'We are the oldest government in Europe,' remarked Chicherin in 1923, during the residence of the present writer in Moscow. This droll comment of the Bolshevist Commissar for Foreign Affairs was historically correct then,—more so to-day,—if by government that astute diplomat understood a given cabinet or a sovnarkom exercising supreme power and performing the customary administrative functions. The parliamentary system which requires sporadically a vote of confidence in support of the dominant political party, failing which the cabinet is expected to resign, has indeed occasioned a bewildering succession of ministries upon the stage of European politics since November 7, 1917. The Moscow system, on the contrary, provides, antecedently, for the liquidation of any menacing opposition by the simple device of eliminating the opposers. Those who attempted serious political resistance found themselves either in the execution chamber of the Loubyanka or on their way to freezing exile in the convict camps on Solovetsky Island in the White Sea.
To be sure, during the decade just ended, there have been notable losses and substitutions in the higher ranks of the Soviet hierarchy. Sverdlov, Volodarsky, and Uritsky, all active leaders, were assassinated in the early days of the Revolution. Lenin, the flaming torch that fired the Russian masses and sought to fire the world, the creator of the Soviet state and founder of the Third International, died the thousand living deaths of a deranged paralytic before his actual demise in l924. Vorovsky, able propagandist and first Soviet representative to Italy, was murdered in Switzerland in 1923 and lies buried outside the Kremlin walls, close to the grave of John Reed. On the afternoon of Vorovsky's funeral the author of these articles wandered through Red Square and meditated on the significance of the strange fellowship that could so unite in common burial a Russian revolutionist and the brilliant but erratic Harvard graduate.
Krassin, easily distinguishable among the other commissars as brains temporizing with victorious passions, recently succumbed to a mortal illness while Soviet Ambassador to England. Dzerzhinsky, chief of the dreaded secret police, the Cheka, executioner of 1,800,000 victims, the man with the eyes of a gazelle and the soul of a Fouquier-Tinville, expired suddenly and mysteriously in 1926 after an impassioned speech of protest against certain heterodox tendencies of his colleagues. Voikov, who signed the death warrant of Tsar Nicholas II and the imperial family, was himself murdered in Warsaw on June 7, 1927, falling victim to the vengeance of an exiled Russian youth not twenty years of age.
But after each casualty the ranks closed tighter. Internal dissension is met by stern domestic discipline. Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev dispute the supremacy of Stalin, Bucharin, and Rykov. They pay the penalty of schism by relegation to obscure posts within the Party. Thus the essential dictatorship of ten men, the Political Bureau of the Communist Party, persists unchallenged over 140,000,000 Russians. With unshaken confidence, Moscow is celebrating its tenth year in continuous control of approximately one seventh of the habitable surface of the earth.
If history may be conceived as philosophy teaching by example, may it not be time, even as early as the tenth year after the event, to seek a helpful interpretation of the Russian experiment?
For Russia not only presents a story that will engage the best historians of the world for generations to come; it is an actual, insistent fact of the present. Bolshevism is an international reality which only the hopelessly intransigent can ignore. If the World War did not entirely destroy modern organized society, it assuredly did bring civilization to the crossroads. The victors of the second Russian revolution, that of November 1917, frankly and brutally took the road to the extreme left, driving a weakened, demoralized Russia before them, calling on stronger nations to follow. That way madness lies, as they have now learned and reluctantly admitted, taught by the inexorable laws of nature operating through economic pressure. But it is my deliberate judgment, based on six years' close observation of European and Russian affairs, that no lasting peace is possible in Europe or Asia until the breach between Russia and the West is securely bridged. For that difference, that breach, is not a chasm dug by national hatred, by historic feud or racial antipathy. One or other of such specific motives made Greeks the natural enemies of Turks, made France distrust Germany, and set Celt against Saxon. But the issue created by the second Russian revolution strikes at the very concept of human society as now organized and, proposes an entirely new civilization.
It was not merely a revolution in the accepted sense as historically understood,—that is, a reallocation of sovereignty,—but revolution in the domain of economics, religion, art, literature, science, education, and all other human activities. It sought to create a new archetype of humanity, the 'collective man,' and a new culture adapted to the impersonal 'mass man' who should displace forever 'the soul-encumbered individual man.' It was meant, and so proclaimed by its protagonists, to be a challenge to the modern State as constituted, not merely in Imperial Russia, but throughout the entire civilized world. It was philosophic materialism in arms, the most radical school of thought that has ever come upon the stage of human affairs.
The leaders of Bolshevism deliberately identified and confused, in the estimation of the masses, all civilization with the particular Russian form detested by the peasants because of their economic serfdom under it and hated by the liberals because of the savage repression of all their efforts for the enlargement of human liberty through constitutional reform. Interpreting all life, therefore, in terms of their own memories of Siberia, the Bolsheviki generalized savagely, and, of course, erroneously. Lenin registered his bitter oath of universal revenge on the day his brother Alexander Ulianov was executed by the Tsarist Government in 1887 for attempted regicide. Lenin was wrong. But the Tsars were equally wrong in obstinately refusing to modify an insupportable autocracy that drove men to such desperation.
The Russian problem derives its hugeness and its complexity from the very soil that gave it birth, inheriting these characteristics as legitimately and historically as the Russian peasant does his wise simplicity and his naive mysticism. To be sure, such of the intelligentsia as escaped the Cheka during the Terror often begged us foreigners to consider Bolshevism, not as Russian in character and origin at all, but as a distinctly foreign invention, imported into Russia by the German High Staff during the war as a purely military manoeuvre to destroy the morale of the Russian people and cripple the army. Both objectives were achieved with characteristic efficiency, even though the Frankenstein monster thus created almost destroyed its sponsor when Bolshevist revolutionary propaganda nearly triumphed in Germany in 1923.