides with the aims of his class in the civil war under the impulse of a collective egoism, that is, by the need to improve in a utilitarian way his economic condition, and who ends up – without getting a degree in Philosophy or being baptised in the faith – by going beyond the instinct for self-preservation and risking his life; not as a soldier, but as an unknown volunteer of the revolution. This wielder of pikestaff or gun is swept up in the common action well before he knows anything about rulings on the care of war orphans, or the commemorative medals he will be entitled to: first he forgets himself then, as a person, he will be forgotten by everybody.
Then there is the Hero, with a capital ‘H’ with all his papers in
order, who leads the battle and not only gets all the war damage
for himself, along with eulogies by the poets, but expects History’s
public to be at its post having thoroughly studied all the posters
the main actors; and who, having once got the living idiots to present
arms to the dead, then retires behind closed doors to gloat over his
And it was just such a hero who was the object of Carlyle’s worship:
Carlyle, who we had never bothered to read anyway and who was the
object of our Marxist loathing.
Production, Science and Art
Why is only our species of animal defined sapiens? certainly not because we have triumphed in the ‘creation lottery’ over the donkey and the parrot (respectable and redoubtable competitors, we sometimes think). Mankind is the only living species that has science, because it has labour. However, Art does not occupy a sphere that is higher than Science or Labour. It is situated between the two. The classic contraposition between the two energies that govern us is Nature and Art. Animal species are sustained by Nature alone, whilst the human species more and more produces what it requires to live. Production and Art.
If the first animal to work had been an immortal, sterile Robinson, who didn’t need to pass on to workmates and successors the rules about cutting down certain trees in order to make a palisade around his hut, there would have been no Art, inasmuch as the harmony of the organised belt around him would only exist in relation to the surrounding bush and the jackal hidden within.
Why are Arte and Arto the same word? It is because the immeasurable richness of human constructions comes not from the brain or from the ‘absolute spirit’, but from the hand that first modifies the branch and the stone in search of food. The last to arrive is the spirit, exalted parasite of the millenary efforts of the nameless multitude, rapturous intoxication of the differentiated life set on the altar of billions of victims immolated in those simple, humble acts which made possible each successive step, each rudimentary conquest; spirit, warmed and illuminated by peaks of enthusiasm which it claims, obscenely, to have generated itself; spirit, oblivious of the cost of that first physical spark which shot out from the freezing savannah, despite the Gods, and how difficult it was, with limbs numb with cold, to reach ignition temperature using only the friction generated by rubbing two sticks together at unbelievable speed. How long was it, how many millennia went by before we knew it required 427 Kilogram-metres per calorie? When was the most gigantic conquest of all? And does it have a daft name?
Clearly such inferences about the ultimate significance of art, and most of the greatest examples aren’t necessarily the latest, will be met with the ruthless censure of our class and party enemies, whose conceptions are designed for a diametrically opposed purpose. And just as clearly their desperate, inveterate opposition is linked strictly to the defence of the theory of the Genius towering over the amorphous masses, since that is the only ammunition they have with which to attack our research into the laws of history, which, far from awaiting the appearance of the Chosen One, announces the collapse of the present class powers and the inevitability of revolution.
To steer this ship of ours when its compass isn’t working, we
True North by turning to Croce. Not that the latter would be so banal
to deny what we have shown about the influence of natural and social
and historical events, on artistic creation; the only trouble is that
collection of relative elements revolves around an absolute
datum, without which these elements would remain for him lifeless, and
thus it appears explicable how such a quid might somehow be
within and shine forth mysteriously from that unique cranium. But we
play the game of formulating counter-theses with terms that might quite
justifiably be repudiated.
Aesthetica in nuce
For Croce aesthetics is the kernel, for us, the shell.
«Aesthetics, by demonstrating that aesthetic activity or art is a form of spirituality, a value, a category, or whatever you want to call it, and not (as theoreticians of various schools believe) an empirical concept related to certain orders of utilitarian or hybrid facts, has, by establishing the autonomy of aesthetic value, likewise demonstrated that it is predicated with powers of special judgement, aesthetic judgement, and that it is a subject of history, of a special history, the history of poetry and the arts, artistic-literary historiography».
The antithesis is posed, it seems to us, clearly and insuperably. You can’t consider yourself a Marxist unless you treat Art in the same way as Technology and Economy, and therefore as a part of political history. Incidentally the Greeks use the word teknè to mean Art and they knew a thing or two about it.
We reject the autonomy of the concept of beauty, which after Kant discovered it is irrevocable according to Croce, just as we reject the autonomy and universality of the concept of justice, in respect to individual interest and even with respect to reason. And down the same path we conduct the concepts of beauty and justice, from the absolute to the relative, from the universal to the contingent, from an autonomous existence to one strictly dependent on material conditions and particular interests. To render this service to law and not to art is neither Marxism nor Kantianism, but just total autonomous rubbish.
This question is totally bound up with the question of geniuses and exceptional individuals.
In a brief passage in the previous Filo del tempo article we showed that the leader’s function in the social community is related to the practical necessity of transmitting knowledge, derived from hard-won and constantly broadening experience, from one generation to another; from the grown-up adult members of the community to children and adolescents. We recalled that the most immediate form of leadership was the matriarchy, and that at a later stage, when hunting and war came to predominate, it would be the strongest men and those most skilled in the use of weapons who would lead. As rules and labour ‘secrets’ came to assume importance, the power of the brain would begin to predominate over muscle power. Tradition can be transmitted by memory and by memory alone; the wizard, the priest and the wise man take centre stage. Gradually the sum of common capacities required for production becomes more and more complex and the task of transmitting it becomes much more difficult: soon it becomes so difficult that it is beyond the capacity of one set of arms, or one brain. We also noted how language, the articulated word, had formed the first means of passing on information, traditionally one of the resources which clearly separates the ‘sapient’ species from the purely animal, by commencing at the same time to make this ‘handing over’ more collective. Other significant methods of transmission soon occur, allowing what could no longer be contained in one head to be preserved and passed on. Writing is the most important of these, and thus the colossal effort involved in memorising would be reduced to a minimum. Many other expedients would follow, all with a levelling effect, all of them undermining the need for ‘exceptional individuals’ in the resolution of the problems of communal life. Already we have machines that think and reason better than the average man.
At this point it is worth going back a bit, to just before writing
just after language; back to music, which although seemingly a
of transcendence and absolutes is in fact born as a practical and
expedient, born not as an isolated flight of fancy from a particular
but from the practice of collective mnemonics.
Word and Song
The German writer Thomas Mann, today a champion of democratic conformism, is correctly remembered as a forerunner, in the time of Wilhelm II, of the Hitlerian doctrines of the national mission of the people and of the German Reich. His pronouncement made forty years ago, about Germany needing a world history such as Spain, France and England had had, wouldn’t have seemed so crazy if not for its lateness with respect to the era in which Marx and Engels castigated the German bourgeoisie for its ignominious absence from the historical scene and the tortuous path it had taken to achieve its national State a century ago. But what interests us is the counter-posing in Mann’s thought of the values, as Croce would say, of the German and Western spirits. Then Mann was lashing out against the “Zivilisation” that he today admires in the pro-American camp, and contrasting it with German kultur. For him the latter was not only anti-western and anti-democratic, but anti-authoritarian and anti-literary too. Germany was a land that was unliterarisches, wortlos, nicht vortliebend – enemy of the word and prose. German profundity sought expression not in the banalities of chatter, but in metaphysics, poetry and above all in music, the art that speaks to man without words.
If it is true that music has an ultra-national expression, it is no less true that it came into being as a vehicle for words, and words in their turn came into being as vehicles for the rules connected with work, with technology. Therefore art isn’t the mode of expression, of communication, but the actual content of the communication, of the expression.
Thus the natural and historical road was: uniform rules governing life and work, music, song, poetry; much, much later came words and prose. Mann, as the barbaric apologist for the illiterate Arminius (Hermann) who crushed the legions of the refined Varus in the forest of Teutoburg, was much nearer the mark than today’s chooser of liberty against the excesses which in 1914 he called ‘revolutionary’, such as the tearing up of treaties; texts which would certainly be difficult to set to music.
Since the first constitutions couldn’t be written down or inscribed in monumental stonework they were transmitted word for word by memory. Mnemonic requirements meant they would be drawn up in verse form; only in legend does one person write them when in fact they distil common wisdom and practice.
The Poet, who today writes and publishes, used to just sing. Then
Poet was not one individual but rather the community, and whoever was
to chant the verses had no other way of preserving the data of his or
life; civilizing prose has led to bank-accounts, achievable by any
boor. But back then we sowed, and reaped, and were married, and were
to the chanting of given rhythms which everyone knew, because the
memory preserved the words and the musical motif. The idea of
the non-rhyming word to memory is something that comes after writing.
Fecundity of the Numerus
Music sticks in the mind for mechanical and physical reasons. Rhythm is number, the exact measure of time. Tonality and harmony arise from rigid mathematical proportions existing between the number of vibrations hitting the ear. The ear is the first measuring instrument used by man: the eye, qualitatively so much richer, is quantitatively subject to glaring errors.
The practical fact is, thanks to the musical nature of choral chanting it first became possible to transmit and teach rules to a collectivity, and so consolidate the victory of the latter with respect to the life of brutes: productive art. Humanity sang in order to live, not for enjoyment, nor to discover an absolute and “useless” pleasure such as Kant claimed to have discovered. It was the one means that responded to this utilitarian aim: of keeping the species but the collective memory alive and developing its potential when no other archive existed.
Is this just some lucubration, some novelty, dreamt up by ourselves? In fact it’s an idea that has been around for three thousand years. In Greek mythology, the nine muses are the children of Mnemosine, the goddess of memory.
That the nightingale also has a sense of musical timing and pitch just goes to prove that Music is closer to natural and material functions than the distant reaches of pure spirit.
It is a very stale objection that, having once discovered the technical method of writing of music, a long time after written language, only eight note symbols suffice to denote even the most sublime of musical scores.
It was a huge advance in human knowledge to establish two elements as equal. Primitive man knew via his senses only concrete objects none of which were the same: two stones, two leaves, four birds, to begin with stopping at five, the number of fingers on one hand.
Pythagoras in ancient times is famous for having assimilated in his school music and mathematics: both were numerus. The fact that in the same “step” one went from one to two, and then from two to three, seems today not only simple and straightforward, but obvious and banal, even for an infant in primary school. But it was an astonishing achievement then. The “Principle of recurrence” which allows for the handling of the infinite series of numbers using this method isn’t obvious; it isn’t axiomatic; it cannot be demonstrated by logical deduction, and so isn’t to be found in the realm of the spiritual, and just picked up. It is a result achieved empirically through the collaboration of innumerable beings in the life of the species which talks, sings, and counts.
Well then, in the same way the principle of recurrence covers the most difficult theorems of pure arithmetic and all mathematics, including the equations of Einstein’s theory of relativity – which are understood by one in a million people – and his still mysterious unified theory too, so also is the Ninth Symphony contained within Guido D’Arezzo’s seven notes. Complexity and greatness depend on the length and richness of the long journey.
That the Ninth Symphony was written at all is extraordinary, but no
less extraordinary is that anybody can perform it; and that it
move people despite the lack of a common language. Its universal value
wasn’t therefore given from the start, but only at the end of a long
journey; a journey, moreover, in which millions have taken part.
Art and Class Struggle
Let us then shimmy up the rungs of this ladder, so much longer than Abraham ever saw. Marxism has always linked its critique of the great golden ages of Art to the great transitional events between one mode of production and the other. If ever there was an Art that was truly collective and naturalistic it was Greek Art, some of whose masterpieces, according to some, are still unsurpassed. Why did the flourishing of such an Art spread from Attica to the Asiatic shores of the Aegean Sea colonised by the Greeks, following in the footsteps of the first industrial and commercial economy, and then vanish from those colonies when their free citizens were defeated by the Persians? As ever striding forth in seven league boots, Engels comments: «If the decline of former classes such as the knighthood could offer material for great tragic works of art, philistinism [of the German petty bourgeoisie] can achieve nothing but impotent expressions of fanatical malignity...».
The time has come, as so often happens, to refer to Engels. We need to prove that we aren’t just plucking new theories out of thin air, as usually happens after a bottle of wine has been opened, but are sticking to the line; following the great red thread.
We are dealing with the relationship between capitalism and Art, which will lead us on to an examination of the relationship between capitalism and heroes.
The approach and first outbreak of the bourgeois revolution, dating back to different times in various nations ranging from the 15th to the 19th centuries, led to a great flowering of literature and in all the arts. The sequence in a general geographical sense is: Italy, Netherlands, France, England, Germany, Russia. But as soon as the mode of capitalist production emerges from its revolutionary incubation, as soon as it spreads it reveals itself as crassly anti-aesthetic. In the artistic balance sheet of this half of the nineteenth century, what is there to put on the plus side?
Something similar happened as regards the balance sheet of ‘heroism’.
Here we have to hand a magnificent article by Engels, written in 1850, about our alleged fellow traveller Thomas Carlyle. It is, in fact, one of those theoretical roastings in which one rather regrets that too much space has been devoted to the mounds of rubbish reviewed whilst our own elaboration of the theme has been restricted to critical asides.
Carlyle may be numbered amongst the many enemies and critics of the sordidness of emergent capitalist society; amongst those various economists, sociologists, politicians and writers who captured, sometimes in very incisive ways, its contemptible aspects and who were able to strip away its sumptuous covering of progress and civilization. But they weren’t of sufficient stature to understand the indispensable benefits of capitalism, and although containing flashes of subversion and revolution they relapsed into nostalgia for the old regime.
They were unable to understand the immense productive potential of
labour which capitalism had introduced, albeit as exploitation and
monopoly, bringing into play forces which would overshadow the personal
exploits of legendary heroes once and for all. The government of
had fallen into the hands of usurers, shopkeepers and cynical and
slave-drivers but they couldn’t be toppled by resurrecting the knights
and princes. The serious lack of style with which today’s sharks and
parvenus use the proceeds from flogging salami to buy
probably fake, at inflated prices, brings to mind the Roman consul,
delivering a statue from the Parthenon to the slaves who would be
the ship, threatened that if they broke it they would have to make
one; in any case, it doesn’t change the fact that the modern market and
the ancient warrior both moved the wheel of history forward.
The Scottish writer hurls fire and brimstone against the baseness of his times. He inveighs against the vulgarity of the bourgeoisie, and even against the subjection of proletarians, the poor, brutalised by their exploitation and all and sundry are menaced with rhetorical extermination.
He praises the revolution as an unfolding drama, or as Engels puts it «Where he recognises the revolution, or indeed apotheosises it, in his eyes it becomes concentrated in a single individual, a Cromwell or a Danton».
Alas! How many people became communists and Marxists not because of Lenin’s long struggle, not because of the immensely hard work he put in and the brilliant ideological reconstruction he accomplished, but because of his dazzling successes and the fact his name became associated with a historical drama. How many just wanted to quench their desire for hero-worship and nothing more? It would cost the revolutionary party dear and even corrupt the work of Lenin himself.
Carlyle thought in whatever field the Genius chose to work, he would always be right. He used to admire the style of certain German writers who are virtually forgotten today, but as for the much more significant Hegel, he wasn’t even aware of him. Such is the destiny of cultists of personal value. As Engels would point out, «In the cult of genius, which Carlyle shares with Strauss, the genius has got lost in the present pamphlets. The cult remains».
Indeed, this morbid need to admire ‘towering geniuses’ inevitably has its down side: passivity. Prostrate adulation becomes an end in itself, and when it cannot be focussed on a person, it flags, only to re-emerge when the latest colourful, although intrinsically shallow ‘personality’ comes along, unaware he is destined for total obscurity.
The tempestuous events that inflamed Europe in 1848 were bound to have an impact on a man like Carlyle. But just as he had no wish to laud the arrival of the commercial and industrial form of economy, so also – and he was right – he felt no need to defend liberalism and democracy. The story about a ship caught in the gales off Cape Horn is his. Having been blown off course, the crew choose their course by putting the compass points to the vote, and adopt the decision of the majority. And yet the historical message is completely lost. Why? Because he goes off in search of a protagonist of heroic stature! And where does he find him? In Pope Pius IX! And where does he see the main clash of forces taking place? Is it between feudalism and capitalism, between an authoritarian and a constitutional system? No, absolutely not! It’s a struggle of Truth against Lies, Falsehoods and “Shams” (fantasmi) and, according to him, it is against just such nasty things that the popular masses rose up in Paris, Vienna, Messina and Lisbon.
And when it is a question of establishing who it is precisely who can identify Truth and Greatness, the author relies on the Wise, the Elect and The Noble since they alone are up to the task. He then proceeds to reduce the historical struggle, about which he has understood precisely nothing, to a frantic hunt for the great Leader, the exalted figure, to whom the destiny of poor old humanity can be entrusted. And although pouring scorn on the vulgar egoism of the bourgeoisie, which is incapable of aspiring to such giddy heights, he ends up by unwittingly relapsing into undiluted praise for the captains of industry... And to arrive at this point he has explained away the 1848 uprisings with the motto which supposedly inflamed the crowds: Begone, ye imbecile hypocrites, away with non-heroic histrions! We need heroes!
Based on just such falsifications as these the ridiculous craving
heroes has survived for more than a century, unwittingly affecting
Marxist analysis of the events of 1848 and of all the other great
eruptions from Europe’s underground!
Engels’ cold shower
We can only recapitulate Engel’s ruthless demolition job: «We can see the “noble” Carlyle proceed from a thoroughly pantheistic mode of thinking. The whole process of history is determined not by the development of the living mass itself, naturally dependent on specific historically created changing conditions, themselves determined (...) All would depend on the knowledge of an eternal law of nature, accessible to the wise and the noble, not the fools and the rogues. The struggle between classes is replaced by an antithesis which is resolved by bowing to nobles and wise men: hence by the cult of genius».
But how, Engels continues, are we to find these wise and noble souls? It inevitably leads to a sanctioning of the rule of the privileged classes, who monopolise education along with everything else; and to bowing one’s head to the vulgar rule of the bourgeoisie, who in words Carlyle claims to despise. Carlyle’s «sole grumble and complaint, is that the bourgeoisie does not assign a position at the top of society to its unrecognised geniuses». And here it is that Carlyle discerns “a new class of commanders of men having arisen in England, a new aristocracy”!
And that is where the ‘cult of genius’ ends up, in abject prostration before its enemy! There are plenty of shallow people who would be drawn to the proletarian party if it put its ‘unknown geniuses’ on display. But once they’d seen some bigger and better genius elsewhere, they’d soon move on elsewhere. When talking about this or that party or movement, we are sick to death of hearing political philistines ask, with a self-important air “but but who is in it?”.
The Marxist party should always say: we have nobody to put on show.
To the enemy class and their party we declare, we intend to cast down
geniuses and all idiots; and that’s that.
The Noble and the Abject
The history of the various opportunisms and betrayals inside the three Internationals can be entirely reduced to a frenzy of active and passive personalization.
Engels concludes his ridiculing of Carlyle by rejecting his theory of the Noble and the Abject which becomes exasperating in its mania for finding extremes, the peaks of the one and the other. The Noble will eliminate the ignoble, the Noblest of the Noble will hang the most villainous of the villains, and so on until only Carlyle remains who has to hang himself.
A dialectical joke, and certainly an apt response to Carlyle’s idiotic doctrine of the historical Criminal.
Mussolini for example would never have gained such prominence, nor his self-exaltation become so established amongst his followers, if the other side hadn’t inflated his importance to the level of the Carlylean supreme villain, the historical cause of all evil, as had been the case with Kaiser Bill and Franz Joseph, and, later on, Hitler.
The anti-fascists used to go around banging on about ‘him’, telling us ‘he’ had done this, that or the other, and we would remind them of the little grammatical rule about using the pronoun to refer to someone previously mentioned.
Nowadays we are approaching the stage of functioning without any ‘hims’. Just as in economics, if Marxism isn’t a complete load of rubbish, so also in politics, science and in the Arts.
To learn this we didn’t have to wait until we’d seen a bourgeois regime without a bourgeoisie in Russia; until we’d seen Malenkov and Stalin turning the creative inspiration of writers and artists, painters and musicians, on and off like a tap. It was quite enough to have read the crucial chapter by Engels in the Anti-Dühring dealing with phase D of the capitalist cycle, which idiots ‘discovered’ in 1950.
«D). Partial recognition of the social character of the productive forces forced upon the capitalists themselves. Taking over of the great institutions for production and communication, first by joint-stock companies, later on by trusts, then by the state. The bourgeoisie demonstrated to be a superfluous class. All of its social functions are now performed by salaried employees».
After this demonstration, Engels moves on to the ‘Proletarian Revolution’.
But let us return to the genius, to the leader. If capitalism ends
up without personalities, communism starts out that way.
terrible decline in revolutionary strength over the last thirty years
in direct relation to the continual exaltation of individuals, the
fabrication of undiscovered geniuses, who, like challenges from
a new Carlyle, we have been stupid enough to put on pedestals. And the
worst of it is, whilst a certain species of spectacularly awful idiot
been elevated to the rank of commodity-genius, many who are far less
have been labelled scoundrels and fools much more than they deserve.
No-one will come
The process of turning the working class into a flock of sheep is virtually complete. For tens of years it has been stupidly waiting, not for the hour to come when it could fight for its own goals and for its own programme, but for ‘him’ to go; and after the various hims had actually gone, it was left more enslaved than ever.
Then they sat and waited hopefully for ‘Big Moustache to arrive’. But ‘Big Moustache’ died without ever undertaking the journey. And yet workers are still told that, rather than acting under their own volition, they should instead wait for somebody else to come along.
Yet the Messiah has been counterproductive in all revolutions. Even the Christian myth declares it so. When Christ announced his imminent departure to the apostles and the other minor disciples, they were left sad and bereft. What can we do, what will the multitude do without your guidance?
But Christ replied, I have to return to my Lord and Father. It is easy for you to see me here in human form, made flesh, as one you think endowed with ultimate power, whilst physically I will fall under the blows of the enemy. Only after my departure will the Holy Spirit come amongst you and the masses of the world in an invisible and impalpable form. And the humble millions invested by him will conquer the forces of the enemy without a physical leader.
The myth, in fact, represents the social, subterranean power of an immense revolution everywhere undermining the ancient world.
It was easy to proceed when the Master caused all to tremble and fall silent, performing miracles, healing the sick, raising the dead and striking the sword from the hand of the aggressor.
The workers will triumph when they understand that no-one is coming. Waiting for the messiah and the cult of genius, explicable in Peter’s and Carlyle’s case, is for a Marxist in 1953 nothing less than a miserable cover for impotence.
The Revolution will rise again, and will be terrible, but anonymous.