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.