E. Belfort Bax, Two Bolshevist Intellectuals, Justice, 26th August 1920, p.7. (review)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton (May 2007).
Creative Revolution A Study – in Communist Ergatocracy, by Eden and Cedar Paul (Allen and Unwin, 40, Museum Street, W.C.1.), 8s. 6d net.
The authors of the present volume, if I remember rightly, published some years ago an excellent English translation of a book, Political Parties, by my friend Robert Michels of Basel, which was reviewed by me at the time in Justice. The work before us may be described as an attempt at a philosophical defence of Bolshevism.
In reading much of its undoubtedly able argumentation, old memories, memories of the middle ’eighties of the last century, crowd in on me. “Ihr naht Euch wieder schwankende Gestalten!” In the year 1884 there was a “split” in the SDF Morris, myself and others took the one side, while comrade Hyndman, Harry Quelch, with various colleagues, were on the opposite side. The principles at the basis of the quarrel ran on strikingly parallel lines to those of Social-Democracy and Bolshevism to-day. How well I remember the discussions I had with Friedrich Engels at his house in Regent’s Park Road – how, championing the view taken by our Party, I denounced the opportunism of political action in all its hues, treating all voting, whether municipal or parliamentary, as a treachery to the cause of Socialism. I was convinced that nothing but barricade revolution was the true pathway to the future society, and that hence the most important function of Socialists was to watch for the first signs of the upheaval we believed to be imminent, and to capture the movement when it came in the interest of the “class-conscious proletariat” and its “dictatorship.”
I can also recall how severely critical, not to say scornful, Engels was of our theory and tactics, notwithstanding the fact that for personal reasons he favoured our side in the “split.” He spoke contemptuously of a dictatorship as superseding democracy, declaring that complete democracy was a necessary stage in modern social evolution, besides pointing to the similar theory of the Anarchists, and more especially the Blanquists (deriving from Babeuf), which overlooked the disastrous blunders they were only too likely themselves to make in their dictatorial handling of the revolution. (Perhaps some readers may be inclined to regard this as prophetic of the adventure of Lenin, Trotsky and Co.) Engels disparaged all attempts at “short-cuts to Socialism,” contending that the only effective policy for Socialists in getting hold of the power of the State would be to gradually socialise the various departments of industry as they became ripe for absorption by the public power. He laughed at our attacks on “Parliament” as an institution, saying that some sort of representative assembly was obviously necessary, whether you called it Parliament or not. What is more, Engels defended the then ultra-opportunism of the German Social-Democratic “fraction” in the Reichstag. And it must not be forgotten that all this was only two or three years after Marx’s death, and was given as representing Marx’s views as well as his own. So I think we may conclude that the mature Marx and Engels of the late ’seventies and early ’eighties held very different theories of the course of Socialist development and of Socialist tactics from those attributed to them by our friends Eden and Cedar Paul and other supporters of Bolshevism.
This fact, of course, does not necessarily prove that the latter are wrong. I am far from regarding Marx and Engels as infallible. But I quote Engels’ words because the present writers and Bolshevists generally are only too fond of protesting that the mantle of the two protagonists of modern Socialism has fallen upon them and upon them alone. To employ the classification of Socialist views adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Paul, Engels as I knew him (and presumably Marx in his later years) may fairly be reckoned to the Socialist “right centre” just as we of the Social-Democratic Federation might be regarded as belonging to the Socialist “left centre.” For I do not suppose that many members of the SDF, any more than myself, would subscribe to the view of Engels that all that a Socialist administration could effectively accomplish would be to “wait and see,” communising the various branches of industry as they became ripe. There are doubtless other and immediate revolutionary changes in various departments of social life which it would fall to the lot of a Socialist administration to effect. But this view does not imply any inclination to throw ourselves into the Bolshevist camp, and pretend we are going to realise the complete Socialist ideal in a forenoon, making 12 o’clock at 10.
We may respect those who honestly believe they can do this while regarding their views as fundamentally unsound and their attempted realisation in practice as disastrous. As touching the latter point, as exemplified in the Lenin-Trotzky adventure, we may well ask what Socialist principle these leaders have really actualised with success? I as yet know of none. But, on the other side, their first act was to establish an institution hitherto fatal to all revolutionary and popular movements – to wit, the “Terror,” that beloved resource of bloodthirsty scoundrels in times of revolution. To my thinking the mere proposal (if seriously meant) of “terror the order of the day” ought to render the proposer liable to the capital penalty. This legalisation of promiscuous murder is under no circumstances whatever justifiable, and has always in the end proved itself disastrous to the movement that has employed it. By all means punish counter-revolutionary conspiracies, but only after a complete and fair trial of those accused of them. We all know how the best men of the French Revolution perished by the guillotine under the “Committee of Public Safety.” There is just as little doubt that hundreds, if not thousands, of Socialists just as honest as Mr. and Mrs. Paul themselves, fell victims to the atrocious massacres that signalised the first months of the Bolshevist regime in Russia.
The second great achievement of the “Soviet Republic” was what? The creation of a strong army, led by reactionary and “patriotic” generals of the late Tsar’s Government, and coerced by a “discipline” more ferocious than any known to the armies of the despotisms of history. Our authors may declare that this was necessary. But, in any case, it can hardly be quoted as an attractive and consistent illustration of Socialism in practice.
In conclusion, it must not be supposed that the present writer fails to recognise the ability of the authors of “Creative Revolution,” or the ingenuity of their argumentation. It is indeed only fair to say that the book before us affords the best statement of the case for Bolshevism – in theory. But it is significant that the authors themselves scarcely venture to extend their clever special pleading to the open defence of the acts of the Soviet Government at present existing in Russia, and this notwithstanding that their book is dedicated to the creator and head of that Government.
E. Belfort Bax
Last updated on 27.5.2007