The Captive Mind

After examining why Soviet Communism became attractive to intellectuals, Milosz examines four acquaintances of his that threw in their lot with the communists.  In these character sketches, we see the process and the attraction of the Soviet system those intellectuals and artists that survived the war.  Milosz utilizes the pseudonyms Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta to identify those men who found solace in the Soviet system.

The first is Alpha the Moralist who began his career as a semi-successful writer for right wing publications.  Alpha always desired to elicit an emotional response from his readers and he eventually found success when he composed a book examining Catholicism which led to prominence.  Interestingly, at this point Milosz emphasizes that initially the communists tolerated “intellectual Catholics” because they opposed the extreme right; however, when their usefulness deteriorated, these intellectual Catholics were first to the gulag system.  Though hailed as a catholic writer, Alpha was never a Catholic but from this vantage point he could create strong emotional and moral experiences for his audience.  During the war and subsequent occupation, Alpha along with other writers became prominent in the underground press agitating against the Nazi machine.  Even with Nazi occupation, the number of communist Poles was still significantly small as the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact exacerbated the Poles already virile hated for the Russians.  Thus when the Red Army reached the Vistula River outside of Warsaw, the Polish underground and the Home Army choose to fight and remove the Nazis in the hopes that if they secured the capital the Communists would leave Poland independent.  Tragically, the Home Army was decimated by the Nazi forces and the Red Army offered no support as the Soviets were determined to dominate the Slavic rivals.  The failure of the uprising and multitude of death that surrounded Warsaw was the rupture moment for Alpha; it moved him to support communism.  Like many intellectuals he believed that communism was a historical force that would dominate the world and choose to be on the side of history.  At first, Alpha basks in his new ideology as he lectures the people about the benefits of communist society to the peasants and workers, but he comes to realize that his past as a right winger and Catholic writer is suspect and he composes a scathing self criticism.  As a result, Alpha is placed in charge of propagating the party line against the church and his writing becomes contrived and predictable.

The sketch of Alpha reveals how history affects the thinking of an individual.  Prior to the uprising, Alpha remained a staunch supporter of Poland and the Polish government in London; however, the failure of the uprising, planned and initiated by the London Poles, and its devastation caused Alpha to re-think his support.  Alpha certainly was not a communist but when looking for alternatives between the liberal capitalism of the west and the Soviet communism of the east he placed his bet on communism.  He saw communism as an inevitable historical process.  However, this proved to be false and eventually became a another party writer spewing the center’s propaganda.

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