Max Nomad, Political Heretics: From Plato to Mao Tse-tung, 1963.


The fascination which the Soviet regime has had for a great number of the foremost intellectuals of our day constitutes one of the spiritual tragicomedies of history. Early in the last century dissatisfaction with feudal reaction induced most European liberals outside of France to hail the new tyranny of the Corsican usurper. Similarly, the growing insecurity under a system of recurrent depressions in our day reconciled many progressive intellectuals outside Russia to the new despotism of Lenin's successors. They behold the abolition of unemployment and are willing to suspend judgment on the undemocratic features of a regime which, in their opinion, has done away with exploitation. They forget that unemployment had been abolished in Nazi Germany as well, and they apparently assume that the Russian workers are no longer despoiled since the high incomes formerly pocketed by the now dispossessed capitalists are distributed among the new bourgeoisie of officeholders, technical experts, and writers and scholars defending the new regime.

The inability to see in their true shape things that are a few thousand miles away, particularly if cherished hopes and illusions attach to them, may serve as an excuse for some of those to whom the Russian version of totalitarianism still seems to hold out the promise of a better world. Honest and self-deluded malcontents, or tormented souls in quest of a noble "cause," they are unable to understand that the concept of a "higher" form of production is devoid of any progressive meaning, if it is coupled with the sacrifice of personal and cultural freedom which has been the great achievement of the modern age. They are on a level with those who turned their indignation only against the Roman emperors who persecuted the Christians, but closed both eyes to the autos-da-fe of Torquemada or Calvin. And they naively believe in the necessity of a dictatorial supertyranny as a precondition for the realization of the Kingdom of Freedom, just as the pious Abd-al-Aziz, we are told, believed that it was necessary to make a hell of this world in order to enjoy paradise in the next.

There are also admirers of the Soviet regime whose attitude has nothing to do with honest delusion or sincere passion. These are the professional communists and some of their not quite disinterested hangers-on. They anticipate the impending world triumph of Soviet totalitarianism and prefer a seat on its bandwagon to internment in its concentration camps.

Communists and their sympathizers violently object to the inclusion of the so-called Soviet system among those forms of government which are labeled totalitarian. Their objection is based on the ground that totalitarianism is a form of capitalist oppression and exploitation, while the dictatorial methods of the communists have helped to destroy capitalism and to abolish exploitation. Communist "abolition of exploitation" consists of the substitution of a new bureaucratic aristocracy for a capitalist aristocracy, just as the latter had in its day replaced the old feudal aristocracy. The communists and their friends are equally wrong in their contention that the Fascist regimes represent a capitalist form of oppression. Wherever the Fascists were or have been in power long enough, they left no doubt that they were, or are, bent upon the elimination of private enterprise, first through government control and later by means of government ownership. In contradistinction to the Russian experiment, theirs has been a gradual process, carried out in the form of restrictions, levies, assessments, and heavy taxation. That process was attempted by Peron in Argentina; having learned his lesson from the Russian Revolution, the gifted disciple of Mussolini and Hitler wanted to avoid the chaotic confusion that would follow a sudden and simultaneous expropriation of all property owners. Peron and his following of army officers and officeholders, preferred to get their "roast pig" -- that is, all the wealth of the capitalists and big landowners -- without burning the barn. Prior to Peron, there was during the 1920's and 1930's the example of the nationalization of all large enterprises by Kemal Ataturk, and later, to a certain extent, by the Japanese militarists. It is also the expropriation and nationalization policy of Nasser.

Historically, the real difference between the two totalitarian camps was in the strategic approach. As steppingstones to power the communists used the war weariness of a defeated country, anxious for peace at any price, and the land-hunger of an exhausted peasant soldiery; while the Fascists exploited the postwar depression and the Bolshevik bogey in order to get the support of large sections of the impoverished middle classes and of the frightened capitalists at home and abroad. As a result of the different circumstances under which they were operating, the communists suddenly dispossessed the rich and gradually enslaved the rest of the population; the Fascists reversed the process, by first destroying all independent organizations and only gradually proceeding with the dispossession of the capitalists.

Thus, the first large-scale experiment in authoritarian collectivism, as conducted in Russia, which is erroneously called "communism," has been revealed as the original form of modern totalitarianism carried to its final conclusion both in the political and economic field. The democratic, libertarian, and internationalist coloring of its ideological superstructure need not deceive anybody -- for it has no counterpart in reality.

The thinking man of today has been placed before a cruel choice: either the preservation of the status quo guaranteeing a certain amount of personal and cultural freedom at the exorbitant price of insecurity and unemployment, or a plunge into the dark ages of a "security" which has, once and for all, substituted unquestioning obedience and martial law for the right of criticism and civilized democratic procedure.

To find a way out of this double impasse, to combine the advantages of a planned economy with the blessings of liberty, will be a challenge to the best minds and a task which will require the collective effort of all those who are not willing to accept either of these alternatives.