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Koestler, A.

(1947) The Yogi and the Commissar


Having been a member of the Dutch socialdemocratic party with Marxist tendencies when I was in my twenties, of course I should have read this book at that time. It was mentioned a lot at that time, but always with a certain disdain. ut actually it is well informed, well written and raises important issues. !lready in "#$% it gives a lot of facts about the &oviet 'nion that makes it very clear that it in no way can be understood as a socialist state or even a state that is striving to become one. (ather, under &talin it was reformed back to a )sarist but now totalitarian * regime. +oestler paints a very specific picture about changes in the law and assigning state heroes from the old regime that leave no doubt about how &talin saw himself. ,ven now worth the read I think. &till, +oestler defines himself as a socialist at that time. In his analysis about what went wrong and how to escape, he points to the ethics of the -ommissar as against that of the .ogi. ,thics has been reduced to psychology /0reud * &uperego1, physiology, self-interest etc. )his leads of course to cynicism and a practice where attaining a goal 2ustifies the use of any means. It leads to the power politics of the -ommissar. 'sing insights from science about the irreducibility of complex phenomena to 3lower4 levels * insights that are broadly in line with contemporary ideas about it -, +oestler argues for the irreducibility of ethics as an experience of human beings in society. 5ow, whereas normally our practices are done in a specific level of complexity, +oestler sees the .ogi as looking 3sideways4 at these levels and thus having a broad view of reality. +oestler argues that such a view is needed to transcend being stuck in the view of the -ommissar and in power politics. !lthough not very convincing in it self, +oestler4s -ommissar 6 .ogi view points to difficulties in ethical practices in modern society that are very real. In this sense this part of the book is a forerunner of 7eter &loterdi2k4s Critic of Cynical Reason. )he problems can be summed up as the decline of 3good will4 under the force of circumstance8 everyone really wants to act ethically correct, but the force of circumstance dictates otherwise. &aid differently, we are trapped in subsystems for which ethics is not a meaningful way of communication. 9e have to act according to the practices of the subsystem or radically step out of it /unthinkable1. 9e don4t want to pollute the environment, but we need a car to get to work. :ur company wants to use non-slave-produced materials, but it has to compete with other companies in the field. )he commissar does not want to chop off heads, but the damned capitalists are after his throat. !ll in all this book is a better read for its facts and the ;uestions that it raises, than for its analysis of them. <an =ernee

&o, would you use power politics if your life was in danger>

<an =ernee