Alan Moore, the Communist - a response to [profile] johncwright

Nov. 2nd, 2006 10:13 pm
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[personal profile] fpb
Alan Moore isn't an anarchist. He is, perhaps, now. Until about 1990, he was, beyond reasonable doubt, a Communist. Not just a Marxist, a Marxist-Leninist. He would hardly be, of course, the first or only great artist to have adhered to this odious ideology; to avoid reciting the obvious list from Gorky to Luchino Visconti and Gillo Pontecorvo, I may say that Italy's greatest living singer, Francesco Guccini, is still a sworn member of the heresy.

As far as Moore is concerned, it is clear to me that the final collapse of the Soviet Union and the revolutions of 1988-91 coincided with a prolonged crisis in his career. He left mainstream comics about 1988 with Killing Joke. His work at the time had a peculiar quality: an anger against American icons, a desire almost to abuse and rape them. Rape and sexual degradation, as well as the attraction of the non-human, were major themes in the final issues of Swamp Thing. He seemed unable to deal with superheroes except with a sneer. It is the characteristic of Watchmen and, so far as I can see, of the Twilight proposal, where he had Plastic Man as a male prostitute; for brutal abuse of an inoffensive hero, this would be hard to beat. Killing Joke showed he couldn't handle an American icon like the Batman; the story took an age to write, and is lame and unconvincing besides. The Batman is a rabid and unbalanced figure, the fatherly Gordon is foully degraded, and Batgirl, a charming lightweight shadow to the grim male hunter, is brutally crippled. The ghastly vision of good (the Batman) and evil (the Joker) collapsed together in a giggling heap at the end seems to me the nemesis of the dubious climax of Swamp Thing #50, where he claimed to reconcile them. (It must be said that, a year or so earlier, he had made an admirable job of The Last Superman Story.)

1988-1990 is the period of his most aggressive and outrageously political work, Shadowplay: the secret team, in Eclipse's Brought to Light. About this time he is also starting From Hell. But his career is losing itself in a mire: Big Numbers and a A Small Killing both bomb, and while From Hell is deservedly garnering critical applause, it comes out by agonizing fits and starts and makes no money. It is only in 1992-93, when Steve Bissette and Jim Valentino talk him into doing 1963, that his career starts again; as if by a miracle, even From Hell gathers momentum. By now the world has absorbed the shock of 1989-91, and it is possible that Moore too has found it possible to come to some sort of terms with it. Even so, his Captain America character in 1963,U.S.A, is a buffoon.

His magnificent run of Jim Lee's WildC.A.T.s, barely fourteen issues and a few mini-series long, but packed with more and better ideas than anyone had written in superhero comics since Steve Gerber and the early - sane - Chris Claremont, represent the return to some sort of mental balance; and even so, the series contains what is all too clearly an apologia for the Evil Empire - his account of the fallen Daemonites and the cruel and exploitative victors just screams to be placed alongside the facts of Soviet collapse, especially in the visibly corrupt and chaotic Yeltsin period. Majestros may be a sweet bloke, but Khera is a vicious caste-based oligarchy, and Majestros’ own belief in its values is a dangerous mistake. When Moore's eye moves from the individual (Majestros) to the class (the Kheran senate), all sympathy is lost; no Kheran in Khera is anything but a cold, heartless plotter with no consideration for anyone's right. The only likeable characters are the Titanothropes and the Daemonites, victims of Kheran power.

Put like that, the one-sidedness of Moore's view becomes clear; and, I repeat, Khera stands for America (or maybe the West) as against Russia. The decisive fact is that the collapse of Daemon is exclusively economic. And no conflict in history except the Cold War was ever settled purely by economic collapse and internal rebellion, because no other conflict in history was ever fought entirely by proxy, with its chief players never actually coming to grips. This is incontrovertible. I know of no major war (I am making a distinction between major and minor wars, or between wars and campaigns) that stopped so long as an army able to fight was left; Louis XIV, Napoleon, Napoleon III, the Confederate States of America, Imperial Germany, Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, all had to be broken on the field (Japan was all but defeated, considering surrender, before the bomb). It has been known for a smaller country, armed and financed by a distant great power, to wear other great powers down: Frederick II's Prussia, financed by Britain, wore down France, Austria and Russia, and North Vietnam, armed by Russia and China, wore down America. But where two roughly equal enemies are arrayed against each other, the fight does not stop until one of them is no longer able to fight; and the ability to fight usually
outlasts the domestic economy.

Moore's scenario excludes all that. Psychologically, this has an important point: the Daemonites are entitled say to their conquerors "you never defeated us", and Moore makes it very clear that Daemon's power was finally broken not by military victories, but by the abuse of laws and treaties. This sort of attitude is the constant comfort of the defeated, most disastrously in the legend of the "undefeated German army" that fostered Hitler's rise. Moore, it might be said, depicted with great accuracy the mentality of a conquered people; except that he never presents any opposing view. The case for Khera is never made, and Khera is shown as such a foul, racist, oppressive society that the views of its opponents acquire, by contrast, a positively righteous glow. In other words, we are not only presented this viewpoint, but encouraged to identify with it, to take it as just and right, as the true account of facts.

I think this is a glimpse of Moore's own mind. He has carefully hedged his bets: the person who says "the war is over, and we were probably on the wrong side anyway" (#29) is Priscilla, herself half-Daemonite and therefore sympathetic to her racial cousins. (That race or birth, by the way, should direct one's political views or sympathies, is by no means self-evident to me; but let that pass.) If charged with one-sidedness, he may easily answer that all that was said arose from the situation. Nevertheless the situation is so set up, and the story so told, that we end up sympathizing with one group, and one group alone.

Nobody is born a Communist, and that many different persons gave their support to the Party for many different reasons. Has Moore ever read Das Kapital? I wouldn't put it past him, but I doubt it; and he certainly is too intelligent to talk Party gobbledegook - it would offend his ear. But that is no more than might be said of many committed Communists including Moore's own idol Berthold Brecht. Moore called Brecht his hero and deliberately included obvious references to his work in Watchmen: a fairly obvious marker for Communism.

His path to Communism – and this is less surprising and less unusual than some might think – passes through an excessive and unbalanced relationship with America. The point of Shadowplay, stated with all possible clarity, is that Moore felt that America had let him down by failing to live up to what he took to be its ideals. That is why the book is entirely concentrated on true and supposed American crimes, to the exclusion of what any other country may have done or failed to do; and the reason for what seems the patronizing assumption that no bloodshed or political change would have taken place anywhere had Americans not meddled. The irrationality is fairly obvious. Rationally, it is complete nonsense to imagine that Italy voted against Communism in 1948 because the newly-formed CIA sent Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin over to support the anti-Communist forces; the point is that in Moore’s mind, the US were simply wrong in using any secret means against their enemies at all. You cannot criticize Shadowplay rationally. Despite its ferocious concentration on data, true, manipulated, partial or even false, it is not a cool political essay - even a coolly mendacious political essay - but a work of wild and desperate poetry, opening and closing in a mist of grief, disease and despair.

It is interesting to compare it with From Hell's early chapters, which date from the same period. The English upper classes of From Hell are regarded with a coldly prejudiced eye. From them, Moore expects nothing save oppression and murder. When he shows Dr.Gull condemning Annie Crook to dementia by removing her thyroid, he needs no more explanation than that Dr.Gull is a member of the upper classes, an agent of the Queen, a Freemason intriguer. That's the sort of thing he does, period. The tone is confident, unemotional: Moore does not feel particularly unhappy at having to charge a fellow creature with such a crime, or dozens of others of such a cover-up. (I may add that most of his history is bunk, but that is another matter.) But he has a different complaint about America: not that it is naturally wicked, but that it has wickedly betrayed what it should naturally be.

Moore’s friend and occasional collaborator, the American Steve Bissette, saw things differently. At the same time – again – I had to castigate him in public for his insane and utterly unmotivated belief that the Oklahoma City massacre had been perpetrated by the CIA. That is, he, an American, treats the American establishment exactly as the Englishman Moore treats the English. They kill people, that's what they do, and so of course he feels no need to say why they should ever have wanted to plant the Oklahoma City bomb. (Against a Federal building, yet!)

Clearly, what we have here is a case study in class prejudice, no less unrelenting for being reverse: each of the two artists feels a deep inner loathing for the ruling classes of his own country, a loathing which comes before any facts; and at least one of them hopes, or hoped, for salvation from outside. Alan Moore's demands on America are directly connected with his prejudices about England. From its inception America has been as much an idea as a state, and there is a kind of person who cannot forgive it for not being wholly an idea. That democracy is a messy, compromising, dilatory process, open to corruption and human imperfection, in need of constant watching, makes it fairly stressful, and it is easy to blame the practice for not living up to the ideals, without realizing that there must be a constant dialectic between any ideal, however noble and definitive, and reality. The golden principle that all men are created equal was published by men who not only kept slaves but probably would never have contemplated the right of practicing homosexuals to live untroubled in the commonwealth. (Though actually Cesare Beccaria, the hero of eighteenth-century humane justice reform, stated that "Greek lust" should not be a matter for criminal law.) Even universal male suffrage was not completely established in America until fifty years had passed, and female suffrage not until much later. Yet all these things flow inevitably from the one principle, and the very existence of that principle is an active force that must inevitably lead to them.

For most of this century, the sort of mind that made that sort of claim on America ended up, with almost mathematical certainty, a Communist or a fellow traveller. I met a few Communists in my time, both the standard Italian watered-down type (now quite happily and naturally turned to moderate social democrats) and more rigorous kinds; and one thing most of them do have in common is exactly this unhappy relationship with America. I know dozens of jeans-wearing Disney fans who spend their time ranting at America for having an army and - horror of horrors - a secret service. This may sound sarcastic, but they probably buy too uncritically into the American myth of a single honest man riding into town and ridding it of evil, without realizing that life, even in America, is perhaps not quite so simple. My Communist friends are probably the last John Wayne American patriots. Guess which Italian newspaper distinguished itself in 1970 for a spectacular attack on Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts, guilty of "failing to tap into American optimism and energy"? Which one but L'Unita', the Communist Party sheet!

The reason for this link between early love for America and later Communism should be obvious. Since practical democracy tends to fail most obviously in the matter of equality - that is, since inequality is the most obvious and visible denial of democratic principles - anyone who clung too uncritically to the idea of America as a counterpart of the realities of his/her own country was bound to find the appeal of radical egalitarianism quite irresistible. When they realized that life in America isn't simply about realizing ideals, they naturally gravitated towards a Party that claimed to be about just that. Only people willing to deny the beautiful and beloved words of the Declaration of Independence could ever be consciously Fascistic; Communists, on the other hand could easily represent themselves as believers in the principle unhappy with the practice. And that is what most of us are.

To the question, therefore: is Moore a Communist, the answer is: at the right time, and taking the word in a broad enough sense, he could hardly help but be. Probably the best definition is "fellow traveller". If you told him of the horrors of labour (death) camps, of the savagery with which loyal party members were suppressed, of the daily violence and cringing fear, of the tens of millions dead, of the racist suppression of whole ethnic groups, of infinite power in the hand of cruel nonentities, of religious persecution, torture, famine, and, creeping finger by finger underneath it all, of the tendrils of corruption and bribery that made all daily life a humiliating and dishonest ritual, he would probably answer he was quite aware of the flaws in the system, but he did not stand for the system, he stood for the ideals. That the ideals inevitably lead to the system, he would not have been willing to admit. Communism hasn't failed, comrades. It just has never been tried.

Karl Marx' doctrines are both relevant and irrelevant to this. They are irrelevant, because few fellow-travellers take much interest in them. Their motives are mainly negative, not for "scientific materialism", but against the failures of "bourgeois" democracy, and they can carry entirely different and incompatible ideologies, from Sartre's existentialism to "liberation theology". But they are also highly relevant, because the mental environment they create is highly sympathetic to some things we just met. Marx's vision is class-centred, with one class - the bourgeoisie - bound inevitably to do evil, and another – the industrial workers - bound inevitably to carry progress on its shoulders. This is very close to what we just found in Moore and Bissette: the unthinking assumption of universal depravity in the upper classes, the firm belief that they naturally, by birth, or by culture, or by self-interest, do evil. I am not speaking of Marx' elaborate and often brilliant economic analysis, but of what a non-specialist may perceive as its basic thrust. It is not the economic analysis that draws people to Marxism, it is the mental atmosphere - an atmosphere highly congenial to Moore.

Look, in particular, at From Hell. This is a comic conceived as the Evil Empire had fallen and Thatcherism seemed triumphant. One thing that leaps to the eye is that Moore's murderous and hate-ridden version of Queen Victoria, so unhistorical that even his artist Eddie Campbell protested, is all too clearly influenced by his hatred for another and more recent English female political leader. But above all, there is From Hell chapter 8, pages 31-32 - a flaming, though already resigned, proof of Moore's attitude to Karl Marx

This is a case where the story really speaks for itself. As the renegade Netley, working-class agent for the murderous Dr.Gull, entices yet another "working woman" (in both senses of the word) to her death, in a room just above them the socialist poet William Morris is declaiming his poem Love is enough to a little group of workers and intellectuals. Morris and the little group never appear again; they play no part in the story; the only role they have is to appear, here and now, as a counterpoint of helpless - indeed unaware - but noble idealism to the ugly realities of aristocratic/ capitalist power as Moore sees them. On the one side, conspiracy, murder, cover-up and oppression; on the other, poetic and idealistic nobility, glanced over by the wise, fatherly, bearded, benevolent portrait of Marx. That all these noble intellectuals and workers are powerless and unaware, that they do and indeed can do nothing, while all the time murder and oppression is going on all around them, shows that Moore has by now (1993-94) lost hope that Marxist socialism may uproot what he sees as the evils of aristocracy/capitalism; but he hasn't lost affection. His representation of budding Marxism, in fact, is blatantly false. Neither the ferocious party games in which Marx routed Bakunin (displaying a power-lust to startle anyone who believed in his benevolence), nor the unhappy private life of Morris and his associates, are allowed to spoil our glimpse of this idyllic nest of idealists. The misassociation of Morris' simple, naive pieties, with Karl Marx' complex and typically Prussian system of economic and philosophical analysis - though Morris would have endorsed it, silly man - really gives the game away: we are not asked or allowed to consider early Marxism as anything except as a simple, apostolic love for the poor. If this is not falsification of history, I don't know what is. It's even demeaning to Marx' indubitable intellectual achievement.


Date: 2006-11-03 05:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You will think me a philistine, but I confess I have not read most of the Moore to which you refer here to support your point. I have read WATCHMAN and V FOR VENDETTA, a number of issues of PROMETHEA (before I gave up in disappointment), all of his SWAMP THING run, KILLING JOKE, a few others.

What I have read of him supports what you say so clearly that I will take your word for the rest. What you are saying fits with what I know.

So Moore is not an anarchist except in the sense that all "fellow-travelers" are anarchists. Whether they know it or not, they are proposing a break down of law and order. Totalitarian states are not shocking merely because of their stifling cruel laws, but are also shocking for their lawlessness.

I do unfortunately see his treatment of superheroes in WATCHMAN and KILLING JOKE as part and parcel of the spirit of Moloch, by which I mean, not that Moore wants to throw children into the furnace, but merely that he wants them not to have heroes. He is setting about demeaning & disintegrating, the concept of the super-hero. I am not sure if I could re-read these words with any enjoyment these days, since I regard the degradation of childhood joys to be a vile practice. I will not repeat here my heated comments about LOST GIRLS.

You and I might have to disagree respectfully only on one small point. The Marxian economic analysis is not brilliant: far from it. It is a mass of unoriginal errors and old theories that were dismissed by serious thinkers before Marx took pen to paper.

His only contribution to socialism was to make the claim that polylogism, the inability of the human mind to grasp the logic of minds in other economic circumstances, rendered it impossible and unscientific to criticize the proposed socialist commonwealth. In other words, his only contribution to the debate was a sophomoric trick, an ad Hominem maneuver to silence criticism of his unworkable ideas.

The other basics, such as the labor theory of value (first proposed by Adam Smith, by the bye), had been discussed and exploded by serious economists previously.

The rest of the analysis relies on a simple confusion of an economic category for a social class. An economic category is an analytical tool, existing in thought only. If I work for my brother during the week, and on weekends run an auto-repair shop, and hire a handyman, and invest my savings in the stock market, I am at once a proletarian, a wage-earner, a bourgeoisie, a capitalist, an employer. The Marxist analysis of my "class" would be nonsense: there is no necessary identity of interests with the auto shop owner next door, or with other wage-earners.

The iron law of wages has no support in logic or in history. If market forces inevitably drive wages to the point of bare subsistence for the wage-earner, why does not return on investment drive returns to the bare subsistence level for the investor?

The idea of alienation of labor is not even an economic idea, it is merely a poetic expression, a word-fetish.

The idea of material dialectic makes nonsense of Hegel, and nonsense of economics--one cannot debate with an robotic entity whose non-mind is programmed by the tools of production in his environment, for debate implies reasoning.

The idea of class consciousness and false consciousness are religious ideas, pure mysticism.

The description of feudalism is ahistorical, painfully naive.

Far from being insightful or brilliant, Marx is an embarrassment compared to any real economist. His theory is not theory at all, but a prophecy, conveniently vague enough that any facts can be twisted to suit and confirm it. History will consider him a Jewish heresiarch, the founder of rival religion. His work resembles the Qabala or the Book of Revelations more than it does Wealth of Nations.

Date: 2006-11-03 08:15 pm (UTC)
avram: (Default)
From: [personal profile] avram
As a long-time fan of Moore's work, I'm not quite sure what to make of this essay. Your main argument is based on WildC.A.T.s, one of the few Moore works I haven't read, so I can't say anything about that part.

Now on the one hand, it can hardly come as a surprise to anybody that Moore is a leftist, and since European leftists are indistinguishable from communists to Americans, that's pretty much that.

On the other hand, Moore's V for Vendetta, his anarchist work, started publication in 1982, well before the time you've chosen for the 88-91 crisis of faith you're claiming he had.

And that period of low productivity coincides with Moore's attempt to become a self-publisher. (That period was a time when a lot of creators in the comics industry turned to self-publishing; 1988 was the year of Dave Sim's Creative Manifesto and the Creator's Summit in Northampton.) Moore turned out to be a poor businessman, which shouldn't have been surprising, given how much of a hermit he is. Anyway, Big Numbers failed not because of low quality (I maintain that had it been finished, it would have been his best work) or lack of enthusiasm on Moore's part, but because he had problems with his artists.

Date: 2006-11-03 08:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Your defensive response is understandable but stupid. As my name should have told you, I am European myself, and what is more I know the Marxist tradition from the inside. My analysis of Moore's work includes substantial items on From Hell and V for Vendetta, with which you have not even tried to engage - in fact, it seems you have not noticed them at all. It also includes a note on his changing attitudes to American superhero icons, from his Batman GN (1989) through the madness of the Twilight proposal (another thing you have not bothered to deal with) to the "return to basics" of 1963 and thence to the triumphant return home of WildC.A.T.s, one of the greatest superhero continuities ever written by anyone - and I mean anyone. All these things show a progression. All these things have certain definite contents. You ignore most of what I said, state that you have not read something I have (as if that deprived it of value!) and dismiss my argument. This is not proper arguing at all.

Date: 2006-11-03 09:51 pm (UTC)
avram: (Default)
From: [personal profile] avram
You're right that it was stupid of me to have assumed you were American without having checked; I'm sorry.

And you're right that I haven't engaged with your comments about From Hell. I read it as it was coming out, and haven't re-read it, and don't have a copy handy, so I can't even tell what you're talking about when you say "chapter 8, pages 31-32". Which is a shame, since these seem to be the claims that most strongly support your thesis.

However, you didn't mention V for Vendetta at all. The very first mention of it on this page is in John C Wright's comment. The reason I mentioned it at all is that your opening sentences seemed like a reaction to V for Vendetta.

Anyway, your argument seems to break down into (roughly) these parts (which I'm ordering from most to least important, as I see them):

1) From Hell demonstrates anti-capitalism, displaced anti-Thatcherism, sympathy towards early socialism, and at least one strong symbol of attachment to Marx. I can't address these points, for reasons I've already explained, but at least you've motivated me to finally go buy the collected From Hell.

2) WildC.A.T.s contains an allegorical "apologia for the Evil Empire". Again, I can't address this, as I explained right off the bat.

3) Moore had a crisis of faith of some kind caused by the collapse of the USSR, as demonstrated by the lapse in his career. As I pointed out, there are other explanations for this lapse.

4) Moore's tendency to portray the dark, sexual side of superheroes indicates a hatred of American icons. This seems like a pretty weak claim to me. You yourself admit that you can't make it jibe with Moore great Superman story, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?". I also have a hard time reconciling this claim with Moore's work on Supreme.

Anyway, the greatest flaw in your essay -- and the reasons I assumed, without looking, that you were American -- is that you're vague about exactly what your claim is about Moore's politics. You start out by saying that Moore's not an anarchist, or at least wasn't one before 1990. You say that he was "beyond reasonable doubt, a Communist. Not just a Marxist, a Marxist-Leninist." But then you soften that: "To the question, therefore: is Moore a Communist, the answer is: at the right time, and taking the word in a broad enough sense, he could hardly help but be. Probably the best definition is 'fellow traveller'." As I understand it, in Europe this generally describes someone who isn't an actual party member, but who has strong pro-communist sympathies, hangs out with communists, maybe attends occasional meetings. In the US, it has connotations of crypto-communism. So I'm just unsure of exactly what you're saying here.

And as for the "progression" you mention in your comment here -- first, Moore's Twilight of the Superheroes proposal predates The Killing Joke by a couple of years, though I suppose the two could have been written around the same time given how long it can take to turn a script into published issues. Anyway, this "return to basics" was not a Moore-only phenomenon. In the early '90s, comics fans (and creators) were complaining about the "dark and gritty" "deconstructionist" comics that had been inspired by Watchmen and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. 1963 was part of the "reconstructionist" movement that also included Kurt Busiek's Astro City.

Date: 2006-11-03 10:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
As a science fiction author whose personality and beliefs have been (once) discussed by two guys who didn't know me, might I suggest that one of you or the other send Mr. Moore a letter and simply ask him his beliefs? He does from time to time grant interviews.

Date: 2006-11-03 10:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Rereading my words, I realize they might sound snarky. I should have used an emotion-icon so that you would not think I was being superior or snide. I meant it as a serious suggestion.

Date: 2006-11-04 06:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The problem is however whether we can trust Moore's account of himself. As you may perceive from Promethea - and much more clearly from Supreme and especially Judgment Day - he's gone all post-modern on us, beginning in the mid-nineties. He is, or was until recently (I haven't read anything of his since Top Ten), fixated on the primacy of "narrative" and the view that altering narrative can alter the universe. That is what is at the back of his claim, in some nineties interviews, of having turned to magic. You may find it in Judgment Day, magnificently rendered - this is one of his best mini-series ever. But it does not dispose me to trust his accounts of his past, as you can imagine.

You missed some of Moore's best work. I cannot recommend WildC.A.T.s enough; it is one of the ten or so best superhero series ever written, with no subversive subtext whatever, and the best supervillain anyone ever invented (I cannot say anything more precise, or it would spoil the shock of the last few issues). While some of the related mini-series were only so-so, WildC.A.T.s vs. Spawn had the best ending of any Moore series whatever - if you have tears, prepare to shed them now. (The only flaw is that it is rather telegraphed.) From Hell is cranky but greatly interesting, as is Supreme. Judgment Day is another masterpiece, and the only imaginative apology made for po-mo that really works. 1963 is uneven, but the best part are marvellous, especially for those of us who "remember when". Top Ten is 100% brilliant, but its ending - as I will argue in my next essay - shows why Moore has found himself having (in his mind) to argue for views that you rightly see as loathsome. Nonetheless, I recommend every one of these.

Date: 2006-11-04 06:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I will address the matters of Moore, sexuality and pornography - which are what started Mr.Wright on this debate - in an essay, today or tomorrow. They are too broad (as was this issue) to answer in a comment like this.

As for being a Communist or a fellow traveller, the point is that I do not see the difference. These are men who want, politically, the same thing, done by the same Party, to the same social strata. That Sartre was an atheist while Leonardo Boff was deluded enough to regard himself as a Christian, that Guccini believes in a God of some sort while Gorky was indubitably an atheist, is much less important than the things they agree on. After all, and in spite of my great respect for George Orwell, the grey conformity and communal-mindedness of Communism, like that of Nazism, is an illusion. That comformity was imposed by fear. Under Communism, had it ever won, perhaps it might have been Sartre who went to the camps, perhaps Guccini, according to the way that political in-fighting went, but the many different impulses that drove men to totalitarianism would not change, any more than they did in the similarly many-headed, many-minded, and only delusionally united beast of Nazism.

Date: 2006-11-04 07:43 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I agree that this poster is a little vague about Moore's politics. It was quite disconcerting to read a statement such as "If you told him of the horrors of labour (death) camps, of the savagery with which loyal party members were suppressed, of the daily violence and cringing fear, of the tens of millions dead, of the racist suppression of whole ethnic groups, of infinite power in the hand of cruel nonentities, of religious persecution, torture, famine, and, creeping finger by finger underneath it all, of the tendrils of corruption and bribery that made all daily life a humiliating and dishonest ritual, he would probably answer he was quite aware of the flaws in the system, but he did not stand for the system, he stood for the ideals." "Would", "probably"? It sounds as if the poster is putting words into Alan Moore's mouth here, though if there is any interview in which Moore expresses such alarming naivete as to the practical effects of Communism then I will stand corrected. From what I've seen of Moore's work, however, "naive" is the last thing I would call him. "Deeply cynical" would be closer to the mark.

Regarding From Hell, the subject of Jack the Ripper is appealing to those who are firmly anti-establishment, but it's perfectly possible to show the "establishment" in a bad light without being pro-Communist. In fact, in From Hell Moore spares no-one - not Abberline, who's tempted from his duty to his wife; not Mary Kelly, who dabbles in blackmail. I see no possibility of a brave new communistic world rising from the morass Moore portrays in From Hell, any more than George Gissing hoped for radical change and a bright new dawn in his novels.

Taking my own copy of From Hell from the bookshelf and turning to the section the poster describes (Chapter 8, pp. 31-32), what we have is a recital by William Morris of his poem "Love Is Enough" interspersed with scenes of a murder taking place outside. Moore's own comments on this scene from Appendix I should be sufficient: "On page 31 we cut to the upstairs room of the International Workers' Education Club at 40 Berner Street, which overlooked Duffield Yard. The club was founded by Jewish socialists. On the night in question there had been a meeting and a talk. This broke up around midnight, with various people staying behind for singing and discussion. The only real liberty I have taken with this scene is the inclusion of William Morris. Morris often spoke or read his poetry at the club (see JTR, The Uncensored Facts) but I have no record of him having been there on the night in question. He is included both to mark his connection with the scene of the crime and to allow a counterpoint between his poem "Love Is Enough" and the brutal and loveless murder of Liz Stride taking place outside."

I see no reason to see anything other than this ironic counterpoint in these two pages. One panel shows Morris reciting the line "Crying to deaf ears that would hear if they could"; the next panel shows Liz Stride's terrified, wide-eyed face with a gloved hand clamped over her mouth. It is a counterpoint of theoretical idealism versus hard, cold reality, a counterpoint which makes Morris look ignorant and unaware. Love is clearly not enough!

I see the final panel of that page - Morris's line "And the world ye thought waning is glorious and good" set against the looming Big-Brotherish face of Karl Marx - and what I see is the tragic, fatal naivete of those who thought Marxism could work in reality. My apologies to the original poster, but I really can't see how these two pages can be taken as Alan Moore's love-song to Communism.

Date: 2006-11-04 08:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You seem to miss my point that From Hell comes from the period of crisis in which Moore was reacting to the final collapse of Communism, and what must have seemed to him the witches' sabbath of "capitalist" rejoicing and ideological self-reinforcement. I well remember the fury and bitterness of the extreme left at the time. One article, which somehow found its way on one of London's free magazines for commuters - you know, the kind that they distribute at the exits of main tube stations and so on - consoled its fury with a fantasy that in a few years the United States, too, would collapse, with leading states such as California not wanting to "support" the feebler states in the middle. That was the mood of the left at the time: baffled, murderous fury.

What I said was something along those lines: Moore completely misrepresents the early Marxists, including Morris and his circle, by presenting them as beautiful, noble dreamers of universal goodness. He lies - I do not think I used any weaker expression: Moore lies - about the reality both of Morris' circle, which was motivated by personal unhappiness and sexual inadequacy, and of Karl Marx himself, who is presented as their inspiration. Marx was no otherworldly dreamer: he was a political writer who spent much of his life building up a following, the savage conqueror and ruler of the First International, from which he banished Bakunin. In his private life, he was a family man of more than Victorian oppressiveness and selfishness, who branded the lives of his unfortunate daughters with fire. In other words, Moore is presenting the whole Marxist left, which was forming in London in the period that concerns him, in the same mendacious light as Matthew Arnold did Shelley: "A beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain". But Shelley, far from being that, was a more committed Satanist than Byron himself - Byron never rose to the heights of artistry and Satan-worship of Prometheus Unbound - and a man of atrocious, vicious sexual selfishness, who left at least one woman, probably more, dead in his wake, and whose penchant for "noble" public gestures, that so impressed Arnold, went with a total inability to recognize the needs of those around him. And Marx and Morris, in the same way, were not beautiful dreamers of ineffectual paradises - Morris was, but he was a lot more than that - but highly practical and highly questionable people. Moore idealizes them. Why? Not, as with Arnold, because he simply could not bear to accept the reality of what Shelley was about; but rather because he wants to make the point that beautiful dreams of ideal humanity have no place in the ugly world of Gull, Netley and "the four whores of the apocalypse." In other words, he is justifying the failure of Marxism by its being, not - as most of us would say - too ugly, but too beautiful, for real life. I do not think I need to say any more.

"alarming naivete"

Date: 2006-11-04 08:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I absolutely refuse to accept that I charged Moore with naivete, alarming or otherwise. To the contrary, the passage you misrepresent states clearly that Moore would declare himself "aware of the flaws in the system", which hardly makes him naive. I have known naive communists, like the poor old man on a bus in Rome, telling everyone who would listen of the vast provision of free public swimming pools in Moscow; people who were never reached by any rumours of secret police and death camps, and who, if they were, would find it easy to dismiss them as capitalist-clerical lies. Moore is too wide and comprehending a reader for this kind of nonsense. As for the line he would take, I extrapolate it from his work. Adding one thing: that a major line of defence for Moore would be tu quoque. In his world, capitalism and American imperialism are so bloodthirsty and distorting things, destroying the soul even where they did not distort the body (you must remember that he is a great admirer of Berthold Brecht, with his theory of the spiritual "alienation" of people under capitalism), that if it could be overthrown, any measure would be justified. That is the argument of pretty much every Communist supporter.

And by the way...

Date: 2006-11-04 08:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
...this is the last time I allow anonymous posting on this blog. If you want to criticize me, do so under your own name, please.

Date: 2006-11-04 06:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
About self-publishing, Moore was almost the only big name who not only did not succeed, but did not even manage to make a temporary go of it. None of his endeavours got beyond number two, except for From Hell, which, as I pointed out, started picking up pace at the same time as Moore made his peace with the mainstream - through Image. The most important fact, in this context, was that the mainstream itself had changed, thanks to the revolt of the Image seven, in a way that allowed a greater degree of control by authors. Moore's career since then has been either with someone else's firm - with Jim Lee at Image, with Rob Liefeld - or with a pseudo-firm that was in effect a branch of DC, but allowed him some distance from the rest of the monstrous corporation with which he was actually working.

What is striking about Moore's output in the days when he was trying self-publishing is that he seemed to hit trouble about the second issue. When I tried to self-publish (I gave up because the person who had promised me the funds broke his word), I had the plot and groundwork for a five-issue mini-series laid out, half the scripts ready, five or six artists (apart from myself) lined up, and a couple of covers done. There is nothing that ruins you faster than irregular publication - as Dave Sim knew very well. And the gulping, scattershot publication, during this period, of a man who is one of the most fantastically productive writers in comics is something that needs explaining in itself. We may notice that from the moment he got back into the mainstream with 1963, he rarely produced less than three series at one time.

Re: communism

Date: 2006-11-06 09:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
OK, I may be way off here, but my gut feeling has always been that communism doesn't work because the whole system works against human nature. As I understand it, one of the basics of the communist system is that everyone gets paid the same wages for the same jobs--no merit raises, promotions, etc. There's no way to 'get ahead', if you will, for an innovative or ambitious person to legitimately make more money or better himself. I think that accounts for the tremendous amount of corruption in most communist countries--when there's no way for an honest, hard-working person to advance, that leaves the way open for dishonest people to advance through corruption.

I think the lack of competition hurts the society as a whole, too--there is no incentive to invent new technology or medicine, for example. I remember reading about Chernobyl, and how one of the reasons it was such a huge disaster is that the Soviet goverment built the reactor, but there were no plans for emergency services if such an accident happened. And because the government had the final say, no one could stand up and criticize them for the lack of planning.


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