William Henry Chamberlin | Soviet Russia: A Living Record and a History
BEFORE attempting to forecast Russia's future lines of development one should endeavor to establish with some definiteness where the country stands to-day. What is the historical significance of the sweeping political, economic, social, and cultural changes which I have described in the preceding chapters ?
The Russian Bolshevik Revolution is so vast, complex, and many-sided that one could offer a dozen interpretations of it from varying angles, each containing a certain element of truth. The full-flowing German beard of Karl Marx is very much on display in pictures and statues in Soviet offices and public squares; and the proletarian side of the Revolution is Marxism carried to its logical final extremity of armed revolt and the effort to create a new social order in which the working class shall be political and economic master.
Less in public evidence, but no less important as a symbol of another side of the Revolution, is the shaggy Russian beard of Emilian Pugachev, leader of the mighty peasant rebellion which for a time cast its shadow of smoking palaces and manor houses over the gilded court of Catherine the Great. Pugachev was caught and caged and executed; but his spirit triumphed in 1917 when the peasantry, only two generations removed from serfdom, drove the landed nobility forever from the Russian countryside in a final fierce jacquerie.
There are not a few points of contact between Bolshevism and the modernizing nationalist movements which have made themselves felt, with greater or less success, all over Asia, from Turkey to China. Not only has the Soviet East gone side by side with Kemalist Turkey in abolishing polygamy, urging women to cast off the veil, introducing the Latin alphabet and many other innovations; but the spirit of the Bolshevik Revolution is not unlike that of the new Turkey, which, while rejecting the political and economic hegemony of the "imperialistic" Western powers, is eagerly attempting to adopt the latest Western scientific and technical devices, to acquire a Western mentality and psychology. The Communists are determined that the European influences in Russia shall finally and definitely prevail over the Asiatic.
Ever since the Revolution, Russia has been a country of ochereds, or queues, and paioks, or rations. This is partly due to the economic difficulties through which the country is passing, especially the chronic shortage of manufactured goods and the recent slowing down of agricultural supply. But it is also one of the symptoms of a very deep-rooted instinct of the Revolution: that no man, or at least no "toiler," should have more than another.
Bolshevism is the greatest leveling broom that ever swept over any country. This leveling tendency has its roots both in Marxist doctrine and in the traditions of the old Russian peasant community, the mir, where by continuous redistributions of land and other means the ambitious, enterprising peasant was held down very much on the same level with his fellows. It was strengthened by the extremely sharp contrasts of pre-revolutionary Russia, where a small class of landed proprietors owned almost a third of the land, where the wealth of the big merchants and manufacturers stood out in comparison with the poverty of the workers because of the weakness of the intermediate middle class, where a small, highly cultured intelligentsia stood in helpless counterpoise to a vast dead-weight of popular illiteracy and superstition.
Today the first thing which impresses the casual visitor to Moscow is the uniform appearance of the crowds in the streets. Such private wealth as exists is hidden instead of being flaunted. Dress has ceased to be any criterion of occupation or social status. The gulf between the Soviet President and the masses, between the "red director" of a factory and the workers, between the "red commander" in the army and the common soldier, whether measured by income, by outward show, or by external signs of respect, is immeasurably slighter than that which separated the corresponding classes of people in Tsarist times.
The same leveling tendency makes itself felt in education, where there is a systematic effort to make literacy and elementary education universal and at the same time to give preference in admission to the universities to children of the classes which in former times were kept furthest away from cultural opportunities, workers and poorer peasants. Naturally this cannot be done without detriment to the children of the former educated and propertied classes; and the results of flooding the universities with students who are at a great disadvantage in inherited and environmental educational advantages are not always very happy. But the leveling impulse, working both downward and upward, is too powerful to be withstood. Not the least of the psychological factors in the downfall of Leon Trotzky was the fact that he was a little too obviously above the mass of Party officials in cultural background and literary capacity, and a little too self-conscious of this fact.
The Soviet social order suggests many varied influences and comparisons. The summary Gay-Pay-Oo method of dealing with political opponents and critics is simply a continuation of the psychology of such autocrats as Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great, supplemented by the infusion of the fanaticism which is the motive power of every great revolution. In the rough social democracy of Soviet life, in the widespread conviction that the common man, assuming that he is a worker, is not only as good as the man of education or former social prestige, but very much better, one sees. more than a trace of likeness to the same tendency in American life, which is associated with the name of Andrew Jackson and is still sufficiently alive to give the scantily educated "man of the people" an unmistakable advantage over the "highbrow" in elections to state and municipal offices.
The impartial observer of Bolshevism must be constantly struck by the strange contrasted blending of elements which are heroic with others which are repellingly mean. From the standpoint of conventional morality the boundless devotion which Communists of the more sincere type display in pursuing an idealistic cause seems ill matched with such acts of petty cruelty as hounding people out of employment, not for disloyalty or incompetence, but merely because they formerly belonged to the propertied classes, or starting a press campaign against the Art Theatre because its directors maintained a small private fund out of the receipts from the sale of some boxes, out of which relief was paid to such people as the widow of Savva Morozov, a merchant who was one of the first patrons of the Art Theatre.
Yet in this apparent contrast there is no real contradiction. Vae victis! is a typical slogan of social revolutions. Two marked psychological traits of Bolshevism are boundless hatred for the Russian past and boundless faith in the socialist future; and of course such faith easily generates a sentiment of absolute ruthlessness toward persons and classes regarded as hostile to this future.
In one of the most brilliant passages of his Elizabeth and EssexLytton Strachey envisages Philip II of Spain on his deathbed, wondering whether he had burned enough heretics to ensure his safe entrance into Paradise. I do not know whether Felix Dzerzhinsky, organizer of the Chekha, had any time for death-bed thoughts before the heart attack which seized him after he had delivered a vehement attack on the Trotzkyist opposition, in the summer of 1926, carried him off. But, knowing the iron absorption of the man in his cause, one may be sure that if he had any apprehensions they were not that he had executed too many counter-revolutionists but that he had executed too few to make Russia safe for Communism.
Out of the conglomerate mass of impressions, as striking and bewildering as a tangle of jagged mountain peaks, which one gains from long study of Soviet. Russia, it is possible, I think, to extract four definite results of the Revolution, which seem destined to endure, no matter what political and economic vicissitudes the future may hold in store. These are: -
(1) The annihilation of large-scale landlordism in agriculture. The big estates of the former landed nobility have passed forever into the possession of the peasantry. How the peasants will use this land, whether they will develop along individualistic or collectivist lines, is another question - the most important question, incidentally, which stands before Russia to-day. I shall discuss its implications later in the chapter. But the expropriation of the 200,000 families of the landed nobility in favor of the 25,000,000 peasant homesteads is an accomplished fact which can never be undone.
(2) The substitution of state for private control and operation in industry and transport, banking and trade. The Soviet socialist economic system has yet to prove to the Russian consumer that it can produce goods as cheaply and efficiently as they were produced under capitalism. It is certainly capable of improvement in many technical details. But it is now so firmly rooted and established and taken for granted in the future plans for the development of national economic life that one can no more imagine its replacement by private capitalism than one could imagine the introduction of communism in America. For good or evil Marxist economic ideas are to receive a long-term, thorough, practical demonstration in Russia.
(3) The cultural autonomy of the non-Russian nationalities. The Communists deserve credit for not only recognizing theoretically that the Soviet Union, with a population almost 50 per cent non-Russian in origin, is a federation of nationalities, but for practically carrying out the policy of giving every people the freest use of its native language. "We are the only state in Europe that encourages the use of a diversity of languages within our frontiers," a Communist once boasted to me. And, while Switzerland might represent a minor exception, this claim could, I think, be generally upheld. Nothing is likely to induce or compel Ukrainians, White Russians, and the varied peoples of the Caucasian Mountains and the Central Asiatic deserts and steppes to begin to speak Russian again.
(4) The emergence of a new spirit of what may be called plebeian democracy, based on the smashing of the former privileged classes and the working of a social system under which workers, and to a much smaller extent peasants, are given preference in political and educational opportunity. This spirit is not always easy to analyze; but one has only to leave Russia for some other country in order to recognize its existence. To the traveler from Russia the little sign, Aufgang nur fur Herrschaften (" Entrance only for Gentlefolk"), so common over the doorways of German homes; inevitably produces an impression of strangeness. The only place in Russia where such a sign might conceivably be found would be in one of the prisons or detention camps of the Gay-Pay-Oo.(1)
Communists regard the Russian Revolution as the introduction to the world revolution.(2) Conservatives in every country regard it as an international menace. But, notwithstanding this weight of diverse authority, I am inclined to believe that Bolshevism is a Russian rather than an international phenomenon. Tsarist Russia presented an uncommonly favorable combination of circumstances inviting social revolution of the most sweeping kind. The industrial working class was sufficiently advanced to be responsive to revolutionary agitation without having reached the point of the more highly paid European worker, whose revolutionary ardor is often dampened by his savings-bank account. The majority of the peasants were so poor and land-hungry that they completely lacked the normal peasant instinct of respect for private property, at least so far as the landlords' estates were concerned.(3) There was further explosive material in the repressed national minorities. Further-more, the Romanov autocracy, by curbing at every point the activity of even such conservative institutions as the Duma and the zemstvos, left the Russian middle class quite unschooled in political organization and even more helpless in the face of the revolutionary storm than it might otherwise have been.
No country to-day bears even a remote resemblance to Tsarist Russia in its social and economic structure. In the agricultural states of Eastern Europe the peasants already own so much of the land that a general peasant uprising against land-lords is scarcely to be anticipated. In Western Europe a conservative peasantry and a numerous middle class represent two powerful bulwarks against radical changes of the social order. The majority even of the manual workers are Social Democratic in their political and trade-union allegiance. Still another reason for believing that the inevitable struggle of interests between labor and capital in Western Europe will remain within more or less peaceful and constitutional bounds lies in the fact that countries like Germany and England, unlike Russia, simply could not stand the isolation from the world economic system which violent social revolution entails. Shut off from foreign loans and long-term credits, denied any large inflow of foreign capital, and with a foreign trade shrunk to half the pre-war volume, the Soviet Union can somehow struggle along, because it is a self-supporting agricultural country, although in this connection the shoe is beginning to pinch pretty tightly. But Germany and England under similar circumstances could not hold out for a year, to say nothing of a decade, because the very subsistence of a large part of their urban population depends upon the maintenance of foreign markets, which in turn requires foreign financial connections.(4)
In some respects the East is a more favorable field for Communist propaganda than the West. The Chinese or Indian coolie certainly satisfies Marx's definition of the proletarian, as the man with nothing to lose but his chains, much more accurately than the American, British, or German workman. Foreign rule in India and the national resentment which it generates, continuous civil war in China, are potential revolutionary factors which Communist agitators in those countries are not slow to utilize. But the East has its distinctive obstacles as well as its favorable points for the missionaries of the Third International. The industrial working class in China and India is much more backward educationally than the corresponding class in Russia in 1917. It is numerically a weaker element in the population and hence less capable of playing a leading revolutionary role. The East is still in the grip of family and religious systems which do not easily harmonize with the tenets of Bolshevism. In short, it seems likely that, while Communism is and will be an important contributory cause of unrest in China and India, it will not succeed in remoulding those countries along Russian lines.
What of the possibility of a Communist crusade against the infidel world, offering the alternative of Marx and Lenin or the tank and the machine gun ? In my opinion, this is so small as to be scarcely worth discussing. The analogy which might be drawn with the series of wars which followed the French Revolution breaks down at several most important points. France in the eighteenth century was a leading military nation; Russia has never been successful in wars with Western powers. Technique plays a great part in modern warfare; and the Soviet Union here would be at an obvious disadvantage in a clash wherein France would become involved, as it almost certainly would become involved in a Soviet-Polish or Soviet-Rumanian war.
The Soviet Government, I am fully convinced, has not the slightest intention of attacking any other state and lives in a state of chronic, if somewhat exaggerated apprehension that other states will attack it. Incidentally, nothing the Soviet Government has ever done has probably excited such general approval among the Russian population as its efforts in the direction of peace and disarmament.
Moreover, the Communists, in their five-year plan of national economic development, have discovered something in the nature of a psychological equivalent for war. The energy unloosed by the French Revolution found expression in the tramp of Napoleon's armies through almost every European capital. The dynamic force of the Russian Revolution seems destined to find more peaceful outlets in covering the country with a network of electrical stations and new factories, wrestling with knotty problems of cost and quality of production, experimenting with large scale state farming and, generally, attempting to duplicate, on a socialist basis, the stage of rapid industrialization through which America, Germany, and Japan, in their time, have all passed.
As there was only one "Great French Revolution," which took place in France, there will probably be only one Bolshevik Revolution, which has already occurred in Russia. The ideas of the French Revolution certainly shaped very considerably the development of the nineteenth century; and reflections of the ideas of the Bolshevik Revolution may already be seen in the most varied places. The sweeping agrarian legislation, transferring much of the land formerly held in big estates to peasant proprietorship, in several countries of Eastern Europe after the War was a form of insurance against an agrarian revolution on the Russian model. The curiously complicated committee form of government adopted by the Chinese Nationalists is in several points a rather muddled copy of the organization of the Communist Party in Russia. No doubt the influence of communist ideas and the Soviet state will be felt in various forms throughout the present century. But efforts to bring about a stereotyped reproduction of the Russian Revolution in countries where the social, economic, and psychological back-ground is entirely different are foredoomed to tragi-comic fiasco.
Certainly at the present time the walls of the world capitalist Jericho seem too high and solid to be blown down by the trumpet blasts of the Communist International. The idea, which Lenin himself for a time clung to with fanatical intensity, that the World War heralded the impending downfall of capitalism all over the world is slowly and reluctantly being abandoned by the most ardent hot-gospelers of communism. The stabilization of capitalism is recognized now even in the official manifestoes of the Communist International, although this stabilization is qualified by such grudging adjectives as "partial" and "temporary." The great technical improvements which have been carried out in the industrial organization of America and Western Europe, which are usually lumped together under the term "rationalization," do not suggest a system which has out-lived its productive utility or which is in the last stages of decay. The capitalist trusts and syndicates of America and Germany have no reason at the present time to fear comparison with the socialist trusts and syndicates of Russia in such points as production costs and quality of output.
What future course of development is marked out for Russia ? Two or three years ago I should have answered that question more confidently and positively than I should be inclined to do at present; but my answer, as it happens, would have been completely wrong; In 1926 or 1927 most competent observers would have agreed, I think, that the Soviet social order had entered upon a phase of relative stabilization, with socialism as the predominant form in industry, transport, banking, and trade, and individualism as the dominant form in agriculture, and that the pressure of internal and external circumstances was more likely to force the country to the right than to the left. This viewpoint would seem to have derived additional confirmation from the elimination of the Trotzkyist opposition, which claimed to represent Simon-pure "revolutionary Leninism" and accused the Party leadership of making "Thermidorian"(5) concessions to foreign and domestic capitalist tendencies.
But, in typical Russian paradoxical fashion, the Fifteenth Congress of the Communist Party, which marked the elimination of the Trotzkyists, also marked the beginning of a distinct leftward course of Communist policy, pivoting around a new attitude toward the agrarian question. Beginning with the "extraordinary measures" of practical compulsion which were used to compel the recalcitrant peasants to part with their grain in the spring of 1928, the new policy broadened out into a campaign to crush the kulaks, or more prosperous individual peasants, and to extend socialism from the cities to the villages by a sweeping extension of the network of state and collective farms. Soviet policy in other fields also took a leftward turn, conditioned more or less directly by the bitter class struggle which had been kindled in the peasant districts'. There was a substantial intensification of anti-religious agitation; conformity with the dogmas of Communism was more rigidly demanded in the universities; in the Communist International Russian influence was exerted in behalf of a more activist and uncompromising policy, which found various forms of expression, ranging from the appearance of a number of Communist candidates in vigorous opposition to the Labor Party in a number of industrial constituencies during the British general election of May 1929 to the Communist May Day demonstration in Berlin, held in defiance of police prohibition and ending in the use of firearms on both sides(6) and the loss of more than a score of lives.
It is no exaggeration to say that a new epoch in the history of Russian revolution began with the Fifteenth Communist Party Congress, which adopted the fateful resolutions calling for the rapid socialization of agriculture. It is an epoch of sharp struggle between the disciplined will of the Communist Party on the one hand and the propertied instinct of the well-to-do peasants on the other. The truce represented by Lenin's proclamation of the New Economic Policy is at an end. It is now a fight for a final decision of the question whether Russia shall or shall not remain half socialist and half capitalist.
I stumbled on a striking instance of the human side of this struggle in a remote Cossack district on the River Don in the summer of 1928. The President of the District Soviet Executive Committee, Lebedev, was a Communist of the most devoted, fanatical, and uncompromising type, far above the general level of Soviet rural officialdom both in character and in ability. Weakened by years of service in the Red Army, suffering from incipient tuberculosis, he worked at his post day after day, year after year, taking no vacations, and faithfully carrying out his difficult task as a missionary of Communism in a decidedly unappreciative heathen population. (The Cos-sacks in this region of the Don fought almost solidly on the side of the Whites during the civil war.) Lebedev had the agricultural statistics of his region at his fingers' tips and ran over them in rapid outline in the course of a talk with me. I was struck by the decline in the planted area by comparison with pre-war times.
"Wouldn't you get an increased planted area and a larger harvest if you gave the richer peasants, who own more horses and machinery, greater opportunities in the way of leasing and farming land ?" I inquired.
Lebedev's face grew more tense and his tired eyes flashed as he shot back: -
"Yes, perhaps we should. But then these richer peasants would grow in wealth and influence like bloated spiders until they had the whole district in their power. We didn't fight through the civil war, we didn't beat the White generals and landlords and capitalists, and the Allied troops who came to help them, for this, to let capitalism creep back in veiled forms. Our policy is to unite the poor and middle-class peasants in cooperatives and collective farms and raise the living standard of all the peasants gradually, instead of letting a few grow rich while the rest remain poor. As revolutionary Communists that is the only policy we can and shall pursue, no matter how many obstacles we shall have to overcome."
I left Lebedev's office and went into a neighboring Cossack village, which had suffered so severely during the civil war that 30 per cent of the homesteads were farmed by women. And one of these Cossack women, burned almost black by the fierce glare of the summer sun over the Don steppes, quite unconsciously gave me the individual peasant's answer to Lebedev.
"What does the state mean by trying to make us all byedniaks [poor peasants] ?" she burst out. "We can't all be equal, because some of us will always work harder than others. Let me work as much land as I can with my own arms and I'll gladly pay rent and taxes to the state for it, and sell my grain too, if I get a fair price and some goods to buy with the money. But nothing will ever come out of this idea of making us all byedniaks and calling everyone who is a capable hard worker a bloodsucker and a kulak. That sort of thing keeps us poor, and keeps the state poor too."
Here, in a nutshell, are the two viewpoints which are competing for mastery all over the Russian countryside to-day. So far it is impossible to predict with any certainty which will prevail. There has been no relaxation of the Communist drive for the socialization of agriculture; larger and larger credits and appropriations are being poured into the development of the state and collective farms; the agitation against the kulak is as vigorous as ever.
Against the tremendous political and economic pressure which the Communist Party and the Soviet state can bring into play against him, the individualistic peasant has one simple but very effective weapon: he can cut down his planted acreage and threaten the cities with what the Russians picturesquely call "the bony hand of hunger." There are several signs that this weapon is being brought into use. From 1922 until 1928 the bread supply of the Russian cities was quite normal. The first year of the extremist agrarian policy, 1928, brought with it a general introduction of bread-cards.(7)
To offset this sullen discontent, which certainly prevails among the more well-to-do peasants and is occasionally expressed in efforts to cut down the planted area and in acts of arson and murder, one may cite three facts which at the time of writing (September 1929) seem to provide some solid basis for Communist optimism regarding the possibility of ultimately making socialist forms prevail in agriculture.
First, the planted area for 1928-1929 increased, despite desperate resistance on the part of the peasants who suffered most from the state policy of forcibly collecting grain at fixed prices.
Second, the active expressions of peasant dissatisfaction have been confined as a rule to terrorist acts by individuals and small groups. There has been nothing comparable with the large scale peasant uprisings in Ukraina, Tambov, and Siberia which occurred in 1920 and 1921 and were not the least of the factors which brought the Soviet Government to the declaration of the New Economic Policy.
Third, and probably most important, the Soviet Government to-day possesses and is every year expanding the mechanism for collective farming through an increased output of tractors and large agricultural machines of various kinds. Being complete master in the fields both of production and of distribution the Soviet Government is able to direct this stream of modern machinery exclusively into the state and collective farms. This gives the latter such an overwhelming advantage over the individual peasant homestead as may well outweigh the initial psychological distaste of many peasants for collectivist farming.
The strained situation with food in the cities and with raw material in the factories during the winter and spring of 1928-1929 left little doubt of the fundamental importance of the agrarian problem in the ambitious Soviet schemes of economic development. The summer of 1929 brought a certain alleviation of the situation with the basic Russian food product, bread. Nature proved friendly, and favorable climatic conditions by July indicated a crop of at least average yield, with-out the drought areas which had complicated the problem of food supply in 1928. Whereas the autumn-sown area showed a decline, the strenuous spring-planting campaign, carried out under the leadership of the Communist Party, brought a subtantial increase of the sown area, which is estimated to have increased by 5 or 6 per cent as compared with the preceding year.
According to the official reports, whereas the more well-to-do peasants cut down their planted area, the poorer peasants increased theirs, and the state and collective farms increased their crops very substantially. The Communist press interpreted the success of the spring planting and the improved harvest outlook as a clear proof of the correctness of the new collectivist policy in agriculture. While recognizing that the problem of agrarian supply at the present time (July 1929) seems better than it was a few months earlier, an impartial observer must feel that many questions in this field have not received their final answer. The kulaks who have reduced their acreage have hitherto provided the largest marketable surplus, and this fact may make itself felt unpleasantly in the new grain-collection campaign. Despite the improved outlook for this year's crop, it has not been found possible to dispense with the system of rationed sale of bread and some other food products in the cities or with the forcible measures of compelling the kulaks to part with their surplus grain which were reintroduced in the spring of 1929. The stability of the new collective farms, which have sprung up like mushrooms, in view of the privileges in respect to land, taxation, credits, and machinery which have been bestowed upon them, has yet to be proved. In short, while the chances of socializing agriculture are certainly brighter now than they were in the period of so-called military Communism, when the country was economically quite ruined, a much longer period of trial will be required before one can pronounce judgment on the struggle between conscious Communist collectivism and instinctive peasant individualism.
The agrarian problem, which in my opinion dwarfs every other issue in contemporary Russia, derives added sharpness from the fact that the peasant has thus far paid a large share of the cost of the socialist experiment in industry. One of the leading theorists of the Trotzkyist opposition, Eugene Preobrazhensky, developed a theory to the effect that the peasantry represented a colony, which the socialist industry must "exploit," as Marxists conceive that industrialized countries exploit their colonial possessions. Of course Preobrazhensky is an oppositionist, and his theory, which would have been politically very inexpedient to proclaim in a country where four-fifths of the population consists of peasants, has been solemnly condemned by bell, book, and candle as rank heresy.
But, while the peasant knows little of the niceties of Marxian theories of colonial exploitation, he is keenly conscious of the fact that his direct taxes are heavier, as a general rule, than they were before the War, and that the price relationship of industrial and agricultural products has altered very much to his disadvantage.(8) His resentment in this connection, prompting him to withhold his grain from the market, was not the least of the factors which drove the Soviet Government on to its policy of hastening the socialization of agriculture at any cost.
I can envisage two alternative lines of development for the Soviet Union, one in the event of the success of the Communist agrarian policy, and the other in the event of its failure. Success and failure are, of course, relative terms, between which lie an indefinite number of conceivable shades of compromise. Victory for the Communists on what they like to call the agrarian front is likely to be a more gradual and imperceptible process than defeat. It depends primarily upon the Government's ability to coax enough grain out of the middle-class peasants to provide for the internal supply of the country until the state and collective farms begin to play an important role in supplying the market, as it is hoped they will do within the next two or three years. A fair proof of the success of the collectivist agrarian policy and of the restoration of equilibrium between industry and agriculture would be the resumption, on a stable and increasing scale, of grain exports over a period of two or three years and the removal of the restrictions which now exist on the sale of such food products as bread, butter, meat, sugar, etc. Victory will mean nothing short of a new economic revolution, a transformation of the peasant from an individualistic producer into a member of a huge cooperative system, another cog in the socialist organization of the country. If agriculture is socialized, even the most obstinate believers in a capitalist rebirth of Russia will be obliged to paraphrase the supposed last words of the Emperor Julian and say: "Ye have conquered, Marx and Lenin." Because with the disappearance of the independent peasant producer no serious element of private capitalism will remain in the country.
Defeat will be more definitely and clearly registered than victory, because the Communist Party will not admit defeat until and unless it is confronted with a crisis comparable in seriousness with that which preceded Lenin's "strategic retreat," embodied in the New Economic Policy of 1921. Even should the agricultural situation develop as unfavorably as the most pessimistic observers in Russia are inclined to predict and the Party leadership find itself obliged to sound the call for a new "strategic retreat," I do not believe anything in the nature of a violent overthrow of the existing social order is possible. A nation does not go through such a tremendous upheaval as was represented by the Bolshevik Revolution and then indulge in an upheaval of similar magnitude in a contrary direction within the brief span of a single generation.
As I have shown in preceding chapters, the Revolution has struck deep roots; and so many classes are interested in the perpetuation of the Soviet regime that external continuity of development seems assured. (One need only think of the hosts of "red commanders," "red factory directors," proletarian students, to say nothing of the large mass organizations of the Party and the Communist Youth, to realize that, quite apart from its Special Guard, the Gay-Pay-Oo, the Soviet Government would have no lack of defenders should it be menaced by open counter-revolution.)
Emigre Russia is cut off from contact with the realities of the Soviet Union and practically dead. Such changes as may take place in Russia will grow out of response to specific Russian conditions and will be achieved through the existing Communist and Soviet political organizations and not through any plots hatched by emigre groups in Berlin or Paris or Prague.
Should Communist agrarian policy lead to an impasse, some-thing in the nature of a "Newest Economic Policy" will probably become necessary. The corner stone of such a policy would be the definite and final recognition of the peasant's right to develop as a small capitalist. There would be no more requisitions of his grain at fixed prices, whether veiled by such euphonious descriptions as "measures of social persuasion " or not. There would be a modification of the rigid policy of producing almost entirely for the industrial requirements of the country, and more account would be taken of the peasant's needs as a consumer. Soviet policy would most probably become more accommodating to foreign capital, which would be doubly necessary to rescue the country from the difficult economic plight to which it would necessarily be reduced before the Communist Party leadership would be willing to beat a retreat. Instead of turning into a closed economic system, with every form of production under socialist or cooperative control, which will be the result of a victory of Communist agrarian policy, the country will retain a more open form of economic organization, in which there will be room for private initiative not only in agriculture but also quite possibly in trade. The state monopolistic operation of large-scale industry, transport, and foreign trade will, in my opinion, survive any modifications of agricultural policy.
Defeat on the agrarian front would usher in a new era of Soviet development which, if people are determined to construct inevitably partial and misleading analogies with the French Revolution, might be called the Thermidorian era. The Thermidor in France did not, it should be carefully noted, involve either a sharp break in the continuity of French revolutionary government or a restoration of the feudal system or a return of the emigres or a handing back of the land to the ousted nobility.
An American social student, making the customary rapid impressionistic tour of Russia, once demanded of me a plain answer to a plain question.
"Look here," he said, "is this Soviet experiment succeeding, or isn't it?"
An easier question to ask than to answer ! Was the down-fall of the Roman Empire a "success" ? And for whom ? The Bolshevik Revolution did not spring full-panoplied from the brain of Lenin and his associates; it grew very largely out of the disintegration of the Romanov regime. Historians and philosophers, according to their tastes and sympathies, still debate hotly the values and defects of such movements as the French Revolution and the Protestant Reformation. How, then, is it possible to pass a definitive judgment on the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, which by its magnitude demands a perspective of decades, if not of centuries, when it is still in process of transformation, when the passions which it aroused and arouses are hot and burning, when some of the outlines of the new social order which it inaugurated are dim and obscure ?
One of the pioneers of the communist idea was the French-man, Gracchus Babeuf, who proclaimed the slogan: "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." The French revolutionary government, in its Thermidorian stage, found Babeuf a trouble-maker and sent him to the guillotine. The Russian Communists honor his memory and have named a candy factory after him. But if Babeuf could visit this factory he would find that there was still a long way to go to the realization of his ideal. The red director and the engineer receive higher salaries than the skilled workers; the skilled workers receive more than the unskilled. Not payment ac-cording to need, but payment according to productivity, is the rule which economic necessity imposes in the Soviet state industry to-day. Absolute equality of material recompense has not been found practicable even within the ranks of the Communist Party. It exists only in the projected utopian society of the future, as outlined in the Programme of the Communist International.
But the existence of inequalities, while undeniable, is not, I think, a point on which the Russian Communists need fear very much criticism. Their process of leveling, while not complete, has certainly been pretty thoroughgoing. The most valid criticism of communism up to date in Russia, in my opinion, is not that it distributes the good things of life unequally, but that it does not produce enough of the good things of life to go around. Lord Balfour's ironical gibe, inserted in a diplomatic note to Chicherin, to the effect that Bolshevism, while an excellent means of making rich men poor, is a dubious means of making poor men rich, still challenges attention.
The Communists, with all the ardor of apostles of a new faith, insist that all such gibes can be and will be conclusively disposed of as soon as a triumphantly achieved series of pyatiletkas, or five-year plans of national economic development, place them in a position to rival the technical achievements of Germany and America.
One cannot, I think, judge the Communist achievement fairly without taking full account of the stupendous obstacles which stood in the way of its realization. In a backward, semi-Asiatic peasant country, shattered by war and social upheaval, the Communists introduced a completely new system of economic administration, bound, in its first stages, to be accompanied by costly and discouraging blunders. And they installed as the ruling class of this complicated new social order the Russian workers, who were to a large extent shut out from the limited cultural opportunities afforded under the Tsarist regime and who, while full of militant revolutionary spirit, were inferior to West European and American workers in general and technical education.
If one keeps a firm mental grasp on these two facts and their manifold implications, it will be recognized that the real cause for wonder in Soviet Russia is not that so much is amiss but that so much has been achieved. Whether it was wise to aim at such difficult goals is another question.
Apostles of a new creed seldom reckon with obstacles. And no view of Russia's present and future would be complete and well rounded if it did not take full account of the passionate absorption of the convinced Communist in his cause. I do not mean to suggest that a majority of the Russian people, or even a majority of the formally registered members of the Communist Party are dominated by this sentiment. But there are enough enthusiasts, with a devotion to their cause comparable with that of adherents of a fresh, young, crusading religious sect, to leaven the whole mass and furnish leadership and direction for the waverers and the indifferent.
Although the intellectual appeal of Communism is based upon an uncompromisingly materialistic interpretation of life, its strength at the present time, in my opinion, is to be measured not so much by its concrete achievements as by such imponderable factors as the new spirit of emancipation, class pride, and class consciousness aroused among the workers, and the faith in "building socialism," sometimes cherished with equal intensity by the Communist official in some high government office and by the simple workman in the factory. These "imponderables" tend to make the prospects for the stability and continuity of the existing social order better than they might seem to be if one took into account only the unmistakably grave economic difficulties with which the country is confronted.
Now something in the nature of an Armageddon, of that "final struggle" which the Communists sing of in the "Internationale," is in progress between the organized will of the Communist Party and the deep-rooted individualistic psychology of the small peasant proprietor, a psychology which the Communists are determined to make over in the image of Marx and Lenin. Is it possible to "build socialism" in a peasant country without a large, perhaps a fatally large, alloy of concession to the peasant instincts for self-enrichment and private property ? This question is bound up with the riddle of Russia's future. And the answer to that riddle lies with the Peasant-Sphinx.
(1) An English Liberal newspaper on one occasion published a leading article which moralized at length on what it regarded as the extraordinary procedure of the Communist Party leadership in publishing letters exchanged between members of the opposition. Such letters, the newspaper correctly surmised, were most probably obtained by tampering with the mails, and the writer of the article could not repress his amazement at this fact. This little incident merely illustrates the futility of judging one country by the moral and social standards of another. That the mail of persons suspected of political disaffection should be read by the authorities is regarded in Russia as the most natural thing in the world. On the other hand the display in Russia of an Aufgang nurfur Herrschaftensign would arouse a storm of indignation comparable with what the British Liberal editor would probably unloose if he discovered that the Scotland Yard officials were in the habit of reading his personal correspondence.
(2) One of the first signs greeting the traveler at Nyegoreloe, the Soviet border station on the Polish frontier, reads as follows: "Long live the World October, which will turn the whole world into a Union of Socialist Soviet Republics."
(3) This instinct came out very strongly when the Communists began to requisition their grain, and is by no means extinguished at the present time.
(4) All these considerations might lose their validity in the event of a new international conflict, comparable with the World War in extent and duration. Such a war could scarcely fail to bring in its train the most serious social upheavals. However, it is by no means certain that communism would emerge as the sequel. In several countries Fascism, in some form or other, would be at least an equally likely issue.
(5) This word, very often used in Russian internal Party controversies, is associated with a date in the French Revolution, the Ninth Thermidor, when Robespierre was over-thrown and a more moderate period of development set in.
(6) The fact that not a single policeman was killed or seriously injured during these disturbances would seem to suggest that more shooting was done by the police than by the Communists. However, the Social Democratic Prussian Minister of the Interior, defending the action of the police, in the Prussian Diet, asserted that a number of per-sons had been arrested with arms in their hands and that some of the victims of the affray were shot not by the police but by the rioters.
(7) The Russian rationing system is far less severe as yet than those which prevailed in Germany during the War or in Russia during the civil war. The cards simply limit the amount of bread which may be bought in state and cooperative stores at fixed prices. It is both legal and possible to buy bread in the open markets at substantially higher prices.
(8) In opposition to Preobrazhensky's theory of "colonial exploitation" a whole school of official Communist economists rises to assert that the peasant is less heavily taxed than he was before the War. This viewpoint, I must say, receives no support from any peasant with whom I ever talked. The whole business of comparing present with pre-war burdens is difficult and complicated, because of the changed relationships. It is, I think, indisputable that the peasants (with the possible exception of some 38 per cent of the very poorest, who are exempted from Soviet taxes, but who certainly could have paid little or nothing before the War) pay considerably heavier direct taxes to the state than they paid before the War. On the other hand the burden of rent payments to the landlords, estimated at 250,000,000 gold rubles a year, has been lifted from their shoulders. Of course this burden of rent was unevenly distributed, because large estates were much more common in some parts of the country than in others. The peasants who did not have to pay rent before the War naturally feel the increased taxes much more keenly than those who did. Soviet statisticians make much of the fact that the peas-ants paid much more in indirect excise taxes before the War than they do at present. But this is an unconvincing argument regarding the weight of the peasants' burden, because prices of city goods, indirect taxes and all, were vastly below the present level. The peasant knows only the prices which he must pay for his nails, boots, textile goods, etc.; he neither knows nor cares how much of this price is an indirect tax.