The Captive Mind

In the final two chapters of the Captive Mind, Milosz first examines man and why he is the enemy of the New Faith.  He explores the social classes and expresses why each one could possibly represent a threat to Soviet system, the proliferation of the black market to do the failures of Central Planning, and the similarities between the Church and the communism.  As for the classes, Milosz emphasizes the threat the petite bourgeoisie and the peasants represent towards Soviet communism.  I think that be makes a strong point in describe the peasants, who only recently freed from serfdom, now own land and refuse to enter collectivization as this appears to be a return to serfdom.  The peasants thus become an enemy of the state because they refuse to surrender what they had only recently acquired through centuries of hardship.  Thus peasants become enemies of the state of kulaks and are shipped to Siberia.  The petite bourgeoisie are dangerous because they represent independent firms not yet owned and controlled by the central plan and the seeds of capitalism.  These people are also active in the black market where the trade goods and services with one another that the state cannot supply.  Here Milosz makes a great point that has been further emphasized and explored by Slavenka Drakulic – that the Soviet system is unable to provide basic consumer goods to the population and that this failure more than anything reveals why Soviet communism failed.

The final chapter examines the Baltic States and the fear created by the Soviets.  Milosz makes the argument that the Baltic’s are different historically, linguistically, and politically from Russia and that the implementation of the Soviet system is inherently alien.  Because the system is alien in every way to life in the Baltic’s, it is forced to rule through fear and death.  Here is Milosz’s take on the rule by fear which I fully agree with.  “Fear is well known as a cement in societies.  In a liberal capitalist economy fear of lack of money, fear of losing one’s job, fear of slipping down the social ladder all spur the individual to greater effort.  But what exists in the Imperium is naked fear.  In a capitalist city with a population of one hundred thousand people, some ten thousand . . . are haunted by fear of unemployment. . . But if all one hundred thousand people live in daily fear, they give off a collective aura that hangs over the city like a heavy cloud.” (239)  I think that this quote fairly well sums up Milosz’s though process.  Though the West is not perfect and capitalism can be indifferent and callous to those on the bottom of society, the majority still have the opportunity to do, say, think, and write what they want without fear of reprisal from the state.  Under Soviet communism, only those in the upper echelons of society can live comfortably, but they are still subject to the center.  They can not deviate from the party line and must always be prepared to that they will be made an example.  This type of system rewards cunning and backstabbing rather than honesty creating a society of fear that trudges forward daily without progress.

The Captive Mind

The final character sketch produced by Milosz is Delta.  Delta appears to be a very gregarious writer whose poems and works were comical and absurd.  Due to the comedic effct of his writings Delta was a popular author whose works were in much demand, but Delta was also an alcoholic spending his money before he earned it.  Delta joined the volunteer Polish army but was captured by the Red Army and then subsequently captured by the Germans remaining in a German labor camp until the war end.  Like other writers, Delta remained in the West after the war but he longed for his home and he heard that the Soviets were implementing a new liberal government, and he chose to return.  Delta was given a prominent cultural position in the new Poland and he continued to write as he desired, but, as the Soviet regime became more entrenched, Delta was forced to adopted social realism as his method of writing.  This hurt Delta’s talent as he was a man of the absurd yet he had little choice.  Milosz suggests that Delta faced problems because of his older more comedic works and other communist writers criticized him for these pieces forcing Delta to become even more hard line in order to demonstrate his loyalty to the party.  Delta again reveals for Milosz the seduction of the intellectual to the party.  They are given a position of power, authority, and wealth in the Soviet system, but as the Soviet communism becomes entrenched a harder line is taken against producers of culture.  They must always and consistently support the Soviet ideological front to maintain their positions. Thus they are seduced and wedded to a system they neither support nor desire in order to maintain lifestyle and their lives as any small deviation can mean death.  That is the common thread of all four character sketches; these writers, following the war, find something new and desirable in the Soviet system, but, as it becomes further entrenched and its true face is revealed, they understand that they made a deal with the devil, but it is too late to escape.

The Captive Mind

The third Character sketch examined by Milosz is Gamma. Milosz knew Gamma for many years as the attended university together in Vilno, Vilna, or Vilnius.  Milosz describes as a man from a minor noble family who was always attempting to prove himself; however, Milosz believes him to be a hack of a writer.  Because of his background, Gamma drifted towards the right countering the rise of German nationalism with Polish nationalism.  It appears, from Milosz descriptions of Alpha and Gamma, that those on the right, I would imagine a law and order type, quickly fell in left with the Soviets who were quickly restricting and post war Poland.  During the war, Gamma lived in Moscow becoming part of those Polish communists groomed by Moscow to take over the post-war Polish government.  Following the war, Gamma produces speeches inspiring the people to support the new Soviet regime and it is in this work that Gamma finds his place.  He becomes a propaganda machine for the Soviet system and he revels in his ability to inspire and bring about change.  He is eventually rewarded for his work with an ambassadorship position in Western Europe where he lives in opulence while the people of Poland suffer under Soviet Communism.  This is where Milosz attacks Gamma in my reading of the chapter.  Gamma, living in Western Europe, continues to write for and support the Soviet system but it is system he is free from.  Milosz finds him to by hypocritical supporting a repressive system that he does not understand.  However, Gamma received a promotion and moved onto a higher position in the Polish government forcing him back to Warsaw.  Now back in Warsaw Milosz believes that Gamma will have a much more difficult time living as he is now living in a police state that watches it’s writers closely.  His writing is repetitive as there is no creative process involved in supporting the party line.  Milosz believes that Gamma wants war so that he can again inspire people rather than produce bland novels supporting social realism while war remains unlikely.

The Captive Mind

Milosz’s sketch of Beta is the most powerful for me.  Prior to the War Beta was a young man already known for his literary talents.  During the war, Beta, like Alpha and Milosz, was writer in the underground; however, Beta was unique in that he observed that the underground was only countering German nationalism with Polish nationalism and that this would not change anything.  “This lack of vision led him to see the world as a place in which nothing existed outside of naked force.” (113)  Beta sought a rational reason for the underground but discovered none. Beta was eventually captured by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz and fortunately he lived and was able to write about his experience which provides a unique view of the role of prisoners in the camp that contradicts many of the romanticized depictions of the prisoners.  Beta relates how those prisoners in advantageous positions, like himself, were able to survive and how other failed.  Milosz recounts and heavily quotes Beta’s book where he describes how he as a trusted prisoner helped to divide newly arrived prisoners between those who lived and died and how they would sort through the arrives luggage for beneficial items such as shoes and food.  Milosz believes that Beta’s descriptions are cold and emphasize his ability to dehumanize the situation and utilize his cleverness to survive where others failed.  After surviving Auschwitz and living in Munich, Beta choose to return to Poland and participate in the government.  With his writings on the evils of Nazism, he was given a prominent position in which to espouse his ideas, but as the Soviet system became rigid, his ideas and writings were no longer acceptable.  He was now to infuse Marxist – Leninism into his writings.  Now instead of the individual surviving in concentration camps Beta was forced to show class tensions that never existed.  Like Alpha, Beta became disillusioned with this role in the party and eventually committed suicide.

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.