Thursday, December 15, 2005

Communist Gladiators

: : .

Somewhile ago I gave a talk for the SPGB entitled I'm not Spartacus - I read while doing prep that Arthur Koestler has written a fiction on the subject (as my loyal readers know - pace anonymous Troll in comments below - I have a fondness for historical fiction). Further, I'd recently read Koetsler's Darkness at Noon and was intrigued to read what he may have written.

Koestler certainly is a more subtle and penetrating anti-communist author than say Orwell (whom I have never liked) and I think his books are the better for it - although Orwell's like of subtly may have contributed to his appropriation by cold-warriors. While Orwell chose allegory in Animal Farm, Koestler chose anachronism in The Gladiators - essentially examining modern communism in terms of a slave revolt.

Basically, he applies modern terms - the democratic party, capital, etc. in his description of the revolt, tying in Spartacus with the eternal attempt to reclaim a lost Eden.

Basically, he presentation of the communist aspiration is more sympathetic - up to and including the abolition of money and acheivement of common ownership. He even recognises the bizarre quality of leadership in the Form of Crixus, who becomes Spartacus' rival leader because the horde wants a new leader. Clearly presenting leadership as some sort of emrgent property of the horde reflecting their aspirations, not the will of the leaders.

At the same time, it presents revolutionary degeneration 'the law of detours' as a tragedy, perhaps an inevitable one. Spartacus' attempt to impose his will on the Horde -f or their own good - flounders and leads to crucifixions prefiguring the fate of the rebels at the hands of Marcus Crassus. These crucifixions in turn pre-figure christianity, which Koestler identifies as part of the ongoing attempt top establish the Sun State (ambiguously, he usggests this drive may itself be illusory, and ultimately an unobtainable impossiblity, in the Bataillean sense as a type of erotic/psychic support mechanism.

At times it moves from an almost fairytalish account of the revolt to close to poetic personal experiences of some of the actors, particularly of the Romans and little people - battles happen decidedly off-stage.

Certainly worth a quick read, it's only short. Also, consider the accusations against koestler himself and his treatment of other people, particularly women (he is an alleged rapist) when compared with the beauty of his writing.


Blogger Darren said...

I've never read Koestler's 'Spartacus', though I share your view of his excellent 'Darkness At Noon', but I would also recommend that you check out Lewis Grassic Gibbon's 'Spartacus' novel that was reprinted by the SWP's Redwords publishing reprint a few years back.

It's an excellent read in its own right.

11:02 AM  

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