…Stalin was throwing millions of human beings into the GULAG system of forced labor camps. Intellectually honest men, like Aleksander Wat — men who had been the intellectuals of Communism, men otherwise very much like Walter Benjamin —were being tortured in Soviet prisons so that they might fully accept “trite Communist platitudes.”
These platitudes always boiled down, as Wat explains in his incredible memoir, My Century, to the formula, “the vanguard of humanity = the working class = the vanguard of the working class = the party = the leadership of the party = the leader.” Forty-nine levels of meaning, indeed. But they all led to Stalin. It is no wonder that Dora and Scholem balked. They knew an intellectual sleight-of-hand when they saw one. And they knew that Benjamin went out gambling with Asja Lacis the night he wrote those lines about Talmudic teaching and the hierarchies of meaning.