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Alasdair MacIntyre

The pen and the sword

(Winter 1960/61)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.3, Winter 1960/61, pp.29-30.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Writer and the Commissar
George Paloczi-Horvath
The Bodley Head. 10s 6d.

If, like the author, I had been for five years in Rakosi’s prisons I would no doubt share his perspective. But it is still a wrong perspective. What Mr Paloczi-Horvath has done is to collect a sample of repressive decrees and actions by Communist states. This is a useful work to have done. But nothing is put in context. Or rather there is an implied context, that of Western bourgeois liberalism. Consequently Mr Paloczi-Horvath presents us with a mindless totalitarian, the writer as a liberal romantic, whose central gift is that of self-expression. In fact, of course, the commissars have theories and the writers have often themselves rejected the view of them implied by Mr Paloczi-Horvath. So it escapes his argument that artist and commissar have often been the same person. What sense can we make of his view of Brecht or Fadeyev, Meyerhold or even Mayakovsky? These have to be reduced to what none of them were, simple time-servers. Even of Fadeyev this was untrue.

What Mr Paloczi-Horvath misses, and what every authentic view of the artist in the Communist state must start with, is the contradictory consciousness of Communist society. The combination of a bureaucratic state-power with a revolutionary theory makes both negative and positive sides of Communist culture explicable. The negative side is the vacillation between liberty and authoritarianism, which characterised the blossoming and withering of the Hundred Flowers. The positive side is the tension which kept Brechl as a revolutionary artist and Lukacs as a revolutionary critic, in spite of the bureaucracy. Mr Paloczi-Horvath sees only the negative.

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