Sunday, August 5, 2018

Arendt and "totalitarianism"

....Behind the pessimist myth lay this thought: The people living under Stalinism can do nothing to liberate themselves; totalitarianism is internally indestructible. Under its brutal sway no opposition can manifest itself and no organization for its overthrow can take place. Above all, the working-class fight for socialist emancipation is precluded. Moreover, the Stalinist monolith has a dynamism whose onslaught cannot be resisted by the peoples not yet its captives. Only the military might of the West can prevent the enslavement of the world, and it alone retains the possibility of promising eventual liberation for the peoples already under the heel of Stalinism.

One intellectual expression of these moods was to be found in Hannah Arendt's theories of totalitarianism. In Arendt's view, the rise of totalitarianism puts an end to the divisions of society into antagonistic social classes with their clashing social interests. The motor forces for social change and development present in non-totalitarian society disappear, as the class structure of society is replaced by an atomized, structureless, declassed, irrationally manipulated mass of people. This mass, the theory runs, is composed of innumerable fragments incapable of social cohesion and therefore completely unable to revolt.

For Arendt, modern totalitarianism has outmoded the classical Marxist analysis of social and political structure. One's economic position or one's relationship to others in the process of production loses most or all relevance to one's role in society. Thus there can be no common interest based on class position, nor any consciousness of that common interest, leading to solidarity and cohesion, nor can there be rational political goals as the ends of group action. Society is composed of a ruling elite and an amorphous mass of individuals; the mass is either in a state of mystique-dominated conformism or hopeless depression.

After Hungary, it is hard to remember that Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism was much admired some five years ago; that her theories were regarded as the latest word in sociological sagacity, much superior to the outdated class analysis of Marxism still retained by a few "socialist dreamers."

Far the Hungarian Revolution, like the October Days in Poland, conformed not to the discoveries of Arendt but precisely to the Marxian and socialist analysis of Stalinism.


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