THE NAKED GOD : Howard Fast A Review by Om Prakash Deepak
Published by Frederick A. Praeger, New York, pp. 197 - Published in Mankind, 19..?
COINCIDENCES sometimes are ironic. But the coincidence which, brought a copy of “The Naked God” to me the same morning as news papers published reports of Boris Pasternak’s expulsion from the Soviet Writers' Union had a tragic irony. And reading the book made me a little sad. For, it seems, getting out of the limits set by, your civilisation is infinitely more difficult than getting out of your own skin or of the limits set by your party.
Fast's book had a familiar ring to me, for I too once belonged to a party, which differed essentially from the party of communism, and yet in many ways tried to copy it. There was a time when terms like “democratic centralism”, “dictatorship of the proletariat” and “socialist realism” were accepted tenets of the Congress Socialist Party, at least of its Punjab branch. The party was your religion, your God.
India’s socialism could get rid of its fetters, but communism can’t. Communism cannot change for the simple reason that the communist deities are firmly installed their temples, the biggest of the, and the most vulnerable in Moscow, attended by several smaller ones. Communism can not change because the fetters are an integral part of it.
Fast’s sincerity in delineating the contours of this deity, the 'Naked God' as he calls it, impresses. He has drawn only from his own experience as a writer who was also a member of the Communist Party. Consequently, many people, who have studied communism objectively would find the descriptions incomplete, the analysis inadequate. Fast's experience relates to a period which was what the Communists themselves called “left sectarianism”. Many of the incidents Fast relates would not have taken place in a period of “right deviationism”. The conflict of the ‘writer’ with the ‘party’ would be there but of a different type. The essential fact is the complete subordination of the writer in his relationship with the party. That is the reason why all that is great and glorious in the past can be claimed by communism as its heritage, Tolstoy and Goethe and even Rabi Thakur can be eulogised, but creative genius cannot be tolerated in the present unless it can be tamed and harnessed to the party’s band-wagon. And then it is neither creative nor genius. For an untamed genius, as Fast says, “is dangerous”, very dangerous.
Howard Fast joined the Communist party in 1943 and left it in 1956, after Khruschev’s secret report. The sense of horror and utter degradation that a sensitive man was bound to feel at the secret report has led him to write some brilliant prose: “There was the evil in what we dreamed of as Communists: we took the noblest dreams and hopes of mankind as our credo; the evil we did was to accept the degradation of our own souls and because we surrendered in ourselves, in our own party existence, all the best and most precious gains and liberties of mankind - because we did this, we betrayed mankind and the Communist party became a thing of destruction.”
One can go on quoting passages after passages of equally brilliant or better prose, for a writer is telling the story of his own anguish, his own torments, his own experiences and conflicts: "Whatever his particular work, the writer is a singular and lonely person. In the small hours of the night, tearing out of himself his particular story, he is perhaps more alone than almost any other person can be." And yet this very loneliness leads him to an identification with the "noblest dreams and hopes of mankind" and even more so with the "search for the truth".
I can easily recommend Fast's book to every writer, Communist or otherwise, for Fast recognises that it is not communism alone that is intolerant of the “search for the truth”. The others may use methods that are physically less decisive and more indirect, but the attempt to reduce thought and creative writing to propaganda is there. And the attempts are not so unsuccessful either.
But that is not all. Besides, narrating his experiences of the net work of lie and deceit, torture and murder, tyranny and betrayal that has become characteristic of communism. Fast goes on to state what he considers to be some major premises of a world doctrine. His indignation at anti-semitic and anti-Jewish policies are easily understood, for the Jews, perhaps, are the most persecuted people in history. But when he goes further and equates anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism in a world perspective and calls the Jewish question the central point in contemporary world politics, one begins to wonder whether he is not furnishing a psychological proof of the affinity between the Russian and American systems, between East Europe and West. Israel and Zionism are today not merely negatively anti-Communist, they have acquired the positive character of being agents of Western Imperialism. Moreover, Fast’s assessment of the Jewish question being the central point in contemporary politics, betrays an inability to view things from a world perspective and shows a narrowly European mind.
It is not an unusual phenomenon. Silone and Sartre, Spender and Gide, and numerous others, after reacting from the horrors of communism have sought refuge cither in Christianity, or in their own private individuality or in the Western type of socialism. Their minds refuse to comprehend that the Western civilisation is not a world civilisation and is incapable of growing into one, or that their can be any future of the world outside the scope of their present civilisation. The European mind must accept one of the two realities, the Soviet reality or the Atlantic reality, as his ideal. The most he can do is to piously hope that his world will not collapse around him. Even the writer, the most sensitive person, dares not look beyond the frontiers of his own civilisation.
And that made me feel a little sad.
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