Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Aesthetics of Tragedy

Another argument of Fitzpatrick deserves comment. Fitzpatrick’s opinion is that there is an aesthetic dimension to the long Russian revolution. To take the argument one step further, the fact that Stalin killed the original revolutionaries who believed in a socialist utopia is the most aesthetically interesting aspect of the revolutionary experience. It’s one thing for the protagonists to defeat their enemies; it’s another for the protagonists to self-destruct. In the French Revolution, the trials of Danton and Robespierre are the most sacred moments of the entire historical drama. How odd to face the guillotine killed poetically by the very process he had helped to create.

George Jacques Danton

Yet Robespierre’s death—see that beautiful movie, Danton—might be seen as tragic too, since Robespierre was the essence of Revolution, an incorruptible force who may have become intolerable to men who didn’t possess the stomach to remain loyal to the original principles of the Revolution—equality, fraternity, and liberty. Certainly Robespierre’s death—and the death of the cause of the Sans-Coulette—he represented, were seen as the heart of the tragedy of the French Revolution by the Russian revolutionaries.

Although the Communists killed many innocent Russians, the ones who garnered the most international sympathy were the Old Bolsheviks or true believers in the very force that destroyed them. Trotsky’s expulsion from the Soviet Union was sad enough: Once Lenin’s most capable lieutenant, he was first dragged from his apartment and exiled to the distant In the Purge Show Trials, then expelled from the Soviet Union altogether. (Later, we famously met his end by way of an assassin’s ice pick).

Nikolai Krestinsky

Still worse, Zinoviev, Kamenev, and even Bukharin, all implicated themselves; testifying to their own despicable—but false—betrayal of the Communist cause. This kind of self-immolation was harnessed by Western writers such as Koestler, who wrote a horrific tale of a brave true believer who struggles to find a reason to believe that his own admission of guilt and consequent death is historically necessary. Orwell wrote about a similar theme in Animal Farm. The Revolution succeeds but the revolutionaries quickly separate into a new oppressor/oppressed dichotomy.

Arthur Koestler

Soltzheniztyn, despite his own familiarity with non-Bolshevik victims, was also impressed with the tragic dimensions of the Old Bolsheviks, who, even in the gulag, argued relentlessly that their party had made a simple mistake by accusing them but remained a force for good in the country at large. If Stalin could only be told about their unhappy fate in the gulag, he would set things right.

No comments:

Post a Comment