The Moral Challenge of Communism
”We must recognize” writes BARBARA WARD,“that during the epoch of the Marshall Plan, the Communists in Europe were at a loss for a moral weapon. Now, in the period of rearmament, it is the moral issue which they are making the center of their campaign.”Miss Ward, formerly the Foreign Editor of the London Economist, has been living for the past year in Australia. She trill soon set out on a trip round all the states of the Commonwealth, taking with her the half-completed manuscript of her new book, the theme of which, she tells us, is that “freedom and moral choice hare never been the soft option.
by BARBARA WARD
RELUCTANTLY yet wholeheartedly, the Western world has accepted the challenge of Soviet military power. The hammering of plowshares into swords echoes round the Atlantic. In the Far East the weapons have been tested in battle. Rearmament has the first claim on national resources, the perfecting of defensive alliances upon diplomacy.
Yet the Western world must avoid the mistake of answering this decade’s problem with the answer that would possibly have been adequate in the thirties. A show of strength might have checked the rise of Nazism. Hitler had not twenty years of established power behind him. He was not the prophet of a world-wide creed. A few groups of quislings were ready, when his victory looked certain, to open the gates to him, but he had no fanatical mass support within the ranks of Europe’s workers, no blind devotees in foreign schools and universities, no organized followers among the youth of other nations. The challenge from Nazism and the challenge from Communism have only this in common— that they have both used force and have therefore required the readiness to use force against them. But the challenge from Communism is far graver and far more various. One need look no further than the last twelve months to realize the extent to which in Communism moral weapons are as formidable as those of military power.
General elections were held last summer in France and Italy, both recipients of Marshall Aid, both signatories of the North Atlantic Treaty. In Italy, the Communist-controlled vote was actually higher than in the decisive election of 1948. In France, the decline in support for Communism was negligible. Once again the Party received the mandate of more than a quarter of the voters. Nobody has made any secret about the reasons for this discouraging result. The benefits that flowed from American assistance had largely failed to reach the consciousness of the mass of the working class. General de Gaulle might jeer at their Communist leaders as “separatists,” but the workers, unhappily, did feel deeply separated from the successes and interests of the rest of the nation. The Marshall Plan as a moral venture had passed them by.
If one moves to the other end of the globe, there is the same evidence that Communism has consciously gained or maintained strength through the supposed moral failings of the Western side. Wherever Communist guerrillas are active in the Far East—in Malaya, in the Philippines, in IndoChina—they fight with the same slogans — an end to imperialism and exploitation, the achievement of national independence and peace, the division of the land, the raising of the workers. Nor is it altogether untrue to suggest that this double talk—for who cares less than the Communist about the peasant and his independence? — has been most effective where local grievances and abuses have been most gross.
Or take the propaganda war back to Europe — to last summer’s Berlin Youth Festival. Not all the two million young people who marched and shouted had come there under compulsion. Faith and vision — honest in many of those young minds — led them to reserve for the Soviet delegates their loudest cheers and to accept uncritically the Communist slogans of “fighting for peace.” And all the time one must remember that the Festival was only a small part of the world-wide Soviet “peace” campaign which has to a certain extent been made easier by the Western powers’ belated acceptance of the Soviet’s military challenge.
The Marshall Plan may not have penetrated as it should to every group and class, but as a gesture and an achievement it was beyond Soviet criticism. The Communist endeavored — rather feebly—to dismiss it as an American attempt to secure European markets; in other words, as an interested and not as a moral gesture, But the effort was a failure. It is in the last year when the need for rearmament has been frankly accepted in the West that the Soviets have put all their energy into the war of propaganda, to convict the West of warmongering, to denounce it as imperialist and aggressive, to exploit in millions of simple minds the desire for peace and revulsion from war which are among the deepest moral instincts of contemporary society. We must recognize that during the epoch of the Marshall Plan, the Communists in Europe were at a loss for a moral weapon. Now, in the period of rearmament, it is the moral issue which they are making the center of their campaign.
It is of no use to dismiss all this concern for peace and order and “morality” as a contemptible façade for naked power and naked aggression. So it is — yet a quarter of the voters in France and Italy still vote for Stalin; millions of young people still march; scientists, artists, writers are still deceived. It is right that we should recognize the hypocrisy and deceit of the whole business. Strictly speaking, Marxism excludes morality since il excludes free will. The Soviet leaders are perfectly aware of this. Their morality campaigns are simply probing attacks upon known weaknesses in their opponents. Nowhere is derision for “morality" more complete than in the Kremlin. Anyone who has read The God That Failed must have been impressed by the fact that the final issue upon which the ex-Communists broke with the Party was in each case moral. Ignazio Silone relates how at a Comintern meeting in Moscow an English delegate protested against some directive, saying, “But that would be a lie.” The torrent of laughter which burst through the whole city at such innocence was the force that drove Silone from the Party.
But to understand an evil is not to be complacent about it. The Communists know very well what they are doing when they fight with moral weapons. They believe — not without foundation — that it has helped to score them the most significant victory since 1945, their victory in China. In Europe they have relied upon group selfishness and national irresponsibility to undermine the effects of the Marshall Plan. Now they seek to exploit the passion and longing for peace in the period of rearmament. And even if we discount the importance which Moscow attaches to moral weapons — though it is always unwise to underestimate the key maneuvers in an enemy’s campaign—can we answer with any complacency the opposite question? Have the Western powers scored so clear a moral victory that the issue on this front is settled once and for all? This is certainly not the Communists’ view. Can we afford to think so ourselves?
Part of the answer has been given already — in the massive Communist vote in Europe, in the marching, singing crowds in Berlin, in the divided minds and counsels of Asia. We may also look for an answer in a recent book whose central theme is the moral struggle between East and West. In Arthur Koestler’s Age of Longing, the Americans in Europe are either imbecile or sex-ridden or else, like Colonel Anderson, supremely conscious of their own ineffectiveness. An imaginative artist, looking at Europe after three years of the Marshall Plan and two years of the Atlantic alliance, projects a picture of moral defeat. The Russian faith is a horrible faith, an immoral and denaturing faith. But faith will defeat no-faith. Such is the warning. Can we afford to neglect it?
IN the light of Western history and Western experience, there is something profoundly incongruous and disturbing in the thought that the moral challenge of Communism is being less urgently considered than its military pressure. The thought becomes not simply incongruous but completely bewildering when one reflects that the Communist challenge is being offered in terms most antipathetic to the moral tradition of the West. The essence of the Communist attack upon the Western powers today is its fatality. Western society is capitalistic; therefore it must exploit its workers, enslave colonial peoples, struggle for markets, and engage in imperialist war. America is necessarily a warmonger because its system is one of bourgeois free enterprise. Europe must of necessity leave workers to starve on the dole because monopoly financecapitalism by inherent dialectical logic ruins the masses in enriching itself. Above all, the fatalities of history decree the collapse of the West and the triumph of the Soviets. Since there is nothing the individual can do against the fatalities, he had better see to it that he is on the winning side. There can be no determinism greater than Marx’s. “What individuals are,” he wrote, “coincides with what they produce and . . . with how they produce.” Productive forces are thus the sole arbiters of human development, yet “men are not free to choose their productive forces.” A mindless, conscienceless mechanistic world closes round the individual, a universe imprisoning and predetermined as a concentration camp. Is it conceivable that this concept should be the “moral” weapon Communism hurls against the West? The weakness of the Western response becomes still more bewildering.
Yet there is an explanation that makes sense of both enigmas — the failure of the West to accept a moral challenge and its weakness in face of the onslaught of Communist determinism. It is quite simply that, in the last century, Western society has lost much of its confidence in freedom and morality and has accepted a muddleheaded measure of determinism in its place. To give all the reasons for this change would be to write the cultural history of the entire industrial epoch, but one or two of the principal trends can be singled out.
For a time, industry developed under the banner of fatalism. To subordinate the whole process to the so-called iron laws of economics and to fight reform on the grounds that it might interfere with nature was to run perilously close to Marxism. It is no coincidence that Marx’s entire view of history was formed at a time when those champions of liberalism, Cobderi and Bright, were quite as much economic determinists as he was himself. In the last decades, we have seen a break from this fatality. Greater insight into the forces which iniluenee supply and demand and the tremendous experience of expansion achieved in the testing conditions of war have started a trend which regards the economic order as a means to an end — the prosperity of the whole community — and not as a law unto itself. Yet there are still powerful groups, particularly in Europe, who have not learned the lesson, who still attack reform in the name of unfettered enterprise and proclaim that to preserve the “free market” is a more vital interest than to look to the well-being of the people as a whole. Significantly, such opinion is most vocal and influential in countries such as France and Italy where the effects of Marshall Aid have failed, as we have seen, to reach the mass of the workers.
FATALISM has entered the West by the other great revolutionary force of the modern world — the force of science. It is typical of Marx, the determinist, that he claimed that his socialism alone was “scientific” while all others, benevolent or reformist or utopian, were illusory. Ills reason for the claim was that in explaining everything in terms of a material factor—the productive process — he believed he had found a materialist and therefore “scientific” explanation of reality as a whole. Today when the solid materialist atoms of Victorian thought have become such complicated patterns and relationships of energy that only the most acute and disciplined mind can conceive them at all, the identification of the material — in other words, the sensibly observable — with the scientific has not the obviousness it had for Marx. But can we deny that it has had immense influence upon our thinking in general? We have become besotted with what Plato dismissed as “appearances.” The ideal, the moral, the visionary, the insights available to faith and will, the prophet’s utterance, the poet’s word — in short, the traditional levers of Western action and progress — have become suspect because they could not be hurried into the laboratory and confirmed by scientific measurement.
The effect of this shift of emphasis and interest is particularly apparent in education. Gone are the ideals of the great classical writers and the vision of the Christian life. The humanities have been driven into second and third place by purely technical studies. Yet such studies must inevitably be concerned more with what is than with what should be. Western education, however, has never before put the “real” before the ideal.
This is not to denigrate or underestimate the work either of science or of critical investigation. Western society, like any other society, has had to deal with material forces. The raw subject matter of human nature and human society has never been fully subordinated to the moral aims of Western faith. There have been hypocrisy and pretension in Western life, a gulf between principles and practice; and criticism and scientific appraisal have cleansed away much complacency and blindness and obscurantism. The scientists and critics have reminded the sculptors of Western society not only that they work in stone but how tragically often their work has been botched. Thus it is not criticism itself that is in question. The danger has come because so many have followed Marx in declaring that the stone determines the statue. “The phantasmagorias in the human brain are enforced supplements of man’s vital process.” Yes, but there comes the day when we can make no more statues. The vision has faded, the sculptor has laid down his tools. We are left with the stone — the bleak, hard, formless stone of totalitarian society.
Will anyone deny that in the twenties and thirties a light died out of the Western world? Its old dream of automatic economic progress received a deathblow in 1929. Its faith in the franchise was shaken by the workers’ hostility to the liberal state. Its universal education wasted itself in comics and the yellow press and produced intellectuals and scientists to denounce the West as a bourgeois sham. In foreign policy, it was the age of appeasement; in domestic affairs, of insoluble unemployment, The future — the wave of the failure — appeared to be issuing in a new order of society which, whatever else it was, was not free.
Yet even if one admits that in the first decades of this century the vision faded in Western society and it lost a force crucial to survival — the force of moral purpose — its weakening still does not explain the uncanny strength of totalitarianism and, above all, of its Communist version. Admittedly the Western nations had lost their purpose and their faith. Their sense of wholeness and moral unity gave place to fragmented knowledge and to an array of uncoördinated determinisms — in economics, in science, in social studies, in anthropology and psychology. Even so, what had Marxism to offer other than determinism and loss of moral purpose? To tell man that he is a puppet of his environment, that choice and freedom are illusory — can this have been a challenge? Can this have filled the vacuum of moral purpose in Western minds?
The answer is, of course, that Marxism is the supreme proof that men are moved not by facts, environment, and material causes, but by visions and dreams. Every development of Marxism has disproved its main contention —■ that ideas are projections of material fact. On the contrary, ideas make environment, and men are moved by prophecy and poetry. It is not Marx’s ludicrous economic theory or his labored dialectical versions of history that have caught the imagination of the young, have built up great parties in Europe and now infiltrate the masses of Asia. It is the vision of total truth, total explanation, the restoration of wholeness. It is the promise of the Kingdom on earth, the apocalyptic vision of a society in which all moral evil ceases and men live as brothers and the lion lies down with the lamb. In a word, Marxism, the creed of the determinists, is proving to us every day that faith, poetry, and vision are levers of power. The greatest double talk of all is Communism’s claim 1o be “scientific.” It is a vast, compelling, infernal, yet sublime “phantasmagoria.” As such, it must be met not merely by force but by a faith and a sense of sublimity which surpass its own.
THE possibility that we face not a violent explosion of war but the long-drawn-out struggle of will and pressure we call Containment makes this question of the West’s moral purposes if anything more crucial. It is Stalin’s belief that he has greater staying power than the West and that history in the long run is on his side. Are we, in our tremendous effort to build adequate forces now, thinking equally carefully about the “long run”? Have we a picture of our policies once the necessary measure of rearmament is achieved? Even at a practical level, the problem raises formidable difficulties. How, for instance, is the vastly extended industrial equipment of the Western allies, particularly of the United States, to be kept occupied and an ominous decline in economic activity avoided? Even it this is not a problem for today, it is one for the day after tomorrow. Are we really over our Micawberism? Are we, while Stalin and his men are sustained by their long vision of history, simply waiting for something to turn up?
There should surely be no misunderstanding on this point. Moral policies, farsighted and imaginative plans for joint action, will not produce themselves any more than guns will produce themselves. We shall have no more vision than we set out to acquire and no more moral appeal than we seek with all our power to achieve. It is not the purpose of this article to suggest blueprints for a Western revival of its old vision and moral energy. But it is the whole reason and purpose of these pages to plead for a recognition of the primacy of the problem and for the attempt to give Western man’s deeper needs and capabilities the same recognition as his immediate necessity of military security. Free men, working together, have a very promising hope of securing their ends — even the intangible end of moral revival. But they cannot hope to succeed if they fail to recognize the problem and to devote to it a sufficient part of their thought and energy. At present, the longer vision and purpose of the West may perhaps be point fifty-six on the Allied agenda — if it appears at all. The Kremlin does not make that mistake. The irony of it is that only a moment’s reflection will show how much has already been done in the West to sketch in the framework of a new and inspiring picture of free society. What is apparently lacking is the determination and sustained purpose to carry the sketch on to the completed masterpiece.
Acceptance of the idea of the economic system as an instrument, not a master, of the community has gained ground. The maintenance of steady employment is — in the English-speaking countries — an accepted goal. The essentially moral belief that the more prosperous members of the world community should be prepared to give a part of their wealth to raise living standards elsewhere is edging out the old imperialism and could, incidentally, play its part in maintaining high Western employment once the pressure of rearmament is over. If the principle were accepted as a normal, not an exceptional, measure in Western life, it would make possible a far more sustained and effective attack on the problems of structural maladjustment which exist in some economies. To give only one example, a concentrated effort over twenty or thirty years could create balance in the Italian economy by increased investment, expanded land reclamation and reform, and an international emigration policy. The Marshall Plan has been the prototype of such possibilities. The Colombo Plan is the outline of another. What is lacking is the general acceptance in the West of the procedure as a normal part of economic practice.
Another promising field which is full of growing points but still lacks general recognition and definition is the drawing of the worker into the community of the business enterprise. That there is here a deep desire for human responsibility — incidentally flouted completely in the Soviet managerial system — can be proved by the strength of syndicalism, by such moves as the demand of the Ruhr workers for joint representation in heavy industry, or the anxiety of British workers for closer participation in the management of nationalized industries. The United States has here, as in many other fields, quietly taken the lead and proved that productivity and industrial peace are immensely enhanced by creating in the worker a sense of joint responsibility. It is, for instance, in America, not Europe, that profit sharing is advancing as a method. What is lacking is tlie projection of this new trend into the consciousness of Western life and its general acceptance as a mark of responsible economic citizenship. The ECA has started a revolutionary move in Europe by making a condition of its loans to private industry that better attention be given by local management to productivity, profit sharing, and worker participation — a procedure desperately needed in France, where the workers’ share in the national income has actually fallen since the war. Land reform was part of General MacArthur’s work in Japan and similar moves have been made in Korea. These could be the beginnings of an efficient and humane program which counters Communism at the most vulnerable point — the workbench and ihe peasant holding.
Behind the ECA program is a sense of missionary activity. One could enormously extend the field. If the West is to accept for decades to come an economic responsibility for the rest of the free world, it needs to match that economic aid by active help and example in the administrative and political field. It is here that the moral impact of the West in terms of complete integrity, keen sympathy, and wise judgment could be repeated again and again with each expert sent out, each administrator on loan, each official and businessman whose affairs take him to other lands.
American businessmen could in particular realize that many of their so-called colleagues in Asia — and even, alas, in Europe — are still very near the Marxist caricat ure of I the amoral capitalist uniquely concerned with gain. The revolution in American managerial outlook—which is in many ways a moral revolution — is one of which businessmen themselves can be the most effective advocates. The importance of this advocacy, particularly in powerful industrial communities such as Germany and Japan, need hardly be underlined. Both these nations will, incidentally, be seeking private capital. It is a vital interest of the West to see that conditions are laid down to regulate not only ils economic but its social use as well.
Yet any missionary effort of this sort on the part of Western nations depends in fact upon the quality of their own national life. When the Bell Report was published on the result of American economic aid to the Philippines and waste and corruption were singled out for censure, an angry Philippine editor retorted that his countrymen had learned graft from the Americans, only they were not yet quite as adept. Coming on the eve of the Kefauver investigations, such an outburst throws light upon an aspect of local corruption and immorality which is often overlooked — that a Frank Costello in America or a Sydney Stanley in Britain plays his part in the world-wide battle of faiths. The inquiries made front-page news in Europe, not least in the Communist press.
In short, behind the plans and the projects which, in the interests of a sustained and successful resistance to Communism, have yet to be made in the West lies the question of the moral strength of (he people to uphold them. It is the question of the aims which the community as a whole sets itself —arete, the Greek ideal of excellence; sainthood, the crown of Christian virtue; or the good time, the television set, the full barns, and “tomorrow we die.” It was in a time such as ours, when ordered society was threatened with defeat by dark external forces, that St. Augustine wrote his tremendous vision of man’s earthly destiny, the building of the city of God. There he laid down that “a nation is an association of reasonable beings united in a peaceful sharing of the things they cherish; therefore to determine the quality of a nation, you must consider what those things are.” How would the West today survive such a scrutiny?
The answer lies with ourselves. Each citizen can in his different sphere reaffirm t he ideal of freedom and moral responsibility that underlies Western civilization. The official can guard his integrity, the legislator his wisdom and generosity, the businessman his sense of responsibility and community with those who work with him. The artist can, in the words of Lionel Trilling, give himself to “the great work of our time,” which is “the restoration and reconstitution of the will” — in other words, of the sense of freedom. The statesman can transcend national boundaries and give to the world such high examples of selfless humility as that of a General Marshall. The citizen can work for good and responsible government. Parents can demand that the great ideals of the West’s humane and Christian society should mold the minds of their children, and that the trend towards purely technical training be reversed. Everyone can preserve in his heart a deposit of hope and faith which no nameless totalitarian horrors can waste away.
To believe that such a moral revival is possible is not to flout history or experience. Solon rescued Greece from a confusion of rancor and division. Christian faith carried mankind onward from the wreck of Rome. The Reformation challenged the Church to universal reform. Wesley and the Evangelicals transformed the England of the Whig families and Hogarth’s Gin Lane into the great age of Victorian piety. Today we have been allowed to see in Soviet Russia the society that must emerge once morality and freedom are sloughed off. We have been led to the brink of the precipice. But we still have the chance to draw back. This is the real test of survival. Shall we return to the springs of our deepest strength in time?