Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I Believed by Douglas Hyde

In 1950 Douglas Hyde published I Believed, an autobiographical account of the journey of himself and his wife from Communism to Catholicism. Hyde was a member of the Communist Party, working as news editor on the Daily Worker. His loss of faith in communism originated from his reading of the Weekly Review, originally with a view to searching out evidence of fascism and anti-semitism in leading Catholic figures. Note – the fact that this was the policy of marxists/ communists is highly significant. Since Hyde wrote, fifty years ago, smear campaigns have been used with increasing frequency and, sadly, effectiveness, to stifle honest debate by fuzzy innuendo and non-sequiturs. We have only space for a few extracts from I Believed. Written by a journalist, the book contains many moving passages, and is well worth studying as a whole.

As Hyde explains:

“One day, reading the Weekly Review, a thought struck me which was so obvious as to be almost laughably so. Yet it was so opposed to all I had held for so long that it cast doubts upon almost all my thinking to date.

For twenty years I had been troubled by the evidence of the unequal distribution of wealth and the social injustices which appeared to flow from it. I had reasoned: ‘The unequal distribution of property [used here in the sense of ‘means of production’] gives rise to great social injustice. Therefore private property is wrong and should be abolished.’ Millions have reasoned along similar lines. It has influenced an entire generation.

Now suddenly the slipshod character of such pre-fabricated thought struck me between the eyes. The maldistribution of property did not necessarily prove that private property was wrong in itself. If it proved anything at all it was surely that its distribution was wrong and that a means must therefore be found to spread it more evenly over the population as a whole. The formulation should have been: ‘The unequal distribution of property gives rise to great social injustice. Therefore property should be more equitably distributed.’

It had hitherto seemed axiomatic that those who revolted against inequality should turn to Marxism for a solution and that those who stood for the perpetuation of inequalities and injustices should oppose communism as a consequence. That there could possibly be a solution which was not a Marxist one had hardly occurred to me.”

Douglas Hyde and his wife Carol explored Catholicism through the
printed word.

“We had found it difficult to accept the existence of God intellectually. We had quite sincerely believed that we knew all the answers without Him. Dialectical materialism had explained to our satisfaction, the whole universe for us; like Nietzsche it had proclaimed that ‘God is dead’ and we had believed it and felt it to be true.

For us He had been dead for years. We had appeared to get on alright without Him. We had been aware of the existence of no inner life, of no spiritual needs. Our communism had been our whole life. When doubts had come about the policies of the Party, about its methods, even about the desirability of its goal, they did not necessarily and immediately undermine our dialectical materialism nor prove that it must, therefore, be wrong.

Even the exciting realisation that the culture of the Middle Ages which I had loved for so long was still alive, and that it was a Catholic culture which had not died with the Reformation, did not prove the existence of God, although it helped. Belief in God might be but the product of a certain stage of man’s historical development, surviving into a later period along with the rest of the ‘ideological superstructure’ that went with it. That superstructure of the Middle Ages might be attractive, it might include a great outpouring of human genius in terms of magnificent churches and cathedrals, glorious music, works of art which took one’s breath away, literature which gripped as nothing else could – and still not prove that God was alive or even necessary as an explanation for it all, even though faith in God had been its inspiration.

But that phase had passed. We had come to accept the intellectual case for God, to see that without it not only Catholicism but the universe itself made nonsense. We had discovered with some surprise that the great thinkers and philosophers of the Church had made out a better case for the God’s existence than Marx and Engels had done for His non-existence.

Yet we realised that that was not enough. Belief meant being able to feel the existence of the spiritua, to know about Him. Christians even said they loved Him, they talked to Him and listened to Him. That was still outside our experience and, in moments of depression, we feared that it would remain so.

Yet all paths seemed to lead to Rome. I was asked to review Avro Manhattan’s book, The Catholic Church against the Twentieth Century, along with a pamphlet by the Rev. Stanley Evans. The first was a large book set out to prove, by means of telling the story of Vatican policies since World War I, that the Catholic Church was fascist.

The other had much the same intention, attempting to show that the Church was against all ‘progress’. Once, I should have had great fun with them, using them to smear catholics and fascists at one and the same time. I tried to do the same now, failed and hated myself for even attempting it. It was a last desperate attempt to salvage the way of life I had loved. It failed completely.

Instead I found myself saying: The Catholic Church against the twentieth century? So what? So am I, if the twentieth century means the crazy world I see about me which has endured two world wars and goodness knows how many revolutions already, and with the war clouds gathering so soon after the last war.

Against the twentieth century? Against the century of the atom bomb? Against a world right off the rails? Against those beliefs which lead to people persecuting men like Archbishop Stepinac and preparing a Red Terror against the Slovak peasants? Against the crazy post-war conditions right here in Britain? Why not? So am I.

Instead of gaining ammunition against the Church from Manhattan’s book, I learned, despite the tendentious writing, something of the Church’s social teaching. It was written to make anti-Catholics. It helped to make me ‘pro’ instead.

The Anglican Stanley Evans I knew already and I knew his type of parson-cum-communist-sympathiser well enough. The Party uses such people, but it rarely respects them. I had used such types myself. I read his pamphlet with distaste. He wanted to show that the Church was opposed to ‘progress’ everywhere. And again, so what? It all depended on what you meant by progress.

Was Nagasaki progress? When the story, one of a vast number which make such things normal to newspaper life, came over the tape machine about a boy of eighteen sent to jail by a London court for theft and described as living on the immoral earnings of his twenty-year-old divorceé wife, was that progress?...Were the preparations now going forward in Hungary for the persecution of the Church and suppression of the religion of the vast majority of the people there progress? Was it progress for our generation more and more to move away from the idea of the worth of the individual to that of the impersonal masses?

And in any case was it really so certain as we had imagined it to be that the world must inevitably ‘progress’, that the past was necessarily less good than the present and still less so than the future? Must the new always, automatically, be superior to the old?

Somewhere I had seen a reactionary described as one who, finding himself on the edge of a precipice, sees the danger and steps back in time. On the basis of that definition I was a reactionary. And again, so what?

Perhaps in one of life’s grand Chestertonian paradoxes, the ‘progressives’ were really the reactionaries – in the light of their own definition of the term – and those who saw the danger and drew back might yet be the progressives, possessing a new solution which was really the oldest of all. The line of thought those two anti-Catholic publications set in motion helped me along my road to Rome.”

With reference to September 1946,
Hyde wrote:

“Members of the Political Bureau [of the Communist Party] who had been to Czechoslovakia had been told that it was believed that the fight against the Church could be carried through without too much difficulty in the Czech lands, so strong had the Part become there. But the Slovak Catholics, they were told, were much more completely in the grip of the priests and bishops, and ‘special measures’ would be required. At a Daily Worker executive meeting we were told that those special measures would probably have to take the form of armed action at some point. Sooner or later the catholic peasants could be provoked into violence, some incident would be presented as the intended forerunner of armed insurrection and tough counter-measures would then provide the chance for conducting the thorough-going purge which was required. A bit of terror would soon settle them.

Again, I should almost certainly have approved and justified such schemes before I began to read and think along Christian lines. Now I was filled with an uneasiness which at times amounted to revulsion as I heard it all explained. It was not communism but I that had changed, but I now found the application of our theories and tactics clashing with all I felt to be right.

But that was just it. I was beginning to say that some things were right and some were wrong. I was judging communist behaviour on the basis of ethics and not expediency – a thoroughly un-Marxist thing to do.

It was still not always a fully conscious process, but I became
increasingly aware of what was happening and found myself viewing
it from outside myself as it were, an interested and often astonished
spectator of my own mental and spiritual processes.

Thus, for example, in a break between editions, one of my reporters, son of a well-known author, who had worked on the Yugoslav Youth Railway, was describing some of the things he had seen.

He told how at communist meetings the local populace would be brought to gather to hear a speech from Tito, or from one of the other communist leaders. At pre-arranged points during the speech Party members in the crowd would start to chant ‘Tito, Tito,’ or maybe ‘Tito, Stalin, Tito, Stalin,’ and the crowd would take it up, repeating the names over and over again. It was a technique used by Mussolini and Hitler and was now being turned to good account in the cause of communism.

He went on to describe how, when he had turned up at one such meeting, the word had gone around that an English comrade was present and they had quickly switched to ‘Tito, Stalin, Harry Pollitt [General Secretary of the British Communist Party], which they had kept up for an astonishing length of time. My reporters laughed uproariously at the story. Suddenly I realised that I was making myself conspicuous by not laughing at all; instead I was feeling utterly disgusted.

It was not sufficient now to tell myself that the end justified the means. Once a Marxist begins to differentiate between right and wrong, just and unjust, good and bad, to think in terms of spiritual values, the worst has happened so far as his Marxism is concerned.”

Taken from The Social Creditor

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