Headline: Seeing red
Sub-headline: A Spanish journalist’s bafflement at the resurgence of communism
To say that Mr. Fernandez-Armesto is a Posh Boy is to utter a cliche , with the proviso that he is of an earlier iteration of this class of men. But read his review of Federico Jiménez Losantos’ Memoria Del Communismo: De Lenin a Podemos to see that Fernandez-Armesto is afflicted by a myopia of this privileged class. The opening paragraph demonstrates the political territory:
Marx’s grave, according to recent reports from Highgate, still attracts vandals – a measure of the abiding power of the dead. Federico Jiménez Losantos, one of Spain’s most conspicuous and influential journalists, puzzles over communism’s continuing threat and promise after a century of disappointments, defeats and betrayals of optimism. A bigger problem, however, escapes him: why is the radical Left resurgent now? Bernie Sanders rehabilitates “socialism” as a positive term in America’s political lexicon. Jeremy Corbyn can dream of electoral victory. Left-wing populism rivals that of the Right. In Spain, Jiménez Losantos’s particular bogey, Pablo Iglesias (leader of Podemos), whom he denounces as a “total Leninist”, plays political kingmaker.
The cast of Left-Wing political bad actors, the characters in this Bourgeois Political Melodrama, remains the same: Bernie Sanders , Jeremy Corbyn and Pablo Iglesias. It is utterly predictable!
British readers who want a sense of the author of Memoria del Comunismo, who represents himself as the voice of the “liberal Right”, might think of the erudition of a Charles Moore or a Niall Ferguson, allied to the wit and venom of other, brasher, columnists.
It can’t even be a surprise that Fernandez-Armesto ( refereed to as F-A in the interests of space) points to two of his brethren as representatives of the ‘Liberal Right’ Charles Moore , author of a biography of Mrs. Thatcher, and Neo-Conservative Niall Ferguson ?
But F-A gives the game away with this:
Like all great journalists, Jiménez is ruthless in provocation and fearless in saying what he thinks
To read the rest of this paragraph where Jiménez is painted in glowing terms as representative of … F-A lapses into vulgar pastiche of hagiography. That Losantos was a Maoist, the most violent manifestation of ‘Communism’, and its practice of permanent revolution, in the Cultural Revolution: as a member of a cadre that perpetrated violence- the Biblical framing of ‘Damascene moment’ can’t rescue the hero of F-A’s political melodrama, from complicity in crimes against others!
Jiménez Losantos is a convert from communism, a former fellow traveller who long ago abandoned his hard-left luggage. His Damascene moment, by his own account, happened in China in the early 70s, when he was part of a Maoist cadre.
To engage in a bit of California Mysticism this incidence from 1981 looks like ‘karma’ :
In 1981 he was kidnapped and shot by terrorists after protesting in defence of persecuted Castilian-speakers in Catalonia
F-A then describes what Losantos polemic is about , with the caveat about his ‘He sprays his buckshot over targets…’ It is breathtakingly capacious in its reach, to say the least!
Rather than a memoir, however, Jiménez Losantos presents a selective history of the Left, from Lenin onwards, in an attempt to show that today’s communists and quasi-communists must be deluded or dishonest. He never defines communism and at times his remit seems too broad to be useful. He sprays his buckshot over targets as various as a “historiographical Cheka” that includes the historians Paul Preston and Santos Juliá, such supposed “gurus of anti-globalization” as Michael Moore and Thomas Piketty, and a long list of “populists united against free trade”, among whom Donald Trump and Jean-Marie Le Pen appear alongside Angela Merkel and Theresa May.
But F-A admonishes his reader to apply their focus to Losantos’ ‘selective history of the Left’ that merits their attention rather than ‘his buckshot‘.
Skipping forward just a bit F-A writes about the amount of space Losantos devotes to the crimes of the Bolsheviks, 300 pages, and 130 pages to Stalin.
The author devotes vast space to catalogues of crimes and samples of the violence, cruelty and apparent insanity of revolutionary language – about 300 pages to the Bolsheviks and 130 to Stalin – before switching (save for a chapter of excursion on Che Guevara) to the problem that really vexes him: the strength of the radical Left in Spain.
F-A synopsis of Losantos’ ‘entertaining and chillingly minatory’ book while he offers the most cursory observations about the now failed truce between ‘workers’ and ‘bosses’ . And a ideologically necessary attack on Left Wing Social Democrat Piketty, as the reincarnation of the execrable Marx.
The book is entertaining and chillingly minatory, but remains an avowal of bafflement: Jiménez Losantos constantly returns to the paradox that haunts him – “the survival of communism” despite the immolation of “100 million victims”. Yet in at least one respect Marx was right: capitalism is doomed if capitalists’ behaviour matches communists’ expectations of greed and exploitation. For most of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, predictions of world revolution remained unfulfilled because incomes in industrial economies tended to converge; workers and bosses were able to work in mutual interest. Those of us who grew up before that golden age was over commonly thought that bosses realized that they had to pay workers fairly, partly to avoid the tumbrils and partly to enlarge the market. We were too sanguine. It now looks – thanks in part to Piketty’s work – as though neither benevolence nor enlightened self-interest played much part in securing civil peace. Rather, recurrent international wars drove up the price of labour and constrained capitalists’ temptations to behave badly.
In the final paragraph of his review F-A offers this set of observations on the rise in inequality, defined as ‘Wealth Gaps’, in a near pastiche of the Neo-Liberal parlance.
Now Marx’s future looks imminent again. Wealth gaps have widened to levels unseen since the Edwardian era. The rich, from the perspective of the poor, look undeserving and irresponsible. Jiménez Losantos is so concerned to justify disparities of wealth that he does not perceive the dangers. Gross inequality is worse than a crime: it is a mistake. If Jiménez cannot bear to go back to Marx, he might turn to an author generally more favoured on the Right: Plato warned that strife will ensue “when some grieve exceedingly and others rejoice”. Between envy and greed today’s populists have all too much terrain to occupy. Federico Jiménez Losantos thinks voters supporting the Left have been duped by propaganda, dazzled by false promises and misled by dodgy teachers who have cloaked the massacres and mistakes. He explains why capitalism is always likely to command more allegiance than communism: better a system in which “all can be owners” than one in which most can’t. But, as he also points out, “the theoretical problem of communism is that communism is practical”. The theory – or at least the benign bits of it – hardly seems exemplified in the monstrous regimes of the past or in the repellent realities of North Korea, China, or Venezuela today. But hope, it seems, can triumph even over the experience of 100 million dead.
Instead of shame, repentance and humility, in confronting his misdeeds, even crimes, as part of a Maoist cadre, Losantos chooses his path as Inquisitor , whose reason d’etre is the continual search for Apostates to the Capitalist Orthodoxy: in sum the rise of Left Wing Social Democrats like Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, Pablo Iglesias and economist Thomas Piketty. But note even with F-A’s last paragraph about the rise of Wealth Gaps, both of these writers fail, and or excise, from their respective iterations of ‘History’ , the rise and utter failure of the Neo-Liberal Orthodoxy. That manifested itself in the rise of politicians in the ‘West’ Thatcher and Reagan and the World Wide economic collapse of 2008. The ‘why’ of the re-invigorated ‘Left’ doesn’t just elude Francoist Losantos and F-A , but is a function of their deeply held ideologies, not to speak of their membership in a class of privileged Public Intellectuals.