I was unimpressed with The Communist Manifesto, so I found Whittaker Chambers’ Witness very helpful for understanding why men become communists. Why do people become communists? What do liberals really want? What makes them tick?
As I seek to understand people and answer these questions, what I find is that everything liberals and communists want Christianity already has, and has it better. Liberals and communists want what Christianity promises, but they want it without God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit, and they want it now, in their time and in their own way. Consider the Witness of Whittaker Chambers–page numbers in parentheses below refer to this book.
“educated men become Communists chiefly for moral reasons” (8).
“Communists are that part of mankind which has recovered the power to live or die–to bear witness–for its faith. . . . The communist vision is the vision of Man without God.
It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man’s liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man’s destiny and reorganizing man’s life and the world” (9).
The Communist Party “has posed in practical form the most revolutionary question in history: God or Man?” (10).
As Chambers considers the comprehensive meta-narrative communism offers, he explains the rationale for communism’s crimes in the form of a question communists answer in the affirmative:
“Have you the moral strength to take upon yourself the crimes of history so that man at last may close his chronicle of age-old, senseless suffering, and replace it with a purpose and a plan?” (11).
Chambers returns to the necessary evils communism must commit in order to bring in the golden age, again with a rhetorical question:
“What man can call himself a Communist who has not accepted the fact that Terror is an instrument of policy, right if the vision is right, justified by history, enjoined by the balance of forces in the social wars of this century?” (14).
In communist writings, Chambers found
“the simple statement that terror and dictatorship are justified to defend the socialist revolution if socialism is justified. Terror is an instrument of socialist policy if the crisis was to be overcome” (195).
As Chambers saw the outworkings of these policies, the massacres and forced starvations, murders too many to mention, he concluded that communism is evil.
Chambers is clear that communism is a godless answer to the problem of evil and suffering:
“Communism is what happens when, in the name of Mind, men free themselves from God. . . .
The crisis of Communism exists to the degree in which it has failed to free the peoples that it rules from God. . . . The crisis of the Western world exists to the degree in which it is indifferent to God. It exists to the degree in which the Western world actually shares Communism’s materialist vision, is so dazzled by the logic of the materialist interpretation of history, politics and economics, that it fails to grasp that, for it, the only possible answer to the Communist challenge: Faith in God or Faith in Man? is the challenge: Faith in God” (16–17).
What drives men to communism is the desire for an answer to the world’s problems. Chambers writes:
“Sooner or later, one of my good friends is sure to ask me: How did it happen that a man like you became a Communist? Each time I wince, not at the personal question, but at the failure to grasp the fact that a man does not, as a rule, become a Communist because he is attracted to Communism, but because he is driven to despair by the crisis of history through which the world is passing.
I force myself to answer: In the West, all intellectuals become Communists because they are seeking the answer to one of two problems: the problem of war or the problem of economic crises” (191).
At one point in the book, Chambers recounts an instance when a fellow communist reproached him for helping a poor man. The communist said to Chambers, “We can’t save them. They are lost. We can only save our generation, perhaps, and the children.” Chambers then explains that “the mind of the Communist bureaucrat” believes “that he is saving the children” as he pursues communism, irrespective of the cruelty he actually does to real people (218–19).
As he testified against Alger Hiss, the following exchange took place between Chambers and the chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee (692–93, emphasis added):
“THE CHAIRMAN: What influenced you to join the Communist Party originally?
MR. CHAMBERS: It is a very difficult question. As a student, I went to Europe. It was then shortly after the First World War. I found Germany in chaos, and partly occupied; northern France, and parts of Belgium were smashed to pieces. It seemed to me that a crisis had been reached in western civilization which society was not able to solve by the usual means. I then began to look around for the unusual means. I first studied for a considerable time British Fabian socialism, and rejected it as unworkable in practice. I was then very much influenced by a book called Reflections on Violence, by Georges Sorel, a syndicalist, and shortly thereafter I came to the writings of Marx and Lenin. They seemed to me to explain the nature of the crisis, and what to do about it.
THE CHAIRMAN: Well, I understand how a young man might join the Communist Party, but will you explain to us how a person who has made a real living in this country, a person with a large income, some of the witnesses we have had before this committee, over a period of time, what, in your mind, would influence them to join the party here in this country?
MR. CHAMBERS: The making of a good living does not necessarily blind a man to a critical period which he is passing through. Such people, in fact, may feel a special insecurity and anxiety. They seek a moral solution in a world of moral confusion. Marxism, Leninism offers an oversimplified explanation of the causes and a program for action. The very vigor of the project particularly appeals to the more or less sheltered middle-class intellectuals, who feel that there the whole context of their lives has kept them away from the world of reality. I do not know whether I make this very clear, but I am trying to get at it. They feel a very natural concern, one might almost say a Christian concern, for underprivileged people. They feel a great intellectual concern at least, for recurring economic crises, the problem of war, which in our lifetime has assumed an atrocious proportion, and which always weighs on them. What shall I do? At that crossroads the evil thing, communism, lies in wait for them with a simple answer.”
Chambers explains that he broke with communism because:
“I had rejected the right of the mind to justify evil in the name of history, reason or progress, because I had asserted that there is something greater than the mind, history or progress. I did not know [at that point] that this Something is God” (81).
He goes on to describe how he
“began to sense that the two mirages that had beckoned me into the desert–the mirage of Almighty Mind and its power to plan human salvation–were illusions” (82).