THE SOCIALIST PHENOMENON by Igor Shafarevich

THE SOCIALIST PHENOMENON

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KIRKUS REVIEW

According to Soviet mathematician and dissident Shafarevich, ""any approach to socialism ought to be based on principles broad enough to be applicable to the Inca empire, to Plato's philosophy and to the socialism of the twentieth century."" In trying to do as he says, he runs roughshod over both history and theory, but the intent here is so unflinchingly dogmatic that intellectual canons hardly count. A cohort of Solzhenitsyn, Shafarevich is no less committed to anti-communism and religious salvation. Creating what he calls a model of ""chiliastic socialism,"" he looks to such diverse sources as Plato, medieval heretical sects like the Anabaptists and Cathars, and so-called utopian literature (More and Campanella) as exemplars of a doctrine that combines the abolition of property and the family, ""hostility"" to religion, and ""communality."" While the ideas of this chiliastic socialism are bad enough, the efforts to put it into practice are even worse--and for evidence Shafarevich cites the Incas, Mesopotamia, and ancient Egypt and China (all bureaucratic states, but the similarities end there). After showing to his satisfaction that all these examples--in addition to contemporary China and the USSR--prove that socialism leads to misery, Shafarevich offers an explanation of why people keep trying it: socialism contains a subliminal expression of the desire for the death of humanity to which the human psyche responds. For proof, he relies on instances of socialism's emotional and anti-rational character--Marx, one of the great rationalists, kept trying to force reality into his categories; an irrational act, according to this mathematician--and happily notes that the ""nihilist"" Sartre was also a Marxist. Shafarevich's hope is that this human will to nothingness is only a phase on the road to spiritual awakening. His ""broad principles"" are no principles at all, and his pseudo-erudition is merely the filling for a pre-formed mind-set.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1980
Publisher: Harper & Row