Arrow in the Blue: The Invisible Writing
By Arthur Koestler
Darkness at Noon may not be required reading anymore in universities, because Koestler is a dead white male who left the Communist Party. But The Invisible Writing, a 400-page volume of his four-part autobiography Arrow in the Blue, is still worth reading because it explains so much about the origins of the political culture (is there any other kind?) of the United States today — out of Alinsky by the C.P. You will find this history from three-quarters of a century ago surprisingly familiar today.
Koestler was from Hungary but spent much of the first half of the 20th century as a refugee, including some years as a political prisoner, when the Communist movement “travelled from the era of the Apostles to that of the Borgias” in three short generations. Why and how?
He writes that this closed system of thought, called the dialectical method or dialectical materialism, which inexplicably means talking about communism, is self-contained:
“My attitudes to art, literature and human relations became reconditioned and moulded to the pattern. My vocabulary, grammar, syntax, gradually changed. I learnt to avoid any original form of expression, any individual turn of phrase.” (pp. 26-27)
Then he lists acceptable and unacceptable vocabulary: decadent for the capitalist bourgeoisie; petit-bourgeois for humanitarian scruples; and many more. Scare quotes were used in writing to identify unacceptable political views. Today, instead of an original turn of phrase, a literary or traditional expression can also be unacceptable or at least a waste of time as deconstructionists discern the “real” meaning of what seems to be a straightforward declarative sentence: only they have the key to the real meanings. Now this technique can also be found, for instance, in the detection of “covert racism” in everyday interactions. (Scare quotes added.) “Micro aggressions” may be undetectable to the racist perpetrator or the oblivious receiver. Today we have universities with speech codes so someone can tell you what you mean.
Koestler wrote that “every single educated Communist … has his own private and secret philosophy whose purpose is not to explain the facts, but to explain them away,” or in Orwell’s word, doublethink. A literary example was the idea discussed in a party meeting that “to regard poetry as a special talent some men possess and other don’t is bourgeois metaphysics. Poetry, like every other skill, is acquired by learning and practice.” (p. 30) Thus sources of inspiration, literary or religious, other than Party-spawned, were not acknowledged. As a literary man, Koestler rationalized this nonsense. For a while. Till his friends were killed one by one. Rationalization was harder about the intentional starvation of millions of people under Stalin — but not impossible. People did it for decades.
The resentment against bosses, whoever they are, has shifted slightly: “... it would merely change from partial enslavement by landlords, tax-collectors and money-lenders, to total enslavement by the State, which is landlord, tax-collector and money-lender all in one.” (p. 117) Today in the West corporations are considered the enslavers but the State is posed as the antidote to corporate rule. Generally speaking, however, the State is armed. Corporations usually are not.
Regarding the Nazi threat:
“It is doubly painful to write about these seven years at a time when the mood of Western Europe is bent on repeating the same suicidal errors … that price of survival is the sacrifice of a distressingly large part of the national income over a distressingly long period; and that appeasement, however seductive and plausible its arguments sound, is not a substitute for military strength but an invitation to war.” (p. 189)
More than half a century after Koestler’s book was published, the Nazi threat is replaced by a renewed Russian threat and a new Islamic immigration threat in the form of jihadism (overt aggression) and sharia (pressure to change Western culture gradually). Relying on the United States for security since World War II, Europe poured its money into unsustainable welfare programs. Now we are doing the same but we don’t have anything like the United States to back up the United States, whose leader is an appeaser. The enemy, and there’s always an enemy, is redefined to suit the political winds. “It is so much easier to stand up in manly way to ‘French militarism in 1936, and to ‘American Imperialism’ in 1953, than to the Nazi and Soviet Empires.” (p. 191) Now many Americans love to say the enemy is us and ignore the barbarians at the gate. The Pogo, the swamp-dwelling possum, should be an icon for many Americans: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
In the old days, “everybody who was not on our side was a Fascist. The Socialists were ‘Social-Fascists’, the Catholics were ‘Clerical-Fascists,’ the Trotskyists were ‘Trotsky-Fascists,’ and so on.” (p. 244) The word fascism or fascist is thrown about in media today but it’s not quite clear what it means other than Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler: non-Communist tyrants? Who remembers them anyway? So the all-purpose attack word now is racism or racist.
In the ‘30s Koestler began writing a book about Spartacus and the slave revolt in Rome.
“The causes which led to these upheavals had an equally familiar ring: the breakdown of traditional values, a rapid transformation of the economic system, mass unemployment caused by the importation of slave labour and of cheap corn from the colonies, the ruin of the farmers and the growth of large latifundia [large farms worked by slave labor], a corrupt administration and a decadent ruling class, a falling birth-rate and a spectacular rise in divorces and abortions.” (p. 263)
Substitute illegal migrant labor for slave labor, cheap imports from overseas factories whether owned by Americans or not — the rest needs no substitutes.
One of the most important lessons in Koestler’s book is the description of the “People’s Front” policy (or the Popular Front). In 1935 the European Communist parties were relatively small and not part of mainstream parties. These Front organizations represented the war “front” and also the Communist Party façade. The boards might be seeded with non-Communists, as in the Committee for Spanish Relief for instance. (p. 324) The names of these groups then and now sound benign, using words like Freedom, Relief, Labor, People (the definition of “people” always excluding human beings like the Kulaks who could be killed in good conscience, or aristocrats as in the French Revolution), and so on. Pierre Laval of the Vichy government once asked Stalin what to do if the Communists continued to make trouble for the Nazis. Stalin said “Hang them.” (p. 325)
In the United States, anyone who suspected anti-war organizations or student groups during the Vietnam war of being infiltrated or controlled by the U.S. Communist Party was considered paranoid, but in fact Joseph McCarthy was correct, however crude he may have been. This was and is the Communist technique. Citizens of goodwill may (or may not) have solid moral principles and will defend them against perceived encroachers, but if the façade, the name, the associations are incorrect, they will ascribe evil to the wrong side. In Europe, Communists and Fascists were both evil yet people wanted to choose one side. When the Russian Communists, i.e. the International C.P., was with Hitler, so were the party members. When they were at odds, some members got confused but many went along with whatever Stalin said. “The men of goodwill of that era fought clearsightedly and devotedly against one type of totalitarian threat to civilization, and were blind or indifferent to the other.” (p. 365)
Perhaps the most important lesson to come out of this history is the attempt to crush objective truth, which is evident in today’s universities and churches.
“With our training in dialectical acrobatics it was not even difficult to prove that all truth was historically class-conditioned, that so-called objective truth was a bourgeois myth, and that ‘to write the truth’ meant to select and emphasise those items and aspects of a given situation which served the proletarian revolution, and were therefore ‘historically correct’.” (p. 387)
Today practitioners of relative truth are cruder, though, when they preach relativity for me but not for thee, and if they are unconvincing, they’ll hire lawyers. Everyone has his own truth, except people they disagree with. Who are you to judge, since you’re not them?
Deconstruction is political flim-flam, not intellectual subtlety. One of the grossest perversions of its own original aims has developed in the feminist movement. Now feminists (always leftists) have abandoned human principles of protecting women and children and gays against abuses such as are seen in the Islamic world, even when they are imported to the West. And it should go without saying that insistence on unlimited abortion protects neither the defenseless nor women, ignoring the obvious fact that half of the aborted are female.
The Soviet Union “represented ‘our last and only hope on a planet in rapid decay’.” (p. 389) No one could say this with a straight face anymore, but they can say it about, say, the Green movement. Radical solutions to problems and non-problems are the daily scare quotes in all conversation — and discussions on climate and other topics are closed until further notice, or until dissidents shut up. Hardly a scientific point of view. In his novel Darkness at Noon, Koestler writes, “It is necessary to hammer every sentence into the head of the masses by repetition and simplification. What is presented as right must shine like gold; what is presented as wrong must be black as pitch.” (p. 396) People who question the cause of, or existence of, global warming are compared to Holocaust deniers, or even to Nazis.
We expect that people in power would have better sources of information than the average person has, secret information, greater understanding. But after World War II, when the Soviets ruled one-third of the world, it was hard for people to believe that it was the most inhuman regime in human history. This is still true even after the disclosures about Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and so on.
“The difficulty is almost the same for the illiterate Italian peasant as for a highly literate French novelist like Sartre, or for a highly realistic politician like the late President Roosevelt — who sincerely believed that … the only threat to post-war peace would come from Britain’s imperialistic designs … in spite of all the available evidence about Communist theory and Soviet practice … [That] experienced democratic politicians all over the world could believe this, not to mention scientists, scholars and intellectuals of every variety, is an indication of the deep, myth-producing forces that were and still are at work.” (p. 390)
Nowadays, the same myth psychology keeps leaders today from admitting that the Muslim Brotherhood meant what it said a century or so ago when it declared war against the world. An experienced politician like Obama is either naïve or at some level is a Popular Front in himself.
At last, Koestler knew himself:
“Yet hope that in spite of all this the Socialist Sixth of the Earth would in the end justify their expectations, unwillingness to part with a cherished illusion, and intellectual pride which would not admit that they had been fooled, made them remain silent about the horrors of which they knew, and by their silence endorse them. The same is true of thousands of Communist or vaguely sympathizing writers, painters, actors, journalists, academic teachers, including myself.” (p. 412)
Despite the fall of the Berlin wall, Communism is not dead. It has shape-shifted.