The International Workingmen's Fellowship of the Rings
It is no surprise that some of the most popular books of all time openly advocate communism and revolutionary ideas. From “Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-tung” to the “Communist Manifesto”, to the more modern Harry Potter series (which we have already discussed), it seems that when we turn to literature, communism is never far from our thoughts.
Today let’s direct our attention to a lesser known, but still quite influential book: J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Fellowship of the Ring”. It is the first in a three volume epic that depicts in some detail the struggle against the advent of private property, albeit indirectly. But there are some key moments in the first book that are worth studying and remembering for any revolutionary.
###On The Acting of History
Someone once said:
Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.
Or something like that. I’m paraphrasing. The point is that while action is a matter of choice, circumstance is not. There are forces at work more powerful than an individual, and it would be absurd to expect an individual to escape them just by deciding to. But that doesn’t mean action is impossible.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
###On Karl Marx
Look at this rare illustration of ‘Gandalf the Grey’. Looks a lot like a certain German communist, don’t you think?
There is a value in the call for ‘social justice’, as it is one way of confronting the numerous problems of our current, capitalist, society. But ‘justice’ itself can be a dangerous dead end, relying as it does on - in one for or another - someone to dispatch their judgement. For anyone seeking to build a society built on radically democratic lines, this is a risky proposition. Or, to put it another way:
“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”
For decades it seemed like the left was fracturing exponentially; unable to reconcile, competing groups dissolved and split apart at a moment’s notice. Thanks in no small part to the ideas of intersectionality, a new kind of unity and solidarity is beginning to emerge. But it is worth being on guard against simply forming a new kind of identity politics, or a new kind of ‘big tent’ homogeneity. Unity is born of complexity, and it is always good to remain humble and aware of that fact.
“But it is not your Shire,” said Gildor, “Others dwelt here before Hobbits were, and others will dwell here again when Hobbits are no more. The wide world is all about you; you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.”
As we are all aware, politics and the making of history is not a game. I have never heard of anyone treating it like an sport to comment on and analyze without consequence. A game has finite rules and limited complexity - it is played again and again. Revolution is creative; its rules will only be known after the fact. It is frankly a relief that everyone already knows this, and that they do not bombard the world with unending polemics in a desparate attempt to be heard.
We all know this. But I’ll let Gildor do the talking:
Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. But what would you? You have not told me all concerning yourself; and how then shall I choose better than you?
###On Socialism in One Country
Why is ‘solidarity’ necessary? Why is ‘internationalism’? It’s not simply that ‘your pain is my pain’ and that we are all human beings together. No; it’s that the problems we are facing are social; they must be confronted as a society. They are the products of an atomized, individualized decision making process. Simply making a few ‘better’ decisions here and there will not change this - at least, not enough.
Socialism in One Country is not enough.
“...all such places will soon become islands under siege, if things go on as they are going”
###On The Transformation of Revolution
Revolutionary activity, by its nature, is the creation of something new. As such it is both vulnerable and resilient in wholly unique ways. For centuries, forces of counter-revolution have misunderstood what they are dealing with by putting people and events into established categories and judging them by old expectations. This is the strength of revolution - it challenges even, or especially, the fundamentals. Which makes it all the more difficult for agents of reaction to counter it, though they remain in positions of power.
“...let folly be our cloak, [said Gandalf] a veil before the eyes of the Enemy! For he is very wise, and weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of his malice. But the only measure that he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning.”