Saturday, November 21, 2009

In which we stumble again upon the frustrations of a red reader's life

It's been a rough week for getting going on reading a new book. I've stopped and started three, maybe four, over the last several days. The common denominator: anticommunism of one variety or another. I was in the mood for non-fiction after quite a lengthy run of novels. I'd forgotten that, while it's often, maybe usually, there in fiction as well, albeit generally less explicit, there's a very high chance of an upfront, clearly articulated anticommunist credo marring any given book of history, science, sociology, anthropology, pretty much any other topic to which I might turn in a periodic quest for learning. I haven't been sleeping well and my fatigue prevents me from a long rant with all the specifics, which is probably just as well. I'll just note that I came up against repeated gratuitous references to "communist dictatorships," "Stalinism" and the like by "progressive," that is, anticommunist liberal writers, references that use that bogey-word as a shorthand to dismiss all the efforts and accomplishments over 70-plus years by the peoples of Eastern Europe and in particular the Soviet Union--efforts and accomplishments that include one that the rest of us should be down on our knees every day thanking them for. Which is the defeat of fascism, at the cost of some 20 million military and civilian Soviet lives. That incredible, magnificent accomplishment, that unbelievable sacrifice, that signal contribution to human progress--this is what is dismissed and derided with all these offhand, shorthand, tossed-off, we-may-have-complaints-about-bourgeois-democracy-but-we're-all-agreed-that-communism-is-the-true-evil uses of the all-purpose, dishonest epithet "Stalinism."

It may be that I'm too touchy. Maybe I ought to soldier on, let any given book have its say, try to ignore its declaration of anticommunism or antipathy to some specific socialist country. Usually I try, but the effort only lasts another page or two. Partly it's a gut thing. I'm just sickened and offended, and can't seem to get past it, can't forgive the writer for her/his assault on my partisan sensibilities. It's also a bit more reasoned, I think. Sure, it's fair to assume that most books written and published in this country--certainly most books reviewed and promoted which are after all most books I hear about--are products of bourgeois consciousness. Most are based on the whole gamut of perceptions, assumptions and ideology that are inculcated in everyone living under capitalism. OK, that's one thing. A book whose writer feels it incumbent upon him/herself to declare his/her anticommunism in the early pages takes it a step further. Don't worry, we are told as we begin to read, for of course these are always books that have been hyped as, yes, "progressive." Don't worry, we may have some criticisms, some points to make about this country, this system, its flaws, its shortcomings, we may have some ideas that deviate slightly from the dominant discourse, but we know full well that this is the best system, that it's simply not living up to its potential, don't worry, it isn't as if we're advocating for that other system, good lordy no, don't misunderstand us, we're not communists! The communists were really bad! Reading this kind of proclamation, in nearly so many words early on in what is supposed to be some radical new analysis of this or that, I'm convinced that the writer's theories and proposals are not merely bourgeois-reformist but, because they rest so firmly on so forthright an anticommunist foundation, are necessarily flimsy, shoddy, unworthy. Diversions. Diversions from the real work that's needed, to fight for real change. So I see no point in reading on.

By the way, this week I also had the unlovely experience of picking up a memoir by a supposedly committed communist from one of the former workers' states and not 20 pages in came upon an attack on Mao and the Chinese Revolution. Oy vey. Couldn't find in it me to push onward with this one either.

Am I a Stalinist? Or a Maoist? Whatever either of those labels means at this point? No, I don't identify as either. But I am a defender of every nation that has tried, is trying, or will try to overturn capitalism and build a society of equality and justice. I am an ally of all the billions of downtrodden workers and peasants who have fought or will fight for a better way. It is those billions--it is in other words our class--who are derided and insulted by the anticommunism, in whatever guise it takes, of liberal bourgeois writers and commentators.