Of course, those prone to totalitarian practices and ideas do not choose to see reality as it really unfolds, they only see it from their own needs and perspectives and wish to influence everyone else to see it in those same ways. For some, such reality blindness is perhaps a combination of confirmation bias and even wilful ignorance. Since vastly unequal social reality cannot be easily justified on its own terms, totalitarians, as Hannah Arendt pointed out in ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’, often justify it on the basis of a ‘truer reality concealed beneath perceptible reality’ which can only be understood by an elect few (Plato’s shepherd leaders, left, right and centre) with imagined extra abilities far beyond the normal five senses and above average muscle density or brain capacity.
Hence the perceived self-destiny attributed to actual (or potential) totalitarian leaders (Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Trump, Putin, Xi etc) is to ‘ingeniously’ (?) lead, the masses and save the existing mass society (and its privileged advantages) from whatever threatens it. Where this arrogant certainty of deeper understanding and exceptional abilities of a leadership (religious, military or political) are accepted by the citizens of mass societies, then a corresponding complementary response can occur, in which the majority reluctantly or enthusiastically accept being sheep to be led and subsequentlwillingly or unwillingly accept this elite distortion of perceived reality.
By varying degrees, using persuasion, intimidation (or state enforcement) historical records demonstrate that many people can be ‘influenced’ to believe and act on the basis of being led by a self-appointed ‘saviour. That way the responsibility for serious thinking about the situation and any ensuing complex recovery strategy can be avoided and left in the hands of a group of individuals (usually self-serving charlatan’s), whose motives are unlikely to coincide with the interests of humanity in general, let alone suffering humanity in particular. But by then the die has often been cast – as it was in 2022.
The Invasion of Ukraine by the decision of the Putin-led Russian elite and the backing of Ukraine’s elite by the US elite has simultaneously illustrated the nature of elites using state control within hierarchical mass societies. At the same time the backwardness of many on the left has been revealed. It is a myth that the first casualties of war is the truth, that has always been a permanent casualty in peace time as well as war. The first casualties of war are a section of the countries own citizens who by state edict are chained to an elite military command and trained to kill their own species on command – the dogs of war – as they say – are released. The second casualties of war are the families of these soldiers who are abandoned to their own devices, whilst the third casualties are the ordinary citizens who must not protest and also foot the bill.
Elite directed wars start with this authoritarian/totalitarian leaning procedure against their own citizens and continues with the orders to kill the citizens already under the authoritarian direction of another set of elites. That is the reality of war – any aggressive war! Yet the left internationally is so bereft of clear thinking that it is currently split three ways. One set are influencers against the US and are supportive of Putin’s right (?) to invade; another set are influencers against Putin so are in support of the US supplying weapons and intelligence to Ukraine’s elite; another set are so confused they support neither side and stay silent whilst genocide continues unabated.
However, the strategy is clear from a revolutionary-humanist perspective. 1 We should all be opposed to our own elites, they have proved over many decades they are incompetent and dangerous to humanity and the rest of life on earth. 2 Bombing and killing civilians is an outrage and whoever is doing it should be condemned. 3 Soldiers killing soldiers is also a humanist outrage and should also be condemned. 4 The soldiers on both sides should be advised and encouraged to stop fighting each other and demand their leaders endorse a cease fire. 5 Each sides soldiers should be encouraged to organise themselves into battalion discussion groups to express their own views on what should happen next, including how repairs and reparations should be organised and structured.
If the above, (which has actually historically happened in the past) sounds utopian in 2022 then this merely shows how distorted human acting and thinking has become due to hierarchical mass society living. The current insane alternative of daily bombing and killing each others citizens on the instructions of various deranged elites, whilst the very fabric of the planet is disintegrating is the most extreme dystopian madness imaginable. Doing nothing but cheer on one side or the other or doing and saying nothing are all utter denials of our humanity and complete abdications of our better natures.
This confusion on the left is a tired repetition of the time when the leadership of the radical left, held a seriously mistaken opinion. Because some hierarchical mass society elites were anti-imperialist, they thought that these countries were progressive and should be supported. It was an ideology promoted by the Soviet and Chinese Communist elites for obvious reasons. The elites there wanted a viable hierarchical mass society on their own territory and needed to end the stranglehold of the advanced capitalist countries in order to do so. These so-called anti-imperialist projects were not undertaken by colonial elites so they could liberate mankind (or even their own citizens) but so they could effectively live off the surplus-labour of their own workers.
It started with Lenin‘s proclamation of the ‘Right of National Determination’ rather than advocating workers self-determination. It is obvious that ‘nations’ allow existing, (or elites in-waiting,) to form a loyal state apparatus and thus dominate the nation. That was exactly what Lenin‘s Bolshevik-led party and Mao’s Communist Party intended and implemented. This Party ‘line’ continued under Stalin who vigorously promoted the idea that the Communist Parties in each country should cease to be revolutionary and become loyal reformists and promote ‘friendly’ state relations’ with soviet state exploitation.
So it was never true that some hierarchical mass societies were progressive and others not. All such societies were oppressive, exploitative and reactionary. They were capitalist modes of production with a loyal armed state to enforce the hierarchies wishes. They were simply at a different and earlier stage of capitalist development. This should by now be abundantly clear. Not one anti-imperialist hierarchical mass society has ended wage labour, elite privilege and compulsory compliance with elite determined state directives.
Yet some on the left have remained stuck in the mire of 20th century sectarian fairy tale dogma, where the US and UK were the Imperialists par excellence whilst Russia and China with their so-called workers states, were the imaginary champions of the working class. It was nonsense then and is doubly so now. Being anti-imperialist was then a surrogate form of appearing anti-capitalist whilst not being anti-capitalist at all – and it still serves the same function! Only ruling elite minorities need armed states in order to exploit, oppress and control the majorities, whilst egalitarian societies only need social and administrative committees.
A similar phenomena occurred by those on the left hypnotised by the word revolution. If some actual or hopeful hierarchical mass society elites opposed to foreign control called themselves revolutionaries and designated their conquest of power as a revolution, then a Pavlovian response kicked in. Some gullible people on the left simplistically thought it their duty to support a ‘revolutionary elite’ without ever bothering to analyse what was really going on in these countries. The ‘radical’ elites in Algeria, Egypt, Cuba, South Africa, Vietnam, etc., might not have been imperialist, but they were middle class individuals with an aspiration to lead a hierarchical mass society with themselves as the hierarchy.
Therefore they subsequently ‘established’ themselves in power and utilised armed bodies of loyal state enforcers and the workers were sent back to low paid wage slavery. Not one of those so-called 20th century, ‘progressives’ were more progressive than the welfare capitalist elite of the ‘spirit of 1944’ Britain. The latter also nationalised many industries, introduced free education and welfare and allowed extremely exploited workers to strike. But they also strengthened their state at the same time – and then progressively took back all these ‘reforms’, they tactically conceded after the Second World War.
In a period of existential crisis and totalitarian tendencies, the question arises as to what can be done, if anything, to break the links between the seven (or more) stages between existing bourgeois hierarchical neo-liberal mass society democracies and the emergence of bourgeois inspired totalitarian political forms. I suggest that one of the early pre-requisites of answering ‘what is to be done’ now is to recognise 21st century reality as it is, and not be content with a virtual or ersatz story book version of it. There is almost a complete failure to see that all forms of hierarchical mass societies, even those classifying themselves as liberal democracies, contain both explicit and implicit authoritarian tendencies. Part 3, of this series mentioned the challenges facing those who share a revolutionary-humanist, anti-capitalist perspective, the next, final Part (7) of this series will develop these further.
Roy Ratcliffe (December 2022)