Wednesday, September 19, 2018

"The opiate of the people"

From Commentary, "Among the Disbelievers":
It’s tedious to encounter a “new atheist” intoning arguments against faith that were shopworn in Voltaire’s day. Sooner or later, he will bring up the Spanish Inquisition. To a Russian specialist like me, that example of undeniable religious cruelty is not especially impressive. In its 300-year history in Spain, Portugal, and the New World, the Spanish Inquisition killed a few thousand, perhaps even a few tens of thousands, while in the atheist Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, that was the average toll every week or two. ....

Statements by Bolshevik leaders, Soviet instructions for youth, and the testimony of memoirs all affirm that atheism is essential to Communism. The Bolsheviks intended to create a whole new type of human being, and the first criterion for “the new Soviet person” was that he or she would be an atheist and a materialist. Communism could not be achieved otherwise, any more than one could create a prosperous capitalist society populated by dedicated Franciscan friars.

Bolshevik ethics began and ended with atheism. Only someone who rejected all religious or quasi-religious morals could be a Bolshevik because, as Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and countless other Bolshevik leaders insisted, success for the Party was the only standard of right and wrong. The bourgeoisie falsely claim that Bolsheviks have no ethics, Lenin explained in a 1920 speech. No, he said; what Bolsheviks rejected was an ethical framework based on God’s commandments or anything resembling them, such as abstract principles, timeless values, universal human rights, or any tenet of philosophical idealism. .... All such notions, Lenin declared, are “based on extra human and extra class concepts” and so are simply religion in disguise. “That is why we say that to us there is no such thing as a morality that stands outside human society,” he said. “That is a fraud. To us morality is subordinated to the interests of the proletariat’s class struggle.” That meant the Communist Party. Aron Solts, who was known as “the conscience of the Party,” explained: “We...can say openly and frankly: yes, we hold in prison those who interfere with the establishment of our order, and we do not stop before other such actions because we do not believe in the existence of abstractly unethical actions.” ....

For a true atheist, to acknowledge any moral standard “outside human society”—which means outside the Party—was anathema. As the Bolshevist Nikolai Bukharin explained: “From the point of view of ideal absolutes and empty phraseology one can attack Soviet ‘authoritarianism’ and ‘hierarchy’ as much as one wishes. But such a point of view is itself empty, abstract, and meaningless. The only possible approach in this regard is the historical one which bases the criteria of rationality on the specific historical circumstances”—that is, on what the Party wants to do at any given moment.

.... Violent means were to be preferred. Everyone knew that to hesitate, even for a moment, was to reveal quasi-theological morality. The way to prove one’s atheism, then, was to be as ruthless as possible. Mercy, kindness, compassion: These were all anti-Bolshevik emotions. .... (more)