Against Political Slander

We live in an era in which political slander appears to be a common tactic. American politics seems especially toxic, with Donald Trump and his detractors trading insults on an almost daily basis. But the problem spreads far beyond the USA. An example is the ongoing campaign in the United Kingdom to undermine Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by labelling him as ‘Anti-Semitic’. And as everybody who follows Russia studies will know, if you dare to contradict the prevailing narrative which depicts Russia as the source of all evil, you are only too likely to find yourself denounced as a Russian ‘Trojan Horse’, ‘Putin proxy’, or ‘Kremlin agent’. Following on from my last post, therefore, I thought it worth translating another piece out of the latest volume of Ivan Ilyin’s works, namely an August 1939 article entitled ‘Against Political Slander’, which you can find below.

Originally published in German in the Neues Winterhurer Tagblatt in Switzerland, where Ilyin was living after having fled Nazi Germany, it’s notable for a couple of reason: first, for the manner in which the supposedly ‘fascist’ Ilyin passionately defends Swiss democracy and describes himself as a ‘democrat’; and second for its subject matter – political slander – which he depicts as dangerous for any democratic system. ‘If anybody tells an honest worker, who speaks out for justice and the honour of his profession, that because of this he’s “a paid agent of the International”, then this is stupid and vile slander’, writes Ilyin. It’s a message which is remarkably relevant for our times, and one which our modern ‘defenders of democracy’ would do well to heed.

 

Ivan Ilyin, ‘Against Political Slander’ (Switzerland, 29 August 1939)

Yes, the contemporary world engages in slander! That’s not to say that slander was unknown in former times. Humans have always been only too human. But still, slander didn’t become a method, or more precisely it wasn’t raised to the status of a political method in the way that it has been in the past decade. It’s impossible to remain silent about the great dangers involved.

Wherever slander appears, it exerts a harmful and destructive influence all around. For it consists of hate and envy; it is the product of these baneful passions. It’s the lie that passes off as truth. It consciously insults and yet demands revenge. In short, it’s the direct enemy of peace, equilibrium, and mutual trust.

Precisely for this reason slander has a very harmful influence on democratic society. No democratic order can exist in the spirit of slander; it is imperceptibly undermined, it is castrated over and over again, rots and comes closer and closer to death. Anybody who doesn’t understand this or disputes it, really knows nothing about the essence of democracy.

A democracy is not only a ‘multiplicity of independent people’, but much more, it’s a unity of many and independent co-citizens, a unity despite their numbers, a unity which derives from plurality. Try to forget about this unity or to neglect it, and democracy falls apart, like an armful of brushwood which has fallen out of your arms. Democracy does not mean ‘every man for himself’, but ‘all together’; it rests not on centrifugal forces striving to distance themselves from the centre, but on the force of mutual attraction. The people in authoritarian states are united by the corresponding state. We, democrats of the Swiss Confederation, must unite on the basis of voluntary self-discipline, and on the principle of belonging to the Confederation we must unite in a communion of free men who trust one another. If we let this slip, we will turn into dust and worthless garbage. And so we must take care of everything which eases our national – and I mean national, not counterfeit international! – cohesion, and must avoid everything which unjustly and incompetently divides us. Throughout our history this has always been the primary requirement of the state, and now more than ever before. The general situation in the world and in particular its anti-democratic essence requires us Swiss to withstand this experience and present to the world an example of true national community.

A honourable democrat should display respect, justice, and correctness in all his relations with loyal co-citizens who truly and unconditionally stand on the side of the people and the country, and who in good conscience obey the country’s democratic constitution. This is the first manifestation of a healthy democratic spirit. By contrast, all shaming, all unobjective backbiting, and all slander, break and crush these principles of our existence. Hatred – including class hatred – is blind and unjust. We must not profess it; otherwise the demon of ‘alienation’ will triumph. From the earliest times envy has been the father of every hatred and civil war. We must pacify it. We don’t have to respond every time we’re contradicted, to every honest criticism, to every patriotic-democratic word which has been properly expressed, to the commentary which contradicts the truth, to crude blackening or vilification. What are most reprehensible are premeditated efforts to bespatter the pure convictions of inconvenient third parties with caustic remarks designed to sow suspicion, in the hope that ‘some mud always sticks’. This is the method of the imperialist, the ill-intentioned destroyer of peace.

Slander is unjustified suspicion; suspicion incites mutual distrust – distrust at first of the unjustly slandered, then of the lying slanderer, and finally of public speech and of politics in general. For every individual citizen of the country ceases to be able to distinguish truth from lies, honest criticism from slander, and so becomes disinclined to believe anybody or to participate in anything. Who benefits? Only our enemies: the open and secret enemies of democracy, opponents of the Swiss character and independence, enemies of peace and humanity!

We mustn’t beat about the bush: the use of political slander to undermine political opponents and people who defend an alternative political point of view by means of unfounded suspicions, is impermissible, anti-democratic and fatal. Anybody who makes use of it can in no way pretend to the honourable title of true and reasonable democrat.

If anybody tells an honest worker, who speaks out for justice and the honour of his profession, that because of this he’s “a paid agent of the International”, then this is stupid and vile slander. But if a democrat who is loyal to his Fatherland points out to the worker the incontrovertible fact that the ‘United Front’ – or as it’s also called, the ‘Popular Front’ – was dreamt up by the Third International to dissolve and destroy all democracies, and one hears the objection that the person pointing this out is a ‘brownshirt’, i.e. someone who rejects and secretly despises our country, then is political slander, which has been consciously and deliberately turned into a method, and must be stigmatized. Or if the Bundesrat, whose name enjoys respect not only in Switzerland but in all Europe, of if an officer of high rank is daily called a ‘disguised fascist’ because he faithfully and obediently supports the 300-year tradition of our country’s neutrality, then this is base slander, serving only one goal – systematically castrating the Swiss way of life and the needs of the state. It is a conscious lack of objectivity, an intentional dissolution of the trust which needs to exist in a genuine democracy, not only between citizen and citizen, but also between citizens and institutions, and vice versa. It is false, poisonous and fatal. It must stop.

For me, the honourable name of co-citizen is inviolable. It is a treasure which I must preserve. It is a pure voice in the political choir of my people. We democrats are not allowed to act like evil little children who run around in the night defiling decent citizens’ doors or smashing their windows.

We have a responsibility to be pure and dedicated to our Motherland. The politics of slander and suspicion are not Swiss politics. And our politics do not need imports.

16 thoughts on “Against Political Slander”

  1. paul.. thanks for this article as well.. it is interesting reading the wikipedia page on ivan ilyin how timothy snyder’s comments on him are a part of the main entry… i wonder if you or anyone else who be interested in challenging the way he is presently being framed via wikipedia? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Ilyin
    at this point wikipedia is also very much a propaganda site, especially if it is left unchallenged..

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    1. wonder if you or anyone else who be interested in challenging the way he is presently being framed via wikipedia?

      Your cry for help is interesting. But yes, he dominates the notes scene.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Ilyin#Notes

      Maybe for the wrong reasons I gave up the edit war on wikipedia long ago. … In this case, it surely will be heavy lifting.

      I cried for help too yesterday, privately via email, asking someone I respect a lot he answered with this link:
      http://www.ponarseurasia.org/memo/russia-really-fascist-reply-timothy-snyder

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      1. LeaNder – all one can do is acknowledge wikipedia for the propaganda outlet it is… no use fighting a site that says 2+2 = 5.. eventually folks figure it out.. although i admit – the dynamic is a lot more subtle with wikipedia then my analogy suggests..

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  2. “Switzerland, where Ilyin was living after having fled Nazi Germany”

    Did he really “flee” or just emigrated via officially moving over and crossing the border totally in accordance with the existing legislation of both countries?

    As for the article itself – Ilyin clearly has no idea about the economic foundation for his treasured burgeoise democracy, or that it is achieved only be a very fragile balance of power between the factions, which constantly engage in power struggle not in the name of democracy, but to become once a dominant force and carry out the final solution for the opposition. It is easy to pontificate that “[h]atred – including class hatred – is blind and unjust” when you are… Ilyin.

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    1. This is not about economic foundation or power struggle. This is a feel-good virtue-signaling philosophizing a-la John Rawls, designed to justify and protect the corporatist status-quo: ‘we’re all (except the commies, obviously) reasonable people, so let us stop quarreling, compromise and reach a consensus’.

      Works well in Switzerland, incidentally. It’s interesting that statist-corporatism is the underlying philosophy of both fascism and modern (“third-way”, technocratic) liberalism. The main purpose appears to be the same: to suppress the “class hatred”.

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      1. “This is not about economic foundation or power struggle. This is a feel-good virtue-signaling philosophizing a-la John Rawls, designed to justify and protect the corporatist status-quo”

        Then how’s that not about economic foundations of the Western democracy? 😉 As the old truism goes – “money love the silence”. And Switzerland, as a long established focal point of the international capital (after WW2 – probably THE focal point of it) could’ve served as a nice object lesson in explaining its, ah, “natural success”.

        But it’s Ilyin writing. There is no more zelous fanatic than a neophyte. Notice, how he, a White emigre, writes “we”, as in “We have a responsibility to be pure and dedicated to our Motherland” (c). He, naturally, fancies himself to be more Swiss than the natives – a natural phenomenon for the emigrants to the West.

        BTW, Professor, hope you would help me with this. This, as you said previously, is from 51st volume of Ilyin’s collected works. Did he ever wrote anything about the land question in Russia? Answering this question might help understand the success and relevance of the conservative political thought in Russia and history.

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      2. 31st actually. I can’t recall anything specifically on the land question. In general, Ilyin didn’t write a lot about economic issues. In so far as he did, his position seems to have been more or less that of a free market liberal – statements about the need for economic freedom and initiative, the importance of property, etc. This is actually fairly unusual for a Russian conservative. While there are exceptions (among the so-called liberal-conservatives), Russian conservative thinkers have tended to be somewhat anti-capitalist in orientation. Nowadays the predominant strand is so-called ‘left conservatism’.

        Ilyin did attend the 1925 Emigre Congress, at which the land question was discussed. The prevailing view, which was confirmed by the Congress, was that it was impossible to return to the status quo ante, and that land seized during the revolution and civil war would have to remain in the hands of the peasants who had taken it. This, of course, became moot post-collectivization.

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      3. “31st actually.”

        Yes, I made a typo. Thank you for correction.

        “I can’t recall anything specifically on the land question. In general, Ilyin didn’t write a lot about economic issues.”

        I suspected as much, but I wanted official confirmation.

        “In so far as he did, his position seems to have been more or less that of a free market liberal – statements about the need for economic freedom and initiative, the importance of property, etc.”

        Did he began expressing these views prior or after emigrating from Russia? Something, again, tells me that afterwards – in order to better adapt to the new environment. Because if anything, pre-Revolutionary intelligentsia proved to be a bunch of detached from (economic) reality idealists, which, in turn, paved their way to irrelevance.

        “Ilyin did attend the 1925 Emigre Congress…”

        There is Russian colloquial expression, about “too little, too late” style of efforts – “No use, uncle, to drink borjomi [mineral water], if your kidney fell off”. That’s about them White lot. No, I specifically asked about pre-1917 Ilyin, about “Ilyin in his natural habitat” so to speak.

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      4. Lyttie,

        But it’s Ilyin writing. There is no more zelous fanatic than a neophyte. Notice, how he, a White emigre, writes “we”,

        great point. Caused a reflective second on my side too.

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      5. In his youth, Ilyin was something of a radical. His brother is said to have been involved with the Bolsheviks during the 1905 revolution, and there have been suggestions that Ivan Ilyin also hid weapons on their behalf. Post-1905, he shifted to the liberal camp and initially welcomed the February Revolution, Disillusionment with the Provisional Government in 1917 shifted him away from the liberals and into the camp of the Whites. During the civil war he raised money for counter-revolutionary groups, which led to his arrest. Supposedly, Lenin let Ilyin off because he liked his thesis on Hegel.

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      6. “In his youth, Ilyin was something of a radical. His brother is said to have been involved with the Bolsheviks during the 1905 revolution”

        That means exactly nothing. Russian intelligentsia read Marx along with other foreign political writers for the sake of its status of “forbidden fruit” and cargo cultish like of everything “properly European”, but only few understood it. Support of Moscow’s uprising in 1905 just shows that back then intelligentsia was anti-regime by default. Why not remember Shalyapin then, and how he donated to the “revolutionary” parties? Does it make Shalyapin “involved with the Bolsheviks”?

        “Post-1905, he shifted to the liberal camp and initially welcomed the February Revolution…”

        Which tells us exactly nothing about his views on the “hot takes” of pre-1917 Russian Emprie – i.e. the land/peasant question, the development of the capitalism and the crisis of the absolutism as a system. As it’s been proven time and again, belonging to a liberal “tusovka” does wonders for increasing one’s handshakability… within said “tusovka”. But it hardly makes you relevant nation-wide, if you devote your time to the ritualistic political circle-jerking.

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  3. Dear Paul,

    it would probably have been the “Winterthurer Tageblatt” rather then the “Winterhurer” tageblatt. Winterthur is a city in switzerland(mind the second t), while “winterhurer” would essentially translate into winter-prostitute.

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