The Socialist Sixth of the World - Hewlett Johnson
1. Towards the Fully Developed Man
2. "The Most Democratic Constitution in the World
3. "Love is the Fulfilling of the Law
4. "From the Spark to the Flame"
The spread of education, the new leisure, the new zest for life, and the new security show themselves in a rising level of national culture. A seven hours’ working day— the shortest working day in any industrial country—sends the worker home at an early hour and with a reserve of energy for other occupations. A lengthening annual holiday with pay lays up a store of strength and, through the opportunity it affords for travel, leads often to a wider outlook upon life. Insurance against sickness, infirmity, and old age removes the strain from brain and nerves, whilst the ban upon exploitation and the decreased incentive towards, and opportunity for, the development of the acquisitive instinct set men and women free for higher pursuits.
One immediate result, as we have seen, has been a new passion for reading. This is met by periodical literature and book publications.
Immense progress has been made in the press, both in quantity and quality. The Tsarist Russia of 1913 possessed 859 newspapers with a circulation approaching three million copies. The Soviet Union of 1937 possessed 8521 newspapers with a circulation of thirty-six million copies.
No less remarkable has been the progress in book production and book circulation. At the end of the First Five-Year Plan book production in the U.S.S.R. was greater than that of England, Germany, and Japan taken together.
So great is the quest for new books that one book shop in Moscow sold 1000 copies of a new edition of Leo Tolstoi’s Resurrection in a single day: 600 copies of Pushkin’s works issued in a single volume were sold in under three hours.
Tsarist Russia, in its peak year, 1912, published 133-6 million copies of books : the U.S.S.R. in 1937 published 571 million copies. In 1938 the issue was to be 700 millions.
During the twenty years from 1917 to 1937 Gorky’s works have appeared in thirty-two million copies; Pushkin nineteen million; Tolstoi fourteen million; Chekhov over eleven million; Turgenev nearly eight million; and Gogol six million.
Naturally political writers and books reach astronomical figures. Eight thousand classical works of Lenin-Marxism have reached a total of 350 million copies in the past twenty years. Half of these 8,000 titles were in the national languages of the U.S.S.R.
The growth of literature among the national minorities is simply amazing when one compares it with the rigorous repression of all minority self-expression under the Tsarist regime. The Moscow International Book House, one house out of many, publishes books in eighty-five languages, text-books, novels, fairy tales, technical works, or translations of the classics. Nine million volumes were published in the Ukraine. Tolstoi’s work is in great demand amongst the national minorities as well as in Russia proper; 61,000 copies have been published in the last year in the small republic of Armenia.
The abstruse works of Professor Einstein have scanty sale in most lands. Germany banishes the man. The sale of Einstein’s books in England would, I imagine, be reckoned more readily in hundreds than in thousands. Yet in the Soviet Union the circulation had reached 55,000 between the years 1927 and 1936.
The value placed on books in the U.S.S.R. is seen in the way it houses them. The new Lenin Library in Moscow, an immense and stately building not far from the Kremlin, contains shelves which, set end to end, would stretch from London to Cambridge, and though the place is so vast, a book can be delivered to a reader in any part of the building in the briefest time. The State Librarians ransacked the world for the most efficient library methods, and then improved on all by methods of their own.
The New York Public Library moved 500,000 books and took two months to do it. The twelve million volumes of the Lenin Library were transferred in three months without the interruption of a single day of reading.
In literature, as in music or art, the Soviet people look across the frontiers. They are the heirs of the ages. Shakespeare is theirs, Goethe is theirs; Balzac, Moliere, Schiller, all are theirs. In the land of his birth, the 375th anniversary of Shakespeare passed unnoticed. Throughout the Soviet Union his anniversary was recorded in book, journal, and theatre, and his memory honoured by hundreds of thousands of peasants and artisans.
Shakespeare is regarded as a component part of the culture of the Soviet people. He comes into his own in a country where culture has become more truly of the people. Thousands of workers’ amateur art circles arc working on Shakespeare’s plays, producing “Hamlet”, “Macbeth”, or “Romeo and Juliet”. The performance of “King Lear” was attended by 200,000 people in Moscow this spring. And the peoples of Kirghizia, Kazakstan, Bashkiria, and many other national republics besides can see his plays performed and read his books in their own tongue. In the small republic of Armenia 32,000 copies of Shakespeare have In-en sold in the last five years.
Foreign writers in general are extensively translated and widely read, Upton Sinclair, Maupassant, Victor Hugo, Anatole France, Balzac, Dickens, Darwin, and of the moderns Ernest Hemingway, H. G. Wells, Frank Norris, Lion Feuchtwanger, Heinrich Mann, Justar Regler, and Arnold Zweig.
Writers are not only read, they are created. The Soviet Union gives ample play and great encouragement, both consciously and unconsciously, to self-expression.
More than 100,000 “circles for self-expression” have been formed quite recently in the U.S.S.R., and the drama circles have upwards of two million members. Other circles for singing, music, dancing, or graphic art exceed five million members.
Still wider is the range of self-expression in the form of letters and articles to newspapers. Each factory and institution has its wall newspaper, which invites and receives contributions and elicits valuable suggestions and ideas for the better conduct of factory life and efficiency : men and women can and do write concerning corrupt and inefficient officials, as well as contributing positive suggestions. The wall newspaper is an outlet for social passion.
It was social passion that produced the magnificent style of William Cobbett, and it is social passion, positive and negative, that may create new forms of writing in the U.S.S.R.
Miss A. L. Strong tells how she attended, in a northern township fifty miles from a railway, a congress of some 200 rural press correspondents preparing for a sowing campaign. They were only part of the energetic writers of that township. Four hundred and seventy field brigades each had its wall newspaper :—
“One picturesque seventeen-year-old boy, in a vivid shirt of old rose sateen under a black jacket, proudly reported the overthrow of the corrupt management of his collective farm by his articles and editorials. ‘We got out nine members’, he explained at the meeting, ‘then we stopped for want of paper. But we had already aroused the farmers and the general meeting removed the president and two members of the management.’ ”
The factory paper is thus the gateway through which many Soviet writers enter the higher realms of literature. It creates a taste for literature and an understanding of literature. From these humble beginnings literary groups arise, and factory print-shops will produce books of verses, plays, or even novels written by factory workers.
It is an accepted maxim in Soviet art that the artist should be immersed in the constructive life of his country. As the engineer who builds a bridge should understand not merely the space to be bridged and the strains and stresses of his structure, but also the purpose the bridge is to serve and its social function in relation to the whole of life, so with the artist. He must be immersed in the life and work of the people. Most artists readily agree with this, and it is natural to find that Sholokhov, the writer of “Quiet Flows the Don”, makes his permanent home in the village whose changing life forms the basis of his work.
Soviet readers look outward, and like their writers to look outward too. There is little demand for the introspective writing of the west. That is natural with a people in the full flush of a vast new experiment. A vital people wish to know about the hero who explores, invents, learns, and achieves; they have little interest in the man whose eyes turn inwards to his own emotions, much interest in the man who is thrilled with the conquest of Nature and the creation of a new man and a new humanity.
Perhaps most fruitful of all is the encouragement of artists amongst the national minorities. National bards — for example, the men who recite or “tell” their tales, rather than write them — are sought out and encouraged. Folk orchestras and folk instruments are developed and many honours for local distinction awarded.
These things arc most important stepping-stones to a wide diffusion of culture. Native art, springing through centuries from the soil and taking forms characteristic of the place of its birth, is capable of indefinite and beautiful development. As plant-forms were collected by Soviet scientists in the place of their origin and developed to the enrichment of Soviet agriculture, so Soviet culture may be expected to advance in many new and interesting directions from the fostering of these primitive art forms. And this applies to the graphic arts as well as literature. Palekh painting, for example, which was rapidly becoming extinct, has been vigorously revived. The old sense of colour, bright and strong, is fostered, and we begin to see many timely antidotes to mere machine production.
Drama is in an exceptionally favourable position in the U.S.S.R. No country renders its theatres such generous financial assistance, nor awards them so high distinctions.
When the Moscow Art Theatre celebrated its fortieth anniversary in September, 1938, it was awarded the Order of Lenin, and all the staff, including workers as well as artists, went to dine with Stalin.
The actor who took the pan of Othello was allowed, and encouraged, to devote two years to the task of getting inside his part, an instance of the fact that dramatic art is taken with supreme seriousness and rises to the highest levels.
The opera and the ballet are as beautiful and serious as the theatre.
A renaissance in art is doubtless proceeding in the Soviet Union akin to that which took place at the Renaissance in Italy and at the Revolution in France. We are too near to it as yet to realize its full significance.
Of course there is the question of the freedom of art in the Soviet Union. Criticisms can be made in many directions, and have been made, and should be weighed. Here, as elsewhere, I have preferred to signal out what seem to me to be the new and creative elements in Soviet theory and practice; others in plenty have added the criticisms.
We might in this connexion, however, profitably weigh the words of the American musical critic who said, “The security and inspiring environment of Soviet musical composers make them the envy of their colleagues everywhere “. It is security and stability which give the basis of freedom, and an exhilarating environment gives an incentive to the exercise of freedom in the creation of new art forms. And if the Soviet Union has at times appeared to thwart, or at least discourage, new art forms which it felt to be dangerous to the national stability, that was because the stability of the Government against foes without and within was not yet achieved.
England was never more free than when unthreatened and supremely strong. It is today, when threatened on every side, that films like “Professor Mamlock”, or plays like “Green Pastures” are banned by the censor.
As the Soviet Union grows more secure we may well suppose that its freedom will grow more generous.
But even today it is only one section of the Soviet artists who feel thwarted. Artists whose life had been lived in a former order naturally feel the constraint of an order with which they are unfamiliar and unsympathetic. But in general it is perhaps true to say that the art of these artists is not in general desired. The censorship which refuses to publish it only acts like the reader of an English publishing firm whose function is to gauge what the reading public demand and what consequently may be published without incurring financial loss.
Censorship, however, differs in the Soviet Union from censorship here. There is no exact parallel to our Lord Chamberlain. At any rate it is the censorship of the public that counts for most. An artist and his public are brought, as it were, face to face. An artist, be he graphic artist, literary man, or dramatist, is expected and encouraged to meet his audience, to explain to them the principles of his artistic production, and to receive their approvals and criticisms. The artist has something to gain by this process from the workers, and the workers from the artists. Mutual criticism and mutual explanation is of value.
For the rest, artists receive an encouragement unknown here. They have a public ready made. They appeal to an intelligent and interested people. They find ready help and co-operation from the members of their craft. Writers, actors, and painters have their own organizations which give help to their members on a new and generous scale. They have club-houses for social contact, retreats for rest, factories for supply of the materials they use, and negotiators who arrange for large-scale work such as decorating factories and institutions. The isolated craftsman is merged into a rich and powerful co-operative union with his fellows.
There is one word more than all others on the lips of Soviet people. It is the word “ culture”. It covers all that is here meant by the same word, and much more. It is uncultured, for instance, to walk into a house with dirty boots, to neglect to brush one’s teeth or wash behind one’s ears. It is uncultured to neglect books and art or ignore the achievements of science.
If we are apt to smile indulgently at the strain that is put on so small a word, we might reflect on our own use of it and examine our satisfactions in the light of our limitations of the article itself. We speak of men of culture. We speak of the cultured classes. The Soviet people limit neither the word nor the thing for which it stands. The Soviet people have no cultured classes and seek none. They seek a wholly cultured people, and in order to arrive at that result they seek to give leisure, security, and opportunity to all. And, in this connexion, art is not regarded as a thing in the abstract or the thing of an esoteric circle. Art is the national heritage of each, and must be made available for all.
On December 5th, 1936, a new form of democracy was born into a world where tyranny in the form of fascism openly scorned the democratic idea and threatened the democratic slates.
Democracy, torn up by the roots in lands called democratic, was welcomed in a land which, so we were taught, had put its faith in dictatorship.
This is only paradoxical to those who accept the unwarranted assumption that fascism and communism are equally pernicious forms of dictatorship. They, as a matter of fact, are poles apart.
The Dictatorship of the Proletariat is the dictatorship of a class, not of an individual; and it is temporary not permanent.
The Dictatorship of the Proletariat is the dictatorship of the working class, who have changed places with the previous governing class. Where formerly the minority held the power, the majority hold it now. The proletariat were led to victory by the Communist Party, that closely knit order in which the working class became, as it were, conscious of its own aspirations and made its own demands.
The Communist Party continues to exercise power, and will do so until – as is actually now happening – the workers are able, in ever-increasing numbers, to exercise power on their own behalf. “Every cook”, said Lenin, “must be taught how to govern.” And that principle is dominant still. The Communist Party strives in season and out to awaken in the masses a sense of responsibility and then equip them to discharge it.
Again, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat is only a temporary phase, a means to an end. The Dictatorship of Fascism is permanent. The fascist leader is deified. He is part of an eternal order. He is an end and not a means. The fascist dictator works for stability of dictatorship; the Dictatorship of the Proletariat looks for and works for a day when all dictatorship shall cease.
The completed socialist system of society automatically creates the classless society, and with the abolition of classes the need for one class to predominate ceases.
Thai stage has been largely completed within the brief space of twenty-one years.
But that is not the end; the socialist phase of society is only a stage on the road to a communist state of society, when, in the words of Engels, “Government over persons will be replaced by administration of things and the direction of processes of production. The State will not be abolished. It will wither away.”
That is the definitely higher State at which the communist aims. When the condition of its fulfillment — an abundance of wealth for all — is satisfied, then it will be possible for the new society to use the noble words of Karl Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Programme : “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
Such in elementary form is the communist theory, and in his “State and Revolution” Lenin sets this for the goal of ultimate freedom and true democracy :
“Only in Communist society, when the resistance of the capitalists has been completely broken, when the capitalists have disappeared, when there are no classes (i.e. there is no difference between the members of society in their relation to the serial means of production), only then ‘the state ceases to exist’, and ‘it becomes possible to speak of freedom’. Only then a really full democracy, a democracy without any exceptions, will be possible and will be realised. And only then will the state itself begin to wither away due to the simple fact that, freed from capitalist slavery, from the untold horrors, savagery, absurdities and infamies of capitalist exploitation, people will gradually become accustomed to the observation of the elementary rules of social life that have been known for centuries and repeated for thousands of years in all school hooks ; they will become accustomed to observing them without force, without compulsion, without subordination, without the special apparatus for compulsion which is called the state.”
That is perhaps Utopian. Its attainment at any rate may take centuries of socialist education. Who dare deny its possibility? What true democrat would deny its desirability ?
Let us, however, return to the Soviet socialism, which at any rate is a necessary stage on the road to communism, and which has made possible the new form of democracy which is now embodied in the Stalinist Constitution of 1936.
The Stalinist Constitution has had predecessors and differs from them. It makes no apology for the difference. A constitution, in the Soviet Union, is not a static thing. Society is not static. Society grows. A constitution suited to the conditions of yesterday is inadequate for today. Constitutions are not the strait-waistcoats of society. Constitutions record the stages of a society’s growth. They may go even further than the mere recording, and, if based upon a true reading of the laws of social development, may speed the growth which leads to their own more speedy supersession.
Thus the first Soviet Constitution of July 10th, 1918, served its day and made way for the second Constitution of 1924, based on the newly formed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
The present Constitution is the third and best, and stands in a worthy line with our own Magna Carta and the democratic Constitutions of France and the United States.
This Soviet Charter of Rights guarantees to each citizen
The Right to Work
The Right to Rest
The Right to Education
The Right to Material Security in old age and sickness.
Nor are these substantial and comprehensive rights a mere pious aspiration to be given effect only when circumstances conveniently permit. They are rights which record facts, rather than adumbrate goals. And the society which possesses them, and possesses also the land and the means of production which make them possible, has laid the firm foundations of a really healthy and fully equalitarian democracy.
Nor is that democracy confined, as is ours, to one section of the Union. These rights are extended to men and women of every race, tongue, and colour: Article 123 states that
“The equality of the rights of citizens of the U.S.S.R. irrespective of their nationality or race, in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life, is an indefeasible law.
“Any direct or indirect restriction of the rights of, or, conversely, the establishment of direct or indirect privileges for citizens on account of their race or nationality, as well as the advocacy of racial or national exclusiveness or hatred and contempt, is punishable by law.”
No people is free which possesses an inferior class, and no people is free which oppresses another people. These arc truths which the communists embody in their fundamental laws.
These wide and universal rights find fitting expression in equally wide and unequivocal electoral rights. Every individual of every race, colour, tongue, or creed, and of both sexes from the age of eighteen years and upwards, possesses the right to an equal vote, a direct vote, and a vote by secret ballot. Priests may vote. Officials of the former Tsarist regime may vote. All may vote. No franchise in the world is so wide as the franchise of the New Stalinist Constitution.
Is it, then, a bogus franchise? Is it a mere paper constitution?
Many criticisms have been levelled against the 1937 elections, and from a British point of view an election without opposition parties sounds ludicrous and ominous. Most of the criticisms, however, have either ignored or suppressed certain significant facts.
First, the popular selection had taken place prior to election. The deputies who stood for election had been nominated and chosen at public meetings before the general election. Various candidates had been put forward and their claims weighed with the utmost care by (he people at large, and generally in enthusiastic and well-attended meetings. An elector may signify his approval or otherwise at an earlier stage for this candidate or that. At the final election he may still withhold his vote from the man or woman put forth ultimately as candidate.
Secondly, these nominations were not confined to the Communist Party. Party and non-Party members alike were put up and many non-Party members were elected.
Thirdly, the deputies chosen were widely representative of public life in general: shepherds and milkmaids, engineers and turners, writers and teachers, artists and academicians, soldiers, sailors and airmen, new intelligentsia and old Bolsheviks.
Or yet again, if there is no Opposition Party — a feature so familiar in our own parliamentary organization—that is largely due to the fact that the basis of such Party opposition no longer exists in the U.S.S.R. The working-class opposition to a governing class, or of a possessing to a dispossessed class, which constitutes in one form or another the basis of most of our own parliamentary oppositions, has gone in the U.S.S.R. and, we may well hope, gone for ever.
There is still room — doubtless there always will be room within a socialist society — for divergence of policy, economic or social, even when the fundamental question of whether society shall be socialistic or not is settled, and it is to be hoped that, with a growing stability, there will be a growing freedom to express and discuss such divergences and seek free and authoritative expression of popular opinion upon this policy or that. Such opposition cannot be created artificially for the sake of preserving ancient forms of parliamentary procedure: it must arise naturally or not at all.
A learned student of political trends points out to me a number of factors relatively unimportant in themselves, but of great significance in the light of Soviet development, indicating that Stalin deliberately intends to guide the Soviet people to real forms of democracy.
First, the removal of political power from the Komsomols — that is, from the Young Communist League — when they were challenging the Party itself as an organ of political power.
Secondly, the continuing emphasis upon non-Party People and the repeated assertion of their right to share full powers with the Party.
Thirdly, and more important still, the determination to make the Executive subordinate to the Supreme Soviet, which is the equivalent of our own Parliament. All actions of the Executive must be ratified by the Supreme Soviet: “The highest organ of the state”, runs Article 30, “is the Supreme Soviet.” The significance of the enforcement of this law will be apparent at once to those who see with alarm precisely the opposite tendency here, as, for example, when the British Cabinet takes action without consulting Parliament or without seeking immediate and speedy ratification of its action by Parliament.
More significant still is the determination that the Supreme Soviet shall control the Budget. Those who hold the purse-strings hold the ultimate power. The main grievance of India, for example, really turns around the question of control of money, and the chief complaint of Congress lies in the fact that whilst Indians are taxed, Englishmen control expenditure of the money received.
At the recent Third Session of the Supreme Soviet the report of the Budget Commission of the Chambers brought forth criticism in both Houses as to the allocation of the Budget resources, and resulted in modifications before the State Budget was finally accepted.
The real marvel of the new democracy of the Stalin Constitution is perhaps the place where it grows. The former Russian Empire knew nothing of political democracy or political freedom; and just as we judge of the progress of Soviet industry, not against the background of industry in Great Britain or the U.S.A., but against Tsarist industry, so should we judge the new Constitution against the Tsarist negation of democracy. Not in a night or by the stroke of a pen are the forms or the spirit of democracy developed, which in our land were the result of centuries of struggle and experiment, and arc by no means yet completed. And if in some of its forms democracy has seemed to linger, the real wonder is that democracy has come to Russia at all: the culminating wonder lies in the fact that it has come in a form so wide and generous.
And if there is, and the facts seem to substantiate the claim, advance beyond our own stage of democracy, we have less cause for wonder when we recollect that our society still provides political power according to the wealth of individuals. Lord Beverbrook and John Smith, for example, may possess an equal right to vote for this policy or that at a general election, and we may think therein lies the heart of true democracy. In reality such democracy is illusory. Lord Beaverbrook, with his wealth and his newspapers, can daily mould the minds of millions and make and remake governments. John Smith’s power to put a cross upon a piece of paper in a secret ballot once in five years is insignificant in comparison, especially when John Smith daily reads the papers of Lord Beaverbrook or some other kindred newspaper magnate.
Political equality demands economic equality. The Soviet Union has it. We lack it. Our democracy, valuable though it is and a thing to fight for — has not the struggle for it helped us to appreciate and hold dear many things like honesty, truth, and mercy which we rightly cherish like life itself ? — will never reach its fruition till we follow the Soviet lead and secure for all economic liberty and equality. It will shrink rather than grow as economic inequality increases. The vast fortunes, which enable wealthy individuals to gain so large a measure of control of the Press, already and subtly undermine much of our imagined and vaunted democratic liberty.
The Soviets have laid firm foundations. A new spirit breathes into the lives of millions who yesterday were downtrodden and oppressed, and shows itself in their new forms of government. The profound significance of this advance is only grasped when we remember that in range it extends across a sixth of the earth. True democrats must rejoice in so mighty a victory for the progressive spirit of mankind.
Many hindrances cause the failure of a more general democratic welcome to the new Constitution and all it stands for. The chief of these is ignorance, and ignorance in many quarters deliberately fostered. The spread of true knowledge of what has happened and is happening would destroy the picture of Stalin as an oriental despot. And that picture has been created and is fostered in this country for reasons we can readily understand.
Stalin is no oriental despot. His new Constitution shows it. His readiness to relinquish power shows it. His refusal to add to the power he already possesses shows it. His willingness to lead his people down new and unfamiliar paths of democracy shows it. The easier course would have been to add to his own power and develop autocratic rule. His genius, is revealed in the short, simple sentences which enshrine the Basic Law of the U.S.S.R., where in clear, clean language stands the charter of the new rights of man in the Socialist Society. Here is a document which ranks amongst the greatest in all human documents in its love of humanity and its reverence for human dignity. To read this astonishing document, to compare it with its predecessors, to trace the growth and blossoming and fruitage of what began years ago as a young and very tender plant, gives fresh encouragement to every democrat in every land, and incites him afresh to struggle against every opposition, and in face, if need be, of the most brutal oppression, for that new and richer freedom that all the world’s great minds have looked for and longed for.
There is abundant promise, as this new democracy unfolds, for the development of the individual in harmony with society and in an atmosphere of justice and security. When Stalin said : “Our new Soviet Constitution will, in my opinion, be the most democratic constitution of all existing in the world”, it was no idle boast, but a plain statement of fact. When these fateful and restless years arc past, and when historians have settled down quietly to weigh the facts, there is small doubt that Stalin will stand out as a giant among pigmies, the man who, unlike those smaller men who clutch at power for themselves, trained and guided that great family of peoples that we call the Soviet Union towards the right exercise of power, gladly surrendering to them a power which is really their own as their understanding and ability to use it increases.
( i )
Religion in Russia in pre-revolutionary days had long been regarded by liberal and progressive thinkers and workers as a dangerous enemy. It is still seriously distrusted, and, where not openly and vigorously attacked, is discouraged and handicapped. In the early days of the Revolution many suffered martyrdom for their faith, the good with the bad.
For centuries the Orthodox Church had worked hand in glove with the Tsarist regime. Institutional religion had consistently sided with superstition and reaction: it was the confessed opponent of science and education. A boast was made to me in pre-war days that an entirely ignorant man could become a bishop in Russia.
It was inevitable that many adherents of a religion openly reactionary and confessedly unintellectual should oppose the new revolution and side with the interventionist nations whose armies encircled the young republic and sought its destruction. In such circumstances the effort to suppress the Church is no matter of surprise. Marx, Lenin, and Stalin were anti-religious just because they believed that religion had consistently aligned itself with organized injustice. Outrages were committed on the Church in proportion as the Church had become corrupt and wealthy, neglectful not only of social justice, liberty, education of the masses, and social welfare in general, but actively persecuting those who made these things their concern. It is not natural for people to murder priests.
No great revolution, alas, was ever carried through without bloodshed, violence, and brutality. The struggles for liberty in England have their own tales to tell. Terrible things happened in France. Terrible things likewise happened in Russia. They happened on both sides, though the atrocity statistics concerning them have been, as most responsible historians know today, grossly exaggerated.
The attitude of persecution has given way to a measure of tolerance. It is totally untrue to say that the present-day Soviet Union lacks religious freedom. Churches in the Soviet Union may, and do, suffer material disabilities compared with churches in England. They may be denied revenue from land or capital. But that is a restriction denied to all groups or individuals in Soviet Russia. Still more serious, they arc denied the right to give organized religious teaching to children outside the family circle, though no restrictions debar instruction there. It is not forbidden to give religious instruction to adults. Press and radio are closed to religious propaganda.
These constitute serious restrictions, but many lands besides the Soviet Union suffer from the like or worse. It has been the subject of constant complaint of Protestants in Catholic lands and vice versa.
On the other hand, every citizen is free to express his or her religious views, and convert others to them. My friend, Mr. Pat Sloan, a Cambridge graduate of distinction, teaching in a Soviet college, and serving as leader of its Trade Union, was taken ill with fever and removed to hospital, where a nurse, who happened to be a Baptist, endeavoured to proselytise him, with no hindrance from the authorities. The Baptist nurse, incidentally, was as severe as any Bolshevik on the Russian Orthodox Church, — saying, “Oh, well, that’s not real religion, that’s false religion.” Nothing, apparently, says Mr. Sloan, in Soviet legislation irritated her save that she desired for the Baptists the same monopoly of the people’s mind as the Russian Orthodox Church had enjoyed before the Revolution.
Another friend of mine lived with a Russian family in Moscow. In the corner of the living-room stood an ikon, and before it burned a lamp.
“Are there believers here?” he asked. “Yes, a maid from the country who works next door is a believer, so is an engineer who also lives here,” was the reply.
“Then you do permit a profession of religion?” he asked.
“Certainly, why not ? That is their own affair,” was the further reply.
No official attempt is made to suppress views such as these, and any group of citizens wishing to conduct religious worship is at liberty to do so, having access to premises free of charge, though responsibility for the pay of the priest and repair and insurance of the building are first charges on its resources.
Some 50,000 priests live today in the Soviet Union. They are as free to vote at the polls as any other citizen.
I could quote, in substantiation of these statements, from my own experience, or from that of a Russian émigre abbot from New York, who had visited me in 1937, immediately after his visit to the Soviet Union, where he had travelled without let or hindrance from north to south and in his priestly robes; or from many another source; but let these brief quotations from Mr. Alan Cash, a Canadian traveller and observer, suffice : —
“The congregation (of a church in Leningrad) nearly filled the church, and people of all ages were represented, although most of them were elderly. . . . One of the priests was quite young, but his enthusiasm was patent to all. Passers-by took little notice when the crowd poured out into the street. ... It was the same in Moscow, where I saw a priest walking through the streets in the usual long grey robes and with his hair rolled up in a knot on the back of his head. ... At Tiflis I went a round of churches with a young Georgian, who had been in the U.S.A. for many years. ... St. Simons Cathedral, now more than a thousand years old, had not’ been damaged in any way.”
Mr. Cash tells of a priest at another new church in Tiflis, who
“told us that the priests had been persecuted there considerably, but he did not blame the government. It was due to over-zealous local officials, and as soon as the government learnt what was going on it promptly put a stop to it. The Church, he admitted quite frankly, had taken an active part in anti-revolutionary work and had suffered the consequences. One of his own bishops had been caught using the church as a mask for anti-revolutionary activities, and this had brought much trouble down on (hem all. But now everything was right.”
The Georgian priest’s statement that the Government had put a check on over-zealous anti-religious local officials is interesting in the light of a recent occurrence widely quoted in the Soviet Press.
A Stakanovite girl-worker on a State farm in Siberia was a practising believer. Her anti-religious neighbours felt that, as such, she should not hold important oflicc. Hers was made a test case. It was referred to Stalin himself. And Stalin’s decision was entirely in favour of the gill; a decision fully borne out by Article 124 of the New Constitution :—
“In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the Church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the State, and the school from the Church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of anti-religious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.”
( ii )
So far we have been concerned with external questions, with the attitude of the Soviet Union to an organized religious body and to members of that body.
A more difficult, but also, I venture to think, a more important concern awaits discussion — the relation of the Soviet experiment as a whole and in its essence to religion as such.
I wish to suggest that communism in its positive aspect is no fundamental enemy of religion, least of all of the Christian religion. In the long run, unless I am seriously mistaken, it will prove to be a true friend in at least one essential particular. It provides society with a new moral base, and is in process of achieving on the “this-world” level those very things that we Christians have too often professed with our lips but denied in our lives. It has struck the death-blow to an immoral order in which we have tacitly acquiesced.
A misconception concerning the Soviet Union in respect of religion is widespread and must be removed at once.
The use of the words “dialectical materialism” as descriptive of the Soviet outlook is unfortunate for the average English reader. The term “dialectical materialism” is easily confounded with the largely discredited doctrine of “materialism” which had gripped scientists a quarter of a century ago, and which was entirely incompatible with religious belief.
To the materialist, mind and matter are the same thing. To the materialist, mind is merely a function of matter. To the materialist, mind is but an effect, a mode, a property of inert matter.
That belief is now dead. And scientists themselves have had no small part in slaying it.
That belief again, and all that we common English folk mean by the word “materialism”, stands entirely apart from what is meant by “dialectical materialism”. None, indeed, opposed the materialistic view of life more resolutely than Lenin himself. Lenin said that he knew what “reality” was because he found the same laws working in his own mind that were working in human society, in the atoms and in the stars. The process of life is creative, says Lenin, and the process of life calls for purposeful activity of man.
Lenin’s belief in personality as something alive, creative, originating, and dignified, is wholly opposed to a devitalizing and degrading materialism.
( iii )
A passionate assertion of atheism no more means that a man is fundamentally irreligious from a Christian point of view than a passionate profession of belief in God necessarily stamps a man as religious. Much depends upon the meaning we attach to the words religion and God.
Tolstoi, we are told, once asked Maxim Gorky point blank : “Do you believe in God ?” Gorky replied : “No.” Let me paraphrase Tolstoi’s reply. “ You say you don’t, and you believe you don’t ; in reality you do. Every word you write tells me so. It is not what a man says, or thinks he says, hut what a man is, that speaks the truth; your whole being tells me you believe in God.”
We may here appropriately recall the words of Christ Himself : “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of rny Father which is in heaven.”
Not what we say with our lips, or even what we think we believe, expresses our real belief. The orientation of our entire lifr is the thing that tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Our life prays more sincerely than our lips.
In a stimulating and suggestive chapter of his “Creative Society” Professor John McMurray puts the matter clearly, bidding us look below the verbal definition of the term God, and religion, and ask, “What are the realities for which these terms stand ?”
Is not a real belief in God that which lifts us out of our sclf-centredness and frees us from our fears? Is it not the power to live as part of the whole of things?
Many of us, unfortunately, whilst calling ourselves religious and professing belief in God, lack any such real belief in God, or hold it half-heartedly and partially. We distrust the world and men, and prove our lack of confidence in the supreme power behind all, by hedging ourselves around in isolation and building up our own security. We are self-centred. We lack real enthusiastic confidence in the possibilities of the world or man, or in the providence which orders both. That is always the danger of professional religion.
And it is of such so-called believers in God that Jesus avers that he will finally say, “I never knew you”. Refusal to act gave the lie to their professed belief.
The disinterested communist, on the other hand, has, I would suggest, recaptured this power to live as part of the whole of things. He believes in what he calls the laws of Nature and the processes of history. He has faith in a power which determines the destiny of mankind. He feels himself to be an instrument in the hands of a power which is not unfriendly and which is here and now achieving its purpose of creating a true and universal brotherhood of mankind, which he calls the classless society.
In so far as he holds such a belief, a communist has recovered much of the core of real belief in God.
( iv )
The ground cleared by these preliminary suggestions, we can proceed to closer quarters with our problem. Hitherto we have spoken of communism and religion in general. There is something further to say on communism and Christianity.
Geologists and biologists have enabled us to trace the course of the world’s development, and select a leading principle as guide amidst the stupendous changes through which life on this earth has passed. It is the principle of organization.
Life as it develops reaches higher and ever higher levels of organization.
This knowledge enables us to estimate in which direction life in the future will move. Life will follow the lines of a more complex and closely knit organization. As change appears to be the one inevitable law of life: change in the direction of higher organization will be the hall-mark of progress.
Living organisms are obviously to be distinguished from a mere mixture of chemical elements. Thus protoplasm, that semi-fluid, colourless, or whitish substance which constitutes the physical basis of life in all plants and animals, is a living organism, very low, but definitely organized as no mere chemical compound is organized.
Every successive upward step has been a fresh advance in the level of organization. The process has culminated in the higher mammals, where the number and complexity and interrelation of parts in the whole reach the maximum.
Organization, however, does not stop when it has reached the stage of mammals. As Dr. Joseph Needham, the Cambridge biochemist, points out, from the complexity of man, the highest individual mammal, we pass on to a new complexity on another plane, the complexity of the group.
Sociological organization and development must be thought of as continuous with biological.
Furthermore, social organization, when and as it comes, will demand just that same “renunciation of the dominant impulses” which has been necessary in earlier stages of organized life and which at the human stage we call altruism or unselfishness.
Looking back upon life at its lowest ranges, we see this same principle of “renunciation” already operative. The free-living, independent cells out of which all bodies are built up, had, in “renunciation”, to give up their freedom ere they could pass into the higher levels of life : which are found in those animals whose bodies consist of many cells.
In like manner, if there is to be a higher level of social organization than we possess today, then similar renunciations will be demanded of each of us. We are, as it were, cells of the new and more complex organization, losing something of independence, but gaining far more in the higher level of lining to which we have advanced.
We, as individuals, however, are not the last stage of the evolutionary process. We cannot believe that we alone have reached the pinnacle of organization. We in turn need to be united in a yet larger whole. Our present confusion must be turned into future order.
As from our standpoint other ages were ages of chaos, so from a future standpoint will our age appear chaotic. Chaos reigns, for example, in the existence of our many sovereign states, each unrestricted by any moral law cure tailing its absolute sovereignty. Chaos reigns in a world where the natural resources and the machinery of production are retained as private property by private men who possess the right to lay clown the terms on which alone other men have access to what is their only means of livelihood. Chaos reigns in a world where fierce competition and unregulated profit-making arc the twin motives of industrial production.
If there is any force at work tending to remove this chaos, tending to unite the world of men into one whole, whilst leaving to the peoples composing that world as much as possible of their peculiar customs, languages, art, and literature, limited in national sovereignty, but united in economic dependence, such a force would be completely in line with that growth in organisms which has marked the march of life in the past. Any process of world-planning by collective man who has obtained control of land, natural resources, and productive machinery, who has abolished privilege and approaches a classless state, marks the upthrust of another stage of the evolutionary development. Not one whit the less does it mark the fulfillment of the Christian demands.
This collectivism is inevitable. The Soviet Union has obviously made a great step towards it: both explicitly in its professed programme, and concretely, as we have seen, despite all setbacks, blunders, defects, and crimes — and what nation among us is guiltless of these? — in the practice of its daily life.
Christians should recognize once and for all that economic exploitation, with all its degrading and disorganizing consequences, is as utterly wrong, as it is scientifically doomed.
Christians should cease from that exclusive concentration on the “other worldly” and mystical elements of religion, through fear of feudal lord or financial capitalist, or established order, or sheer inertia, which makes them condone what they should condemn and condemn what they should welcome. The established order has small complaint against, though real contempt for, the men whose religion is concerned wholly and solely with the things beyond the skies. A true Christianity never permits its contemplation of another world to hinder its joy and duty in this; but draws from an eternal order the inspiration for achievement here. Only a spurious Christianity neglects “living” in the interests of “thinking and contemplation”.
Collectivism, in short, is not only answerable to Christian origins—we recollect the early communism at Jerusalem-it begins to create in practical and concrete form what is meant by the Christian term of brotherhood.
Communism, in the Soviet Union, believes in brotherhood and practises it; believes in collective security and seeks it; believes in internationalism and works for it; believes in peace and hopes to win it. Communism, in the Soviet Union, turns emotional communism into scientific communism.
Covetousness is the greatest foe to the next advance towards this higher organization, and Christianity is the sworn foe of covetousness. Men covet riches because they covet the power, prestige, and privilege which riches bring. The covetous man moves into isolation, hedging himself around in the search for security.
In its very essence covetousness is a denial of God, a refusal to give up the selfish, independent life and seek security in the whole.
That is why Jesus warned men to “take heed and beware of covetousness”. That, too, is why St. Paul speaks of covetousness as of something indecent and loathsome: “let it not even be named among you” (Emphesians v. 3). The covetous man is classed with fornicators and unclean persons.
The acquisitive or covetous spirit, in the eyes of St. Paul, is as evil in its nature as is perverted and unrestrained carnal instinct.
The Soviet Union performed an essentially religious act entirely parallel with this Christian abhorrence of covetousness when it cut the taproot of covetousness, freeing men from the bondage of the acquisitive instinct and paving the way for a new organization of life on a higher level of existence.
( v )
If communism cannot be regarded by religious men as the end of the whole life process, it certainly appears to shadow a vitally necessary step in religious development.
Communism has overcome the disintegration of modern society by pressing forward to a higher and more complete union of the separated parts.
Communism has at last found a form of integration compatible with the necessities of a technical civilization.
Communism has served religion by challenging the irreligious dualism of Greek thought which separated life into two parts, religious and secular, thus perverting the religion which we inherited from the Hebrews and which culminated in Jesus. For Hebraic religion, and still more the Christian religion in its original intention, embraced the whole of life. It never suffered life to fall into two parts, signifying that contemplation was the sole and supreme religious duty, condoning the disintegration of society, whilst luxuriating in the thought of the harmonious heavenly places.
Where, to the Greek, God was an aristocrat, to the Christian He was a worker; and, as a consequence of this, where to the Greek the ideal of human life was contemplation, to the Hebrew and Christian it was action and self-realization.
Furthermore, to the Hebrew and to the early Christian, man’s welfare depended upon community; his self-realization demanded “renunciation” and subordination to the whole. The intention of God, according to Jesus, is a community of persons building up relationships on a basis of freedom and equality. To violate that sense of community, to realize, or seek to realize, oneself at the expense of the whole, is to court disaster. To act ego-centrically is to act against one’s nature, and leads to failure and frustration. All history is a commentary and a judgement upon the self-will of man, particularly upon his lust for power and for the luxury of contemplation.
To the communist, as to the Christian, community is paramount. Man realizes himself in society. The communist puts the Christian to shame in the thoroughness of his quest for a harmonious society. Here he proves himself to be heir of the Christian intention.
The communist attack upon idealism, then, as well as the communist struggle for community, contains an element of true religion, and as such demands Christian recognition.
Had Christians from the first but given to communists the welcome which was due to men whose motto — “from every one according to his ability and to every one according to his need” — is so wholly Christian, and who had passed from words to deeds in their construction of a concrete order based on these principles, Christians would have done more honour to the intention of their Founder, and Soviet communists might never have felt compelled to launch their war against religion. Perhaps they had even been ready to heed the warning which Christians must feel bound to give to all who lightly imagine that a perfected order lies at the end of the social process; or anticipate the creation of a perfect society in which all tensions are resolved.
Such a social order would, indeed, appear to be the end of society, and not a new beginning. Every fresh integration introduces its own tension instead of tensionless perfection.
But it is a tension upon a higher plane. The communist order, now having moved to a higher plane of integration, may well be expected to experience new and newly creative tensions. Such tension should be neither surprising nor disturbing. The Christian anticipates them.
Did it concern our present purpose, we might well proceed to argue that the problems of good and evil, life and death, cannot be solved so easily as some communists would suppose. We could urge substantial grounds for believing that the final fulfilment of life is to be found, not in but beyond history itself. We might further urge that could we succeed even in integrating all human life in this present order, there will still remain the problem of integrating the life of our human order as a whole with the life of the universal order.
That, save for the mention of it, lies, however, outside our present purpose, which in the main is to seek the creative ideas in communism and to examine and estimate their value, and we may appropriately come back to the point at which we began, and urge that communists are right when they insist that we must begin to achieve in practice that integration which already lies within our power, and that the religion which not only refuses to do this but hinders, side-tracks, and misrepresents those who attempt it and then seeks refuge from action in contemplation and reflection, is an enemy, and must be resolutely removed. “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen.” “Love is the fulfilling of the law.”
I cannot read or re-read this book without being conscious of its many defects and shortcomings. There is so much more that might have been said or better said. The Soviet experiment, so immense in its range, so revolutionary to all our modes of thinking, so new and challenging, defies all but the crudest outline. A finished treatise, even were I capable of it, is impossible; one can only, as it were, think aloud.
I am conscious, furthermore, as was said in the Preface, of pointing only to those aspects which seem to me to be truly creative and essentially good. Much remains that is not. Injustice and unhappiness have not been swept away over-night as if by magic. Petty deceits, petty jealousies, and petty dishonesties still mar the harmony of life, and ugliness has far from disappeared. Russians are not paragons of virtue, nor is the Soviet Union yet the golden Paradise of the Utopians. The Russians, after all, are human beings, with all the weakness and follies and sins that mar us; and the relics of the past — it is a worse past than ours, where even tentative advance along the paths of freedom and equality has been longer delayed than with us — still hang round their necks.
Yet, when all is said and done, the Soviet people art-actuated, in the major operation of life, by a moral purpose which I could wish with all my heart was consciously our own. They are working for a common good that seems to me essentially Christian in its morality, however much they may deny the fact. They are learning in practice that the reality of life lies in community, and their accepted principles for the advance to a better order of society, to a wider community of persons, seem to me to be rightly chosen.
All progress appears slow and uncertain. Our advances towards a better order are vague and indeterminate. Profound and subtle and innumerable forces chain us to our past. We cling to our errors and stupidities. The bright light of truth blinds us, and we avoid it. We grope where we might walk. Familiar ways arc easy ways. Change demands effort and action; and change terrifies; especially if change threatens the structures of our personal security, so laboriously erected.
Yet change must come. Life always moves. Stagnation is but another word for death. Man marches forward, and in the main, and down the ages, he marches towards wisdom. The march may be slow. It is often painful and punctuated with many a halt. Sometimes man returns upon his tracks when an insurmountable obstacle blocks his path. The return is merely the quest for another way round to the distant goal which shall avoid the obstacle. The march goes on, and change comes with it.
This book is an honest and earnest plea to examine with less prejudiced eyes changes that in their startling novelty appear to overleap the centuries. Yet they are changes for which the way has long been prepared. They have their roots in the past. They are like waters clammed up here and dammed up there, but always and steadily accumulating until, suddenly, without warning and with a mighty rush, they burst forth and sweep all obstacles before them.
Change must come in England, in France, in America. No country can stand still. If the line advances in one land, others must advance or they will inevitably recede. England’s advance to an industrial order infected all the world. Russia’s startling and deeply significant change involves change here and elsewhere. Not necessarily along the same path. We can profit, if we will, by Russia’s experience and avoid the destruction of many precious things. If with an honest heart we make the necessary and essential changes in time, we may reach the same end by peaceful means.
One thing at least is certain: change will come, and it is better that we ourselves should make appropriate changes willingly because they are right, than do so under compulsion because we can do no other.
Morally inspired change, however, is far from easy. It needs strong hands, strong minds, and dauntless courage. It needs clearness of aim and firmness of will. It needs definite creative purpose.
The torch of life rests now in our hands. Those who come after us will be better able than we to judge whether it burns more clearly and brightly or whether it grows dim, whether we have bettered the life of our day or worsened it. They will judge us by our purpose and our effort rather than by our achievement. If there is any moral truth and Tightness in the great experiment which I have tried to describe, it will prevail. We may accept it and have the joy of speeding its progress, or we may reject it and suffer personal frustration. But according to the truth that is in it, it will succeed. I endorse the noble words of Anatole France:
“Truth possesses within herself a penetrating force, unknown alike to error and to falsehood. I say ‘truth’ and you understand my meaning. For the beautiful words truth and justice need not be defined in order to be understood in their true sense. They bear within them a shining beauty and a heavenly light. 1 firmly believe in the triumph of truth: that is what upholds me in the time of trial. . . .”