Advanced Intellectuals and Backward Countries

Advanced Intellectuals and Backward Countries

Traditionally Marxism has claimed to be a carrier of progress beyond the attainment of capitalism. The argument ran: Capitalism, having reached its summit, is weighed down with internal contradictions. At this point, the proletariat, matured by long apprenticeship in capitalist techniques, takes over and leads society to new heights.

The reality has been otherwise. Those who most religiously adhered to this doctrine were never able to take power except in countries where industry was minimal, where there was hardly a bourgeoisie or a proletariat, and where economic and social life were at a very low level. The larger consequences of this fact do not here concern us. What interests me is one of its more incongruous by-products: the passion of the “advanced” intellectuals for undeveloped countries.

Until recently the heroes of “progressivism”—those who despise the West because it retards the Historical Process—were heart and soul for the muzhik’s Russia. But lately their horizon has expanded. As Russia becomes more industrialized, they turn toward China, Burma, Syria and Egypt.

Marx, Engels and the early socialists focused their attention upon the most highly-developed countries, England, France and America. Living on the crest of civilization’s wave, they were passionately concerned with political and technological improvements. But the Communists have changed all that. They get their illumination from the countries with the fewest light bulbs.

Hoisting aloft the flag of historical determinism, they declare that any political superstructure is no more than a reflection of the economic infrastructure. Thereupon these archangels of progress salute the Communist regimes which managed to establish themselves only in countries with primitive infrastructures. Conclusion: either the Communist superstructure of these countries, as a true reflection, is also primitive and then it becomes necessary to strip away its “progressive” halo; or the superstructure is not a true reflection and out goes the determinist theory.

Nor does Sputnik dissolve this dilemma. The passion of the “progressive” intellectuals for Russia was born 25 years ago, at a time when the country had nothing but primitive economic structures. And—it is noteworthy—as the USSR has grown industrially, the enthusiasm of the “progressives” has been steadily displaced upon China, Indonesia, Syria, where the economic structures are at best those of capitalism a century ago.

Besides, when I speak of infrastructure I mean, in good Marxist parlance, that which promotes the general improvement of the means of production and consequently of popular consumption. The launching of the satellite, though a remarkable achievement, has not changed the lot of the masses of Soviet workers. It is well to remember that there are still quarters in Moscow without running water or gas, wh...