Book Review: To the Finland Station by Edmund Wilson

by practicalspactical

Marx without Marxism. The historical pageant of the 19th century, one as horrific and as tumultous as my own 20th — though with the restrospective historical backwards glance, we see that 19th century horrors were merely dress rehearsals for the true breakdown and resynthesis of the strange 20th.

Nevertheless, the Marxist paradise has still not come. (Unless it is here, in America, where the classes contend peacefully against each other, workers of all economic classes striving for solidarity and the good).

1st Thoughts: The utter strangeness of the American and French Revolution to the peoples of Europe — democracy is not better or worse than monarchy, but it might be quicker — allowing a change of government in one’s own lifetime, affording a peaceful means for a society to change course. Absent this mechanism, one gets, not surprisingly, revolution. If that is the measure, how many peaceful revolutions has the United States undergone since our first? France knows this story even better, having had five republics, two empires, and a monarchy since King Louis lost his head.

2nd Thoughts: The new teleo-secular view of history that begins to express itself after the great Rational Revolutions of Washington and Robespierre. (Right and Left? Perhaps — read Burke next.) The Church is mightily dethroned by these developments, both here and in Europe.

3rd: The absolute horrors of the industrial revolution, where men not knowing of the obligations they owed each other, subjected the poor and unlettered to the most abject existence imaginable. Marxism (and its little brother, Social Democracy) are the only compassionate responses to these deprivations. Today, there are similar deprivations, as Globalism (like industrialism a process that we cannot fully grasp and understand) has created a new grouping of haves and have-nots that has created a seething deadly hell for so much of the world. Bono preached about it at my graduation from university. What new Marxism will save and lift up those brilliant shining masses? (I say to Dvora, to anyone, there are two passions, the only two passions of mankind, poverty and environmental sustainability. In solving one, we solve both, in losing one, we lose both. Bill Gates knows. Bill Clinton knows. I know.)

4th: The power of action and the Dialectic, the Dialectic being the abstracted emergent function of individuals pushed by the historical conditions they find themselves in into acting out the required roles of historical progress. The Dialectic does not occur spontaenously but through the choosing of action. We must act — but once we do our choices are to some extent determined by the conditions of the historical scene: in other words, there is only so much we can do.

5th: Marx and Engels and others were always waiting for the time to be right of the socialist revolution. Marx also conceded that in America, in a democracy, socialism might come about through the use of the democratic processs.

6th: Lenin and the Russians. Marx didn’t expect it, but not surprising that in Russia, where the contradictions of capitalism and the authoritarianism of the leadership were at its greatest, and where the bourgeouise were at their comparative weakness, a communist revolution could take place. The riddle of the USSR has not yet been resolved in my mind — how did it go wrong — what they were missing in general that they fell into despotism — is Marxism wrong at its core, denying the liberal rights of liberty and pursuit of happiness? Against Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness (Jeffersonian stand-in for the more natural property, but which is of course, denied to some) with Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity — the second recognizing the importance of the Social, the Primacy of the Social over the Individual >> here is where the American model fails — we live in society, and hence all bear the social costs of individual action — that said, elevating Mill’s rule to a Primary Ideal needs to be supported, cannot be axiomatic, since if the social world is the emergent concerns of all others, it is unclear why the Individual should trump All Others.

Read Next: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, by Ursula LeGuin.