Editorial: The Sterility and Futility of Ex-Communist “Intellectuals”

The Manchester Guardian for the 10th July contains an article giving a report of the “Congress for Cultural Freedom” that was held in Berlin from June 26th to 30th. The article is by H. R. Trevor-Roper who attended as one of the British delegates and who appears to have summed up the nature of the congress and the delegates with a considerable amount of clear-sightedness.

:-  “This congress turned out to be a political demonstration. As such it was well organised and no doubt successful. My only objection is that it was not advertised as such, and I do not think it would have obtained all its sponsors or all its delegates if it had been correctly advertised.”

As the article makes clear the congress was certainly not one for cultural freedom; it was in fact dominated by renegade communists who made vicious attacks upon their late friends and upon the ideas they had formerly backed as the essence of all that was advanced in culture, and deserving of world wide support, with them, of course in the vanguard of the movement—the admired leaders! Unfortunately for themselves they were, as always, only ignorant tools. When they discovered this they turned their impotent fury upon the hands that led them up the garden.

Mr. Trevor-Roper describes some of the incidents that make plain the narrow personal outlook of these would-be leaders of the world, and how little this outlook has to do with cultural freedom. Some quotations from this article are enlightening.

“The printed prospectus offered highly intellectual terms of reference, and Professor Ayer (one of the English delegates), in his opening speech, kept to them. To a disapproving audience he quoted Mill and examined the philosophic justification of tolerance. The Greek chairman then explained that this was irrelevant, since our enemies were too intolerant to be tolerated; and a German, declaring that ‘in our times John Stuart Mill cannot help us,’ appealed for a rival dogmatism as a more useful weapon of war. Professor Herman J. Muller, of Indiana, then spent forty five minutes denouncing Lysenko as an ignoramus.”

Mr. Trevor-Roper remarks that after this it was impossible to return to an intellectual level. The next day they discussed “The defence of peace and freedom,” Mr. James Burnham opening on the subject. This is what Mr. Trevor-Roper has to say of Mr. Burnham’s contribution:

“Mr. Burnham’s prophecies have always been oracular and infallible in form, but their content has needed frequent revision. At the moment he is prophesying the inevitable defeat of Communism. In his speech he advocated a somewhat expensive method of securing the inevitable, for he preached total war; denounced pacifism, then (by an imperceptible transition) peace; and urged his audience to judge the morality of atom bombs according to the nationality of their manufacturers.”

Then Mr. Arthur Koestler added his contribution:

“Mr. Koestler made, altogether, three speeches, and his theme was constant if unconstructive. It was that Right and Left are meaningless terms; that the choice before us is Communism or Anti-Communism; and he who is not with us is against us. On this occasion he developed his theme into a long attack on England as parochial and isolationist for refusing to see the problem in these clear terms.”

Mr. Koestler has always been a master at seeing problems in clear terms, only the terms get mixed up— one day on one side and the next day on the other side.

The ex-communist Franz Borkenau also made a contribution about which the writer of the article makes the following comments :

“Pouring out his German sentences with hysterical speed and gestures, he screamed that he was a convert from Communism and proud of it; that past guilt must be atoned for; that the ex-communists alone understood Communism and the means of resisting it; that Communism could only mean perpetual war and civil war; and that it must be destroyed at once by uncompromising frontal attack, and yet, terrible though it was, this fanatical speech was less frightening than the hysterical German applause which greeted it. It was different from any other applause at that congress. It was an echo of Hitler’s Nuremburg.”

The writer of the article adds that with that speech and the applause the whole structure of the congress was revealed as an alliance between two parties—the ex-communists among the delegates and the German Nationalists in the audience. “Cultural freedom,” he says, “ was nowhere.”

The concluding paragraph of the article is .an example of the clear-headedness of the writer, at least on this particular question. He sums up as follows:

“The congress was in no sense an intellectual congress. . . .  It was simply Wroclaw in reverse—the Wroclaw of the ex-communists. Signor Silone once suggested that the coming struggle would be between the Communists and the ex-Communists. After the sterile congresses of Wroclaw and Berlin I am confirmed in my view that a more satisfactory solution will be offered by those who have never swallowed and therefore never needed to re-vomit, that obscurantist doctrinal rubbish whose residue can never be fully discharged from the system.”

These ex-Communists (Burnham, Koestler, Borkenau, Hook, Lasky and the rest) are incapable of understanding now the mainspring of their own fatuous conduct. Blinded by a false conception of their own importance, always wrong, and violently wrong, they still hope to occupy the centre of the political stage and bolster up their empty egoism with the plaudits of equally blind followers. Yet so great is their political ignorance that they are fated always to back the wrong horse. Their actions demonstrated that it is they, more than any, who fail to understand the basis of the Russian dictatorship and its imperialist policy, and that it is also they who are the more easily rendered impotent. They fall for every wrong social theory, for every futile movement, and are used and cast aside by political climbers of every brand; their contradictory professions, fleeting loyalties and futile actions brand them as what they are—servile tools of ambitious political groups always ready, like mangy curs, to snap at the heels of those who have fed them. Blindly imagining that they are superior to the working class they are in fact but the scum that floats on the surface of that class.