In the first chapter of The Captive Mind, Milosz frames his discussion of intellectual submissiveness towards the Soviet regime by discussing the Murti-Bing pill. Milosz derives this pill from a pre-WWII novel by Stanislaw Witkiewicz, a Polish writer. The Murti-Bing pill, when taken, eases the consumer worries and makes them complacent about the larger problems existing in the world. In the novel by Witkiewisz, as Sino-Mongolian hordes invade the western Europe, the takers of the pills are so apathetic and nonchalant that they welcome the invaders and give them control. For Milosz, the Soviets are the invaders and central European intellectuals are the phlegmatic people on Murti-Bing allowing their nation to be overrun.
As previously discussed, Milosz sees Soviet communism as a “New Faith” and, by believing in this “New Faith,” central European intellectuals were able to gain fame and live in relative ease as long as they toed the line. Those who selfishly adopted Russian communism and rejected liberal ideas were able to gain recognition but Milosz finds fault with them. He admires all revolutionaries whether right or wrong but distrusts those who adopted themselves to the newest movement. This is a concept that I can support especially in today’s political world. With the 24 news cycle in perpetual motion, politicians desire and attempt to espouse the newest populous rhetoric even if it stands in direct contrasts to their past statements. This blatant hypocrisy in the modern political system is the most repugnant aspect of the system. Every politician today is hypocrite and demonstrates to me that our political leaders of have no moral grounding. Though I am disparaging of politicians, I do not believe them to be socialist, communist, fascist, or Stalinist.
I think the most important observation that Milosz makes in this first chapter is on the role of religion in society. Milosz points out that from Rome to the revolutionary period (the late 18th century) man had stable frame of reference – religion. With the majority of the population attending or partaking in Christian religious practices, the noble, the blacksmith, and the peasant all had a common frame with which to view the world. This more or less allowed for society to remain rather stable, but the advent of modernization resulted in a decline in religiosity and the proliferation of multiple frames of reference. Religion became replaced with new philosophies and concepts many of which were inaccessible to the common man. This is a great observation. Here Milosz is pointing out that even though Christianity made some rich and left others poor, it still acted as a great leveler in society – at least intellectually. With everyone seeing and understanding the world through the same concepts, men throughout the world, no matter their wealth, language, or profession could see the world the same, but with modernization and the decline in religiosity, intellectuals and their philosophies became more esoteric and were they were longer able to see eye to eye with the everyman.
But, as Milosz sees it, a Marxist society, a very modern concept for organizing peoples, provides a new frame reference as anything and everything produced and disseminated in a Marxist society is presented through the Marxist frame of reference. Therefore, if every newspaper, magazine, and book presents the same worldview, the cab driver, the doctor, and the professor are all going to see it the same; theoretically Marxism as acts as societal leveler. However, we know from history, that Soviet communism produced winners and losers and no great leveling of society occurred, but at the time after WWII, when Europe was in shambles, socialism seemed appealing but not the communism of Russia. In Western Europe, a vast social program was emplaced and functioned well until the 1970s but in central and Eastern Europe, Russian communism was forced upon the people and was colossal failure.
The final phase after accepting the Murti-Bing pill was for intellectuals to dismiss their nations and left the advocates of the “New Faith” feeling guilty. After years of developing a love and passion for one’s country, the central/eastern European intellectual had to denounce it in favor of the center (Moscow). National songs, books, poems, and music, that could not be co-opted by the regime, became illegal and holding these became a state crime. Thus to get the support and fame of the center, the intellectual renounced his homeland in favor of an ideology perpetuated by Moscow.
While not of the information in chapter one was new to me, I found extremely informative in they way that the Soviets worked to entice intellectuals into supporting communism.