Paweł Krawczyk


In late 1910's the Western views on the #Bolshevik Revolution in #Russia were, as usual, divided. Criticism from anti-communists was quite predictable, while people with broadly socialist views at minimum saw it a chance for an actual social change and watched curiously, granting it the benefit of the doubt, even if a bit concerned about its violent character. Reports about Red Terror atrocities were well-known in the West, but if you believed in the revolution, it was easy to dismiss them using popular fallacies such as “but both sides are violent” or “but violence is just a transitional step in the eradication of the bourgeoisie”.

The more respect should be paid to the voice of Bertrand Russell, who being an active member of British socialist movements, produced a painfully honest record of what he saw during his 1920 trip to Soviet Russia (there was no #USSR yet). His position is not anti-communist at all, quite the opposite – he openly declares he's “one with Bolsheviks” as it comes to their goals, but their political reality he saw, and the impression of the leaders he had, seem to be both largely repugnant to him.

Russell also avoids the trap of many anti-communist intellectuals, that is tribalism: while seeing the whole “cruelty, perfidy or brutality” of other, predominantly capitalist countries, he doesn't allow himself drift into the instinctive position of defending Bolsheviks as the only major political force able to oppose them, which was one of the primary forces driving pro-Soviet denialism in the West through 20th century.

For start, Russell makes one more interesting observation: he describes Bolshevik's approach to #Marxism as “religious”, if not “fanatical”, including “elaborate dogmas and inspired scriptures”. Oh, irony – one of the most anti-religious movements in history is being described as yet another quasi-religious one:

Bolshevism is not merely a political doctrine; it is also a religion, with elaborate dogmas and inspired scriptures. When Lenin wishes to prove some proposition, he does so, if possible, by quoting texts from Marx and Engels. A full-fledged Communist is not merely a man who believes that land and capital should be held in common, and their produce distributed as nearly equally as possible. He is a man who entertains a number of elaborate and dogmatic beliefs—such as philosophic materialism, for example—which may be true, but are not, to a scientific temper, capable of being known to be true with any certainty.

There's another fragment that perfectly combines two observations: that Soviet communists have already moved (we're talking about 1920!) to a “life after life” mode of justification of their miserable choices and methods; and that the Western communists, left with Soviet propaganda as primary source of information, are much more inspired by the Bolshevism than the people on the ground there:

The effect of Bolshevism as a revolutionary hope is greater outside Russia than within the Soviet Republic. Grim realities have done much to kill hope among those who are subject to the dictatorship of Moscow. Yet even within Russia, the Communist party, in whose hands all political power is concentrated, still lives by hope, though the pressure of events has made the hope severe and stern and somewhat remote. It is this hope that leads to concentration upon the rising generation. Russian Communists often avow that there is little hope for those who are already adult, and that happiness can only come to the children who have grown up under the new régime and been moulded from the first to the group-mentality that Communism requires.

And then this rather outright criticism on hypocrisy of Western communists justifying Soviet methods:

Western Socialists who have visited Russia have seen fit to suppress the harsher features of the present régime, and have disseminated a belief among their followers that the millennium would be quickly realized there if there were no war and no blockade.

Russell also dismisses a popular (even today) argument that the Bolshevik violence was somehow provoked by opposition of the “White” supporters of the Tsar, and by the Allied intervention in Russia:

The expectation of such opposition was always part of Bolshevik theory. A general hostility to the first Communist State was both foreseen and provoked by the doctrine of the class war. Those who adopt the Bolshevik standpoint must reckon with the embittered hostility of capitalist States; it is not worth while to adopt Bolshevik methods unless they can lead to good in spite of this hostility. To say that capitalists are wicked and we have no responsibility for their acts is unscientific; it is, in particular, contrary to the Marxian doctrine of economic determinism. The evils produced in Russia by the enmity of the Entente are therefore to be reckoned as essential in the Bolshevik method of transition to Communism, not as specially Russian.

It's also worth placing the Allied intervention in a context: when it started, the rightful government of Russia was pluralist Russian Provisional Government, which was recognized internationally, and it was that Government, not Tsar (who abdicated earlier), that Bolsheviks have overthrown in October Revolution, and then left Allied forces fighting Germany. Therefore the Allied intervention was intended primarily on preventing German return to power by strengthening the “White” army who at the same time was fighting Germany and Bolshevik on the orders of the government perceived as rightful government of Russia.

Most importantly however, Russel in that paragraph made a fundamental observation about the type of people that most revolutions bring to power:

A condition of widespread misery may, therefore, be taken as indispensable to the inauguration of Communism, unless, indeed, it were possible to establish Communism more or less peacefully, by methods which would not, even temporarily, destroy the economic life of the country. If the hopes which inspired Communism at the start, and which still inspire its Western advocates, are ever to be realized, the problem of minimizing violence in the transition must be faced. Unfortunately, violence is in itself delightful to most really vigorous revolutionaries, and they feel no interest in the problem of avoiding it as far as possible. Hatred of enemies is easier and more intense than love of friends. But from men who are more anxious to injure opponents than to benefit the world at large no great good is to be expected.

About the delusional perception of Western supporters of Bolshevik he has to say this:

Friends of Russia here think of the dictatorship of the proletariat as merely a new form of representative government, in which only working men and women have votes, and the constituencies are partly occupational, not geographical. They think that “proletariat” means “proletariat,” but “dictatorship” does not quite mean “dictatorship.” This is the opposite of the truth. When a Russian Communist speaks of dictatorship, he means the word literally, but when he speaks of the proletariat, he means the word in a Pickwickian sense. He means the “class-conscious” part of the proletariat, i.e., the Communist Party.

Just remember, Bertrand Russell wrote these words in 1920, less than three years after the October Revolution, already predicting the direction in which the Soviet system was heading, as well as its ultimate collapse.

— Paweł Krawczyk Fediverse