Thursday, 18 October 2012
Karel Capek: Why I am not a Communist
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.