29 July 2011

I need someone to hold me while I wait for something more

Faith is necessary. The object of faith is irrelevant. It is the power of the faith itself - the overriding of all the "what ifs" thrown up by the intellect and the ego - which makes the impossible possible. The idol is made by the genuflector, not the craftsman. This is why all initiatory paths which have real power call for total devotion to the Ideal or to a particular Master who embodies the ideal. (The truly enlightened never claim to have spooky powers, but sometimes the disciples will tell stories about the Master's spooky powers. This is a sign of their faith which is not discouraged by a true Master.)

(ETA: There's a wonderful piece in the Doctor Who story The Curse of Fenris. For those who haven't seen it: it's World War Two and the Doctor et al are fighting vampires, for some reason, and of course a traditional way to fight off vamps is with a crucifix. A Red Army soldier who happens to be with them protests that he doesn't believe in Christianity; the Doctor asks him: "What do you believe in?" and he answers "I believe in the Revolution". So - get this - he takes the hammer-and-sickle badge off his cap and fights the vampires off with that. Even faith in the cynical bureaucratic murderer Joe Stalin can move mountains.)

For all we have criticised the Leninist sects, you must admit that their belief system gives them incredible powers to face ridicule, to stand on street corners selling badly-xeroxed papers, etc., for an entire lifetime. The problem with some of them is that they don't teach "loving-kindness", or in other words, integrity - instead they have a half-assed belief in "Bolshevik ethics" which, in practice, boils down to the same kind of Might = Right nonsense that we rightly despise when we hear it coming from the fascists (and would make Trotsky spin in his grave). The problem with others is that they've given up actually changing things in the Big World and have become nothing but a substitute religion.

But are we to say that they have no right to exist or to participate in the movement - that they would be better off individually giving up and getting some bourgeois job? Surely they can be annoying, but is that a problem with them or a problem with us? I'm reminded of secular atheists who curse religious believers for "relying on a crutch". The implication is that secular atheists are both ethically and psychologically superior. But what do they do with that superiority? (Can someone point me to hospitals, schools, charity drives etc. started by humanist organisations? I'm sure there are some.)

"Atheism" and "secularism" are both negatives - no religion - but why do you stay alive in the absence of any metaphysical meaning? Is the answer nothing but "pure hedonism" - or, more likely, "live the capitalist dream, earn money to buy leisure commodities, have a good time, then die?" Many people would rather stay in a cult than accept a lifetime of nothing more than psychic masturbation. As Seven of Nine put it before she was reverse-assimilated, "WE DO NOT WANT TO BE LIKE YOU".

The point is: don't be so quick to tear down someone else's faith before examining your own. And yes, you have one, even if it's not in God. I am increasingly thinking Fripp was right when he said "any act based on principle is a good one".


  1. The point about a lack of "loving-kindness" is an important one, but I'd not thought about it in those terms. The most "sustainable" activist lives I've across are those of Evangelical Christians and Muslims involved in left politics; they were really geared up for a lifetime of activism back in university, in part because they were grounded in particular communities that served as emotional as well as political resources.

    I agree that any denigration of Leninist groups because of their strong belief system is counter-productive -- not least because it simply encourages any nascent cult-like tendencies -- but there are still "secular" grounds for questioning whether the Leninist vanguard model of radical politics is preferable in the 21st century.

    And there's the question of whether it's even practical; "democratic centralism" was possible when you had to wait for the Soviet archives to be opened to figure out what was going on in the commanding hights of the CC seventy years ago; it's less so when every rumour and defection is leaked in real time on another party's website or blog.

  2. Well, let's be precise - what we have at the moment in the place where I am, and I assume where you are, is not the "vanguard party" model that Lenin would have recognized, but the Maoist or Trotskyist sect model, which bears the same relation to a Leninist party as a bonsai does to a mighty oak, or perhaps a HotWheels does to a Toyota. And I would agree that - where I am, and probably where you are - that model is pretty much obsolete for a useful political fighting force for the 21st century. The question that follows, of course, is "what is to be done?"

    And on the subject of loving-kindness, one of the things that really disturbed me as a young and naïve Trotskyette, selling a badly xeroed paper on a street corner, is how the anarchos would come up to me and harangue me about how after the revolution they would do me over before I could put them in the gulag. I didn't want to put anyone in a gulag.

  3. Actually, here's the perfect metaphor: the kind of party which Lenin talked about and which briefly existed in revolutionary Russia bears roughly the same resemblance to a modern-day "Leninist vanguard" group as a real US Air Force base does to the mocked-up version made out of coconuts and bamboo built by a Melanesian cargo cult.

  4. ... and everyone wants to be Jon Frum.