Saturday, January 19, 2013
Some more reflections...II
Continued from the post above...
Rolland went to Russia in 1935 on invitation of Maxim Gorky and upon his return to France wrote that while his body had returned, his spirit was still in Russia. Harris observes, “He was contemptuous of the Western press, which he accused of not appreciating the greatness of what was happening inside Russia.”
Gide visited Russia in 1936 and a day after his arrival (17-June) Maxim Gorky died. In November 1936 he published Retour de l’ URSS and bluntly stated:
“Three years ago I declared my admiration and my love for the USSR…if I was mistaken at first, the best thing is to recognize my error as soon as possible; for I am responsible here for those the error leads on. No conceit is valid in this case; and besides I have very little. There are some important things than the USSR: humanity, its destiny, its culture.”
The following passage explains Gide’s aversion for the many ways in which communism throttled individualism:
“When I write that I am unwilling to recognize as essentially irreconcilable a “properly understood” communism and a “properly understood” individualism, I mean such as I understood them myself. I must therefore explain how I understand them. It is certain that I do not see an equalitarian communism, or at least that I see equality of conditions only at the outset; that for each person it would imply merely equal chances but in not a uniformity of qualities, a standardization that I consider at one and the same time impossible and hardly desirable, for the individual as well as for the mass. And, likewise, an internationalization of economic interests would not imply the suppression and ignoring of racial or geographical peculiarities, the happily irreducible differences among cultures and traditions. The very diversity of the players makes the wealth and beauty of the symphony, and wishing that all the instruments, brasses, violins, oboes, or clarinets, produced the same sound would be as absurd as to think that each instrument would play better if it broke away from the ensemble of the orchestra and ceased following the measure.”
Eventually, individualism triumphed over the collective in the war between communism and capitalism. Even if democracy and capitalism may have emerged as the only acceptable political and economic models in the present century, the struggle to redefine them continues. The gathering storm over the political and economic rights of the indigenous people is a good example of this struggle as is the Occupy Movement.
Today even the most die hard proponents of the capitalist way agree that there is a dire need to modify it to make it work justly. And the proponents of individualism are unable to explain the growing rise of individual violence (read Ashish Nandy’s analysis of how individualism has contributed to a violent society: Shadows of New Violence).
An aside: I bought the book many years – actually decades ago – from Bombay's Smoker's Corner. The book tangentially talks about the thriving art and literary community in Paris in the 1920 and 1930s (no, not of the expatriate writers and artists who became famous subsequently and beautifully depicted in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris) but of the French and European writers – Rolland and Gide, and also Paul Valery, Rainer Maria Rilke, Stephan Zweig and Emile Verhaeren.