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Books: Pidgin for Progressives

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THE LANGUAGE OF COMMUNISM (149 pp.) — Harry Hodgkinson — Pitman ($3.75).

Communication between the Eastern Marxist and Western Christian—whether in courtesies at the summit or in the lower depths of an interrogation cell—is always baffled by language difficulties. The two biggest Communist nations expropriated the language of Tolstoy and Confucius, and interpreters are available. But who will interpret the language of Marxism, which presents problems more complex than the conjugation of a Russian verb or the tonal inflections of Mandarin? That many-splendored monolith, world Communism, is, in fact, a monoglot, whatever national form its utterance takes; it aspires to give a new frame for human thought.

In his Language of Communism, Author Harry Hodgkinson, sometime intelligence officer in the British Royal Navy, sets out a few trail-markers through the petrifying forest of bolshevized Marxist linguistics. Hodgkinson modestly calls his book a glossary; to compile it, he has evidently tramped the great lava beds of Soviet journalism, literature, ukases, encyclopedias, decrees and polemics, and toiled in the lead mines of the Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin classics. The result is not a formal study, but a beginner’s handbook of what might be called progressive pidgin, published in England under the honest title of Doubletalk.

Peering through the bars at Author Hodgkinson’s caged semantic monsters, the reader will find such strange animals as the Marxist breed of equality (ravenstvo). “‘By equality Marxism means, not equalization of individual requirements and individual life, but the abolition of classes,’ said Stalin to the 17th Party Congress (1934).” And so on for a page of valuable documentation of George Orwell’s porcine commissar whose classic formula was: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” Similarly, Author Hodgkinson has fun with the word peace (mir) and the bellicose roarings of those who advocate it, including the Czech miner who promised to “batter the warmongers to death with peace.”

From other useful listings, the reader will learn that the Communists are particularly happy over the word krasniy, which means both red and beautiful in Russian; that salami tactics, a term originated in salami-rich Hungary, means slicing away opposition gradually; and that absolutism (absoliutizm) in Russia ended, once and for all, with the overthrow of the Czarist regime. There are also such formidable coinages as shtur-movshtina, based on the German word Sturm, which means a last-minute production spurt in a factory to meet a quota. The volume shows that one word can have different meanings when used by Communists in Russia or in the West. According to a Hungarian female Communist, for instance, the informer (donoschik) is “the mightiest and most honorable discharger of responsibility.” But in Western Communist polemics, which passionately try to blacken the characters of all ex-Communists who have returned with news from the dark side of the moon, informer is a dirty word.

The book answers many questions, but it will also stimulate some readers to ask others. Family (semiya), a subject which has deeply preoccupied Marxist theoreticians, is taken care of with a few foolish quotes from current Soviet sources about the unearthly beauty of family life in the forthcoming Communist order. But a student of the language of Communism should also know Marx’s opinion that among the proletarians the family practically does not exist (or in any case is a device for capitalist exploitation of their children) and among the bourgeoisie is merely a mask for prostitution.

The book clears up the Communist meaning of hooliganism and offers an engaging illustration (see cut), but the reader might still wish to know how an Irish patronymic became the eponym for such an apparently large group of Soviet scofflaws, uncultured types and downright gangsters. Its derivation may be traced to Marx’s class-conscious habit of referring to his working-class critics as “Lumpenproletariat, scum, sweepings,” etc.

Although there is an informative entry under plumbing (vodoprovod, and mostly bad, in Russia), the student will not learn why fellow traveler (poputchik) is now used only by such enemies of the people as congressional committees, or that the word progressive (progressivny) now means what fellow traveler once meant. The American scholar gets shortest shrift. What was a Browderite? The love less Lovestoneite? The sad Shachtmanite?

The lumber-jacketed Wobbly?

Despite such defects, the book is highly useful. It will suggest to the reader that the language of Soviet bureaucracy is simply the herd noise of a pack of exceedingly dull and humorless rogues. It also shows that international Communism has created a linguistic apparatus for a general attack on the whole logical structure of the Western mind—an attack which does not cease when Moscow talks peace.

A full-dress study of the language of Communism has yet to be written, and would probably represent an intellectual feat more difficult than Bishop Colenso’s codification of Zulu grammar or the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone. Meanwhile. Author Hodgkinson has made a commendable beginning.

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