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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reflections on the destructive side of Leninism and Stalinism, 11 May 2009
By 
M. A. Krul (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The God That Failed (Paperback)
The famous collection "The God that Failed" contains reflections by three famous writers/activists who were members of the Communist Party in their nation (Koestler, Silone and Wright), and three who were, at least in the view of some, fellow travellers (Gide, Fischer, Spender). Each of them explains in short anecdotal style, mixed with philosophical and political musings, how they came to be an orthodox Communist, and how they came to leave this position.

All of these contributions make for excellent reading, and together they form an entirely and incontrovertibly damning picture of both the strategies and the mindset of the various Marxist-Leninist Parties and their leading adherents. In that way this book forms an excellent companion to the works of Orwell, Edmund Wilson and similar people who were also sympathetic to socialism of various kinds, but came to see the "official" Marxism of the USSR and its followers as a destructive and evil force. Because that is what goes for all these writers as well as for Orwell - despite the claim of conservatives to books like this, all of the contributors to this collection still supported socialism at the end, only a different kind of socialism, more humane, more sensitive, and for some even more religious. None of them regretted their initial motives in joining the Party, but all of them felt that the Party is rather the kind of thing they wanted to fight against in the first place - the ultimate deception, caused by the dangers in the political methodology of Marxism-Leninism.

It is well-known by now, but it wasn't so evident then. Marxism-Leninism necessarily rests on two main axiomas: first, that the Party is inherently the most progressive force and representative of the struggle for socialism and the proletariat's role in this; and second, that the ends, as embodied in the Party, always justify the means. Together, these two rules risk forming a deadly recipe for totalitarianism and tyranny over the mind, regardless of how well-intentioned its adherents may or may not have been. One need but look at the many revealing 'incidents' mentioned in this book, or even at Orwell's excellent memoirs of the Spanish Civil War (which Koestler has also written about), to see why this is true.

Conservatives and liberals use this book as ammunition, incorrectly assuming that this is meant for them and to support their views. That is not so. All of the writers in this collection despised professional anti-communism and went on doing so until their death. It is not they who should read this book, but all socialists in this world who should read it, so that we know what happens when we abdicate the search for truth and make it subservient to opportunistic politics, regardless of what goals we have in mind in doing so. People of unfree mind can never build a free world.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kronstadts, 28 Oct. 2010
By 
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The God That Failed (Paperback)
These autobiographical notes give an in depth insight into the personal motives, the inner Party workings and the ultimate overall assessments of the CPs and the USSR in the first half of the 29th century.

Motives
Except for S. Spender (an intellectual engagement) and A. Gide (a journey in the USSR), the main motives to enter the CP were emotional and moral: `the similarity of the experiences of the disinherited' (R. Wright), `spontaneous intolerance of injustice' (I. Silone) or `repulsion by the social environment' (A. Koestler).

Faith
Becoming a Party member was like `a conversion. Life, death, love, good, evil, truth, all changed their meaning or lost it.' (I. Silone) Communist faith was `purist, radical, uncompromising. One lived in a mental world of a drug addict.' (A. Koestler).

Inside the CPs
I. Silone was amazed that the Russian communists (Lenin, Trotzky) were utterly incapable `to be fair in discussing opinions that conflicted with their own.' At the basis (cell work) criticism of Party decisions were not allowed (A. Koestler). Others were accused of `seraphim tendencies (considering oneself as infallible) (R. Wright).

Kronstadts
After his Kronstadt (a rude awakening), A. Koestler decided to stay, because `the Party could only be changed from inside', while I. Silone left (`an extremely painful decision').
For L. Fischer, the first flaw in his convictions came with the collectivization (`a form of wholesale serfdom'); a further blow was the Spanish War (Soviet fighters who returned home, were summarily shot) and a complete watershed was the Soviet-Nazi Pact of 1939.
For S. Spender, the Spanish War with its internecine fighting on the left opened his eyes (the ends justified all the means).

Overall evaluation (CP, USSR)
For I. Silone, the defects of official Communism were `fanaticism, abstraction and centralization'.
For S. Spender, in the CP `too much power is concentrated in the hands of too few people.' The latter are protected from their `worst human qualities: savagery, vindictiveness, envy, greed and lust for power.'
Concerning the Soviet State, for L. Fischer it was `a mammoth political-economic monopoly', full of `ubiquitous fear, terror, cynical safety-first, dead conformity and bureaucratic formalism'.
For S. Spender, there was a complete lack of freedom, also in art: `art teaches us that man is not entirely imprisoned within his society. To destroy freedom of art is really a kind of madness.'
For A. Gide, the USSR was `a tragic failure, a country of moral cynicism.' There was no freedom (speech, news gathering, art). Workers could not elect their own representatives in order to defend their interests. They were bound, like serfs, to their territory and exploited by the Party (a new aristocracy of right-thinkers and conformists) working for starvation wages.

This bitter verdict, of which some aspects all still highly relevant today, is a must read for all true democrats.
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The God That Failed
The God That Failed by Richard H Crossman (Paperback - 24 Oct. 2001)
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