Revolution and dystopia

He put this grotesque idea of his into practice when he became
Commissar for Education and Culture in the Hungarian Soviet
Republic, which lasted, under its leader Béla Kun, from March until
August 1919. It has been said of him that he “advocated a strategy of
terror, to isolate every individual by a reign of terror, causing panic and
distrust; arousing self-accusations of guilt by administering random
punishment. …The steam roller of terror and random victimization
aims to pulverize individualities into a quaking mass that seeks security
through submission to totalitarian command.”
Like others who tried to establish Communist republics in the
midst of the political chaos of Europe at the end of the First World
War – Béla Kun himself, Rosa Luxembourg in Berlin, Kurt Eisner in
Bavaria – Lukács was Jewish by descent. He and all of them, following
Karl Marx, repudiated their Jewishness. But Lukács wrote about politics
in religious mystical terms. If the Party puts you to death it needed
to be loved for doing it. It is the same concept as that of the Catholic
Inquisitor when he expected the heretic to love the stake as the flames
cleansed his soul by torturing his body to death. “Death for the sake
of the Utopian Community makes the loss of life worthy.” Faith in the
Utopian Community – aka the Communist Party – “replaces the need
for individual immortality”.

With all this in mind, I developed my fantasy of revolution and
dystopia. Mrs Thatcher is voted out, the Left comes in. Strikes, riots,
street fighting, deadly clashes with the police who find themselves
unable to cope with the continual onslaughts, cause Labour leaders
to take extraordinary powers to deal with the emergency. The Royal
family seeks refuge in Scotland. Twelve members of the Cabinet form
themselves into a Council of Ministers to govern by edict. But they
are soft and fearful men and women. They know that bad things will
happen, and they don’t want to be held responsible for them. So they
invite a charismatic celebrity, recognized by millions of young rebels as a
revolutionary leader, to join them, and into his hands they put absolute
power. The man’s name is Louis Zander, commonly known as “L”. He is
a writer, an aesthete, an avant-garde theatre director, a Marxist theorist.
He has revelled in the Performance Art of Vienna. He has a taste for
blood and death. He has written plays. He knows how to direct a cast.
People obey him. Of Jewish extraction, he is fiercely anti-Jewish. His
family is exceedingly wealthy. His banker father was ennobled. He has
no scruples whatsoever about dealing mercilessly with those who do
not obey his orders. He has minions to carry out his will. He also coopts
the private militia of his political arch-rival the neo-Nazi leader,
Edmund Foxe, who agrees to work with L because he sees such an
alliance as an opportunity to seize power himself. The Red Republic
of England is established in late 1987. It lasts for five seasons, coming
to an end in early 1989 after L has chosen to die (what he conceives to
be) a martyr’s death.
It is a novel in the form of a history. As a history it had to have taken
place in the past, so the fictional historian, Bernard Gill, writes it in
the early 2020s. He depends on documents such as diaries, memoirs,
letters, newspaper reports, and the recollections of people interviewed.
He conjectures about certain mysteries and comes up with dramatic
theories to solve them. Calmly he relates tumultuous events, transcribes
descriptions of horrors, records how quickly and completely L reduces
a population of tens of millions to wretched self-abasing misery.
Though he restrains any inclination to display personal revulsion at L’s
viciousness, he sees and demonstrates the full extent of it, and shows
how L’s ultimate purpose is to make the innocent feel guilty. They must
blame themselves for his suffering, which must seem to be enduredfor their sake. In this – though the Communist Republic falls – L to adeplorable extent succeeds.
L continues to be adulated after his death. Some will not even
believe that he is dead. And indeed he is not. Lukács, Stalin, Mao, Che
Guevara, L – they live on by inspiring others to think and feel and act
and aspire and acquire power and abuse it as they did. As the book is
being re-launched in 2012, I see the political trend of Russia in 1917, of
Hungary in 1919, of England in the mid 1980s (a catastrophe averted in
fact), arising now in Europe again – and, for the first time, in the United
States. In Greece, France, Italy, Spain, the rioters are out in the streets
demanding that the state look after their every need. In America, Barack
Obama is trying to give powers of life and death to an ever-mightier
federal government under his direction.
May the story of L be a warning to all those who would trade in
their freedom for a mirage of security under a paternalistic state led by
a charismatic would-be dictator.

Why a socialist regime cannot allow dissent

Why Socialism cannot allow dissent, and leads to dictatorship … and apropos L’s appointment of Foxe as head of his political police: –

“A Socialist State once thoroughly completed in all its details and its aspects … could not afford to suffer opposition. . .  Socialism is, in its essence, an attack … upon the right of the ordinary man or woman to breathe freely without having a harsh, clumsy, tyrannical hand clapped across their mouths and nostrils… No Socialist system can be established without a political police.  Many of those who are advocating Socialism or voting Socialist today will be horrified at this idea.  That is because they are short-sighted, that is because they do not see where their theories are leading them. No Socialist Government conducting the entire life and industry of the country could afford to allow free, sharp, and violently worded expressions of public discontent. They would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo, no doubt very humanely directed in the first instance.  And this would nip opinion in the bud; it would stop criticism as it reared its head, and it would gather all the power to the supreme party and the party leader.” – Winston Churchill

 

Philosophy behind ‘L’

Jean-Paul Sartre, perhaps the most adulated of all the twentiethcentury
philosophers in the French pandemonium, believed
that the supreme and most necessary task for a human being was
to “live authentically”. He preached that to avoid “the sin of living
inauthentically”, one should do what is forbidden because it is forbidden.
Transgress, he counseled, for transgression is a way to “transcendence”. In
other words, do evil to save yourself from boredom. He proclaimed that
the poet Charles Baudelaire’s soul was “an exquisite blossom” because
he “desired Evil for Evil’s sake”. [3]
Georg Lukács, the Hungarian theatre director and writer on literature
and aesthetics, interested me the most. He was the son of a wealthy
banker who had been raised to the nobility. He grew up in great luxury,
but was preoccupied with his own metaphysical misery. He explored his
emotions, his “self”, as an indecipherable mystery, from which he sought
distraction in aesthetic excitement. He understood the good to be what
was natural, because nature was innocent; and innocence was wild,
and wild innocent nature was cruel; so cruelty was good. His erotic
relationships and marriages brought him no relief, being complicated by
his idea that the consummation of love was suicide. When he embraced
Communism it was in the hope that the Party would rescue him from
himself by forcibly putting an end to his contemplative existence. He
equated Revolution with Apocalypse. Beyond it lay a new condition
of being in which everyone would be disburdened of his individuality
and dissolved in an homogenized collective. This at last would finally
provide meaning to life. In the passionate pursuit of this end, there
was no crime, no act of violence, no cruelty – be it torture, terrorism,
murder – that was not justified, was not positively good.
But he held that only the man who understood profoundly and
completely that murder is absolutely wrong could commit the murder
that would be supremely good; the entirely – and tragically – moral
murder. Such a one is the terrorist. He is a heroic martyr because when
he murders for the Communist Party, he does so with awesome courage,
knowing full well that he himself must thereby suffer. There is no
greater love than to lay down the life of a fellow man. [4]
He put this grotesque idea of his into practice when he became
Commissar for Education and Culture in the Hungarian Soviet
Republic, which lasted, under its leader Béla Kun, from March until
August 1919. It has been said of him that he “advocated a strategy of
terror, to isolate every individual by a reign of terror, causing panic and
distrust; arousing self-accusations of guilt by administering random
punishment. …The steam roller of terror and random victimization
aims to pulverize individualities into a quaking mass that seeks security
through submission to totalitarian command.” [5]
Like others who tried to establish Communist republics in the
midst of the political chaos of Europe at the end of the First World
War – Béla Kun himself, Rosa Luxembourg in Berlin, Kurt Eisner in
Bavaria – Lukács was Jewish by descent. He and all of them, following
Karl Marx, repudiated their Jewishness. But Lukács wrote about politics
in religious mystical terms. If the Party puts you to death it needed
to be loved for doing it. It is the same concept as that of the Catholic
Inquisitor when he expected the heretic to love the stake as the flames
cleansed his soul by torturing his body to death. “Death for the sake
of the Utopian Community makes the loss of life worthy.” Faith in the
Utopian Community – aka the Communist Party – “replaces the need
for individual immortality”.
With all this in mind, I developed my fantasy of revolution and
dystopia. Mrs Thatcher is voted out, the Left comes in. Strikes, riots,
street fighting, deadly clashes with the police who find themselves
unable to cope with the continual onslaughts, cause Labour leaders
to take extraordinary powers to deal with the emergency. The Royal
family seeks refuge in Scotland. Twelve members of the Cabinet form
themselves into a Council of Ministers to govern by edict. But they
are soft and fearful men and women. They know that bad things will
happen, and they don’t want to be held responsible for them. So they
invite a charismatic celebrity, recognized by millions of young rebels as a
revolutionary leader, to join them, and into his hands they put absolute
power. The man’s name is Louis Zander, commonly known as “L”. He is
a writer, an aesthete, an avant-garde theatre director, a Marxist theorist.
He has revelled in the Performance Art of Vienna. He has a taste for
blood and death. He has written plays. He knows how to direct a cast.
People obey him. Of Jewish extraction, he is fiercely anti-Jewish. His
family is exceedingly wealthy. His banker father was ennobled. He has
no scruples whatsoever about dealing mercilessly with those who do
not obey his orders. He has minions to carry out his will. He also coopts
the private militia of his political arch-rival the neo-Nazi leader,
Edmund Foxe, who agrees to work with L because he sees such an
alliance as an opportunity to seize power himself. The Red Republic
of England is established in late 1987. It lasts for five seasons, coming
to an end in early 1989 after L has chosen to die (what he conceives to
be) a martyr’s death.

“Imagine the UK without Thatcher”

This review of L: A Novel History by Daniel Greenfield was published on May 2, 2013, at Front Page

With the recent death of Margaret Thatcher, one novel takes a look at a UK without Thatcher. L: A Novel History by Jillian Becker, the author of, Hitler’s Children: The Story of the Baader-Meinhof Terrorist Gang, is a modern 1984 taking place in an England fallen to the left. A country where the atrocities and horrors perpetrated in the east found their way to the west.

 

1984 showed us tyranny from the perspective of an ordinary man coping with the tyranny of an omnipresent Big Brother, while L takes us into the mind of Big Brother.

Becker’s L is a child of the modern left, attracted to the violent spectacle of revolution, feeding on blood and pain, gorging on the emotional spillage of the disgruntled, perpetrating riots, terrorist attacks and finally the mass starvation of the United Kingdom.

 

1984 takes place in the fragments of a lost history, but L develops its history out of the recent past. L doesn’t emerge out of a vacuum. He is the child of privilege, the student of leftist academics and the tyrant who rises out of the class warfare struggles of the burgeoning welfare state.

 

L abandons his name, going by a single letter, dabbling in dehumanizing Marxist theory while developing a cult of followers, the L-ites, who become the core of a movement that takes over the United Kingdom. L: A Novel History is as much about L, piecing together his inner thoughts from diary entries and newspaper articles, as it is about the milieu of the period and the more moderate figures on the left who hand over power to him and allow him to perpetrate his acts of terror.

 

As Becker notes in her introduction, there are historical precedents for L, for his associates and the fascist opposition that eventually allies with him. What she has done is transpose the history of various Communist atrocities from Russia and Eastern Europe into an England on the wavering end of the Cold War.

 

As a fictional history, L: A Novel History assembles painstakingly an entire alternate history in a metafictional narrative composed of newspaper articles, diary entries and historical speculation that combines the perspectives of L, his followers, the L-ites, his opponents, both genuine and disingenuous, and the people of England who react with bewilderment and then horror as the stores are emptied, the food vanishes and they are put through a brutal and degrading process meant to break their spirit.

L’s great obsession is the cultivation of empathy. Like most sociopaths, he is incapable of genuinely empathizing with others, but has a narcissistic obsession with the experience of emotion as spectacle.

 

Embodying the privileged empathy of the left, L promises to raise up the people, but instead degrades them, robbing them of their dignity, their humanity and finally their lives, in order to force them to identify with the sufferings of the less well off.

 

L is Big Brother given form, substance and motive. His resentments and narcissism represent all too well the modern left. Obsessed with image, L is driven to be a cult figure and succeeds in achieving true cult status at the expense of millions for his grand experiment in enforced empathy.

 

The UK has a long literary tradition of dystopias which imagine a descent into fascism, even as in real life it has continued a descent into Socialism. Jillian Becker’s L: A Novel History challenges that fictional narrative with a meta-fictional narrative that warns of what might have been and what may yet be.