Collectivism and Totalitarianism as Principles of Life
Added: 2017-10-30
Added: 2017-10-30
Dr.Lidia Sudyka




The selected fragments are from “Kolektywizm i totalizm jako zasady życia” (“Collectivism and Totalitarianism as Principles of Life”), reprinted from Bolszewizm (“Bolshevism”, a collection of essays by various authors), Towarzystwo Wiedzy Chrześcijańskiej, vol. 40; Biblioteka Książki Chrześcijańskiej 1938, vol. 2; Uniwersyteckie Wykłady dla Duchowieństwa, vol. 3: Lublin 1938, pp. 71-80.


Collectivism and totalitarianism impress themselves so strongly on the Soviet system of power, and are so intimately connected with the theoretical assumptions on which power is based that we must first look to the most important of those assumptions, which is materialism.

It says that the spirit is only part of matter. This leads to the assertion that instead of pursuing by its own effort an autonomous goal, the spirit is subject to the same laws of evolution as matter. Hence man as such, as a subject with a unique personality, is, so to speak, brought down from the pedestal upon which he was placed by Christianity.

Christianity argues that the dignity of the human person derives from the fact that only man was created in the image of God. Because of this creation, and because of his destiny, man is an integral whole, which cannot be subordinated to any larger whole. […]

An utterly different position is granted to man by the communist doctrine. As an individual a human being is only a natural, biological and sociological category – he belongs to the world of nature. From the biological point of view he belongs to a species, from the sociological point of view he belongs to society. He is an indivisible atom (hence individual), a nameless creature, devoid of inner life. His existence completely depends on the species and on society, there is nothing outside his specific being and social being, he is a component, a part completely defined by his relation to the whole.

This antipersonal position of Marx is a legacy of Hegelian philosophy; Hegel preached the absolute supremacy of the community over the individual. In his view a person does not possess independent value, as he is only a function of the universal spirit. Starting from these premises, Marx, following in the footsteps of Feuerbach, was able to conclude easily that man finds fulfillment and ultimately dissolves, as it were, in the collective life of his species. Furthermore, for Marx not only society, but also class is a primary reality, supreme in relation to man, to the person. It is not the collectivity, but man and the person that are intellectual abstractions. It is not man, but the class that thinks, judges, and evaluates. Man, as a person, is unable to produce independent thoughts and judgments.

This attitude is not peculiar to communism: Fascism and National Socialism also uphold similar views. The difference lies in defining the collectivity in which individual man dissolves like individual drops of water in the sea.

Why does Marx point to class as this collectivity?

The answer again involves the materialist outlook and the immense role attributed by Marx to production in the entire life and destiny of man. According to Marx it may be his consciousness or any other characteristic that distinguishes man from animals. But whichever is the case, man acquires consciousness of what differentiates him from animals when he starts producing things necessary for survival. This activity is human activity par excellence. The more and the better man develops his productive activity, the more and the better he is man, he develops and perfects himself inasmuch as he develops and perfects this activity. Hence the contemporary development of industry is an obvious indication of human progress. This supreme value of productive work explains the dignity conferred upon workers in the Soviet Union, the respect enjoyed by Stakhanovites.

It also explains why the class bond is the most important of all social bonds. For class divisions are directly connected with production; people belong to a particular class depending on the role they play in the production process. Differences between people which arise from their position in the production process, determining class divisions, are of primary importance; for they result from the fact that when organizing the production process, some people use the labor of others to their own advantage, in order to exploit it and appropriate it. The exploitation of man by man: this is the fundamental source of class divisions.

Since these divisions are of crucial importance for mankind, in different historical periods they can result in different forms of civilization. In the ancient times we see a division into masters and slaves, in the feudal society into lords and vassals, and so on. However, while in past epochs the ladder of social hierarchy was more calibrated, in the present times Marx observes an evident tendency of society to divide itself into just two classes: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

According to the directives of the Hegelian dialectic, to which Marx owes the complete philosophical underpinnings of his doctrine, the essence of every social class consists in its contradictory, antagonistic character in relation to other classes; in the struggle of the exploited against the exploiters and vice versa. In this dialectic, which defines every entity through its opposite, we find a theoretical explanation for class struggle, since each class exists and preserves its essence only through antagonism with another class. Hence communism regards the noble dreams of class reconciliation as a completely unachievable utopia. Each doctrine aiming at this goal is irremediably denounced and condemned.

Furthermore, it must be borne in mind that the growth of one class in power and importance inevitably leads to a similar growth of the class which is its antithesis. Therefore the bourgeoisie is the reason for the emergence and development of the proletariat, which grows and becomes ever more powerful in parallel with the development of capitalism. The ruling class, in the course of its successes, becomes more and more itself, i.e. more and more exploitative; it works less and less, and increasingly uses the labor of the exploited. Therefore, it gradually ceases to represent the creative forces of society, to “express its vigor, substance, and being”, and instead it increasingly clings to a purely formal, ideological superstructure. It created this structure and at some time it could have reflected the actual relations between productive forces, but now it corresponds to them to a continually dwindling extent and constitutes a growing obstacle to their actualization. This superstructure, that is religion, philosophy, morality, legal and political arrangements, and above all the state, is in the hands of the ruling class, serving both as an instrument of power and as a disguise preventing the people from seeing where power is really vested.

In contrast to this petrified, conservative class, the working class expresses true human values, it represents the interests of real productive forces; in it resides the most potent, active energy of being, energy which it controls; it is a class characterized by dynamic, revolutionary and effective action, and it is the agent of this creative process in which the essential substance of social reality is expressed. This is the origin of the revolutionary mission of the proletariat derives.

We can see therefore that communism is a highly dynamic doctrine, since it tells us about a very extensive human activity. However, it is not an activity of the human person, but of society, of the collectivity. In relation to this communist collectivity man is utterly passive, he acquires active power only when he dissolves in the being of the species. Communism conceives human activity in terms of the activity of a cog in a machine, which it is impossible to imagine when the whole machine does not work.

We can see, then, that communism is a philosophical system of unquestionable cogency, since its constituent parts are inextricably linked with each other. One may say that atheism forms its base, not only as a weapon in the struggle against exploitation (the communists say that the belief in life after death helps exploitation inasmuch as it dulls the sensitivity of the proletariat to the oppression they are subjected to). God is excluded from the system mainly because of the fact that according to the communists spirit derives from matter, and not the other way around. From the primary position occupied by matter there follows an absolute subordination of the individual to society: the individual cannot have any goals which would be autonomous, that is justified by the primacy of the spirit, and his earthly wellbeing depends entirely on the community with which he merges. Since that wellbeing is connected with the production process, the position occupied by the individual in it will implant him in the community with which his future fate will be bound. These communities are classes, and their inevitable struggle against each other follows logically from the necessity to accumulate the largest possible amount of material goods, in a situation where their quantity is always limited in a given time and place.

However, the cogency of the communist system produces a situation where the refutation of one of its premises, the extricating of one of the parts, is enough to bring down the whole system. Of course, I do not pose myself the task of disproving its particular tenets. But once we assert our faith in God, the primacy of matter over spirit is toppled, man rises above the collectivity due to his destiny, and fulfilling even the most distinguished and most noble function in the production process cannot satisfy his aspirations. Furthermore, the class bond created by this process is hardly stronger than other bonds, to which many examples from history, even from the last war, provide ample testimony.

For the communists, theoretical assertions, especially those having to do with the relationship between the individual and the collectivity, constitute not only the absolute truth, but also an intimation of absolute happiness for mankind. For following the path they are pointing to, humanity must achieve this happiness, and it is the task of revolutionary communism to bring humanity on that path and keep us on it.

If class struggle has been the principle of history for the communists, it is not unchangeable. Through the sheer momentum of progress, the class struggle must lead to a social system where classes will be abolished, and where, therefore, there will be no exploitation of man by man, and all people will be equal. The entire superstructure will wither away, beginning with the state. […]

Such a development, guided by production as an active historical force, is necessary. Communism, mobilizing the proletariat, only recognizes and accepts this necessity, and in pursuing revolution it precipitates its effectuation; for this reason revolution is a self-conscious and systematic realization of this goal; it is the highest expression of social and historical reality.

Let us take note what a powerful and effective instrument in the hands of the revolution is provided by this communist paradise on earth which stands at its ultimate end. The fact that communism points to this goal allows us to say that to a certain extent and in a certain sense communism is a religion. It is another matter that this religion and this faith in the communist paradise completely lack the real foundations offered by our religion and our faith. For we most certainly believe in the present reality of the objects of our faith: God and eternal life – although they remain inaccessible to our senses. For a communist, his object of faith is paradise on earth, equally inaccessible to the senses of contemporary people. Moreover, it not yet seen by anyone and it is to be fulfilled in some indefinite future. The possibility or the certainty that it will be fulfilled is justified not by an obviousness that is accessible – as it is in matters of faith – even to the untrained mind, but by a subtle dialectic, the accuracy of which has been confirmed neither by historical experience, nor by the current condition of the communist state.

True, this currently existing communist state is alleged to be a provisional stage, predicted in advance by all theoreticians of communism. We are ostensibly dealing with an intermediate, first, lower phase of the communist society, with the socialist phase, characterized by the dictatorship of the proletariat. Due to the necessity of enduring this intermediate stage the communists, instead of directly aiming at abolishing the state, which is their ultimate goal, want first to take control over it, so that the state would pass from the bourgeoisie into their own hands. Hence the state, by its nature an instrument of one-class rule, becomes an instrument of power for the proletariat. But while the bourgeoisie cannot do without the proletariat, which has the productive forces at its disposal, and while the power of the bourgeoisie, instead of suppressing the proletariat, reinforces it, the dictatorship of the proletariat is able to crush the dispensable bourgeoisie. This is achieved by expropriating the capitalists, and turning all citizens into salaried employees of the state as one vast production syndicate.

Contemporary Russia provides us with the best illustration of how effectively the materialist dialectic can be utilized to justify all kinds of injustice and oppression. On the one side there stands man, a powerless part of the collectivity which with or without his consent carries him with it towards the goal determined by history, molded in its turn by the unchanging laws of the production process. On the other side there is the state, whose task it is to prepare this still collective, but classless paradise on earth. The present is a means and the ultimate goal cannot be realized in it. Even means directly opposed to the goal are allowed: violence and tyranny to achieve freedom, hatred and hostility to bring about fraternity. The complete perfection of human life will be fulfilled in a distant future. Now man stands disinherited, robbed of everything he possessed; worse, together with his inherent, autonomous goal he is robbed of himself. This is why communism, pledging by the perfect man of the future, rejects the present man. Just as the present is only a means in relation to the future, the present man is only a means in relation to the future man, and the present generation a means in relation to future ones. Such a position cannot be reconciled with the notion of a person and with the recognition that each human person has an inherent value, the right to self-fulfillment and to the awareness that he is an indivisible whole, and not part of a collective. No man, no matter what class he belongs to, can be treated as a means and regarded only as an obstacle barring the path to future collective happiness.

The paradox is that “the greatest possible strengthening of the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, of the omnipotence of the state, is the way to the complete rejection of statehood in the future system”. This paradox is becoming harder and harder to stomach, if not for the Russian people, used to all the kinds of oppression to which they have been subjected for centuries, then certainly for the advocates of the communist system abroad. […]

A state, which is not only and certainly not primarily the guardian of order and security, but which is an instrument serving the interests of one class or even one party, and is also the only owner of the whole production apparatus, a state which demands of every citizen an absolute and unswerving commitment to goals known probably to only a handful of ruling people, such a state in every instance confronts the citizen as an interested party, but also a party equipped with means effective enough to force through its interests in every case. If we add to this the words adorning every courtroom in the Soviet Union, proclaiming that “The court is the instrument of power of the proletariat and working peasantry”, we will have a complete picture of the attitude the state takes towards the citizen.

If only this state, regulating to the smallest detail the external conduct of its subjects and demanding for itself every surplus above subsistence, would grant them freedom of conscience and beliefs. Yet it would cease to be totalitarian, were it to agree to such a thing. Communism believes that it is possible to destroy violently not only justice, but also the brotherhood of people, that it is possible through coercion to organize not only society, but also a spiritual community of human beings. Socialism, as Berdayev emphasizes, derives from societas, communism from communio. Socialism is no different from communism as long as we are dealing with the socio-economic system. However, it is possible to define socialism as a type of socio-economic system, and hence restrict the number of problems it poses. Communism, on the other hand, is of necessity totalitarian; it is based on an all-embracing ideology; it wants to create a new human being, a new brotherhood, and a whole new outlook on life. Communism forbids a partial acceptance of its doctrine; it demands a total accession, a true conversion.

The totalitarian nature of its ideology, combined with totalitarian nature of its state, endows communism with the undeniable vigor that characterizes its power within in the Soviet Union and its revolutionary agitation outside of it. Yet today, after twenty years of continuous application of this doctrine, it is possible to evaluate it not only from the point of view of logic, psychology, and history, but also from the point of view of practical achievements. It is enough to read any, even the most impartially written work about the Bolshevic State to know that its reality in no point overlaps with the ideal which it is purportedly leading to.


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