Premeditated Evil


Hungarian theoretician György Lukács. Photo: Encyclopedia Britannica


The great Hungarian theoretician György Lukács was a member of the intellectual circle of German socialist Max Weber and was therefore well aware of the famous reflection of the master: “Whoever seeks the salvation of his soul and that of others must not do so through the path of politics, whose tasks, which are very opposed to that goal, can only be fulfilled by force.”

That use of force, Weber argued, is consubstantial to any rational state, which exercises it legitimately in a given territory. Without this pact, in which individuals give up a margin of freedom to live with a margin of security, the Hobbesian situation of “the war of all against all” would be unleashed.

But if the action is not framed by rational politics (parliamentary or democratic), and is not guided by an “ethics of responsibility,” but rather led by revolutionary passion guided by an “ethics of conviction,” the pact changes in nature: It is no longer an accord between men but with evil. It becomes, literally, as Weber said, diabolical.

Lukács followed Weber’s teaching until, from one week to the next, with the rise of the Russian Revolution and its reverberations in Budapest, Berlin and Munich, he was seized with a sudden conversion to Marxism and wrote an article of faith called “Bolshevism as a Moral Problem,” in which he explained his transformation by arguing that, in an “age of utter sinfulness,” there was no escape for men who want to preserve their moral purity.

“All men have to choose between the punctual and ephemeral violence of the revolution and the permanent and meaningless violence of the old corrupt world,” he wrote. And to defend the first option, he proposed a dialectical leap: “The highest duty for the communist ethic is to accept the need to act immorally,” he said. “It is the greatest sacrifice that the revolution demands of us. The conviction of the true communist recognized that evil is transformed into blessing through the dialectic of historical evolution.”

Lukács, an intellectual after all, was not unaware of the pain inflicted by the revolution. Not without remorse, he assumed it as an unavoidable stage in the great march of history toward redemption.

On the other hand, Russian communist leader Vladimir Lenin, who was a pure politician, felt no remorse over the human consequences of the revolution. In a 1920 conversation with him, British philosopher Bertrand Russell was surprised by the contempt with which the Russian leader spoke of the peasants, a prejudice he inherited from Karl Marx, for whom “peasant imbecility” would be overcome, crushed by the proletarian class. And as proof of the “purity” of his convictions, he issued these instructions on how to treat the “kulaks,” peasant landlords: “Take hostages. That hundreds of kilometers around people can see, tremble, know, scream: they are strangling and will strangle the bloodsucking kulaks to death,” he wrote.

In 1921, not only the kulaks would face brutal repression, but also the Kronstadt sailors, to whom the Bolsheviks owed much of their victory.

Faced with the widespread economic disaster, in an act of realism, Lenin proposed the famous New Economic Policy (NEP), before he died, which liberalized the economy and gave the regime a brief respite. But all his successors, beginning with Leon Trotsky and culminating with Joseph Stalin, would encourage his followers to mercilessly destroy everything that opposed the great historical design. The result was a Stalin-induced famine in Ukraine, which in the winter of 1933-34, killed more than 3 million people. Trials, persecutions, imprisonments, torture, executions, confinements, labor and concentration camps would follow, with a tragic balance of 10 million dead.

I am convinced that this commandment of the communist ethic was at the center of all the revolutionary movements of the 20th century (from China to Cambodia, from Cuba to Nicaragua). Once a “pact with the devil” is signed, there is no going back. Even if the violence of the revolution was not as “ephemeral” as the revolutionary expected, even if it lasted for years or decades, even if it was not as “one-off” as Lukács had anticipated, even if it took millions of human beings to the grave, it was always preferable to ” the permanent and senseless violence of the corrupt old world” that the revolutionary could blame until eternity.

Communism only survives in totalitarian regimes like North Korea and Cuba. But their diabolical pact is alive in certain populisms, regardless of their ideology: “They do not kill (directly) millions, but they destroy life in a thousand ways. Blessed by the ‘purity’ of their ends, they have no compunctions about the means. They knowingly do evil.”


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