Communism and cults
Updated: Sep 4
Communism is a very old idea that goes right back to the start of Western intellectual history: it is to be found in Plato’s Republic. Hence it is no surprise that communism—here, as always, with a small “c” to differentiate it from Soviet Communism—recurs again and again through Western history in various iterations. It struck me today, reading about Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple movement, quite how far cults are synonymous with communism. Admittedly, in Jones’s case there was an explicit Marxist element in play; yet my other readings on wacky cults and personalities lead me to the same conclusion: “cult” and “communism” are synonymous—the only difference being that communism is a cult that seeks state power, whereas a “normal” cult is usually, though not always, content to be a state-within-a-state.
I am not the first person to make this observation, and, indeed, it is fairly common to see rightists say “the left is a cult”. Anyway, this is my personal take on the matter. Firstly, what do I mean by “a cult”? There are some people, in typical leftist fashion, who will jump up and say, “A religion is just a cult that was successful: soon as you get money and power and hang around for a few centuries, they stop calling you a cult—then you’re a religion.” This is not so; it is not just that cults put forward odd beliefs, beliefs that could one day become accepted when the cult, in the above pseudo-cynical model, “gets respectable and becomes a religion”; rather, cults also act in ways that cut across traditional norms and values. There is such a thing as “a cult”—and it is not just a religion in embryo.
My criteria for a cult:
a. The organisation puts forward views as regards sexuality and the family that widely differ from traditional norms and insists that these views be mandatorily translated into activities (e.g. communal childcare; families to be broken up and children reared by non-biological parents; cult members to be arbitrarily assigned partners by cult leaders in order to have children; total abstinence; orgiastic activity; heterosexuals forced into homosexual acts; “free love”—per the Bolsheviks, “Sex should be as simple as drinking a glass of water”; divorce and abortion as “liberation”; transsexualism; denial that there is a duality to sex—sexual mutilation). These ideas are seen as much in Plato as in Pol Pot—both of who advocated for the family to be broken up and for children to be raised collectively without knowledge of their parents.
b. As a continuation from this point, the cult is opposed to private property and holds that all property should be held in common. Usually, this is merely in a state-within-a-state sense, so that members are expected to sell cars, homes, and jewellery to live in common in the cult commune. Since private property, as with sexuality, is an aeons-old norm this is once again a transgression against tradition, biology, and common sense—both points (a) and (b) serve to enact total control over cult members because they force people to break deeply-seated taboos, when this happens a person will experience deep shame and often an ego death and disorientation. In this vulnerable state, the cult places certain double-binds upon a person so they find it difficult to voluntarily leave (e.g. Jim Jones would sodomise male members of the church and then loudly declare he was “the only heterosexual in the church”—a contradictory statement designed to create a double-bind in his congregation and so induce psychic confusion and lassitude).
c. These taboo-breaking activities are interpreted as being necessary to bring about “heaven on earth”, “the millennium”, “the ideal state”, “Communism”, and so on. Notably, (a) and (b) relate to the idea that “heaven is at hand” and that we may live as if “heaven is now”—i.e. as if the Golden Age is here, there is no need to work for food and drink; and sexuality can be participated in with Edenic “innocence”. A quasi-magical idea associated with this approach is that “if we act like we have it, we’ll have it”—act like everyone’s equal, and everyone will be. The extreme beauty of “the idea” is used to justify coercive measures and to demonise outsiders who would ruin “the vision”.
d. The cult is underpinned by a novel intellectual system that appears to be highly sophisticated but on close examination proves to make only trivial observations about reality. However, the intellectual system can successfully confound common-sense criticisms from less-educated people (e.g. the Socratic method: “I think it’s unnatural for people to have their property in common.” “A fine objection, now let’s see—can you define ‘property’ for me?” “Errr. Well, it’s…errr.” “You see, when you cannot even say what ‘property’ is, how can you object to it being held in common?”). Common examples include the Socratic method, dialectical materialism, and Dianetics. Notably, ordinary right-wingers have noticed this trend in leftists in the oft-mocked remark “Define ‘x’?”, often given in response to a reasonable common-sense objection.
e. As a necessary corollary to (d) there must be an educated or an enlightened caste schooled in the novel intellectual system and these people have special power within the system. In Marxism-Leninism you have commissars, in Dianetics you have people who are “clear”, and in Platonism you have the philosopher-kings. Since these people understand the “true nature” of reality or history, they cannot be questioned by ordinary members of the cult—to question the initiated may imperil the “heaven on earth” that the system will bring about and so is perceived as highly anti-social. This is often characterised as “Gnostic”, but it should be remembered that this is an analogy; for example, Marxism is not literally Gnostic—as some people think. Further, it is also an inherent aspect to priesthood and first appears in Plato, with the philosopher-kings—and this is a non-Gnostic text; of course, Gnostic movements can become cults with “initiate priests” but it is not intrinsically Gnostic as many people today think. (Example: BLM activists who insist white people must stay silent while they explain their “lived experience” of racism—and that non-black people cannot question black “lived experience”).
f. A further point associated with (d) is the notion that a “noble lie” is permissible to philosopher-kings in order to further the cause. As noted in (c), “the idea” is so beautiful and perfect that “any means” may be necessary to achieve it. Hence it is permissible to lie, steal, cheat—even act in inegalitarian ways, although the cult always promotes strict egalitarianism—because the vision is so desperately important. It follows that it is important to lie if needs be. This turns out to be particularly important for Machiavellian reasons because the cult, due to its anti-natural orientation, is almost always dysfunctional; hence it becomes necessary to lie to outsiders about its success (e.g. Jim Jones promoted his cult as being about racial equality, although it ended up with a black congregation run by college-educated whites—reality had asserted itself; hence it was necessary to lie and accuse anyone who pointed out racial disparities of being, perversely, “elitists” or “racists”).
g. Cults draw a friend-enemy distinction—which is normal in human groups. What is abnormal about cults is that cults claim that the friend-enemy distinction is always existential; it is never friendly competition or occasional antagonism. Rather, the friend-enemy distinction is always war to the knife—the outside group supposedly seeks to totally wreck the cult’s attempt to reach paradise on earth. Existential friend-enemy distinctions do exist and can be legitimate (e.g. wartime; Communist infiltration into the US government). Where cults differ in their use of the friend-enemy distinction is that it is always existential (the class war is always “the last battle” for Marxists)—it never relaxes. Of course, cults are quite willing to tell their members that they are being “brainwashed” and that the cult seeks to protect them from external influence—in the same way, cults will claim their opponents make a “paranoid distinction between friend and enemy”; the context is important, as is the degree. Hence, the left often turns this around and accuses Trump’s supporters of engaging in this rhetoric. The absolute nature of the friend-enemy distinction in cults often leads to events like Jonestown where paranoia overtakes the cult and mass suicide/and or external aggression is loosed upon the world (the cult members kill themselves).
h. Cults engage in peculiar initiation rites designed to induce ego death and to wipe a person’s psychic slate clean. There are healthy analogs in the military (e.g. the recruit who has his civilian hair shaved off to depersonalise him in his training phase, cadences and chants to build unit moral). The difference is that the cult uses these techniques where ordinary religions would simply use discussion or sermonising. Hence recruits are subject to sleep deprivation, repetitive chanting, staring competitions, intrusive surveys about their sexual and personal histories, encouraged to cut contact with their families, and so on. The initiation is often related to (a) and (b) and is basically designed to wipe all previous psychic coordinates and anchor points so that a person is unable to voluntarily resist what the cult wishes to inculcate into them. Notably, these initiations are not connected to any traditional or historic initiation rites and are often taken from modern psychology textbooks (or histories of other cults); they have no deeper foundation other than to ensure control—and this differentiates them from rites such as baptism.
i. Finally, cults end up controlled by a megalomaniacal leader (Jim Jones, Stalin). The person’s personal grip on power will often be pervasive, complete with a personality cult; ironically, it will totally contradict the cult’s stated egalitarian goals—being far more authoritarian and total than any normal organisation or society at large. However, due to the psychological manipulation already established in the above points (double-binds, noble lies, surrender of personal property and autonomy) it will be difficult for cult members to effectively oppose the leader from a psychological standpoint. Cults will often use no coercive force, at least at first, and yet control remains pervasive because the members have lost their capacity for autonomous decision making. The ascension of the “total leader” often marks a final paranoid stage of “total war” against the enemy—and this can conclude, if the leader fears abandonment, as did Jim Jones, in mass suicide to keep the cult members with the leader forever.
I maintain that there is not a single leftist movement, even a mildly social-democratic one, that has not exhibited these characteristic to some degree. Hence I hold that left-wing politics is itself a cult aimed at the state in particular—with ideas like feminism, supposedly backed by sophisticated intellectual justifications, simply naked attacks on reality, tradition, and common sense. There are many superficial variations, many cults—yet they all share these basic characteristics. Those people less amenable to cults are either those who are more “autistic”, less enamoured with beautiful visions, or those who adhere more strongly to traditions and common sense.
What types of people join cults?
a. Young people: the young are more labile and have less sense of identity—hence they can be more easily reprogrammed by cults; and they are also more likely to entertain the idea that society (or individuals) can be easily remade—as with the prototypical student Marxist. Basically, inexperienced people are easier to lie to since they have seen less of life; and, further, the young are more concerned about their fragile social status and hence are more narcissistic—narcissism thrives on lies, and so the young can easily be caught in the “noble lie” before they know where they are. On the material level, the young own less than the old and are more interested in sex—the idea that all property will be pooled has few drawbacks for them, and the idea that there will be a sexual free-for-all also tickles their fancy.
b. “Clever-stupid people”: for example, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, despite being born to a multi-millionaire father, evinced an interest in living in the USSR—not because he thought Marxism was true, but because he thought the USSR offered a “living religion in a secular age”. Essentially, such very intelligent people often lack common sense—they think in counterintuitive ways that give them brilliant insights into physics or philosophy; however, the same counterintuitive ultra intelligence leads them to support obviously bad ideas because the idea itself is novel or they see something in it that others do not see (this is not necessarily connected to whether the idea is right or wrong, it just might be presented in an “interesting” way). This group can also be subject to flattery and intellectual vanity if they become “intellectuals” who are exponents of “the method” (e.g. Bertrand Russell and his endless progressive liberal twaddle).
c. “Nice people” (feminised men): cults are often made up from people who are “nice”—i.e. agreeable and open to new experiences. Obviously, such people are liable to be idealistic, keen to improve society, and also open to new ideas—often they become the cult’s backbone and its hardest workers (in other words, the people who are exploited—who work twelve-hour days for no pay and are locked in a shabby communal dorm at the end). These people are, frankly, easily bullied—yet primarily they convince themselves and delude themselves because they are so nice. Paradoxically, before they enter the cult they are often described as “anti-authoritarian”—yet this is an illusion; they might be anti-authoritarian in the sense that “capitalist injustice and racism” upsets them (reality upsets them)—yet they will happily totally submit themselves to a genuine tyranny for “a good cause” (the ideal tomorrow). The cult offers an escape from harsh reality into the “beautiful idea”—ironically, it is far harsher than the reality they seek to escape (yet they have the dream as a beautiful substitute). A subset of these people are young men who never had a father or had an absent father.
d. Women: women basically function in the same way as “nice people”, being inherently agreeable and impractical—further, they are drawn to the cult’s leader, the archetypal male “big daddy”.
e. Artists: artists are more open to experience than most people and so welcome novelty—they are inherently dreamy and impractical and usually want to escape reality, either because it is too painful or induces boredom. Novel exploration in sex and social arrangements piques their interest. Hence they are likely to buy into the cult’s “vision” more easily and are untroubled by obvious contradictions and impracticalities in the message. By definition, “the vision” is more important to them than the actuality—and hence they help create cult members, and often contribute aesthetically-pleasing propaganda to spread the cult’s message.
f. Marginals and resentful outsiders: basically—in the contemporary West—Jews, blacks, Asians, and homosexuals. Cults attract anyone who is slightly alienated from the existing society, not so much because they buy into the cult’s positive vision but because it isn’t what exists now—what exists now excludes them by definition, especially in its traditions and history, and they would like to see it pulled down. How it is pulled down does not particularly matter to them. These people often fail to become “true-believers” and retain a more rational and detached attitude to the cult—the cult still being originated from the majoritarian society (although this is not always the case, as in Marxism). Sexual perverts and ugly people are also attracted to cults because cults give them access to sexual encounters or encounters that are forbidden in the mainstream (e.g. the cult breaks down family structures and so makes its children vulnerable to predation by child molesters—such departure from norms is not usually conscious, being a consequence from dysfunction; however, in some cults, it becomes an element in the initiation-transgression ritual).
g. Psychopaths and thugs: in contrast to the largely passive or “nice” groups above, cults also attract psychopaths and thugs. This is because these people see life as a zero-sum game; consequently, they cannot believe, for example, that anyone becomes rich just because they are talented, hard-working, and lucky—in the psychopath’s mind, people have stuff because they “screwed someone over”; and this is how the world really works. This is projection from the psychopath’s own mind, a mind without compassion that sees people as prey; it is the psychopath that is unable to cooperate in sophisticated ways that involve peaceful cooperation and stable trustworthy behaviour. The psychopath likes the cult because it gives intellectual credence to his worldview through its thought system and licences his amoral and socially anomalous behaviour in its transgressive rituals. Further, due to the fact that most cult members are gullible and comparatively weak, the psychopath in the cult is a wolf among sheep (and, indeed, he often comes to lead the cult—Joseph Stalin being a key example, the bank robber street tough who pushed out the more intellectual and “dreamy” Trotsky).
Communism is a cult—all cults are communism; they all end in property being pooled (including women as “emancipated” property—sexual communism, sexual transgression). Not all cults aim at state power, many keep to themselves—the cults that do aim at state power are what we call “the left”. This is why many people who leave the left feel that they’ve left a cult—suddenly they no longer have “thought-blocks” on their minds to stop them from registering what they see about them or what they really think. Unfortunately, since leftism is connected to personality type, people who leave the left often immediately form their own new cult—for example, they will insist that they belong to a “post-left” or that they are “neo-conservatives”. Very few will say, “Well, I’m just me and my views,” since by nature they need the ideological stair bannister to support them. Even George Orwell, arguably the most superb chronicler of leftist cultism ever, refused to the end of his short life to fully reject socialism or to return to “reactionary” tradition.
You might think that Nietzsche—he whose dictum held “Madness in crowds is the rule, but in individuals it is a rarity” (ironic, since he went mad)—represents the ultimate anti-cultist. After all, he made stringent criticisms of Plato and Socrates. However, this is not so: Nietzsche contributed to cultism because he advocated that all traditions should be dynamited and all values reassessed. This demand is the perfect way to forge an environment rich in cults.
Nietzsche’s vision of a detached elite that acts like birds of prey and steals for pleasure—fleeces the flock—before it retreats to its private island for artistic recreation resembles a commune-like structure. Indeed, Nietzsche wanted to form a “philosophical commune” with another man and a woman—a “wild marriage”; he might have said he was anti-communist, but he still wanted to form a cult-commune. The new overmen will break many rules on their “private island”, just like Jim Jones in his retreat in the Guyanese jungle. After initiation, these “disciples of Zarathustra” may do as they please—unless you can stop them. The overman is recognisably the psychopathic type that dominates cults, the bully of the commune who loves to live without traditional restraints because his mind is deranged and he cannot understand the difference between “right” and “wrong”—it is all about domination.
The West Coast is where America ends, and where all her traditions were beaten to dust by the Pacific—and then, amid the flotsam and jetsam, came the cults. It is a creative state, being home to Hollywood and Silicon Valley—a state of open-minded star-children who drift without backgrounds or anchors in tradition. What would be more “natural” than to join a cult—to come to the place where you belong? Where everyone belongs. Yes, come join the family—come sing a song…