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E. Garrett

Books in Review

Truth à la Webbs

(November 1942)

From New International, Vol. VIII No. 10, November 1942, p. 320.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The Truth About Soviet Russia
by Beatrice and Sidney Webb
with an Essay on the Webbs by Bernard Shaw
Longmans, Green & Co., N.Y.; 128 pp., $1.50

This book is a great time-saver – you do not have to read it. That is to say, you do not have to read it unless you are interested in the pathology of a Fabian mind turned Stalinist at the age of eighty.

The purpose of the book, in brief, is to prove that Russia under Stalin is not only a democracy, but the greatest and finest of all political democracies – better than the United States, England and Switzerland combined. If here and there Beatrice Webb, who contributes the largest section of the book in a chapter called The New Civilization, finds something that smacks of the undemocratic to the “Western mind,” she can prove, by offering you her word for it, that actually this very something is the essence of democracy, given an ignorant and backward country. Ignorance is a vital proof in her analysis. It would appear that where ignorance prevails (this is her version of Duranty’s “Russian soul”), totalitarianism is the finest flower of democracy. As to figures and documentation, there are none in the book. Significantly, with all her reference to Russian ignorance, there is nowhere comment on the decrees excluding the greatest part of the Russian people from higher education.

The stupidities one can read in tripe like this! Where all objective observers find the standard of living of the Russian masses going down, the Right Honorable the Lady Passfield (that’s Beatrice) finds the Soviet Government “enormously increasing the health, wealth and culture of the inhabitants.” Facts, please! Oh no, it’s all there in the 1936 Constitution. The Webbs read this 1936 Constitution thoroughly (the Anna Louis Strong translation is available in this book), and reading it were so overwhelmed by its differences from the Bolshevik constitutions of an earlier day that they fell right smack in love with it.

If you care to take their word for it (and if you are above the age of eight, we see no reason for doing so), the Russian masses are growing fat according to the principle of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work”; the trade unions are flourishing institutions (in an ignorant, backward country they can’t strike, you know); Stalin doesn’t take a step unless he gets the approval of the elected representatives of the people; and every little thing the government proposes is discussed freely and without hindrance by the very lowest of peasants.

And the treason trials? Poof! The great material benefits of Russian life under Stalin have “discredited the Trotsky movement, which I think was finally liquidated by the murder of Trotsky in Mexico by one of his own followers.” (!) And besides, anybody can see that all the “fifth columnists” were exterminated. And the idolization of Stalin? Well, you see, when Lenin died it was agreed that no one could fill his place. (How true!) So, you see, the leaders of the Party got together and “there ensued a tacit understanding that Stalin should be ‘boosted’ as the supreme leader of the proletariat” because the ignorant masses needed someone to idolize. Of course, this “idolization” has largely ceased to exist (yes, yes) and everybody is agreed that this “infantile disease” will die out. As proof: Stalin recently stepped down to the “prosaic position of Prime Minister.” Moreover, he has never “claimed to be more than the duly appointed official of the Communist Party and the democratically elected member of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.” Isn’t that sweet and simple! Too bad the Right Honorable the Lady Beatrice didn’t trouble to tell us what had happened to all the party leaders who were around when Stalin was “tacitly” elevated to Lenin’s place.

This goes on and on, and it’s all based on “The Constitution of 1936 [which is] based on the Rights and Obligations of Man.” No less! And what can a person do in answer except try his best not to get too sick.

In a particularly octogenarian introduction, Bernard Shaw describes how the Webbs “waited until the wreckage and ruin of change was ended, its mistakes remedied and the Communist State fairly launched.” Then they went and investigated. Precisely. They waited until the “wreckage and ruin” of Bolshevik rule under Lenin and Trotsky, who were wrecking and ruining an old order and building a new one, had been supplanted by Stalin. The revolution under Lenin and Trotsky was a most unrespectable thing: they supplanted the morality and mechanics of an exploitative society with the morality and mechanics of a socialist society; they vigorously sought to extend the revolution. The Webbs had no use for them. But the Webbs found Paradise-on-Earth in the destruction of the revolution by Stalin!

Shaw explains how under the Webbs British socialism became respectable. And it is to make the bourgeois world see Stalinist Russia as a respectable institution, something they could never have attempted with the Russia of Lenin and Trotsky, that the Webbs first wrote their long, two-volume excursion into fantasy and plain chicanery, and now this condensation. “No Russian,” says Shaw, “could have done this all-important job for us.” No doubt! No doubt!

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