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Solidarity--Lest We Forget | The Nation

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Solidarity--Lest We Forget

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Daniel Singer
Daniel Singer, for many years The Nation's Paris-based Europe correspondent, was born on September 26, 1926, in...

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It is a battle royal, and it foreshadows many more like it in the struggle for the economic mastery of Europe.

Fearful Symmetry

 

On each of the two occasions I returned to America this year, I pleaded the case that Solidarity and El Salvador were part of the same struggle. What I did not bargain for was the ease with which people in the United States confused communism with the Soviet Union or cited Jaruzelski's coup to discredit the very idea of a radical transformation of society. And this discrediting, after all, remains the main purpose of official propaganda on both sides of the ocean.

After the sudden uprising of workers and students in France in 1968 and the so-called "hot autumn" which followed in Italy, after the economic crisis that destroyed the myth of permanent prosperity and the rise of sporadic but numerous movements undermining capitalism's ideological domination, the establishment badly needed an argument to convince the rebels that any attempt to unify their struggle, to evolve into a global movement, was doomed to lead to disaster, to the gulag archipelago. In France in the 1970s, this ideological task was duly carried out by the group of thinkers known as the nouveaux philosophes acting as heralds for the prophet Solzhenitsyn. The performance was easier to stage in France or Italy, where the ideological influence of powerful Communist parties had in the past prevented a discussion of the crimes of the Stalin era. In the United States and Britain, however, the God-that-failed controversy had been played out thirty years earlier, and it was strange to hear it all over again. Or, to put it differently, it was surprising to discover so many Columbuses in America.

I will not dwell on the headline-grabbing mea culpas of Susan Sontag at the Solidarity rally in New York City's Town Hall last February. Rather, I will discuss the incomparably more honest and moving article by Jacobo Timerman in these pages [see "Moral Symmetry," March 6]. Timerman, you may recall, condemns both fascism and communism ("Communism is an enemy because it is communism...and fascism is what it is..."). Personally, I see no reason why one should hand over once-precious names to the adversary, why a movement conceived to abolish all forms of exploitation should be equated with the regime prevailing in a land of repression, why barbed wire should be confused with Marx, or Jaruzelski with the defense of socialism. Does "communist" become an insult because Brezhnev pretends to bear the name? We did not cease to be socialists because Hitler called himself a National Socialist.

Admittedly, it may be awkward to add a qualifier every time one uses the expression "socialist" countries or "Communist" bloc. The difference, however, is not purely semantic. On closer scrutiny, Timerman condemns Communism in all its versions, with or without Inverted commas. He only condemns capitalism in its most diseased form, fascism-- that is to say capitalism run amok. And his movingly written argument also shows just how far a socialist and a liberal can walk together before they have to part company. When, for example, he takes to task Julio Cortàzar, the Argentine novelist, for whitewashing Cuba by ignoring the censorship prevailing there, the socialist mutters approvingly, "Yes, freedom is only freedom when it is available to those who think differently." But Timerman casts out the other part of Cortàzar's argument, namely that the growth of illiteracy in the countries of Latin America is a form of cultural genocide, and a socialist cannot accept the idea that freedom can be so empty of all social content.

So many monstrosities have been spawned over the last sixty years by Communists under the pretext of contempt for formal or bourgeois freedoms that I would like to strip the palimpsest of its Stalinist accretions by going back to the days of the Bolshevik revolution. Accused at the time by Lenin and Trotsky of democratic fetishism, Rosa Luxemburg replied:

 

We have never been idol-worshippers of formal democracy. Nor have we been idol-worshippers of socialism or Marxlsm either.... [We] have always revealed the hard kernel of social Inequality and lack of freedom hidden under the sweet shell of formal equality and freedom--not in order to reject the latter but to spur the working class into not being satisfied with the shell, but rather, by conquering political power, to create a socialist democracy to replace bourgeois democracy--not to eliminate democracy altogether.

 

These words, written so long ago, reman valid today--and still provide the key to the underlying unity of our struggle in Poland, In El Salvador and in the heartland of Western capitalism.

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