Bertrand Russell's Sentimental Journey


Written: Unknown date, by Karl Radek
First Published: Pravda, October 24, 1920
Source: The Living Age, January-March, 1920.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Soviet History Archive 2005. This work is completely free.


MANY of our British guests have published articles and books of impressions on their journey to the savage land of Muscovy. As might have been expected, true Radicals express deep sympathy for our labors and struggles, while disguised Conservatives try to help the forces which would crush us. We anticipated nothing else.

When Tom Shaw, the well-known British opportunist, asked our soviet representatives with childlike na´vetÚ how they could imagine that such a high-born gentleman as the Right Honorable Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, the grandson of the Seventh Duke of Marlborough, the son of Lord Randolph Churchill, could lie, it showed that Mr. Shaw himself, although of low birth and a servant of the British bourgeoisie, would lie to injure soviet Russia at the bidding of that bourgeoisie. Consequently we were not surprised when Tom Shaw delivered a thunderous speech against the soviet government at the congress of the Yellow International, accusing it of oppressing the workmen.

The secretary of the delegation, Dr. Guest, by publishing in that yellowest of international papers, the London Times, a series of attacks on soviet Russia, merely proves what we were warned against when we permitted him to enter Russia, that he came to get information for the British government. In order to enable honest labor representatives to come to Russia, we had to admit also ordinary spies, who now shamelessly unmask themselves. Their 'revelations' of soviet Russia do no real harm, because every honest British workman knows, from his daily reading, that the Times and the whole Northcliffe press are fighting the British proletariat. He knows, too, that Dr. Guest's 'revelations,' are worth to the bourgeoisie the price he is paid for his lies. By comparing Dr. Guest's articles with those of Paul Duke, an acknowledged spy of the British government, published in the same 'honest' newspaper, any British workman can see how monotonously alike they are.

If Mrs. Ethel Snowden, the erstwhile beautiful pacifist and representative of British workmen, thought she could fascinate us by her pretty manners, it does not follow that we supposed for one minute that this bourgeois goose was competent to understand the revolution of the Russian proletariat. Being 'gallant,' we pretended to believe her enthusiasm was sincere when she told us, while watching a military review, that she quite approved of such militarism, since it was to defend the labor commonwealth. But we knew that stern proletarian revolution was not suited for Mrs. Snowden's delicate nerves, and that on her return to England, she would burst into tears upon the manly breast of Mr. Philip Snowden, who would say to her: 'Why did you go to that barbarous country? Didn't I tell you that it's not the place for British ladies to take a vacation? Better go to Belgium or to Northern France, where you can rest and visit war ruins.'

It is not worth while to discuss in detail articles written by Shaw, Guest, or Mrs. Snowden. But it is interesting to pause a moment over the two articles by Bertrand Russell in the Nation, the leading organ of the British liberals. Bertrand Russell is a remarkable philosopher and mathematician, as well as an absolutely honest man. He suffered persecution in a British prison for his pacifism. We believe he has no selfish purpose in writing what he does. His articles have value as demonstrating the narrowness of even the best of the bourgeoisie, their utter inability to comprehend the problems which history has placed before mankind.

Mr. Russell describes soviet Russia, stating clearly that the soviet government placed no obstacles in the way of his companions or himself and gave them full opportunity for an objective study of the Russian situation. What did he see in Russia? Of the Communists, he speaks very favorably. He says that they do not spare themselves, just as they do not spare others; that they work sixteen hours a day, forgetting about holidays; that, in spite of the power they hold, they live very modestly, seek no personal aims, but devote themselves unsparingly to building a new society. And he comes to the conclusion that the Russian. Communists are very much like the English Puritans of Cromwell's time. But 'life in Russia to-day, just as it was in the Puritan England, runs counter to human instinct. If the Bolsheviki fall, it will be for precisely the same reason that English Puritanism fell: time will come when people will realize that the joy of life is of greater value than anything that Puritanism has to offer.' There is no doubt that Mr. Russell is an 'altruist'; his whole life is a proof of this. Yet Mr. Russell has not given up his comfortable home, his quiet study, his week-ends in the country, his visits to the theatres, and all the other things which even the perishing capitalistic world still has to offer a man of wealth like himself.

Therefore it is no wonder that he considers a revolution in which the telephone, a piece of white bread, a can of condensed mills, or - oh, horror! - an automobile, is a luxury, is not good; for Bertrand Russell can endure such a revolution no longer than two weeks, and even then when provided by us with guest quarters and other special comforts. Therefore Mr. Russell does not ask himself what comforts would have been provided for the Russian workmen, if Kolchak, Denikin, Yudenich, and Wrangel had won a victory with British aid.

Mr. Russell considers the Communists the young, virile aristocracy of new Russia. And he says that in many respects soviet Russia reminds him of Plato's Republic. Since up to now, the word 'Plato' has not been considered derogatory, we ought to be grateful to Russell even for that. But what is hidden behind Russell's views on the situation in Russia is concretely expressed in the following words: 'When a Russian Communist speaks of dictatorship, he uses that word in a literal sense, but when he speaks of proletariat, he uses that word in a Pickwickian sense. He has in mind the class-conscious part of the proletariat, that is, the Communist Party. He includes men who have nothing in common with the proletariat so far as their origin is concerned - like Lenin and Chicherin - but who have the proper views. He excludes real workmen who do not have these views, and whom he calls lackeys of the bourgeoisie.' What a dreadful thing, indeed, is this, which Bertrand Russell has discovered in soviet Russia! But to help him understand what he saw, let us remind him of social relations in England herself. He comes from the high aristocracy and belongs to the bourgeoisie. But when, during the war, he, as a pacifist, did not act as the bourgeoisie demanded, the latter ceased to consider him a member of the same class as itself, but threw him into prison as an enemy of that class. At the same time, it made Mr. Henderson, who is a common workman, a cabinet minister, because he defended its interests. Or let us recall a still more striking instance. One of the leaders of the Chartist movement in England was Ernest Jones, a scion of an aristocratic family. He was a godson of the Hanoverian King, and was brought up at the royal court. But when in 1846, he took part in the revolutionary agitation of the British workmen, he was thrown into prison, where he was kept for two years, under conditions which caused the death of many who were incarcerated with him.

So it appears that the unheard-of thing which Mr. Russell saw in Russia, that everyone who fights for the proletariat is a soldier of the proletariat, is something common to all struggling classes. They consider as their own those who actually fight for their interests, and not those who happen to spring from their loins.

Mr. Russell declares that he opposes communism for the same reasons for which he is a pacifist. Civil war, like any other kind of war, brings with it enormous sufferings and misfortunes, while its good is more than problematic. And in the struggle, civilization itself is doomed to perish. We have already seen how highly Mr. Russell values the civilization that has given rise to a four-year war!

To conquer, we must have a concentration of power, and every concentration of power begets evils. Mr. Russell has before him two types of the concentration of power. The first is the capitalistic government of Great Britain and its Allies, which precipitated the world into mutual slaughter, and which still ruins its happiness and welfare. Mr. Russell does not like Lloyd George; still less does he like Churchill. The second is the government of soviet Russia, which bends every effort toward rescuing the common people from the misfortunes brought upon them by capitalism. It is a government making an heroic attempt to reconstruct society from the foundation. But it cannot fight the whole capitalistic world successfully by mere guerilla warfare. It is forced to organize a Red army, a huge food-supply apparatus, centralized economic control. But Mr. Russell says that this is not good, since it creates privilege: no matter how modest the commissars may be, still they have automobiles, the use of telephones, theatre tickets.

Now, what is Mr. Russell to do, wedged in between these two horrid governments, trying the best they can to monopolize power? Having returned from his sentimental journey, and taken a good bath, he, no doubt, seated himself in front of a fireplace - how wonderful are the old English fire places! Although he is not a commissar, there is no doubt that he does not have to suffer for lack of wood, even though the poor in the East End freeze to death. So, Mr. Russell put on his house slippers and dressing robe, and began to read in the newspapers of Europe's agony, which went on uninterrupted during his absence. Even Miss Gibbs writes openly about the matter in Lloyd George's own Daily Chronicle. As he read, there rose in Mr. Russell's heart a feeling of displeasure; for how can a good, clever, wealthy man experience pleasure, when he sees others suffering? And Mr. Russell declared in the Nation: 'Though I cannot preach the world revolution, neither can I rid myself of the conviction that the governments of the leading countries are doing everything in their power to bring it about.'

How bad are the capitalistic governments, and how good is Bertrand Russell! It is not improbable that he may again find himself in prison; and we only hope that, because of his excellent family connections, his punishment may not be excessively severe. We wish him nothing but good; but what value is there to his senseless sacrifices?

During his stay in Moscow, Bertrand Russell declared that he would rather go to prison than give up his sense of humor. We sometimes fancy that all his philosophy, all his pacifism and Socialism, are merely a way in which this scion of British aristocracy jokes at its crude oppression and maraudery. If they had only arranged things better, 'more delicately,' so that Mr. Russell could enjoy the privileges of his position without experiencing the pangs of conscience: they are so unpleasant, those pangs of conscience!

What a sorry sight does the capitalistic world present, if in the face of the most gigantic catastrophe of all history, it can devise no better philosophy than that of Mr. Russell! His philosophy reminds us of Aesop's fable of the ass, which had placed before it oats and hay, and died of starvation while debating which it should eat first. We apologize to Bertrand Russell for comparing him to so stupid a beast as an ass, but we also apologize to that honest gray toiler, for comparing him to so parasitical a being as our petty-bourgeois 'philosopher.'