T. A. Jackson

The End—or the Beginning

Source: The Communist Review, June 1924, Vol. 5, No. 2.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The Remaking of Russia, by Kurt Wiedenfeld.
Labour Publishing Co. 3/6

The First Time in History, by Anna Louise Strong.
Labour Publishing Co. 6s.

NOTHING demonstrates the fundamental ignorance of capitalist culture so much as its utter incapacity to evolve any sound and workable theory of social relations and development. And nothing has revealed that incapacity more than the helplessness of its chief exponents before such a phenomenon as the Russian Revolution.

There are not (and probably never were) in the world any set of men quite so book-learned as the “cultivated” classes in England and Germany. In their departments they have achieved intellectual triumphs before which future ages will stand rapt in admiration, and of which present ages for the most part know nothing (since the knowledge is either locked in the records of each speciality or “expounded” in “popular” fashion by people totally unqualified to judge of the significance of the accomplishment).

The re-discoveries by the savants of the ability to read Egyption heiroglyphics or Assyrian cuneiform stand, as romantic episodes, comparison with the voyages of Columbus or Vasco de Gama. The work of the Higher Critics in dissecting the component, strata of the Bible or of the Odyssey are marvels of patient and ingenious scholarship the work of the anthropologists in re-discovering Primitive Man and collating his mythology are triumphs of the scientific use of the imagination combined with cultivated sympathy and trained judgment. The biologist, the chemist and the physicist each has his triumph to show which the world will some day acclaim at its proper worth.

Yet if you put before any of these learned Dons, or High Professors the simplest problem in practical sociology or political science (as for instance, the actual economic consequences of “payment by results,” or the true historical significance of the Russian Revolution) and these learned ones incontinently fall to gibbering.

The proletariat is not by any means a learned class; but it has one immense advantage over these Highly Learned ones—it can explain them while they are utterly unable to explain it.

Kurt Wiedenfeld is an illustration. He is not, perhaps, one of the Highly Learned; but as a state official of the German Reich he obviously belongs to their world. He has turned out a neat little description of the state apparatus of the Soviet Republic and something near a completely objective analysis of the possible forces of revolt against it. Taking each class in turn from the old aristocracy downward, he convinces himself (and should his readers) that the possibility of counter-revolution in Russia not only does not exist, but cannot be created by any manipulation from without.

His demonstration is all the more convincing because of his unconcealed impatience with much of the Soviet apparatus. To him, with his neat and tidy bureaucratic mind, there is far too much of the “Council” and far too little of the Departmental Head. Not because it is dictatorial, but because it is “too damned democratic,” does he dislike the Soviet machine.

Yet for all that he cannot bring himself to have any faith in the permanence of the Soviet system. It was designed and is maintained by the Communist Party. He admires their zeal, their devotion, their self-sacrifice and their realist readiness to accept the teaching of plain fact. Yet for that very reason he (seeing in the N.E.P. nothing but a reluctant abandonment of Communism) believes that every realist endeavour to re-awaken the economic life of Russia must necessarily bring nearer and nearer their theoretical as well as practical surrender to capitalism—the definite retreat of Communism to a point at which it will be indistinguishable from the “evolutionary” Socialism of Scheidemann, Noske, and Ramsay MacDonald. When that point has been reached not only will the road into Russia be wide open for the commercial enterprises and business managers (without whom the learned and official-minded Herr Wiedenfeld cannot imagine production, being carried on at all!) but the ideological transformation of the Communist Party will enable it to fuse with the “old upper class.” And then (but not till then!) the moral force will have been constituted which can alone provide the dynamic for the reconstruction of Russia.

The worst feature of this picture is that it is (by orthodox bourgeois standards) such a fair and plausible one that it will tend to solidify the prevailing misconception about Russia into an immovable obstacle to all proper enlightenment. It is so plausible that it has imposed completely upon Commander Kenworthy, who has written a laudatory preface which leaves an impression of the Communist Party of Russia throwing itself bodily into the arms of the Cobden Club and publicly recanting at the foot of the Gladstone statue. Yet it derives all its plausibility from the fact that it is all but impossible to get anyone trained in the orthodoxy of bourgeois economics and ethics to interpret any fact other than in terms of their pre-conceptions.

If bourgeois economics are sound, any sort of Communism is impossible. If bourgeois ethics are valid any sort of Communism is plainly folly when it is not downright villainy. Therefore—as Russia is ruled by the Communist Party it “must” show signs of (a) “failure” and “economic collapse” and (b) of “fanaticism” and “tyranny” from the worst types and “disillusionment” and “moderation” from the best.

By that formula every bourgeois survey of Russia and its Revolution has been constructed. Angry bourgeois have fulminated against the “destruction,” the “collapse” and the “fanaticism.” Stupid bourgeois have expatiated upon the “tyranny” and the “failure.” Sentimental bourgeois have exercised themselves in approval or disapproval of the “disillusionment” and the “moderation”—and the optimists among these have already started greasing the hinges of the gate which will re-admit the repentant Bolsheviki to the Holy Democratic Fold.

All this is (for all its plausibility) pure myth, since the beginning of all understanding about the Russian Revolution lies in a recognition of the fact that not only is it not completed, but that in its positive phase it is only just begun.

It is easy to feel a thrill at the description of the Bolshevik coup d’etat of November, 1917, or over any one of a hundred incidents in the civil war—the bringing of the fleet from the Baltic to the Caspian, the taking of Baku, or the storming of Perikop. These are in terms of primitive combat and one can admire the fight without understanding much about the objectives of the combatants.

Similarly the Soviet system as an instrument of government has about it not only the charm of novelty (itself an attraction to people accustomed to looking for the “very latest”) but also as a vehicle of representation it sufficiently resembles the process of electing delegates to a church convention or a trade union conference to be within the range of easy comprehension. Yet of all the rhapsodists for and against the Soviet system (outside the ranks of its official interpreters) how many have realised its most significant fact that it puts an end entirely to all the old parliamentary dualisms—of Legislation versus Executive, of Parliamentary Chief versus Permanent Official; of Cabinet versus Private Member; of Member of Parliament versus Electorate. Few of them have noted even so much as Herr Wiedenfeld—that the Council of Commissars has none of the independent authoritative superiority over the All-Russian Executive, that a Cabinet has in Western Europe over Parliament.

And if even on such a comparatively simple matter as the comprehension of the political machinery the bourgeois observers, wander into misconception, how can they be expected to have but the most chaotic misconceptions of a process necessarily so vast and so all-embracing as a proletarian revolution?

The proletarian (as the bourgeois sees him) is incapable alike of refinement, responsibility, initiative or creative imagination. What means have the poor bourgeois critics of understanding a process in which the proletariat bring all these faculties into play? Miss Strong is the exception that proves the rule. She is still enough of a bourgeois to be in a constant state of amazement at the unsuspected moral and intellectual resources of the proletariat; but she has the wit to see what all her rivals have missed—that the Revolutionary process is not only continuing but gathering force as it advances.

The first phase of the proletarian conquest of social mastery was of necessity the struggle to destroy all the instruments and potentialities of a bourgeois counter-revolution. So far as the bourgeoisie were armed, either themselves or in the persons of their dependents and their dupes, they had to be defeated, disarmed and dispersed. So far as they had the means of sabotage by bribery and corruption they had to be dispossessed and their influence destroyed. So far as their ideology remained as a passive obstacle in the path of proletarian reconstruction, it had to be disintegrated by the moral overthrow of their accepted standards and the exaltation of the proletarian alternative. So far as their unity created a potential of danger it had to be disrupted.

By the Red Army the forces of counter-revolution were overthrown in the field; by the Extraordinary Commission their organisation was revealed and disrupted and their disarming completed; by the same means the moral standards of the bourgeoisie were drastically discredited in the persons of the speculators and profiteers; and by a wholesale propaganda campaign the concept of class war was made a reality to every peasant and proletarian in the land.

Now. Part of the process of defeating the bourgeoisie included the wholesale inflation of the currency (which made their hoards of roubles innocuous) the wholesale nationalisation of the banks and factories, and the establishment of a drastic rationing system administered with a large preference to the proletariat and a punitive vigour against the bourgeoisie. The throwing of public services open to the public without money payment was the corollary of the purposeful inflation of the rouble—it abolished so much of the advantage of possession of stocks of money. The suppression of private trading in necessaries was a corollary of the rationing system. All these measures were part of the process of class war and all had a vivid propaganda value in mobilising the proletariat for that war—a fact of which the revolutionary leaders made full use.

Yet not one of them was or could by any acute sociologist have been supposed to be a measure of positive Socialism or Communism.

The “nationalisation” of the factories was no more than the Government control applied in this country during the war period modified in its application to suit the special character of the war; the rationing system and the suppression of private trading were simply the methods of our Ministry of Food Control adapted to the exigencies of a proletariat civil war instead of a bourgeois imperialist one. Only in a figurative sense can this period even be given the name now applied to it in Russia—“War Communism.” It was “Communist” only in objective—in the sense in which the party aiming at Communism is a Communist Party. Only by the most superficial of observers (or by those rendered incapable of judgment from ignorance of Communism and saturation with bourgeois prepossession) could the enactments of this period have been mistaken for the positive programme of the Communist Party.

That the bourgeoisie should make this blunder was natural; that both Wiedenfeld and Kenworthy made it, was only to be expected. That our own Left-ists should make it, is surprising only to those who have failed to perceive the essentially bourgeois nature of their thinking. That Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden should be in the same category is equally as was to be expected.

It is all the more to Miss Strong’s credit that she has evaded the pitfall and gone straight to the heart of the matter and seen in the heroic struggle to re-create Russia’s industries and develop its productive forces, the real beginning of the positive phase of the Communist Revolution in Russia.

Every Marxist knows (it is another of Miss Strong’s virtues that she makes no pretence of being a Marxist, whereas every orthodox bourgeois critic poses as an authority upon Marx—the more cocksure the less he knows of his work and thought)—every Marxist knows that the positive foundation for a Communist consumption of wealth will only exist when there exists a Communist system of wealth production; and that this in its turn can only develop when the instruments of production are of such a character that they can be controlled and directed on a predetermined plan. Only when the technical development of production has reached such a stage that the methods of mass production with a scientific elimination of all waste from the basis of the total economy will Communist production be an immediate possibility. Only when the tools and processes are of this character can all consciously co-operate to produce for the common well-being.

From its very nature this degree of technical excellence must be reached in differing fields and branches of production in unequal degrees—and this fact is exaggerated and multiplied by the private competitive enterprise character of capitalist production. Still, in the main the trend of capitalism is technologically in that direction, so much so that it is the conflict between the forces of production which have developed under capitalism and the capitalist conditions of production which are the root of the crisis in world economy at the present time.

Productively, Russia when it fell into the hands of its victorious proletariat was two-thirds undeveloped, one-third a wreck, and the whole a chaos. Not Bolshevism, but the counter-revolutionary fight against it produced the chaos; the backwardness and the wreck were the twin legacies of Tsardom. The first positive task of the Revolution was, therefore, to complete the technical development which elsewhere was accomplished under capitalism.

Wiedenfeld’s book was completed in its essentials too early for him to take note of the marvels of technical accomplishment in Russia since the close of the civil war, and the liquidation of the famine. He has no faith anyway in the possibility of a reconstruction of Russian industry (without his beloved “business organisers”) and still less in the possibility of its expansion. Hence he leaves the subject satisfied that the need for credits will compel the Soviet Republic to open wide its doors to the men of business and so close the whole “Communist” episode. Miss Strong’s book, on the contrary, contains the information provided by a full year’s development beyond the point at which he left it, and by those facts his every conclusion is pulverised.

Russia still needs credits—needs them acutely. With credits they will advance further in a generation than without them they will in a century. But even without credits the future of Russian production is sure. With credits they can multiply their productivity at once (by the importation of the necessary plant) and although only a small part of the increased product will be available for domestic consumption, even that small part will have an effect expanding in geometrical proportions. An increased production in the factories means more tools to sell to the peasants. This in turn will mean an expansion of both the area and the intensity of agricultural production. This in its turn will mead an expansion of real wages for the town workers (and an increase in their productivity), and an expansion of foreign trade, with its concomitant strengthening of the state credit and power to undertake far-sighted schemes.

Even without a war or a revolutionary uprising, capitalist Europe and America are faced with a portent that every year will make more ominous. In twenty years American supplies of oil (unless the experts have bungled sadly) will be exhausted. Russia (as Miss Strong shows in her fascinating chapter “The Story of Russian Oil,”) has many times the total oil deposits of the United States. Russia’s wheat lands, worked as they can and will be worked, will precipitate a world-crisis some day by knocking the bottom out of the wheat-pit of Chicago. The capitalists of the western world will give credits to Russia because they have no better investment in sight. Gladly would they crush the Soviet Republic, but each of them wants the whole spoils and so neither will help the other to do the crushing. They will give credits and the Soviet Republic will pay faithfully and punctually.

For all that the bourgeoisie will pay—for the privilege of being paid! But one must be a Communist and a Marxist to see that—and this article is already too long.

Miss Strong’s book is a real gain: Herr Wiedenfeld’s is a tombstone, erected to the memory of a dead myth.