Communism, History, Art, and Mysticism:
A Reply to Leon Trotsky from a Biblical Creation Perspective
Dear Lev Davidovich:
I have just finished reading your Literature and Revolution1 written three years before Stalin got his first wish--your expulsion from the Communist Party in 1927, subsequent exile to Southern Siberia, and reduction to an Orwellian (1984) non-person. And as you sensed from within your perspective of dialectic materialism, Stalin was right when opting for the Party against the individual. After all, if dialectic materialism and scientific socialism are correct about the monistic nature of the universe--if the supernatural Creator God of the Bible does not exist--then you like all men are nothing but a combination of chemicals. Now, after your death, you are in the process of disintegration or recombination; that is, "you" no longer exist. The chemical combination calling itself Stalin got its second wish when it had you liquidated by means of the chemical combination known as Luis Mercader which sank an ice-axe into your brilliant brain on August 20,1940. This was a victory for the Party, History's vanguard.
Complicated language, Lev Davidovich, but it is the only one which should properly be used by dialectic materialists when referring to men and women. Christian believers like myself are free to use simpler terms. To us men and women are just this, men and women, made in the image of the God of the Bible, each with a personal "I," like our God Whose name is "I am that which I am" (Exodus 3:14). We know ourselves to be more than matter in motion, with more than transitory meaning. To us history lies in this God's hands and has no power or goals taken by itself. In your communist world view, on the contrary, there is a dualism between your self-directed History and the vanguard of the proletariat, the Party, without which History would be powerless to fulfill itself or to realize its supposedly self-inherent goals. Would you tell me, please, how a mindless, random natural process can have goals? But if the process is not random as you assert for "History," then there must be something like a mind controlling and directing it. And then how can you say that "all through history, mind limps after reality"? (p. 19), Could it be that the entire awesome Marxist-Hegelian historical synthesis is merely another form of that wishful and fuzzy mysticism you condemn in others? Could this synthesis be equally well expressed in the terms of Henri Bergson's elan vital or in Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's "Omega Point"? And if the impersonal process of History needs the Party to realize its "goals," then your actual god is the Leader of the Party. Bow to Stalin, then, and die!
You spew out your most scalding ire at Christian believers; no rather, forgive me, at your straw man of Christianity, totally unlike real Christianity. You hate "fatalistic Christianity," a product of your hostile imagination, which you claim to find in a long-forgotten novel by Marietta Shaginyan. She is, you say, "anti-revolutionary in her very essence," because "it is her ... household indifference to everything that is not of the household that reconciles her to the Revolution" (p. 115). Can you really have believed that you had dealt Christianity a blow? Ours is the unique religion whose founder is the Second Person of the Godhead, Who was neither indifferent, nor resigned, nor callously untouched by our infirmities. He countersigned His "promissory note" (p. 241) in His own blood on the cross, stripping Himself of divine power and bliss to be "in all things made like unto His brethren" (Hebrews 2:17). "Household indifference"? Our household, Lev Davidovich, is the entire universe, created and owned by our Father, God the Creator (Psalm 8, Psalm 24, 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, and many more Bible passages)! How can we be indifferent to anything, knowing that all creation is awaiting our perfection as the children, the partakers of the nature, of our God (Romans 8:18ff, 2 Peter 1:1-4)! If Shaginyan be guilty of your charge against her, we yet go free.
You also pour contempt upon the "falseness even in Dostoievsky's pious and submissive figures" whom Dostoievsky supposedly "created ,,. in large degree as an antithesis to himself... in his perfidious Christianity" (p. 114). You prefer the totally unbiblical "feminine wide-hipped God" you think you see in the work of the poet Shkapskaya. I can agree with you, by the way, about the relatively greater appeal of this kind of God, "something in the nature of a go-between and a midwife" but still personal, to "the incubated chick of mystic philosophy beyond the stars" (p. 41), However, your own goddess "History," Lev Davidovich, can plausibly be called the incubated chick of dialectic materialism on planet Earth!
You are a spellbinder with words. Like Nietzsche, you sway your readers by the economy, fierceness and vitality of your style. Who could surpass what you state of the principal "pre-October" symbolist-mystical writers Sologub, Rozanov or Zinaida Hippius, whose books "are completely and entirely superfluous to a modern post-October man, like a glass bead to a soldier on the battlefield. ... letters about the erotic cult of the bull Apis, an article about St. Sophia, the Earthly and the Heavenly ... what hopelessness, what desolation!" (p. 29).
I reject these peddlers of pantheist-mystic glass beads in the name of the Creator of reality, the God of the Bible. You condemn them in the name of "the Revolution ... (which) is striving in endless gropings and experiments to find the best ways of building a house that is solid" (p. 177). But what will that house look like concretely? Will it be altogether new, or merely a somewhat overhauled, same in which "our life, cruel, violent and disturbed to its very bottom" says to the artist:
I must have an artist of a single love. Whatever way you take hold of me, whatever tools and instruments created by the development of art you choose, I leave to you, to your temperament and to your genius. But you must understand me as I am, you must take me as I will become, and there must be no one else besides me" (p. 236).
A tall order for the artist! No wonder "revolutionary art" could never give us more than the colossal, frozen, altogether lifeless statues or barracklike, shoddily built mass apartment buildings decreed by the Party. You give grudging praise to the great art of the Christian Middle Ages but deny that it might be due to the Christian faith, for such a view "ignores the materialistic and historical foundation from which the ancient drama and the Gothic art grew and from which a new art must grow" (p. 241). But why, then, may art not be based upon the "peasant roots of our old Russian history," as are the works of Kliuev, Yessenin and Boris Pilnyak, who was "swept away by the terror to an unknown fate"?2 The trouble with your self-directed yet Party-enacted "History" and your dynamic yet non-teleological "life" also cripples your philosophy of art.
Your last few pages are a study in Utopian optimism feeding on itself and hence increasing in bombast while decreasing in realistic substance, You conclude with this paean to the socialist future: Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser and subtler; his body will become more harmonized, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise (Trotsky, p. 255).
I think you wrote creatively here--well, imaginatively at least; and like yourself when condemning Kliuev, I warn you that this praise is irony. Actually, Lev Davidovich, your glowing "prophecy" is mere propaganda, and so is all your revolutionary and socialistic art. Your "futurist" exultation can come true only if the "facts" you predict have foundations in the present. You came up with precious few if any artists to praise even in 1924; what made you jump to your grandiose conclusions? You, with your sense of honesty in praising Christian medieval art; you, with your well-taken rejection of the fatuous mysticism of Russian symbolist "pre-October" literature--how could you stoop to this incantation on the future "superman" in Nietzsche's worst visionary and propagandistic manner?
We Christians, truly realistic to the core, have a motto of our own; "Test everything; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). One good feature of your book, Lev Davidovich, is your passion. It was Dante, a Christian and one of mankind's greatest artists, who said that the hottest fires of hell are reserved for those who in a time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality. In this he merely echoed our Lord Jesus Christ, Who said He would have us hot or cold, but would vomit the lukewarm out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16). Another redeeming feature of your book is that we can thank you for leading us to writers who may well be artists in truth (your reluctant hostility towards them is in their favor): Kliuev, Yessenin, Pilnyak, Akhmatova. Third, you rightly exhort artists to be single-minded. However, because of your false dualism between dynamism and rest, you idolize dynamism and would press all artists into its service. This puts artists in a strait-jacket. Yet the answer is not "art for art's sake," which in practice amounts to sheer experimentation with form and method for the sake of novel effects, and is stifling and sterile. True art, as Dorothy L. Sayers, another Christian, tells us, is to express an experience
with an exceptional power ... so that not only (the poet), but we ourselves, recognize that experience as our own.... A poet does not see something--say the full moon--and say: "This is a very beautiful sight--let me set about finding words for the appropriate expression of what people ought to feel about it.3
"What they ought to feel about it"--this is the Achilles heel of all propagandistic art. From the first Russian positivist literary critic, Vissarion Belinsky, to Leo Tolstoy's What Is Art? to yourself. Lev Davidovich, "social consciousness" critics have ordered artists to use words, colors or music "for the appropriate expression of what people ought to feel about" the artist's subject. The subject itself was also prescribed, namely, the "social need" of the moment,
True artists know better, They are concerned with actual, true reality just as much as is the mathematician plotting a trajectory to the moon, or the medical researcher seeking a vaccine for cancer. Truth and propaganda mix neither in science nor in art. Both science and art must reflect the immutable personal character of God the Creator of all things. It is no accident that "socialist realism" gave us pseudo-biologist Trofim Lysenko along with Stalinist architecture, while both Boris Pasternak and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russia's greatest writers of this century, worship the Christian God of the Russian peasants. It is no accident that the Soviet economy also collapsed in the late 1980s, as did the Soviet Communist Party in the Year of our Lord 1991. Propaganda feeds neither soul, nor mind, nor body. Man must live by every word of God, as Jesus Christ told Satan (Matthew 4:4). True art, true science, true economic prosperity, all things are added to us only as we first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).
The "pre-October" symbolist art was also propaganda, for it aimed at altering the consciousness of its recipients by opening their minds to the mystical, the occult. Your words differ superficially from theirs, and you and your fellow materialist monists may sincerely believe yourselves separate from them. Since you are all monists, however, you only differ in terminology and, for the time being, in methods: their magic is "white," yours is "black." The only real enemy of you both is biblical Christianity and its transcendent, omnipotent, sovereign God and Creator.
1 Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (Ann Arbor, Ml: The University of Michigan Press, Fifth Printing 1975).
2 James A. Billington, The Icon and the Axe (New York: Random House Vintage Books) 1970, p. 535.
3Dorothy L. Sayers, Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World (Grand Rapids, Ml: Wm. B. Eerdmans), 1969, p. 79.