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Why I am not a Communist

(December 2, 1924 in the Pritomnost (Presence) magazine)
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This question appeared out of the blue among a group of people who were normally inclined to do anything else rather than to busy themselves with politics. It is certain that nobody among the present would raise the question "why I am not an Agrarian", or "why I am not a Social Democrat". To be no Agrarian, by itself, signifies no definite view or life belief; however, to be no communist means to be a non-communist; to be no communist is not a simple negation but rather a certain credo.
For me personally the question brings relief, since I have been under great need, not to start polemics with Communism, but rather to defend myself in my own eyes for not being a communist and why I cannot be one. It would be easier for me if I were one. I would live thinking that I contribute in a most intrepid way to the redemption of the world; I would think that I stand on the side of the poor against the rich, on the side of those in hunger against bags of money; I would know what to think about this and that, what to hate, what to ignore. Instead, I am like a naked man in a thorny bush: with my hands bare, not covered by any doctrine, feeling my impotence with respect to helping the world and often not knowing how to protect my conscience: If my heart is on the side of the poor, why the heck am I not a communist?
Because I am on the side of the poor.

      *

I have seen poverty so painful and undescribable that it has made bitter to me everything I am. Wherever I have ever been I ran from palaces and museums to see the life of the poor, in the humiliating role of a helpless spectator. It is not enough to see and it is not enough to sympathize; I should live their life, but I am afraid of death. This biting, inhuman poverty is not borne on the heraldry of any party; as for these terrible slums with neither a nail to hang oneself nor a dirty rag to lay on, communism tries to reach them with its cry from a careful distance: the social order is to blame; in two years, in twenty years, the flag of the Revolution will unfold, and then --
What, in two years, in twenty years? Are you capable to admit so indifferently that one should live like that even two more winter months, two more weeks, two more days? Bourgeoisie that cannot or does not want to help here is a stranger to me; but equally strange to me is Communism that, instead of help, brings the flag of the Revolution. The final word of Communism is to rule, not to save; its gigantic slogan is power [moc], not help [pomoc]. As Communism sees them, poverty, hunger, unemployment are not unbearable pain and shame but rather a welcome reservoir of dark powers, fermenting by lots of anger and resistance. "The social order is to blame." No, rather all of us are to blame, whether we stand over human poverty with hands in our pockets or the flags of the Revolution in our hands.
Poor people are no class, they are precisely the declassed, excluded and unorganized ones; they will never dwell on the steps to the throne, whoever sits on it. The hungry ones do not want to rule but to eat; with regard to poverty it is indifferent who rules; the only thing that matters is how we, human beings, feel. Poverty is neither institution nor a class, it is a disaster; looking for an appeal to immediate humane help, I find only the cold doctrine of class rule. I cannot be a communist because its morality is not the morality of help. Because it preaches abolition of the social order [rad] and not abolition of the social crime [zlorad] that is poverty. Because if it wants to help the poor at all, it does so conditionally: first we have to rule and then (perhaps) it will be your turn. Unfortunately, not even this conditional salvation is guaranteed by the writ.

      *

Poor people are not a mass. A thousand workers can help one worker in his struggle for existence; but a thousand poor people cannot help one poor to get even a piece of bread. A poor, hungry, helpless person is absolutely isolated. His life is a history for itself, incompatible with others; it is an individual case because it is a disaster, though it is similar to other cases like a rag to a rag. Turn the society whichever side up, the poor will fall to the bottom again, most often joined by others. I am not a scratch of an aristocrat but I do not believe in the value of masses. After all, nobody, I hope, maintains seriously that masses will rule; they are just a material instrument to attain certain goals; they are simply political material in a much harder and more ruthless sense than the party-members of other colors are. It is necessary to press people into a kind of shape so that they become a mass material; it is necessary to give them a uniform made out of certain cloth or certain ideas; unfortunately, one can seldom take the uniform made of ideas off after eighteen months. I would begin to respect communism deeply if it came to the worker and told him honestly: "There´s something I ask of you but I do not promise you anything; I ask that you be an item, a unit, a material for me, just as you are an item and material in the factory; you will obey and remain silent, just as you obey and remain silent in the factory. As a reward, you will one day, when everything changes, remain what you are; you will fare worse or better, whether this or the other I cannot guarantee; the order of the world will be neither more generous nor kinder to you, but it will be juster." - I think that most workers would quite hesitate to accept this offer - and yet it would be supremely honest, and who knows whether for highly moral reasons it might not be more acceptable than all offers presented so far.
To feed poor people with promises is to rob them. Perhaps life is easier for them when you paint fat geese on the willow for them; but in practical respets, today just like one hundred years ago the sparrow in one´s fist is better than a pigeon on the roof of the government building and a fire in one´s oven is better than the red cock on the rafters of palaces which are, moreover, much less numerous here than what would think a person who is being forced to accept class consciousness instead of one´s own eyes - since, apart from a few exceptions, we are, as to life standards, a not very well-off nation, a fact one usually fails to mention. Usually one says that the poor have nothing to risk; but on the contrary, whatever happens the poor are those who risk the most because if they lose something they lose the last bit of bread; with the poor´s bread one should not experiment. No revolution will be realized on the backs of a small number of people, on the contrary - it will be on the backs of the highest number of people; whether it is war or currency crisis or anything else it is the poor who bear the earliest and heaviest consequences; quite simply, there are no limits and no bottom to poverty. The most rotten thing in the world is not the roof of the rich but the roof of the poor; shake the world and then look and see who it is that has remained in the rubble.
So what is to be done? As for me, I do not take much consolation in the word "evolution"; I think that poverty is the only thing in the world that does not evolve but rather just grows chaotically. But it is not acceptable to postpone the issue of the poor until the establishment of some future order; if they are to be helped at all, one has to start right away. It is open to doubt, however, whether the world of today still possesses sufficient moral means for that task; communism says it does not; well, it is just this refusal in which we differ. I do not mean to say that there are enough perfectly just people in this social Sodoma; but in each of us Sodomites there is a bit of the just and I believe that after some sustained effort and some substantial waving of hands we could agree on quite decent justice. Communism says, however, that an agreement is excluded; apparently it doubts the human value of most people as such, but of that thing I will treat later. The present-day society did not tumble down when it brought about some or other protection of the unemployed, aged and sick; I am not saying that it is enough but the important thing for both the poor and me is that that much has been possible to do today, on the spot, without irritated waiting for the glorious moment when the flag of the Revolution will unfold.
To believe that the issue of the poor is the task of the present and not of the upcoming order means, however, to be no communist. To believe that a piece of bread and fire in the oven today is more important than Revolution in twenty years is the sign of a very non-communist temper.

      *

The strangest and least human element of communism is its weird gloominess. The worse the better; if a biker hits a deaf granny it is a proof of the rottenness of the present order; if a worker sticks his finger in between the wheels of the machine, it is not the wheels that will mash his poor finger but rather the bourgeois, and will do so with bloodthirsty pleasure. Hearts of all people who for some or other personal reasons are no communists are beastly and repulsive like an ulcer; there is not one smittereen of good in the entire present order; whatever is is bad.
In a ballad of his, [the communist poet] Jiri Wolker says: "In your deepest heart, you poor, I can see hatred." It is a horrible word but the curious thing is that it is completely improper. At the bottom of poor people´s hearts there is rather an amazing and beautiful gaiety. The worker by the machine will crack a joke with much more enjoyment than the factory-owner or the director; construction workers at the site have more fun than the building-master or the landlord, and if there is a person singing in a household then it is definitely more often the maid wiping the floor than her mistress. The so-called proletarian is naturally inclined to an almost joyful and infantile conception of life; the communist pessimism and melancholy hatred are artificially pumped into him, and through unclean pipes. This import of desperate gloom is called "the education of masses towards revolutionarism" or "strengthening of class consciousness". The poor, having so little, are being bereft even of their primitive joy of life; that is the first payment for a future, better world.
The climate of communism is ghastly and inhuman; there is no middle temperature between the freezing bourgeoisie and the revolutionary fire; there is nothing to which a proletarian could dedicate himself with pleasure and undisturbed. The world contains no lunch or dinner; it is either the mouldy bread of the poor or the gorging of the overlords. There is no love, for there is either the perversity of the rich or the proletarian conceiving of children. The bourgeois inhales his own rottenness, the worker his consumption; thus, somehow, the air has disappeared. I do not know whether journalists and writers have persuaded themselves to believe this absurd image of the world or whether they consciously lie; I only know that a naive and inexperienced person, such as the proletarian usually is, lives in a terribly distorted world which really is not worth anything else for him than to be undone and uprooted. But since such a world is just a fiction, it would be very timely to undo and uproot this ghostly fiction, for instance by some revolutionary deed; in that case, I am enthusiastically supportive. There is no doubt that in our tearful valley there is far too much undescribable disaster, excess of suffering, not quite enough well-being and very little joy; as far as I am concerned, I do not think I am inclined to depict the world in too rosy colors but whenever I come across the inhuman negativity and tragic of communism I feel like shouting in an appalled protest that it is not true and that in spite of everything it does not look like this. I have met very few people who would not deserve a crumble of salvation for an onion; very few of those onto whom the Lord, being just a little sober and generous, could spit fire and sulphur. The world contains much more narrow-mindedness than real vice; but there is still sympathy and trust, friendliness and goodwill enough so that one cannot break the stick over the world of humans. I do not believe in perfection of either present or future humankind; the world will become a paradise neither by persuasion nor by revolution, not even by annihilation of the human race. But if we could somehow gather all the good that is, after all, hidden in each of us sinful human beings, then, I believe, one could build on this a world kinder yet than the one so far. Maybe you will say that it is just a simpleton´s philanthropy; well yes, I do belong to those idiots who love human beings because they are human.
It is very easy to say that, for instance, the forest is black; but no tree in that forest is black, rather it is red and green, because it is simply a pine or a fir. It is very easy to say that the society is bad; but go and find some essentially evil people there. Try to judge the world for a moment without brutal generalizations; after a while, there won´t be a grain left of your principles. One premise of communism is an artificial or intended ignorance of the world. If someone says they hate Germans I would like to tell them to go and live among them; in a month´s time I would ask them whether they hate their German landlady, whether they feel like cutting the throat of their Germanic radish-seller or strangling the Teutonic granny who sells them their matches. One of the least moral gifts of human mind is the gift of generalization; instead of summarizing our experiences, it simply strives to supplant them. In communist papers you cannot read anything else about the world but that it is worth nothing through and through; anyone for whom opinionatedness does not represent the peak of knowledge won´t think this quite sufficient.
Hatred, ignorance, essential distrust - this is the psychical world of communism; a medical diagnosis would say that it is pathological negativism. If one becomes a mass, one is perhaps more easily accessible to this infection; but in private life, it is not sufficient. Stand for a moment next to a beggar at the corner of the street; try to notice who are the pedestrians that most likely spin out the penny from their pockets; in seven cases out of ten they are people who live themselves on the border of poverty; the remaining three cases are women. In all probability, a communist would deduce out of this fact that the bourgeois has a hardened heart; but I deduce something more beautiful, namely that the proletarian has usually a soft heart and is substantially inclined to kindness, love, and dedication. Communism with its class hatred and resentment wants to make this person a canaille; the poor does not deserve such a humiliation.

      *

The world of today does not need hatred but rather good will, readiness to help, consensus and co-operation; it needs a kinder moral climate; I think that with a bit of simple love and sincerity one could perform wonders. I defend the present world not because it is the world of the rich but because it is also the world of the poor and then also of those in the middle, of those who nowadays, ground between the mill-stones of capital and class proletariat, maintain and save, with more or less success, the largest part of human values. I do not really know those proverbial upper ten thousand, thus I cannot judge them; but I have judged the class which is called bourgeoisie in such a way that it has brought me the indiction of dirty pessimism. I say it so that it gives me more right to defend, to a degree, those to whose failures and crimes I am certainly not blind. Proletariat cannot substitute this class but it can enter it. Despite all programmatic swindles there is no proletarian culture; nowadays there is on the whole no folk culture either, no aristocratic culture, no religious culture; all that is left of cultural values depends on the middle class, the so-called "intelligentsia". If only proletariat claimed its share in this tradition, if only it said: Okay, I will take over the present world and manage it with all the values that are in it - then perhaps we could shake hands and give it a try; however, if communism pushes forth by immediately refusing, as useless camp, everything that is called the bourgeois culture, then goodbye and farewell; then everyone with a bit of responsibility starts to take into account how much would go wasted.

      *

I have already said that real poverty is no institution but a disaster. You can reverse all orders but you will not prevent human beings from strokes of bad luck, from sickness, from the suffering of hunger and cold, from the need of a helpful hand. Do whatever you like, disaster presents human beings with a moral, not a social task. The language of communism is hard; it does not talk of the values of sympathy, willingness, help and human solidarity; it says with self-confidence that it is not sentimental. But this lack of sentimentality is the worst thing for me, since I am just as sentimental as any maid, as any fool, as any decent person is; only rogues and demagogues are not sentimental. Apart from sentimental reasons you will not hand a glass of water to your neighbor; rational motives will not even bring you to help and raise a person who has slipped.

      *

Then, there is the issue of violence. I am no spinster to make the sign of the cross whenever I hear the word "violence"; I admit that sometimes I would quite enjoy beating up a person who produces a series of wrong reasons or lies; unfortunately it is impossible because either I am too weak to beat them or they are too weak to defend themselves. As you can see, I am not exactly a bully; but if the bourgeoisie started to shout that they go hang the proletarians then I would certainly get up and run to help those who are being hanged. A decent person cannot side with the one who threatens; whoever calls for shooting and hanging disrupts human society not by social revolution but by offending natural and simple honesty.
People call me a "relativist" due to the singular and apparently rather heavy intellectual crime that I try to understand everything; I spend my time with all doctrines and all literatures including negro tales and I discover with a mystical joy that with a bit of patience and simplicity one can reach some agreement with all people, whatever their skin or faith. It seems there is some common human logic and a reservoire of shared human values, such as love, humour, enjoying good food, optimism and many other things without which one cannot live. And then I am sometimes gripped by horror that I cannot reach agreement with communism. I understand its ideals but I cannot understand its method. Sometimes I feel as if I spoke a strange language and its thought was subjected to different laws. If one nation believes that people should tolerate each other and another nation believes that people should eat each other, then this difference is quite pictoresque but not absolutely essential; but if communism believes that to hang and shoot people is, under certain circumstances, no more of a serious matter than to kill cockroaches, it is something that I cannot understand though I am being told it in Czech; I have a terrible feeling of chaos and a real anxiety that this way we will never agree.
I believe till this very day that there are certain moral and rational chuttels by means of which one human being recognizes another. The method of communism is a broadly established attempt at international miscommunication; it is an attempt to shatter the human world to pieces that do not belong to each other and have nothing to say to each other. Whatever is good for one side cannot and must not be good for the other side; as if people on both sides were not physiologically and morally identical. Send the most orthodox communist to handle me; if he does not knock me down on the spot then I hope I will reach personal agreement with him on many things - as long, however, as these do not concern communism. But communism principially disagrees with the others even in points that do not concern communism; talk with communism about the function of the spleen and it will tell you that this is bourgeois science; similarly there is bourgeois poetry, bourgeois romanticism, bourgeois humanism and so on. The firmness of conviction that you find in communists in every detail is almost superhuman: not that the conviction were that exalting, rather that they do not get fed up by it at the end. Or perhaps it is no firmness of conviction but rather some ritual prescription or, after all, a craft.
But what I especially regret are exactly proletarians who are thus cut off from the rest of the educated world without getting any other substitute than the attractive prospects of the pleasures of the Revolution. Communism shuts down a cordon between them and the world; and it is you, communist intellectuals, who stand with colorfully painted shields between them and all that is ready for them as the share for newcomers. But there is still a place for the doves of peace - if not in your midst then above your heads, or directly from above.

      *

I feel lighter after having said at least so much, though it is not all; I feel like after having confessed. I do not stand in any herd and my argument with communism is not an argument of principles but rather of personal conscience. And if I could argue with others´ conscience and not with principles I believe it would not be impossible at least to understand each other - and that, by itself, would be a lot.

translated and provided by: Martin Pokorny
pokorny@sas.upenn.edu
Dominik Zunt 1998-2004, design: Radek Varbuchta