Nikolai Berdyaev: The Religion of Communism (1931) / The Paradox of the Lie (1939)

First posted September 17, 2017

NB: Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev (1874-1948) was a Russian religious and political philosopher. He was among 160 non-communist intellectuals and scholars, deported from Russia in 1922 on Lenin’s orders (after interrogation by Felix Dzherjzinsky, of the secret police), for being spies and counter revolutionaries. Berdyaev  had also been convicted of blasphemy for criticising the Russian Orthodox Church; and in 1913 was sentenced to deportation for life to Siberia. The outbreak of war saved him. 

Here are two of Berdayev’s essays, on communism; and on the lie – on which also see: Alexandre Koyré The Political Function of the Modern Lie. I need hardly point out the relevance of the function of lying and deceit in this era of ideological tyranny. The so-called ‘parivar’ currently ruling India might be surprised to learn how close its instincts are to the totalitarian stream within the communist movement. There was an anti-Bolshevik stream as well, which is another story.

As Berdayev says, ‘The lie is the chief foundation of the so-called totalitarian states, and without an organising lie they could never have been created.. the lie can even seem the sole truth..’

Berdayev’s ‘christian existentialist’ critique of communism contains this sentence: “For what is most terrible in it is the mixture of truth and falsehood..”  and this paragraph: “The Russian people did not achieve their ancient dream of Moscow, the Third Rome. The ecclesiastical schism of the seventeenth century revealed that the muscovite tsardom is not the third Rome. The messianic idea of the Russian people assumed either an apocalyptic form or a revolutionary; and then there occurred an amazing event in the destiny of the Russian people. 

Instead of the Third Rome in Russia, the Third International was achieved, and many of the features of the Third Rome pass over to the Third International. The Third International is also a Holy Empire, and it also is founded on an Orthodox faith. The Third International is not international, but a Russian national idea”- 
cited Benedikt Sarnov, Moscow Union of Writers in Our Soviet Newspeak: A Short Encyclopedia of Real Socialism., p. 446-447. DS

Here is the full text of The Religion of CommunismMen’s attitude as regards Communism has been, up till now, rather emotional than intellectual. The psychological atmosphere has been very unfavourable to an understanding of the ideological world in which Communism moves. Among Russian emigrants it has roused a passionate emotional reaction such as one might expect from wounded people; there are too many who, on being asked what Communism is, could answer, “My own shattered life and unhappy lot.” In Western Europe men’s attitude is characterised either by bourgeois fright and the bourgeois reaction of the capitalist world, or by the superficial and irresponsible toying with Bolshevism (a snobbish fad, for the most part) indulged in by some intellectuals. But hardly anyone has taken the ideology of Communism, the Communist faith, seriously. 

The most remarkable of Russian philosophers in the nineteenth century, a Christian philosopher, Vladimir Solovyev, once said that to defeat what is false in Socialism one must recognise what is true in it. The same must be said of Communism, which is one of the extreme forms of Socialism. In Communism there is a great untruth, an anti-Christian untruth, but it also contains much truth, and even many truths. In Communism there are many truths which one might formulate in a whole series of paragraphs, and only one untruth; but that untruth is so enormous that it outweighs all the truths and spoils them. 

Communism should have a very special significance for Christians, for it is a reminder and denouncement of an unfulfilled duty, of the fact that the Christian ideal has not been achieved. Christian justice has not worked itself out fully in life, and in virtue of the mysterious ways of Divine Providence the forces of evil have undertaken the task of realising social justice. That is the spiritual meaning of all revolutions, their mysterious “dialectics.” Christian “good” has become too conventional and rhetorical, and so the carrying out of certain elements of that “good” which is proclaimed in theory but very inadequately achieved in practice, is undertaken in a spirit of terrible reaction against Christianity. The sin and baseness of Christians, or, rather, of false Christians, have shut off and darkened the light of Christian revelation…

read more:

The Paradox of the Lie (1939)The lie plays a tremendous role in human life. The world is swallowed up in lies. And to the problem of the lie philosophers have paid too little attention. Not only do people that are by nature liars lie, but also uprightly truthful people. They lie not only consciously, but also without awareness. People live in fear, and the lie is a weapon of defense. The structure of consciousness is deformed by the function of lie, begotten by fear. There exist several types of lies, but the most interesting is that type of lie, which is conceived of not as a sin or a vice, but as a duty. Elementary in type is the greedy lie, as the means for the attainment of egoistical aims. 

But there is a type of lie, non-greedy, almost artistic, when man does not make a distinction between reality and his own fictitious inventions. This type likewise does not here interest me. There is moreover a type of lie out of sympathy, which can be to the saving of the life of another man. Uprightness does not signify formalism and pedanticism. The moral act of man is always creatively-individual and is worked for the concrete instances of life, singular and irrepeatable. But most significant is the social lie, affirmed of as a duty. The life of states and societies is full of it, it serves as a support for civilisation, this gives it pride, as being the vanguard against chaos and anarchy.

Deeply rooted in the mass consciousness, myths are manifest by the expression of this lie. Through the organising of these myths, lie runs the world, a watch-guard over human society. Ancient myths arose out of a collective subconscious creativity, and at their foundation was always some sort of reality. Contemporary myths are characteristically and consciously an organised lie. In them is no naivete. This may sound pessimistic, but it must needs be recognised, that lie is mortared into the foundation of the organisation of society. The pure and nakedly unshielded truth can lead to the end of all things, to the ruin of societies and states, — say the defenders of the pragmaticism of the lie. Politics is to a remarkable degree an art of directing the human masses, i.e. to spout demagoguery, i.e. to spout the lie… 

With the beginning of the modern period, Machiavellianism came into Europe as a system for the running of states. But all the same, lie does not recognise ultimately the higher principle of life, in its striving towards expansion and might. The change of attitude towards truth was there already with Nietzsche, with Marx, and in pragmatic philosophy. Nietzsche indeed said, that truth is begotten of the will to power. Marx taught, that the consciousness of truth is inseparably bound up with the revolutionary class struggle and there cannot be truth cut off apart from this class struggle. Pragmatic philosophy affirms, that truth is the useful and the fruitional for the process of life. In such manner, truth is entirely made subordinate to the vital process, and its criterion is the increase of the might in life. And in practise it leads to this, that they cease to seek truth, they instead seek power.But for the finding of power, the lie can seem more fruitful than truth. They seek power because they sense themselves perishing in the world, which has gone into a fluid condition, in which there is no longer a firmness of body. I remember, how at a certain international gathering in Germany, shortly before Hitler came to power, there was read a report about the mindsets of German students, and the basic thought of this report was, that the students should cease to seek truth and instead seek power. Thence the extraordinary role of technology in modern life.

The lie is the chief foundation of the so-called totalitarian states, and without an organising lie they could never have been created. The lie is conceived of, as a sacred duty, a duty in regard to the chosen race, in regard to the might of the state, in regard to the chosen class. It is not regard as a lie — that which intensifies dynamism, that which serves to the growth of life, that which gives strength to the struggle. The lie can even seem the sole truth. The “cunning of reason”, about which Hegel speaks, renders itself in conscious practise as the useful lie. With Hegel there was already the danger of the relativisation of truth, subordinating it to the relativeness of history. The lie, which on a tremendous scale is practised in Soviet Russia and which receives monstrous expression in the Moscow processes with the old communists, is a dialectical lie. The lie appears at a certain dialectical moment in the realisation of the perfect Communist society. Each moment of the dialectical process relativises the ultimate triumph of logic in this process: for example, the old communist, faithful to the Communist idea, is transformed into a fascist, and the preceding moment of this process is completely negated, but this is avowedly necessary for the realisation of the aims of the given process, etc. The lie within Fascism and National Socialism bears not a dialectic, but rather a vital-dynamic character. The preaching of an exterminative hatred towards the Jews and the Marxists is necessary for the intensification of dynamism, for the growth of vital power. Everything, which is said about a racial or class enemy, is usually a lie. The enemy is a fiction, needful for a drumming up of enthusiasm, for the justifying of force, for the increase of might…. read more:

Farewell to reality

A Final Warning by George Orwell

Ignorance is Strength – Freedom is Slavery – War is Peace 

(George Orwell, 1984)