Thursday, December 23, 2004

Moving further away

Lawrence Auster made the following observation in a recent item at VFR:

This is what liberals and leftists ALWAYS do. They sense something is wrong. But instead of going back and revivifying things at the root, which is the answer, they move further away from the root, in search of something new.

This is a valuable insight. When left-liberals describe history they are sometimes surprisingly kind to tradition. They'll say that a certain tradition once bound people together, but that it's now broken down (because of capitalism etc) leaving people uncertain and confused. The answer, say the left-liberals, is not to return to the tradition but to abandon it more completely in favour of an intensified modernism.

(It's almost like saying that a little bit of poison hurts but that a larger dose will cure.)

There's a clear example of this in the writings of Alexandra Kollontai. She was a Marxist (a radical left-liberal) who became a leading figure in the Women's Department of the Bolshevik Government in Russia.

She wrote an article called Sexual Relations and the Class Struggle in 1919. She begins the article by describing the "long and drawn-out" crisis in the relationships between the sexes. She writes of "troubled people" and "frightened people" unable to untangle the "confused knot of personal relationships."

No doubt, she is exaggerating the crisis in family life and gender relations in 1919. However, it's worth noting that by 1919 first wave feminism had been around for over 50 years and had reached a peak of influence just a few years previously. Many of the features of the modern feminism that we know were also in existence at this time.

The solution according to Alexandra Kollontai? She writes,

The conservatively inclined part of mankind argue that we should return to the happy times of the past, we should re-establish the old foundations of the family and strengthen the well-tried norms of sexual morality.

The champions of bourgeois individualism say that we ought to destroy all the hypocritical restrictions of the obsolete code of sexual behaviour. These unnecessary and repressive "rags" ought to be relegated to the archives - only the individual conscience, the individual will of each person can decide such intimate questions.

It's to her credit that Alexandra Kollontai describes here the basic dynamic of things reasonably well. She understands that liberal individualism has undermined the traditional family by requiring the destruction of restrictions on individual will. Furthermore, she writes of how in history the "triumphant principles of individualism ... grew and destroyed whatever remained of the idea of the community" leading men to wander "confusedly".

So, you have here a radical leftist who believes that modern people are alienated, and who believes that liberal individualism has broken down a once stable and unifying tradition of family life.

So does she wish to conserve at least a part of this tradition? The answer is decidedly no. In another article, Communism and the Family, she describes her ideal of a new family life. Marriage, in the new communist family, is to be,

a union of two equal persons of the communist society, both of them free, both of them independent ... the woman in the communist city no longer depends on her husband but on her work. It is not her husband but her robust arms which will
support her.

So, the underlying aim is little different to the modernist liberal one. It is to maximise individual independence, in particular, female independence. This is necessary, thinks Kollontai, so that a woman may have a "will of her own". We are back, in other words, to the "bourgeois" liberal idea that politics is about removing impediments to individual will, as a means to achieve higher levels of personal autonomy.

Therefore, Kollontai comes up with a strategy familiar to modern times. She insists that women no longer depend on men as providers. This in turn means that women have to go out to work and that the tasks of motherhood are taken over by the state. That's why Kollontai proudly boasts that,

Here, also, the communist society will come to the aid of the parents. In Soviet Russia, owing to the care of the Commisariats of Public Education and Social Welfare, great advances are being made ... There are homes for very small babies, day nurseries, kindergartens, children's colonies and homes, infirmaries, and health resorts for sick children, restaurants, free lunches at school ... the more the workers became conscious of their rights ... the more society would show itself to be concerned with relieving the family of the care of the children.

These measures were no doubt radical in 1919, but the fact that they rest on familiar liberal principles is shown by the fact that other Western societies have gradually "caught up" with the more radical liberalism of the Bolsheviks.

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