The Socialist Dream Will Never Die (2)

Leszek Kolakowski

Leszek Kolakowski

A reader of my post last week on “The Socialist Dream Will Never Die” writes in reminding me of the late Leszek Kolakowski, the great Polish philosopher who broke with Communism in the 1970s, and produced the magisterial three-volume treatise, Main Currents of Marxism, originally published in 1978, when Communism and the Soviet Union were still on the march. Main Currents walked through the evolution of Marxism from before Hegel and through the Frankfurt School and other 20th century variants. Kolakowski’s treatise is the definitive account of this malignant creed, and it hit with the same intellectual force as Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.

In his later memoir written after the collapse of Communism, My Correct Views on Everything, Kolakowski warned:

Communism was not the crazy fantasy of a few fanatics, not the result of human stupidity and baseness; it was very real, very real part of the history of the twentieth century, and we cannot understand this history of ours without understanding communism. We cannot get rid of this specter by saying it was just human stupidity. The specter is stronger than the spells we cast on it. It might come back to life.

Maybe Obama and Bernie Sanders don’t represent deep-dish Communism exactly, but they (and Hillary too) exhibit the same kind of belief in the elite re-ordering of society according to their wishful thinking. Obama and Sanders would deny being Marxists, but is there an element in their practical policy programs that differ essentially from what Marxism advocates?

This sent me back to the concluding chapter of the third volume of Main Currents of Marxism, where Kolakowski let it all hang out about how Marxism should be understood as the religion of the Left, whether it understands itself as Marxist or not:

There are no rational means of predicting the ‘future of humanity’ over a long period or foretelling the nature of ‘social formations’ in ages to come. The idea that we can make such forecasts ‘scientifically,’ and that without doing so we cannot understand the past, is inherent in the Marxist theory of ‘social formations;’ it is one reason why the theory is a fantasy, and also why it is politically effective. The influence that Marxism has achieved, for from being the result or proof of its scientific character, is almost entirely due to its prophetic, fantastic, and irrational elements. Marxism is a doctrine of blind confidence that a paradise of universal satisfaction is awaiting us just around the corner. Almost all the prophecies of Marx and his followers have already proved to be false, but this does not disturb the spiritual certainty of the faithful, any more than it did in the case of chiliastic sects: for it is certainty not based on any empirical premises or supposed ‘historical laws,’ but simply on the psychological need for certainty. In this sense Marxism performs the function of a religion, and its efficacy is of a religious character. But it is a caricature and a bogus form of religion, since it presents its temporal eschatology as a scientific system, which religious mythologies do not purport to be. . .

At present Marxism neither interprets the world nor changes it: it is merely a repertoire of slogans serving to organize various interests, most of them completely remote from those which Marxism originally identified itself.