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Crimes of the Utopian Left

French intellectual Jean François Revel derides Utopian Leftists.

Book Cover Ten years ago, controversial French intellectual/political philosopher Jean François Revel (How Democracies Perish, The Totalitarian Temptation), who died in 2006, published Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era (Encounter Books) in France (called the Grand Parade there). Newly translated, Revel’s focus, which enraged relentlessly European leftists, is not only about the failures of totalitarian communism (keep in mind that Sartre was an admirer of Stalin), but the inability of socialist apologists to acknowledge those failures, instead relying on the irreproachability of the utopian ideal.

Revel asserts: “Utopia is not under the slightest obligation to produce results: its sole function is to allow its devotees to condemn what exists in the name of what does not.” And he notes the circularity of the argument that the failure of the Soviet system proves that it was not communism.

Revel was fascinated by and studied the dissonance arising from Western intellectuals who, living in democracies, admired and supported the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba, and were hypercritical of western democracies—with the United States receiving a lion’s share of denunciation.

In 1997, the publication of The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Harvard University Press), an 800-page scholarly catalogue of the depredations of the communist regimes, was greeted with disdain and an overwhelming thumbs down by the French Left. Revel pointed out that that refusal was as criminal and collaborative with genocide as Holocaust denial. Needless to say, this did not earn him many (any?) friends on the left.

From Revel’s introduction:
Here is a tasty paradox: The ferocity of the Marxist legions redoubled in the very same year when history had finally put paid to the object of their sacred cult…As long as they had been obliged to drag around the ball and chain of actually existing socialism, they could not avoid facing up to criticism. Their solution to the imperfections of socialism in practice had always been to tout the infinite perfectibility of the as yet unachieved revolution. But once the Soviet system had disappeared, the mirage of a reformable Communism vanished along with the object to be reformed, and so too did the painful servitude of having to argue the cause in terms of tangible successes and failures. Released from importunate reality—which they would henceforth blithely dismiss as inconsequential—the faithful could return to the roots of their fanaticism. They felt free at last to restore socialism to its primordial state: Utopia.
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