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Jouissez sans Entraves

January 8, 2005

I have just read the autobiography of Eric Hobsbawm, the British Marxist historian, Interesting Times, A Twentieth-Century Life. It’s a good title: Hobsbawm was born in Alexandria in 1917, and has observed this age of blood, the last century, with a critical eye.

And the book is interesting too; Hobsbawn castes his critical communist eye over a century of chaos and writes a very political autobiography.

He has been a communist sympathiser ever since 1933, when he was a school boy in Berlin, though he only joined the Party in England several years later.

And he stayed in that fucking Party his entire life. Frankly, I don’t understand it. When Hitler and Stalin signed the non-aggression pact in 1938, the ‘vanguard of worldwide communist revolution’ sold out to fascism. Similarly, the Spanish Revolution (aka the Civil War) was defeated because of Moscow.

I really don’t understand how honest communists could stay in the party after that. The answer is usually that ‘there was no alternative, apart from the fractitious Trotskyist groups’ – but as we learned from Thatcher, ‘there is no alternative’ is one of the biggest lies we can swallow.

Certainly, after Stalin’s death, when the full horror of his paranoid rule was finally exposed, any person of conscience should have left the Party. How can you stay in an organisation you claim is working for justice when it has presided over the murder of millions of its most loyal followers? This is the reason I have no time for the Afrikaner communist Braam Fischer: yes, it’s very nice that the scion of an Afrikaner ruling class family supported a communist revolution in our beloved Azania. But the man was a lifelong Stalinist. What use is that? Azania as a Stalinist state would have been worse than apartheid.

So I have no time for these old communists. Frankly, I think the problem is pure ethical laziness: they decided in their youth, probably correctly, that joining the communists was the thing to do, and then didn’t have the courage to review their decision when history proved them wrong.

Because let’s face it – there’s not much difference between Stalin and Hitler, is there?

What really makes me angry is Hobsbawm’s dismissal of the 1968 uprising. He was in Paris in May 1968, and he didn’t get it.

To him, it was just a bunch of stupid, privileged, recently ’embourgeoised’ kids using left-wing retoric in a childish bid for the personal freedom to take drugs and have sex. According to him, they ignored material questions like the physical conquest of power, in favour of ephemeral demands. While there is a lot about 1968 that can be critiqued – 20-20 hindsight and all that – this is just unfair. Besides, what’s wrong with sex and drugs?

Firstly, it ignores a less visible but more significant aspect: the occupation of numerous factories by ordinary workers, on their own initiative. For once, the workers weren’t doing what they were told, whether by the bosses, the unions or the communists, and the revolutionaries and professional mediators of workers’ struggle hated it, because suddenly their little raison d’etre, and their power, didn’t exist anymore.

So what did our Glorious Comrades in the Communist and Socialist parties do? They cut a deal with the French state, promising their assistance in ending the uprising in exchange for a tranche of social reforms and some representation.

When the Communists, Socialists and trade unions went to the workers and said “look, lads, revolution’s over, we won, you can go home now”, enough of them listened, because the Communists still had street cred left over from their role in the Resistance in the Second World War.

So it all ended, the French got a 35-hour week, and everyone went back to their soap operas.

So what really killed May 1968? Youthful dreaminess? Or the usual Communist sell-out? For me, the Communists are the arch-villains of the twentieth-century, for taking the hopes, dreams, sweat and lives of so many good people and turning it into shit. There’s nothing ‘revolutionaries’ fear more than actual revolution – suddenly, their little power base falls away and people start thinking for themselves. The horror, the horror…..

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