Arthur Koestler on Psychology, Communism, Zionism, and being a Jew - Peter Myers, January 8, 2002; update September 16, 2004; my comments are shown {thus}.

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(1) Arthur Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine (2) Arthur Koestler describes the Communist Revolution of 1919 in Hungary (3) Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone et. al., The God That Failed (4) Arthur Koestler, Promise and Fulfilment (5) Salaam's review of The Homeless Mind.

In Promise and Fulfilment (1949 - see below), Koestler refers to himself as "one who has been a supporter of the Zionist Movement for a quarter-century" (p. 335).

After being a Communist and a Zionist (at the same time), Arthur Koestler first discarded Communism (in 1938), then Zionism (in 1949), and finally decided that he was not a Jew. Welcome to the goys, Arthur!

(1) Arthur Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine

Arthur Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine, Hutchinson & Co, London 1967.

{p. 260} To recapitulate: without a transcendental belief, each man is a mean little island. The need for self-transcendence throuoh some form of 'peak experience' (religious or aesthetic) and/or through social integration is inherent in man's condition. Transcendental beliefs are derived from certain ever-recurrent archetypal patterns which evoke instant emotive responses. But once they become institutionalised as the collective property of a group they degenerate into rigid doctrines which, without losing their emotive appeal to the true believer, potentially offend his reasoning faculties. This leads to the split: emotion responds to

{p. 261} the piercing call of the Muezzin, the intellect shrinks from it. To eliminate the dissonance, various forms of double-think have been designed at various times - powerful techniques of self-deception, some crude, some extremely sophisticated. Secular religions - political ideologies - too, have their ancient origins in the utopian craving for an ideal society; but when they crystallise into a movement or party, they can be distorted to such an extent that the actual policy pursued is the direct opposite of the professed ideal. The reason why idealistic movements - whether religious or secular - show this apparently inevitable tendency to degenerate into their own caricatures can be derived from the peculiarities of the group mind: its tendency towards intellectual oversimplification combined with emotional arousal, and its quasi-hypnotic suggestibility by leader-figures or belief-systems.

I can speak of this with some first-hand experience, based on seven years (1931-8) of membership in the Communist Party during Stalin's terror regime. In writing about that period, I have described the operations of the deluded mind in terms of elaborate manoeuvrings to defend the citadel of faith against the hostile incursions of doubt. There are several concentric rings of defences protecting the fortress. The outer defences are designed to ward off unpalatable facts. For the simple-minded this is made easy by official censorship, the banning of all literature liable to poison the mind; and by implanting a fear of contamination, or of guilt by association, through contact with suspected heretics. Crude as these methods are, they quickly produce a blinkered, sectarian outlook on the world. Avoidance of forbidden information, first imposed from the outside, soon becomes a habit - an emotive revulsion against the dirty packs of lies offered by the enemy. For the majority of believers, this is quite enough to ensure unswerving loyalty; the more sophisticated are frequently forced to fall back on the inner defence positions. In 1932-3, the years of the great famine which followed the forced collectivisation of the land, I travelled widely in the Soviet Union, writing a book which was never published. I saw entire villages deserted, railway stations blocked by crowds of begging families, and the proverbial starving infants - but they

{p. 262} were quite real, with stick-like arms, puffed up bellies and cadaverous heads.

{quote} I reacted to the brutal impact of reality on illusion in a manner typical of the true believer. I was surprised and bewildered - but the elastic shock-absorbers of my Party training began to operate at once. I had eyes to see, and a mind conditioned to explain away what they saw. This 'inner censor' is more reliable and effective than any official censorship. ... It helped me to overcome my doubts and to re-arrange my impressions in the desired pattern. I learnt to classify automatically everything that shocked me as 'the heritage of the past' and everything I liked as 'the seeds of the future'. By setting up this automatic sorting machine in his mind, it was still possible in 1933 for a European to live in Russia and yet to remain a Communist. All my friends had that automatic sorting machine in their heads. The Communist mind has perfected the techniques of self-deception in the same manner as its techniques of mass propaganda. The inner censor in the mind of the true believer completes the work of the public censor; his self-discipline is as tyrannical as the obedience imposed by the regime; he terrorises his own conscience into submission; he carries his private Iron Curtain inside his skull, to protect his illusions against the intrusion of reality. {endquote} {Koestler here quotes from his earlier book The Invisible Writing (London 1954)}

Behind the curtain there is the magic world of double-think. 'Ugly is beautiful, false is true, and also coversely.' This is not Orwell; it was written, in all seriousness, by the late Professor Suzuki, the foremost propounder of modern Zen, to illustrate the principle of the identity of opposites. The perversions of Pop-Zen are based on juggling with the identity of opposites, the Communist's on juggling with the dialectics of history, the Schoolman's on a combination of Holy Scripture with Aristotelian logic. The axioms differ, but the delusional process follows much the same pattern. Facts and arguments which succeed in penetrating the outer defences are processed by the dialectical method until 'false' becomes 'true', tyranny the true democracy, and a herring a racehorse:

{quote} Gradually I learnt to distrust my preoccupation with facts, and to regard the world around me in the light of dialectic interpretation. It was a satisfactory and indeed blissful state; once you had assimilated

{p. 263} the technique, the so-called facts automatically took on the proper colouring and fell into their proper place. Both morally and logically the Party was infallible: morally, because its aims were right, that is in accord with the Dialectic of History, and these aims justified all means; logically, because the Party was the vanguard of the proletariat, and the proletariat the embodiment of the active principle in History.... I now lived in a mental world which was a 'closed system', comparable to the self-contained universe of the Middle Ages. All my feelings, my attitudes to art, literature and human relations, became reconditioned and moulded to the pattern. {endquote}

{Koestler here quotes from his earlier books The God That Failed (London 1950) pp. 42-3, and The Invisible Writing (London 1954) p. 26}

The most striking feature of the paranoiac's delusional system is its inner consistency, and the patient's uncanny persuasiveness in expounding it. Much the same applies to any 'closed system' of thought. By a closed system I mean a cognitive matrix, governed by a canon, which has three main peculiarities. Firstly, it claims to represent a truth of universal validity, capable of explaining all phenomena, and to have a cure for all that ails man. In the second place, it is a system which cannot be refuted by evidence, because all potentially damaging data are automatically processed and reinterpreted to make them fit the expected pattern. The processing is done by sophisticated methods of casuistry, centred on axioms of great emotive power, and indifferent to the rules of common logic; it is a kind of Wonderland croquet, played with mobile hoops. In the third place, it is a system which invalidates criticism by shifting the argument to the subjective motivation of the critic, and deducing his motivation from the axioms of the system itself.

{In this connection, I cannot but note how often I see Zionists refusing to debate their critics, and instead "playing the man" by impugning their motives. The "antisemitic" card is consistently played this way.}

{The casuists never actually resolve the contradictions; rather, they paper over them, and keep attention off them. Opponents, in contrast, try to highlight them. When a Catholic, for example, I never noticed its retention of incompatible psychological theories, that man = body+blood (the Jewish view; this is why Jehovah's Witnesses ban blood transfusions) and man = body+spirit or soul (the Platonic/Theosophical view)}

{My website Neither Aryan Nor Jew does include contradictory material, despite my best efforts to produce a consistent, uniform view of past & present; but I am consoled by Koestler's pointing out that allowing such contrariety is a sort of safety-valve; in addition, it stimulates intellectual enquiry}

{p. 5} The Rise of Behaviourism

Looking back at the last fifty years through the historian's inverted telescope, one would see all branches of science, except one, expanding at an unprecedented rate. The one exception is psychology, which seems to lie plunged into a modern version of the dark ages. ... By far the most powerful school in academic psychology, which at the same time determined the climate in all other sciences of life, was, and still is, a pseudoscience called Behaviourism. Its doctrines have invaded psychology like a virus which first causes convulsions, then slowly paralyses the victim. Let us see how this improbable situation came about.

It started just before the outbreak of the First World War when a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, named John Broadus Watson, published a paper in which he proclaimed: 'the time has come when psychology must discard all reference to consciousness .... Its sole task is the prediction and control of behaviour; and introspection can form no part of its method.' By 'behaviour' Watson meant observable activities - what the physicist calls 'public events', such as the motions of a dial on a machine. Since all mental events are private events which cannot be observed by others, and which can only be made public through statements based on introspection, they had to be excluded from the domain of science. On the strength of this doctrine, the Behaviourists proceeded to purge psychology of all 'intangibles and unapproachables'. The terms 'consciousness', 'mind', 'imagination' and 'purpose', together with a score of others, were declared to be unscientific, treated as dirty words,

{p. 6} and banned from the vocabulary. In Watson's own words, the Behaviourist must exclude 'from his scientific vocabulary all subjective terms such as sensation, perception, image, desire, purpose, and even thinking and emotion as they were subjectively defined'. It was the first ideological purge of such a radical kind in the domain of science, predating the ideological purges in totalitarian politics, but inspired by the same single-mindedness of true fanatics.

{p. 7} The 'cynical onlooker' might now ask: if mental events are to be excluded from the study of psychology - what is there left for the psychologist to study? The short answer is: rats. For the last fifty years the main preoccupation of the Behaviourist school has been the study of certain measurable aspects of the behaviour of rats, and the bulk of Behaviourist literature is devoted to that study. This development, odd as it seems, was in fact an unavoidable consequence of the Behaviourist's definition of scientific method (the 'fourth pillar' mentioned above). According to his self-imposed limitations, the Behaviourist is only permitted to study objective, measurable aspects of behaviour. However, there are few relevant aspects of human behaviour which lend themselves to quantitative measurement under laboratory conditions, and which the experimenter can investigate without relying on introspective statements about private cvents experienced by the subject. Thus, if he wanted to remain faithful to his principles, the Behaviourist had to choose as objects of his study animals in preference to humans, and

{p. 8} among animals rats and pigeons in preference to monkeys or chimpanzees, because the behaviour of primates is still too complex.

{p. 9} The De-Humanisation of Man

However, if the futility of these experiments would be the only reason for criticism, then one would indeed be flogging indignantly a dead horse. But, incredible as it may seem, the Skinnerians claim that the bar-pressing experiments with rats and the training of pigeons (about which more presently), provide all the necessary elements to describe, predict and control human behaviotlr - including language ('verbal behaviour'), science and art. Skinner's two best-known books are called The Behaviour of Organisms and Science and Human Behaviour. Nothing in their resounding titles indicates that the data in them are most exclusively derived from conditioning experiments on

{p. 10} rats and pigeons - and then converted by crude analogies into confident assertions about the political, religious and ethical problems of man.

The unique attributes of man, verbal communication and written records, science, art, and so forth, are considered to differ only in degree, not in kind, from the learning achievements of the lower animals - once more epitomised, for Hull as for Skinner, in the bar-pressing activities of the rat.

{The Psychiatry industry , with its reduction of "Mental Health" to somatic or brain problems treatable with drugs, lobotomy etc., is premised on denial of the soul. Our civilization, supposedly the highest in history, is actually one of the basest}

{p. 15} The Philosophy of Ratomorphism

Behaviourism started as a kind of puritan revolt against the excessive use of introspectionist methods in some older schools of psychology which held - in James's definition - that the business of the psychologist was 'the description and explanation of states of consciousness'. Consciousness, Watson objected, is 'neither a definable nor a usable concept, it is merely another word for the "soul" of more ancient times. ... No one has ever touched a soul or seen one in a test-tube. Consciousness is just as unprovable, as unapproachable as the old concept of the soul. ... The Behaviourists reached the conclusion that they could no longer be content to work with intangibles and unapproachables. They decided either to give up psychology or else to make it a natural science.'

{The cruel treatment of animals in laboratories, battery hen "farms", intensive pig housing etc., is premised on denial of their consciousness. Earlier civilizations, although making use of domesticated animals, related to them as individuals, as one's personal horse, house cow, family fowls or ducks, etc. Only our own civilization treats them as machines. It's one thing to kill them for food - perhaps we can't avoid that - it's another to make their whole lives a misery}

This 'clean and fresh programme', as Watson himself called it, was based on the naive idea that psychology could be studied with the methods and concepts of classical physics. Watson and his successors were quite explicit about this; their efforts to carry out their programme became a truly procrustean operation. But while that legendary malefactor merely stretched, or cut off, the legs of his victim to make him fit his bed, Behaviourism first cut off his head, then chopped him up into 'bits of behaviour in terms of stimulus and response'. The theory is based on the atomistic concepts of the last century, which have been abandoned in all other branches of contemporary science.

{p. 16} Historically, Behaviourism started as a reaction against the

{p. 17} excesses of introspective techniques, as practised particularly by German psychologists of the so-called Wurzburg school. At first its intention was merely to exclude consciousness, images and other non-public phenomena as objects of study from the field of psychology; but later on this came to imply that the excluded phenomena did not exist. A programme for a methodology, which had its arguable points, became transformed into a philosophy which had no point at all. One might as well tell a team of land surveyors that for the purpose of mapping a limited area they could treat the earth as if it were flat - and then subtly instil the dogma that the whole carth is flat.

Behaviourism is indeed a kind of flat-earth view of the mind. Or, to change the metaphor: it has replaced the anthropomorphic fallacy - ascribing to animals human faculties and sentiments - with the opposite fallacy: denying man faculties not found in lower animals; it has substituted for the erstwhile anthropomorphic view of the rat, a ratomorphic view of man. It has even re-named psychology, because it was derived from the Greek word for 'mind', and called it the 'science of behaviour'. It was a demonstrative act of semantic self-castration, in keeping with Skinner's references to education as 'behavioural engineering'. Its declared aim, 'to predict and to control human activity as physical scientists control and manipulate other natural phenomena', sounds as nasty as it is naive. ...

Behaviourism has dominated the stage throughout the dark ages of psychology, and is still, in the 1960s, dominant in our universities; but it never had the stage all to itself. In the first place there have always been 'voices in the wilderness', mostly belonging to an older generation which had come to maturity before the Great Purge. In the second place, there was Gestalt psychology, which at one time looked like a serious rival to Behaviourism. But the great expectations which the Gestalt school aroused were only partly fulfilled, and its limitations soon

{p. 18} became apparent. The Behaviourists managed to incorporate some of their opponents' experimental results into their own theories, and continued to hold the stage. The interested reader can find this controversy outlined in The Act of Creation, and there is no need to go into it here. But the net result was a kind of abortive Renaissance followed by a Counter-Reformation. Lastly, to round off the picture, there is a younger generation of neurophysiologists and communication theorists who regard orthodox S-R psychology as senile, but are often forced to pay lip-service to it, if they want to get on in their academic careers and get their papers published in the right sort of technical journal - and who become in varying degrees infected in the process by the doctrines of flat-earth psychology.

It is impossible to arrive at a diagnosis of man's predicament - and by implication at a therapy - by starting from a psychology which denies the existcece of mind, and lives on specious analogies derived from the bar-prcesing activities of rats. The record of fifty years of ratomorphic psychology is comparable in its sterile pedantry to that of scholasticism in its period of decline, when it had fallen to counting angels on pin-heads - although this sounds a more attractive pastime than counting the number of bar-pressings in the box. {end}

(2) Arthur Koestler describes the Communist Revolution of 1919 in Hungary

Arthur Koestler, Arrow in the Blue: an autobiography (Collins, with H. Hamilton, London, 1952)

{p. 60} ... the Hungarian revolution in November, I9I8, because it was again associated with a mass-demonstration, and because it started just next door to my father's office in Kossuth Lajos Street.

This occasion, which signalled the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and the reshaping of the map of Europe, is preserved in my memory as if it were an old and often-seen documentary film. A few houses down the street from my father's office, a balcony is decorated with draperies and flags. A huge, milling, cheering crowd blocks the street for half a mile. A tall, dark, stooping man, with awkward gestures, addresses the crowd from the balcony. He is Count Michael Karolyi, who has just proclaimed Hungary's secession from the Austrian Empire and its rebirth as a free, independent, democratic republic - of which he is soon to be elected President. His voice sounds artificial, his diction is laboured: he wears a silver plate in his palate, as the consequence of a throat operation. The crowd cheers in a frenzy and sings the national anthem: God Bless the Magyar. My father and I march with the crowd and get home very elated; we are both fervent Hungarian patriots. My mother disapproves, being Viennese and a devoted reader of the Austrian Court news.

Four months later Karolyi's liberal government resigned and handed its powers over to Bela Kun's Communist dictatorship. I was then in my fourteenth year, and my memories of these events are more articulated.

My first contact with Communism is forever associated with Chopin's Funeral March.

A few days bcfore its ascent to power, the Communist Party staged a demonstration in Budapest in the course of which a few of its members were killed. The Party, as a test of strength, appealed for a gigantic funeral procession. Some fifty thousand workers from the factory-belt surrounding Budapest followed the hearse, which was adomed with green wreaths and red draperies. They marched slowly, with discipline and dignity. Hungary was a country emerging from a semi-feudal state; never before had the citizens of Budapest seen a crowd of sturdy proletarians parading through their elegant shopping streets; many of them had probably never seen a factory worker before. Chopin's Marche Funebre, played over and over again by the band of the railroad workers as the procession slowly traversed the town, sounded for them the death-knell of an era.

To my ears it was more moving than any music I had ever heard. It was perhaps my first expcrience of musical ecstasy. This emotion became fused with the sight of the martyrs' coffins at the head of the procession of hard-boned men with their strong and simple faces and open, confident

{p. 61} glances. Chopin's March made a romantic Communist of me long before I knew what that word meant. But its meaning soon became clearer, and what I understood of it met with the fun approval of my budding scientific mind.

The Communist revolution was achieved without bloodshed. Count Karolyi had hoped that his regime would be supported by the Western democracies whom he regarded as his political allies, and for whom he had risked his neck by proclaiming his sympathy at a time when Hungary was still at war. His hopes were disappointed; without outside help and support, he was forced to abdicate in favour of the only organised power in the country which seemed able to prevent chaos. Only some twenty years later, when I became friends with Karolyi during our common exile, did I funy grasp the tragic significance of those days - the blindness and unimaginative blundering of the Western democracies who turned their back on their Liberal allies and acted as unwitting midwives for the power which was set to destroy them. The Hungarian Commune of 1919 was the direct result of Western policy - the first example of a pattern which during the next quarter-century was to be repeated over and over again.

Of all this, of course, I knew nothing at the time. Chopin's March was sueeeeded by the rousing tunes of the Marseillaise and of the Internationale - which, during the hundred days of the Commune, drowned the music-loving town on the Danube in a fiery, melodious flood. As Vienna had danced to the fiddle of Johann Strauss, so the people of Budapest now marched to the tune of the Marseillaise.

The people in this case comprised not only the working class, the farm-hands and the poor peasantry, but also the progressive-minded urban rniddle classes and the leading intelligentsia. Communism was a new word in 1919, and it had the sound of a good, just, and hopeful word. One of the first articles I read in the Red Gazette explained that more than thirty per cent of all the arable land in Hungary was the property of feudal landowners, who numbered around two per cent of the total population. This was news to me. The article asked whether it was just and healthy for a nation that out of every thousand people one should be very rich and all the others very poor; or whether it would be better to distribute wealth equally among all. The latter alternative seemed the more logical. I had not before that time been in the habit of reading newspapers; now I read the Red Gazette with almost as much interest as Jules Verne. Why had nobody talked about these matters before?

No doubt the Hungarian Social-Democratic Party had been saying

{p. 62} most of these things for years, but what they said had not reached the ears of the unpolitically minded. European Social Democracy had signed its own death warrant in 1914 when in every belligerent country it had supported the war - the same Imperialist War which two years earlier, at the Congress of Basle, it had foreseen and unconditionally condemned. The chauvinistic pro-war attitude of the various sections of the International was on a par with the policy of the churches whose priests and ministers, in every nation, prayed for the victory of mutually hostile armies. After this tragedy, European Social Democracy remained a factor in politics, but its revolutionary elan was gone for ever. The new revelation from Russia had a fresh, unusual ring. To many, on a continent in shambles, it sounded like the voice from Sinai. The Hungarian version of the Internationale had a verse which ran:

To wipe out the past for ever, O army of slaves, follow us. We shall lift the globe from its axis, We are nothing, we shall be all.

During those hundred days of spring it looked indeed as if the globe were to be lifted from its axis - a feat, I remembered, Archimedes had already dreamed of. Even at school strange and exciting events were taking place. New teachers appeared who spoke to us in a new voice, and treated us as if we were adults, with an earnest, friendly seriousness. One of them was Dezso Szabo, author of a celebrated novel about the Hungarian peasantry. He was a shy, rather tongue-tied and absent-minded person who talked to us in a gentle voice about a subject more remote than the moon: the life of a farm-hand in a village. Other new teachers were young members of the intelligentsia who had never taught in a school before. They gave courses about the elements of economics and constitutional government - subjects which were not included in the curriculum, which opened sudden new vistas and offered a new contact with reality.

The first poem we had learnt at school had been the National Anthem; next had come a patriotic song which exhorted us to remain unflinchingly faithful to the Fatherland "from cradle to grave." Third in popularity had been a poem by Petoffi which stated that: "If the earth is the cap of God, Hungary is the feather in the cap." The Hungarians, a small ethnic enclave in Europe, oppressed for centuries by the Germans and Slavs surrounding them, had developed a particularly fervent brand of chauvinism, but with minor local variations the same type of stuffwas taught in French, German, Italian, or Russian schools in pre-1918 Europe. To hear our new

{p. 63} masters gently deride the sacred feather in God's cap and address us as citizens of a new world, was a shattering revolutionary experience in the true and fun meanung of that word.

On May Day, a celebration was held at our school. One of the boys from the top form, a charming and gifted youngster of seventeen who had already published several poems in a literary magazine, extolled the memory of Danton and St. Just. The speech was enthusiastically received by the boys and the new masters; the old teachers listened in acid silence. After the collapse of the Commune the young man was thrown out of school and, according to rumour, killed by the White Guardists. It was my first experience of this nature; it gave the words " counter-revolutionary terror " a personal and frightening meaning.

That May Day celebration of 1919 was the apotheosis of the short-lived Hungarian Commune. The whole town seemed to have been turned upside down. The public squares of Budapest suffer from an abundance of oversized statues of worthies in bronze, charging the enemy on prancing horses, or orating with one arm upraised, a scroll under the other. On May Day all these statues were concealed by spherical wood frames covered with red cloth on which were painted the continents and seas of the world. These gigantic globes - some over fifty feet high because the bronze hero inside was sitting on a particularly tall horse - had a curiously fascinating effect. They looked like balloons anchored to the public squares, ready to lift the whole town into the air; they were symbols of the new cosmopolitan spirit, and of the determination of the new regime "to lift the globe from its axis." Even more moving and beautiful were the posters which covered every wall and transformed the streets into colourful picture galleries. They had been designed by the elite of modern Hungarian painters who later on swarmed out over Europe and America and became prominent as artists, cartoonists and magazine-cover designers. Some of the posters were cubistic, some futuristic; all celebrated autonymous workers, peasants, and soldiers; not a single one was a portrait of a leader. It is a historical curiosity, known only to experts, that the posters of the Hungarian Commune of 1919 represented one of the peaks of commercial art.

Another curiosity of the hundred days was that the people of Budapest seemed to live mainly on ice-cream. There was a near-famine, caused by the refusal of the peasants to sell their produce against paper money; all food was rationed and had vanished from the shops. The only things ration cards and the paper money issued by the red regime would buy were cabbages, frozen turnips - and ice-cream. I suppose an imaginative food commissar must have stumbled upon a consignment of vanilla in a govem-

{p. 64} ment storehouse and decided to tum it into ice-cream in some requisitioned refrigeration plant.

The whole country lived on a barter system; the peasants came to town with their clickens, eggs, milk, and butter, and went home laden with grandfather clocks, bronze statuettes, antimacassars, seeond-hand shirts and suits. During the Soviet famine in 1932, I had occasion to watch exactly the opposite proeess: Ukrainian peasants and kulaks driven from the land by enforced collectivisation, were bartering in the streets of Kharkov their beautiful embroidered tablecloths, lace bedspreads, silken handkerchiefs, and golden ikons against loaves of black bread or sacks of potatoes. The peasantry has been the stumbling block of all socialist revolutions; it is the unsolved problem of Marxist theory. For the problem of dealing with the peasant is primarily one of psychology; and the psychological factor ls absent from Marx's schematic abstractions. Lenin sueeeeded in temporarily allaying the hostility of the peasants mainly because he departed from the gospel of orthodoxy. The Hungarian Communist Party had no genius of Lenin's calibre; they postponed the distribution of the land for fear that too hasty action would lead to chaos. This was probably the biggest mstake of the short-lived regime.

I have no doubt that Communism in Hungary would in due course have degenerated into a totalitarian police state, forcibly following the example of its Russian model. No Communist Party in Europe has been able to hold out against the corruption imposed on it from Moscow by direct authority and indirect contamination. But this later knowledge does not invalidate the hopeful and exuberant mood of the early days of the Revolution in Hungary, in Bavaria, or the Ruhr, and in Russia itself.

To return to the ice-cream. It may be suspected that my sympathies for the Commune were influenced by the fantastic amount of it we ate, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, during the hundred days. This suspicion would be the more unjust as there was only the one kind, vanilla, which I dislike. I mention this curiosity, due to the imaginative colnmissar, because it was typical of the happy-go-lucky, dilettantish and even surrealistic ways in which the Commune was run. It was all rather endcaring - at least when compared to all the lunacy and savagery which was to descend upon Europe in years to come. There was no terror. There were small outbursts of violence in the provinces and some beatings-up at police headquarters, but these merely conformed to Hungarian tradition. The total number of people executed during the Commune was under five hundred. Although we were a family of confirmed bourgeois and my father, as

{p. 65} a factory owner, fell into the official category of capitalist exploiters, we never felt unsafe. The factory for radio-active soap was duly nationalised and my father was appointed managing director, with a salary about equal to his former profits. We kept two hens on the balcony of the boarding-house where we lived; these were pointed out by the Communist warden of the block a an example worthy of imitation in the common effort to make the red metropolis self-supporting.

One day at the crack of dawn we were awakened by two men in unuform with slung rifles and bayonets pointing to the ceiling. They were soldiers of the Red Army in charge of requisitioning flats and rooms - a housing shortage is another chronic aeeompaniment of all revolutions. We occupied two rooms in the boarding-house - one for my parents, one for me. The soldiers looked around with large, naive eyes, obviously embarrassed by their task. My father was out - I believe he had slept the night at the factory. But my mother, sensing the soldiers' lack of self-confidenee, was a sufficient match for them. One of them tried to argue that a single room might be enough for us. " How do you expect three people to live it one room?" my mother asked indignantly. "Well, well," the soldier said with an uneasy grin, "I have seen worse than that." He was obviously from the country, and Hungarian peasants often slept seven in a room. The other soldier never opened his mouth; he just kept goggling at his surroundings, trying not to look at my mother in her dressing-gown. Then they both clumped out, with muttered apologies for the disturbance.

It was like that all over. I have said before that the average burgher in the better residential districts of the town had probably never seen a member of the industrial working class. He had had dealings with the plumber, and the electrician, and the man who came to hang the curtains - all of whom belonged to that hybrid stratum of small artisans in a big town, corrupted by tips and used to the servants' entrance. But the large mass of factory workers and railwaymen, of miners, day labourers, and farm-hands are an alien race to the average, middle-class town-dweller. One of the exciting things about the Commune was that these strange creatures could now be seen everywhere and turned out to be, to everyone's surprise, quite different from the plumber, the charwoman, and the taxi-driver who until then had represented "the people" in the bourgeois' limited world. They were awkward, and they had a strange self-confidence and dignity. They were quite a discovery to the people in the cafes and on the elegant Corso - and to myself. ... {end}

The Russian peasants similarly refused to sell their products for the currency of the early Soviet Union: soviet-union-early.html.

(3) Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone et. al., The God That Failed

Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone et. al., The God That Failed, Harper & Brothers NY 1949.

{Arthur Koestler describes how he left the Communist Party:}

{p. 72} Having experienced the almost unlimited possibilities of mental acrobatism on that tight-rope stretched across one's conscience, I know how much stretching it takes to make that elastic rope snap.

About the time when I learned of Alex' arrest, a comrade escaped to Paris from Gerrnany where he had served a term of five years' hard labor. Before his arrest, he had worked for a certain branch of the Apparat whose leaders had meanwhile been liquidated as spies. So, without being given a hearing, without a chance of defending himself, my friend and his wife were denounced as agents of the Gestapo, and their photographs were printed in the Party Press accompanied by a warning not to have any truck with them. Such cases I had heard of before; I had shrugged them off and continued on the tight-rope. Now these two individuals had become more real to me than the cause in the name of which they were to be sacrificed, and I took their side.

The Party did not react. While I had been in jail, they had used me as a martyr for propaganda purposes; some time must be allowed to lapse before I could be denounced as an agent of Franco and the Mikado.

Tho end came as a curious anticlimax. Some time during the spring of 1938, I had to give a talk on Spain to the German Emigre Writers' Association in Paris. Before the talk, a representative of the Party asked me to insert a passage denouncing the POUM as agents of Franco; I refused. He shrugged, and asked me whether I would care to show him the text of my speech and "to discuss it informally." I refused. The meeting took place in the hall of the Societe des Industries Francaises in the Place St. Germain des Pres, before an audience of two or three hundred refugee intellectuals, half of them Communists. I knew it was my last public appearance as a member of the Party. The theme of the speech was the situation in Spain;

{p. 73} it contained not a single word of criticism of the Party or of Russia. But it contained three phrases, deliberately chosen because to normal people they were platitudes, to Communists declaration of war. The first was: "No movement, party or person can claim the privilege of infallibility." The second was: "Appeasing the enemy is as foolish as persecuting the friend who pursues your own aim by a different road." The third was a quotation from Thomas Mann: "A harmful truth is better than a useful lie."

That settled it. When I had finished, the non-Communist half of the audience applauded, the Communist half sat in heavy silence, most of them with folded arms. This was not done by order, but as a spontaneous reaction to those fatal commonplaces. You might as well have told a Nazi audience that all men are born equal regardless of race and creed.

A few days later I wrote my letter of resignation to the Central Committee of the Party.

This is the second occasion where the story should end; and yet there was a second anticlimax. My letter was a farewell to the German CP, the Comintern and the Djugashwili regime. But it ended with a declaration of loyalty to the Soviet Union. I stated my opposition to the system, to the cancerous growth of the bureaucracy, the suppression of civil liberties. But I confessed my belief that the foundations of the Workers and Peasants State remained unshaken, that the nationalization of the means of production was a guarantee of her eventual return to the road of Socialism; and that, in spite of everything, the Soviet Union still "represented our last and only hope on a planet in rapid decay."

The tight-rope had snapped, but there was a safety net spread under it. When I landed there, I found myself in a mixed company - veteran acrobats who had lost their dialectical balance, Trotskyites, critical sympathizers, independent "cryptos," new statesmen, new republicans, totalitarian liberals

{p. 74} and so on - who were sprawling in the net in various contorted positions. We were all hellishly uncomfortable, suspended in no man's land, but at least we did not have to regard ourselves as completely fallen angels. I remained in that state of suspended animation until the day when the swastika was hoisted on Moscow Airport in honor of Ribbentrop's arrival and the Red Army band broke into the Horst Wessel Lied. That was the end; from then onward I no longer cared whether Hitler's allies called me a counter-revolutionary.

{At this stage, however, Koestler still considered himself a Zionist, as he explains in Promise and Fulfilment (1949), where he refers to himself as "one who has been a supporter of the Zionist Movement for a quarter-century" (p. 335). The sight of goy suffering in the Ukraine took 7 years to move him, but Jewish suffering had an instant effect. Koestler was not a Jewish conspirator - he was too open for that - but he never seems to have acknowledged that the Soviet regime was created by non-theistic Jews, nor pondered whether that regime's totalitarianism might have been a product of a totalitarian streak within Judaism itself. Benjamin Ginsberg acknowledges the former: ginsberg.html, and Israel Shahak the latter: shahak1.html.}

Elsewhere I have tried to expose "the fallacy of the unshaken foundations," the belief that a State-capitalist economy must of necessity lead to a Socialist regime. I shall not repeat the argument; I have only mentioned this epilogue to my Party days, my clinging to the last shred of the torn illusion, because it was typical of that intellectual cowardice which still prevails on the Left. The addiction to the Soviet myth is as tenacious and difficult to cure as any other addiction. After the Lost Weekend in Utopia the temptation is strong to have just one last drop, even if watered down and sold under a different label. And there is always a supply of new labels on the Cominform's black market in ideals. They deal in slogans as bootleggers deal in faked spirits; and the more innocent the customer, the more easily he becomes a victim of the ideological hooch sold under the trade-mark of Peace, Democracy, Progress or what you will.

I served the Communist Party for seven years ....

{this part by Ignazio Silone, a co-author of this book}

{p. 106} The increasing degeneration of the Communist International into a tyranny and a bureaucracy filled me with repulsion and disgust, but there were some compelling reasons which made me hesitate to break with it: solidarity with comrades who were dead or in prison, the non-existence at that time of any other organized anti-Fascist force in Italy, the rapid political, and in sorne cases also moral, degeneration of many who had already left Communism, and finally the illusion that the International might be made healthy again by the proletariat of the West, in the event of some crisis occurring within the Soviet regime.

Between 1921 and 1927 I had repeated occasions to go to Moscow and take part, as a member of Italian Communist delegations, in a number ot congresses and meetings of the Executive. What struck me most about the Russian Communists, even in such really exceptional personalities as Lenin and Trotsky, was their utter incapacity to be fair in discussing opinions that conflicted with their own. The adversary, simply for daring to contradict, at once became a traitor, an opportunist, a hireling. An adversary in good faith is inconceivable to the Russian Communists. What an aberration of conscience this is, for so-called materialists and rationalists to uphold absolutely in their polemics the primacy of morals

{p. 107} over intelligence. To find a comparable infatuation one has to go back to the Inquisition. Just as I was leaving Moscow, in 1922, Alexandra Kollontaj said to me: 'If you happen to read in the papers that Lenin has had me arrested for stealing the silver spoons in the Kremlin, that simply means that I'm not entirely in agreement with him about some little problem of agricultural or industrial policy.' Kollontaj had acquired her sense of irony in the West and so only used it with people from the West. But even then, in those feverish years of building the new regime, when the new orthodoxy had not yet taken complete possession of cultural life, how difficult it was to reach an understanding with a Russian Communist on the simplest, and for us most obvious, questions; how difficult, I don't say to agree but at least to understand each other, when talking of what liberty means for a man of the West, even for a worker. I spent hours one day trying to explain to one of the directors of the State publishing house why she ought at least to be ashamed of the atmosphere of discouragement and intimidation in which Soviet writers lived. She could not understand what I was trying to tell her.

'Liberty,' I had to give examples, 'is the possibility of doubting, the possibility of making a mistake, the possibility of searching and experimenting, the possibility of saying no to any authority - literary, artistic, philosophic, religious, social, and even political.' 'But that,' murmured this eminent functionary of Soviet culture in horror, 'that is counterrevolution.' Then she added, to get a little of her own back: 'We're glad we haven't got your liberty, but we've got the sanatoria in exchange.' When I observed that the expression 'in exchange' had no meaning, 'liberty not being merchandise that could be exchanged,' and that I had seen sanatoria in other countries, she laughed in my face. 'You're in the mood for joking with me to-day,' she said to me. And I was so taken aback by her candour that I no longer dared to contradict her.

The spectacle of the enthusiasm of Russian youth in those first years of the creation of a new world, which we all hoped

{p. 108} would be more humane than the old one, was utterly convincing. And what a bitter disillusion it was, as the years went by and the new regime strengthened itself, and its economic system got into shape and the armed attacks from abroad ceased, to see the long-promised ultimate democratization failing to come, and, instead, the dictatorship accentuating its repressive character.

One of my best friends, the head of the Russian Communist Youth, Lazar Schatzky, one evening confided to me how sad he was to have been born too late and not to have taken part either in the 1905 or the 1917 revolutions. 'But there'll still be revolutions,' I said to console him, 'there'll always be need of revolutions, even in Russia.' We were in the Red Square, not far from the tomb of Lenin. 'What kind?' he wanted to know. 'And how long have we got to wait?' Then I pointed to the tomb, which was still made of wood at that time, and before which we used every day to see an interminable procession of poor ragged peasants slowly filing.

'I presume you love Lenin,' I said to him. 'I knew him too and have a very vivid recollection of him. You must admit with me that this superstitious cult of his mummy is an insult to his memory and a disgrace to a revolutionary city like Moscow.' I suggested to him, in short, that we should get hold of a tin or two of petrol and make a 'little revolution' on our own, by burning the totem-hut. I did not, to be frank, expect him to acccpt my proposal there and then, but at least I thought he would laugh about it; instead of which my poor friend went very pale and began to tremble violently. Then he begged me not to say dreadful things of that kind, either to him or still less to others. (Ten years later, when he was being searched for as an accomplice of Zinovieff, he committed suicide by throwing himself from the fifth floor of the house he lived in.) I have been present at the march past of immense parades of people and armies in the Red Square, but, in my mind, the recollection of that young friend's emotion and of his frightened and affectionate voice has remained stronger than any other image. It may be that that memory is 'objectively' more important. {end}

(4) Arthur Koestler, Promise and Fulfilment: Palestine 1917-1949

Arthur Koestler, Promise and Fulfilment: Palestine 1917-1949, Macmillan & Co, London 1949. Koeslter published this book after visiting the new state of Israel and meeting David Ben-Gurion.

{p. 278} With Ben Gurion I had a two hours' talk yesterday in his flat. ... B. G. answered ... it wasn't true that there was a two thousand year gap in Jewish history; although during that time Jews couln't administer themselves politically, they carried the spiritual heritage with them and continued to live with the Prophet Exekiel while waiting for the Messiah. I answered that this was exactly what I meant: they had lived in the past and in the future, but not in the present; that is what I call the gap in experience and social evolution. ...

{Koestler here identifies an important problem; when non-theistic Jews created the Soviet Union, their harshness probably derived in part from their "living in the future", apart from the Russians, for so long}

{p. 279} Israel's first Prime Minister is ... not an ignoramus. His attitude is the result of that deep-rooted complex - cultural claustrophobia.

{p. 282} On Thursday had a long talk with the head of the Education Department, and on Friday with the Director of the Herzlia school. Education in Israeli schools is at present based on quite shocking principles. ...

There are three officially recognized types of school ... Firstly, orthodoz religious schools, secondly "general" schools, and thirdly socialist schools run by the cultural department of Histadruth {the Federation of Labour}. ...

The religious schools which, according to the Education Department's figures, are attended by twenty-three per cent of all children between the ages of four and eighteen, make their pupils quite unfit for twentieth century life. Unlike some Catholic lay schools in Western Europe, which provided a solid all-round education and were sometimes quite outstanding, the Orthodox seminaries stuff their pupils' heads with medieval scholastic exergesis almost to the exclusion of any other branch of knowledge.

The socialist schools are attended by twenty-seven per cent of all children of the primary school age, mainly in the collective settlements and nig towns. ...

{p. 283} They aim at some form of synthesis between Biblical tradition and a superficial simplified Marxist philosophy.

Secondary education, from fourteen or earlier to eighteen, is to an extent of eighty per cent carried out by the "general" schools. In the average general secondary school, children at the age of fifteen have to devote, out of a total of thirty five schools hours per week, 4 hours to studying the Bible, 1 1/2 hours to studying Talmud, 5 hours to studying Hebrew literature; but only 1 1/2 hours to the study of history, which means mainly Jewish history.

History is taught by an equally egocentric system. For the study of antiquity the Bible serves as the main source, and Israel as the hub of the ancient world. ... mystical ultra-chauvinism.

{p. 290} ... the Histadruth, the General Federation of Labour in Israel.

Although affiliated to the World Federation of Trade Unions, the Histadruth cannot be compared with the Western type of Trade Union ... Histadruth is a creed and a cult ... Histadruth is both a Trade Union and the greatest single capitalist employer in Israel. Its members embrace 75 per cent of all wage earners who, with their dependents, represent more than half the country's total population, and the absolute majority of the electorate.

... the numerous cooperative and holding companies controlled by Histadruth, which act as agricultural producers, marketing cooperatives, trans-

{p. 291} port companies, bankers, factory owners, builders and retail cooperatives, book and newspaper publishers - and thus create a practically closed market with a closed circulation of money and goods. ...

The financial enterprises of the Histadruth include banks for agricultural credits, workers' credit and saving societies and a life insurance company. The Histadruth's Sick Fund provides medical care for half the population

... compared to the Histadruth, all private employers are small fry. Consequently, there is no class struggle in the traditional sense. Instead of it, we have the unique phenomenon of the Labour Trust systematically knocking out of business its private industrial competitors and then buying them up.

{the Israel Lasnd Authority owns the land: users only have leasehold title. One consequence is that non-Jews cannot buy up the land of Israel. More on the Histadruth: return.html}

{p. 292} The private industrialist can only survive in the long run by coming to terms with the Histadruth. He may do this by selling a controlling part of his shares to the Histadruth, as the country's two biggest factories did. ... Is it a new, bloodless approach to Socialism?

{p. 332} EPILOGUE

IN the Proclamation of Independence of the new State, on May 14, there is a paragraph which says

"Exiled from the Land of Israel, the Jewish people remained faithful to it in all the countries of their dispersion, never ceasing to pray and hope for their return and the restoration of their national freedom."

It is the kind of phrase which has been so often said before that one hardly realizes what momentous implications it carried on that specific occasion for the seven or eight million Jews outside Palestine. For it was the occasion on which their prayer had been fulfilled; and the logical consequence of the fulfilment of a prayer is that one ceases to repeat it. But if prayers of this kind are no longer repeated, if the mystic yearning for the return to Palestinet is eliminated from the Jewish faith, its very foundations and essence will have gone.

Towards the end of the Passover meal which commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, Jews all over the world lift their glasses and exclaim: "To next year in Jerusalem". For nearly twenty centuries this was a moving ritual symbol. Now that no obstacles bar any longer the fulfilment of the wish, the alternative before the faithful is either to be next year in Jerusalem, or to cease repeating a vow which has become mere lip-service.

In fact, the greater part of the formulae and vocabulary of Jewish ritual has become meaningless since May 15, 1948. The Proclamation of Independence affirms that "the State of Israel will be open to Jews from all the countries of their dispersion". In future, Jews can no longer refer to themselves with the ritual stock phrase of living in the Diaspora, or in Exile - unless they mean a self-imposed exile which has nothing to do with religion or tradition.

The existence of the Hebrew State - that is, a State whose language and culture are Hebrew, not Yiddish, Polish or American - puts every Jew outside Israel before a dilemma which will become increasingly acute. It is the choice between becoming a

{p. 333} citizen of the Hebrew nation and renouncing any conscious or implicit claim to separate nationhood.

This dilemma is not derived from abstract speculation, nor from the claims of logical consistency; it is imposed by hard historical circumstances. Anti-Semitism is once more on the increase In his address to the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry, the aged leader of Zionism, Dr. Weizmann, summed up a lifetime of experience:

"I am worried, but I don't see how I can stop it or what can be done. [Anti-Semitism] is a sort of disease that spreads apparently according to its own laws. I only hope that it will never reach the terrible dimensions which it reached in Europe. In fact, I somehow think that the Anglo-Saxon countries may be immune from it. But that is a hope, a pious wish - and when I look at Canada, South Africa, even Great Britain, even America, I sometimes lose my freedom from fear . . . I believe the only fundamental cause of anti-Semitism - it may seem tautological - is that the Jew exists. We seem to carry anti-Semitism in our knapsacks wherever we go...."

It is the twenty-first instalment of a twenty-century-old story. To expect that it will come to a spontaneous end is to go against historical and psychological evidence. It can only be brought to an end by Jewry itself.

Before the prayer was fulfilled by the rebirth of Israel this was difficult if not impossible. To renounce being a Jew meant in most cases to deny solidarity with the persecuted, and seemed a cowardly capitulation. Apart from pride, there was the consciousness of an old heritage which one had no right to discard, of a mission uncompleted, a promise unfulfilled. Jewry could not vanish from the scene of history in an anti-climax.

Now the climax is reached, the circle closed. It is no longer a question of capitulation, but of a free choice. The proclamation of the Hebrew State is a signal to Jewry to pause on its long journey, review its situation with sincerity towards itself, and face facts which some time ago it was excusable and even honourable to shun.

The dilemma would not arise if being a Jew were merely a matter of religion like being a Protestant, or merely a matter of racial descent like being a French-Canadian. But both these comparisons are fallacious. The Jewish religion is not merely a system

{p. 334} of faith and worship, but implies membership of a definite race and potential nation. The greater part of the sacred texts is national history. To be a good Catholic or Protestant it is enough to accept certain doctrines and moral values which transcend frontiers and nations; to be a good Jew one must profess to belong to a chosen race, which was promised Canaan, suffered various exiles and will return one day to its true home. The "Englishman of Jewish faith" is a contradiction in terms. His faith compels him to regard himself as one with a different past and future from the Gentile. He sets himself apart and invites being set apart. His subjective conviction creates the objective fact that he is not an English Jew, but a Jew living in England.

Nor is the condition of the American Jew comparable to that of, say, the American of Irish descent. The latter's relation to the "old country" is a cultural tie to a recent past of one or two generations ago. The American Jew's "old country", taken in the same sense, is not the Jewish State, but Poland or Lithuania. Whether his distant ancestors ever lived in Palestine, or rather how many of them did, and how many were Romans, Crusaders, Levantines, Slavs and Germans, is a moot point for the historian and anthropologist. All one can say is that with the exception of the "race-theorists" nearly all modern authorities hold that Jewish characteristics are a product of sustained environmental pressure, and not of racial heredity. An excellent summary of the evidence can be found in Toynbee's Study of History; and a striking example in the native generation of Israel itself, which, as we saw, is rapidly changing in appearance and character in an entirely un-Jewish direction.

The conclusion is that since the foundation of the Hebrew State the attitude of Jews who are unwilling to go there, yet insist on remaining a community in some way apart from their fellow-citizens, has become an untenable anachronism. This attitude is as a rule defended by two types of argument. The first is some explicit or implied theory of a separate Jewish race - which, apart from being historically untenable, the Jews are the first to denounce whcn it is propounded by their enemies. Tho second is religious tradition, with all its implied nationalism and Chosen Race ideology. Like all acts of faith, this must be accepted or rejected in toto. The true orthodox believer must draw the consequences, now that the opportunity is offered to him, otherwise his creed will become lip-service. But orthodox Jewry is a

{p. 335} vanishing minority. It is the well-meaning but confused majority which, through inertia, perpetuates the anachronism by clinging to a tradition in which it no longer really believes, to a mission which is fulfilled, a pride which may become inverted cowardice. Such honest sentimentalists should stop to think whether they have the right to place the burden of the ominous knapsack, now void of contents, on their children who have not asked for it.

To break the vicious circle of being persecuted for being "different", and being "different" by force of persecution, they must arrive at a clear decision, however difficult this may be. They must either follow the imperative of their religion, the return to the Promised Land - or recognize that that faith is no longer theirs. To renounce the Jewish faith does not mean to jettison the perennial values of Judaic tradition. Its essential teachings have passed long ago into the main-stream of the Judeo-Christian heritage. If a Judaic religion is to survive outside Israel, without inflicting the stigma of separateness on its followers and laying them open to the charge of divided loyalty, it would have to be a system of faith and cosmopolitan ethics freed from all racial presumption and national exclusivity. But a Jewish religion thus reformed would be stripped of all its specifically Jewish content.

{Like Koestler speaking of 'being persecuted for being "different", and being "different" by force of persecution', Norman Finkelstein writes in The Holocaust Industry, '{p. 44} The Holocaust is {p. 45} unique because it is inexplicable, and it is inexplicable because it  is unique.' finkelstein.html

These conclusions, reached by one who has been a supporter of the Zionist Movement for a quarter-century, while his cultural allegiance belonged to Western Europe, are mainly addressed to the many others in a similar situation. They have done what they could to help to secure a haven for the homeless in the teeth of prejudice, violence and political treachery. Now that the State of Israel is firmly established, they are at last free to do what they could not do before: to wish it good luck and go their own way, with an occasional friendly glance back and a helpful gesture. But, nevertheless, to go their own way, with the nation whose life and culture they share, without reservations or split loyalties.

Now that the mission of the Wandering Jew is completed, he must discard the knapsack and cease to be an accomplice in his own destruction. If not for his own sake, then for that of his children and his children's children. The fumes of the death chambers still linger over Europe; there must be an end to every calvary. {end}

(5) Salaam's review of The Homeless Mind


Reviewer: M A Sherif

Arthur Koestler was a Hungarian born polymath who became a British citizen in the 1950s and died in tragic circumstances in 1983. Three times nominated for the Nobel Prize, he was an iconoclastic figure who threw down the gauntlet to the left wing, the scientific establishment, Zionism and Hindu spiritualism. He was passionate in his campaigns against totalitarian tendencies, and wrote powerfully in defence of his stand.

His novel, 'Darkness at Noon', published in Britain in 1940 and written with reference to the show trials of the Stalinist period, was ranked in 1998 as the eighth best novel of the century. Similarly his powerful biographical essay in 'The God that Failed' ranks as a classic in the genre of confessional writings by ex-communists. ...

Koestler's 'Ghost in the Machine', published 1967, was a refreshing critique of the neo-Darwinian approach to evolution and the theories of the mind, followed up two years later with 'Beyond Reductionism'. He visited India 'in the mood of a pilgrim' but his account on Gandhi in 'The Lotus and the Robot' was so scathing that the book was banned in India.

A Jew by birth and an early supporter of Zionism, he came to be ashamed by the actions of the State of Israel and arguably his most provocative book, 'The Thirteenth Tribe', proposing that European Jews had no racial claim to land in Palestine, was published in 1976. An advocate of euthanasia, Koestler killed himself in his London home in Kensington, in an act of double suicide with his wife. He left a note in which he expressed "some timid hopes for a depersonalised after-life". His is a forgotten name today, even though on his seventieth birthday in 1975, 'The Times' compared him with George Orwell, with whom 'he shares the status of one of the most cogent and brilliant essayists of our time'.

David Cesarani, professor of Jewish History at the University of Southampton, has written a voluminous and pedantically chronological account of Koestler's life and thought. As a biographer he foists on his subject a number of his own prejudices, as a result of which the anglophile and convivial Koestler is painted as an outsider frustrated by a high-living and lazy British intellectual elite.

However Koestler acquired a sense of Englishness evident in remarks such as these, 'If even after thirty years in this country, I still sometimes feel a stranger among its natives, the moment I set foot on the Continent I feel British to the bone'. Moreover, Koestler was embraced and treated frankly and affectionately by the English writers of his day: Orwell spent a holiday in Koestler's Welsh cottage and chided him for his hedonistic streak; Muggeridge famously said that Koestler was 'all antennae and no head'; Cyril Connolly was a life-long friend.

In contrast, Cesarani has a chip on his shoulder about British intellectuals that he transfers to his subject, "Koestler's cosmopolitanism, volcanic energy and genuine anti-Facism must have made him an uncomfortable house guest for such louche, posturing, ineffectual under-achievers as Quennel and Connolly". Cesarani also interprets Koestler as the 'quintessential modern Jew'.

"For the deracinated Jew, temporarily cut off from his past and his people by his own volition, for whom the USSR now seemed something less than a new promised land, the Communist Party and the spirit of international brotherhood substituted as home. His ever-deepening involvement in the party was an expression of his search for identity and belonging, a quest that was typical of so many estranged Jews in the 1930s".

This theme of quintessential Jewishness is pursued with such single-mindedness that even Koestler's statements and actions disassociating himself from central European Jewry are regarded as 'acts of deception'! One wonders why, after chronicling Koestler's hedonistic lifestyle, misogynism, womanising and drunken revelry, Cesarani should still wish to embrace him in the Jewish fold. ...

Arthur Koestler's life provides important information on the history of Zionism. As a Zionist activist at the University of Vienna in the 1920s, he witnessed the struggle between the anti and pro socialist wings of the movement. ...

Koestler visited Palestine in 1944, acting as an intermediary between the socialist faction under Weizmann in London, and Menachim Begin, Jabotinsky's successor and head of Irgun in Palestine. According to Cesarini, Weizmann was concerned that Irgun's assassination of Lord Moyne, the Colonial Secretary and friend of Winston Churchill, would cause irreparable damage to the Zionist cause. ...

Koestler's profound disillusionment with Israel commenced almost immediately after the entity was established. In August 1947 he confessed "Marvelling at the fool I had been a year before Jabotinsky, Revisionism, Irgun, was still an undigested lump in my stomach. When I touched upon these subjects I descended from maturity to adolescent emotion".

Cesarini writes that by July 1948 Koestler was forming a very different picture of the war between the Israelis and the Arabs: "It seemed to him a grotesque shadow play. The Israelis claimed to have defeated an invasion by five Arab armies, but actually the incursions had limited objectives and were uncoordinated. He had learned that King Abdullah of Jordan had even concluded a secret agreement with the Israelis and the British not to push the Arab Legion beyond a certain point. Meanwhile, the Israeli authorities smuggled in arms, but attacked the Irgun for doing the very same." In Koestler's own words, "What my eyes fell upon was corruption and the smell of death".

Koestler met the first Prime Minister of Israel Ben Gurion and challenged him to explain the vision for the future - "was it to be Levantine, or Western or Orthodoxy?" If the latter, it meant a regression to the first century AD. At this Ben Gurion retorted that Koestler had no notion of what Jewish tradition meant. Koestler was bitter that Ben Gurion had "treated me as a stranger and goi". Koestler was also caught up in an incident in a Haifa cafe in which a gunman broadcast that the only good non-Jew was a dead one.

Koestler, with his famous mental antennae, could foresee that Israel's politicians were creating a fascist state. Notwithstanding Cesarani's insistence that Koestler's act of turning his back to Isreal made him ' a wandering Jew', it is worth noting what the subject himself has to say at this point of his life: "I am not really a Jew and haven't got the feelings of one". Koestler's views on Israel can be found in his book 'Promise and fulfilment: 1917-1949'. He tackled head-on issues such as the dilemma of dual loyalty facing Diaspora Jews after the establishment of Israel, and deemed Judaism as 'a perpetuum mobile for generating anti-Semitism'. Jewish religious observance amounted to 'the art of cheating the Lord'. The biographer Cesarani however comes to the bizarre conclusion that Koestler's attempt to flee Judaism was "the quintessential act of the modern Jew: it was, itself, a badge of identity".

The life and thought of Koestler provides an opportunity to raise wider, more interesting issues on an intellectual oddsey in the twentieth century. He had a creative insight that man was a more ennobled being than the creature envisaged in the Marxist, Darwinist and psyochoanalytical models of man. He drank from many fountains and searched for perfection in the world of ideas and the world of the flesh. Cesarini does not give enough attention to Koestler's science books, and it is significant that with this background - or despite it - Koestler's intuition led him to believe that there was a non-material reality and his entire property was bequested to found a Chair in Parapsychology at the Edinburgh University.
{end of selections}

Zeev Sternhell's book The Founding Myths of Israel - about Israel's Nationalist Socialist political system - provides much detail about the Histadrut as a vehicle for social ownership of the economy: nat-soc-isr.html.

Uri Davis' book Israel: An Apartheid State deals with the Histadrut:

To purchase Arthur Koestler's books second-hand through Abebooks:

Koestler is often associated with George Orwell. For some background on Orwell see burnham.html.

The early Soviet Union - after Lenin and Trotsky, but before Stalin's ascendancy: soviet-union-early.html.

Making sense of Stalin: stalin.html.

The Communist movement was irretrievably split by the Trotsky/Stalin divide. Jewish communists, over time, moved increasingly to the Trotsky camp, with its ambivalence about the Soviet Union. At first they were inclined to preserve it - hopefully with Trotsky back at the helm. Later they turned against it. Some co-operated with the CIA, and the CIA used them to drive a fatal wedge into the Communist camp: cia-infiltrating-left.html.

Write to me at contact.html.