The God That Failed is a collection of essays written by ex-communists Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Richard Wright, Andre Gide, Louis Fischer, and Stephen Spender about their journey to and in the end from communism. An underlying theme in all of the essays is the irrational and fanatical devotion that is inherent in the psychology of communism. It is often said that communism works well on paper and has just never been applied properly to the real world; this book takes exception to this assertion.
Each of the authors was first attracted to communism as a young man in reaction to either a traumatic childhood or a feeling of guilt for the economic privileges that they enjoyed. This feeling of guilt is compared by the authors to the moral guilt felt by the religious who seek consolation in the arms of religion (for instance in the Catholic sacrament of confession). In their minds they must suffer for the original sin of being born into the bourgeoisie before they can be embraced into the revolutionary proletariat. Koestler, in particular highlights this notion when he repeatedly states in the book how he wanted to give up his comfortable journalistic career in Germany to become a tractor driver in the Soviet Union.
This need for atonement that is the stated motivation of several of the authors explains the religious fervor and zeal with which the cause of communism was taken up. The basis of their attraction to communism lay in an emotional guilt rather than a logical deduction. This explains why the authors, and so many other communists then and now dismissed counterpoints and empirical evidence as “petty bourgeoisie notions” without addressing the point contended. Koestler said that he learned to disregard facts and see the world exclusively through the lens of dialectic materialism. An irrational philosophy based on emotions and faith such as this is dangerous not only in application, but does not stand up to theoretical scrutiny.
There exists a rigidity in Marxist thinking and philosophy that is reminiscent of religions despite its rejection of a deity. Communist thought is steeped in irrationality and faith, indeed Friedrich Engels’ initial draft for the Communist Manifesto was entitled a Communist Confession of Faith. This deep rooted emphasis on blind faith in communism stems from its founding source material and not from its application since thus taking credence from the claim that communism works on paper and is only flawed in its adherents or their application of it.