The Hoax of Bolshevism

JULY, 1919


ONE of the paradoxical elements in the political psychology of the day is our incredible gullibility. Our politics is the very spoil of charlatanry. Our thinking is sublimely free of thought. And — to use a Nietzscheism — we are all the prey of a will to be hoaxed.

Our political supermen illustrate the point, they are so patently the product of an age of cinematographs and yellow dailies. They rise to greatness on a phrase. They are pied pipers of platitudes; worlds balance and reel on the turning of their metaphors. Democracies, in particular, are rank with phraseocrats. We are taught that, in democracies, the people rule, but the truth is, the thoughts of the people are boiler-plated and mobilized incalculably. Clever, enticing idealogues have become the specie of the political market. Phrase-artists sit in the seats of power, and it is the press agents who rule.

It is this phenomenon which has given such complexity to the Russian tangle. Our thinking has been so stereotyped in the past, that we stuttered when we were confronted with a political development which came to us with new and unaccustomed terminology. Our old phrases suddenly became obsolete. Democracy we knew, and Autocracy we understood; but Proletarocracy gagged us. And so, for eighteen months, Lenin has played us with a barrage of Bolshevist Marxisms. He has capitalized our confusion, and stabilized his government. And even to-day, he finds us still at sea — enmeshed by bewildering and paralyzing words.

This is not true alone of the laymen. The hysterical splutterings of our statesmen are constantly giving witness to the effectiveness of Lenin’s verbal gasguns. The writings in our current periodicals are humorously serious, as they wade through the fantastic ideologies which sprinkle the Bolshevist propaganda: the writers almost invariably take the Leninites at their word. A swarm of books has cluttered down upon us, and in each, Bolshevism is unquestioningly interpreted as a mirror of its self-declared phrases. Indeed, we have all been unstrung, and no one has yet appeared to ask the burning question whether Russia, like every other country, may not be otherwise than the picture which is drawn in its phrases; whether Bolshevism may not be more terrible in language than in reality; whether Lenin may not, like many of our own political chiefs, speak a language which is more daring than his deeds.

The popular conception of Bolshevism is Russian-made. It is the conception which we have gleaned from the books of Lenin and the burning, explosive utterances of Trotzky. And in this conception, Bolshevism is a veritable avalanche. It is Armageddon to the bourgeoisie: it is New Jerusalem to the proletariat. It comes like an apocalypse, to exalt the humble and to abase the lofty. It is Socialism barbed with a Red Terror. It is a mammoth economic experiment; a ruthless dictatorship which would strait-jacket one hundred and seventy million people to the iron Marxian pattern. Such is the announced Bolshevist programme.

But students of history are somewhat skeptical of apocalyptic political programmes. The past has been a museum of millenniums. Only too often the millennium has withered into an hyperbole.

And Bolshevism also, when stripped of its glamour, reveals itself as but a shibboleth. In theory, it sounded the blast of every value of life. But when the Bolsheviki ceased to be theorists, when Russia clothed them with the powers of state, Maximalism became Minimalism — only the phrases remained. The ideal, like all ideals, sobered in the presence of reality. Bolshevism and the Bolsheviki became two separate meanings, as even Lloyd George recognized in his recent speech in Parliament.

Perhaps we ought not to go so far as to say that Lenin purposely hoaxed the Russian masses. But the truth is stark: Lenin’s published programme has long since ceased to be the Russian reality. And though the world looks upon the Bolshevik land with the wonderment of romance; though the proletariat of Europe gaze upon Moscow and see there the Sinai of their yearnings; though Mujik hordes pour out to die like zealots for the covenant of the Soviet, the Bolshevism of fact is neither an apocalypse nor a millennium; it is neither a revolution nor a commune; it is not Marxian and it is not proletarian. It is a republic, a democracy (hated though the word may be in Bolshevik writings), a sort of Whitley Council Socialist political state; different from the American, as Russia itself is different from the United States, but a political state, nevertheless, whose traditions stem from Jefferson far more than from Karl Marx. And Lenin — master phraseocrat of the age — enlists limitless battalions in a sacred war for a ‘commune’ which is only a republic!

To demonstrate my assertion, it is merely necessary to analyze the present Russian state. For a moment, one must descend from the rarified rhetoric of Lenin’s propaganda. One must forget Bolshevism, the phrase; one must visualize Bolshevism, the state.

Now, the outstanding fact in the Russian situation is the fact that the Revolution — what there was of it — is over and accomplished. The flux of change has already cooled into a status quo. A rigid constitution is already operating, and this constitution is neither Marxism nor Communism.

A brief résumé will explain the significance of this. The announced programme of the Bolsheviki was, from the first, the Marxian programme. The writings of Lenin, Trotzky, Lunacharsky, Bucharin, and all the theorists of the original Bolshevik group were saturated with Marxism. The rigid formulas of the Communist Manifesto were accepted as infallible political guides. The accession of the group to power in November, 1917, was hailed by the world — and by themselves — as a Marxian victory. Other Socialists had mounted to political power before them: the Briands, the Millerands, the Albert Thomases, the Bissolatis, and even the Kerenskys and Tscheidses of their own country. But none of these had represented the Marxian school. The uniqueness of the Bolshevist victory lay precisely in this fact. The world looked upon Bolshevism as in the nature of a Marxian experiment; it prepared to judge the efficacy of Marxism for all time by the failure or success of the régime of Lenin.

The central thought in this Marxian creed is the dogma of the class struggle. All else rests like a pyramid upon this class-struggle hypothesis, and the structure stands or falls with its correctness.

According to Marx (and Bolshevism), the meaning of history stems from an inexorable division of man into two classes. These classes are not arbitrary: they are rigidly defined by economic law. They are the employing class and the employed class; capital and labor; the bourgeoisie and the proletariat! It is a distinction rock-ribbed by the imperative of economic determinism.

From this class-nature of society, in the Marxian creed, flows the class struggle. The bourgeoisie and the proletariat stand pitted against each other in every relation of life. The interest of one is the detriment of the other. The power of the one means the enslavement of the other. There can be no harmony between them any more than there can be peace between the robber and his victim. Economic determinism decrees that they fight a mortal and truceless war.

It is on this point that the ways of the Marxian and the Reformist Socialist have parted. The Reformists of the Ebert-Kerensky-Thomas school deny the class struggle. Society is multiclassed, not bi-classed, they claim. Man is a pattern of crisscrossing economic groups, which change and alter with all the flitting uncertainty of the clouds. There are no hard-and-fast boundaries of economic interests. There is no destiny-created class conflict. There is no categorical imperative which interdicts the freedom of man’s will to act. History’s meaning is not the senseless slaughter of class by class. Progress is not written in the terms of civil strife: it comes through adaptation; through the peaceful penetration of new systems into the systems of the past.

But Lenin, entering power, threw his defiance at this Reformist-Socialist programme. He announced a government in which there would be only one class — the proletariat. He repudiated reconciliation, he hailed the class dictatorship. He opened the chasm of a class conflict.

Such was the goal which Lenin pictured on that November day when Russia bowed to his rule. And such is still the spoken programme of Russia’s rulers. But eighteen months have passed — an ordered government has been evolved — a constitution has been framed and executed by the Bolsheviki. And the significance of the Bolsheviki in world-history; their significance as a guide-post to the future drift of Socialism; as the first attempt to apply the Marxian dogma, lies in this. Have they succeeded in creating such a proletarian, Marxian commune?

The answer is, no. Up the hill of class struggle marched the Bolsheviki; but they tramped down again on the other side. Bravely they bore the banner of Marx, but they twined it at last with the pennant of Jeremy Bentham. Armed with their soap-boxes and their reticule of theories, they attempted to make Marxism work. They summoned the mountain — but it did not come! And so they have gone to the mountain.

The proof —

In the Marxian creed, there is a rigid irreducible minimum. (1) The commune must achieve complete Proletarianism; (2) it must be anti-Parliamentary; and (3) it must inaugurate Socialization. This, and this alone, is communism. Have the Bolsheviki realized these conditions? Let us test the Soviet rule by these yardsticks.

First, Proletarianism. With the fanfare of a Cagliostro, Lenin proclaimed a dictatorship of the proletariat. Bolshevism was to be a boiling cauldron in which all classes would be melted into one. Russia was to become industrocentric.

But then came the stern test of responsibility. Industries must be run. Cities must be fed. A great people must be economically integrated. Lenin learned bitterly that Proletarianism would not do this; and as he learned, the proletarian programme faded and withered. To-day, Proletarianism is still untried in Russia. The factories, with few exceptions, remain privately owned. In the committees of industrial management, the bourgeois technical experts are coördinate with the laborers. The former capitalists still manage industry, although now they bear the name of Peoples’ Commissars. The intellectuals, so far from being slaughtered, as our official alarmists claimed, have been organized under Maxim Gorky, and sit high in the councils of the Soviet. The proletarian of the farm has, under Bolshevism, ceased to be a proletarian, and he is now the owner of land. And as of old, Russia presents a pyramid of social classes, and only in symbol has equalitarianism leveled the race.

True, there was a class war, but it was a war, not against the bourgeoisie as bourgeoisie, but against the bourgeoisie as slackers. The Red Terror was invoked, not to destroy them but to make them work: not to eliminate them, but to coerce them into continued life.

And in the Soviet state — ruling over all, sitting in the supreme seat of power — is the middle-class triumvirate of rulers: Lenin, the intellectual; Trotsky, the journalist; and Tchicherin, the son of a noble.

Again, the Marxian pledge of the Bolsheviki was Anti-Parliamentarism. Geographical parliaments would be swept away. Industrial communes would be created. Lenin entered power with the insistent slogan, ‘The State must go!’

But great is the magic which lurks in words. Ruthlessly, the Leninites swept away the Duma; scornfully, they crushed the Constituent Assembly. With a proud gesture of Socialism, they gave ‘all power to the Soviets.’ And the world whispered that Bolshevism had slain the State.

But under analysis, we find that the State is still living. We find the vaunted Soviet is but a new form of Parliament—a delegate body, geographically chosen and giving representation to all those who function in the social life of the nation. We find authoritarianism concentrated. We find power centralized. We find that the real masters of the Soviet are the peasants, with their crushing numbers — those peasants who have become landowners. We find that the labor-unions, the natural expression of the industrial workers, are eclipsed into a rôle of pitiful subordination. Everywhere in the Soviet model — from the peak to the base of the system — the geographical principle still obtains. Locals integrate into districts, districts into departments, and departments coalesce in the national Soviet. The map, not the industry, is the basis. And it is only nominally that the proletariat rules the Soviets. Though the press agents of Lenin may speak in the language of industrialism, the Bolsheviki have doubled back into the timehonored mould of a political state. Lenin, like Marx, would have destroyed the State: instead, he has created a gigantic super-state.

Or take the question of Socialization. The Marxian plan would ruthlessly socialize industry by changing the ownership into the hands of the industrial workers. Thus, the miners would own the mines, the machinists the machineshops, the railroad workers the railroads, the textile workers the cotton mills, etc. Something of this sort, we read vaguely, was attempted in the early Kerensky period. But it did not last. The great industries of Russia are to-day owned in one of two modes. Either they are private property; or, as in most cases, they are owned by the State. The State has become the capitalist. The workers are still being exploited. Bolshevik Russia is in the State Socialist, not in the Industrial Unionist stage.

And so we could continue with a glossary of inconsistencies. Private Property has not been abolished. The division of land has actually increased the number of property-holders. The Church has not been destroyed. It has merely been expropriated. Militarism, which waned under Kerensky, has been revived under Marxian Lenin, and democracy has been expunged again from the army. A great and growing military caste dragoons the nation. Patriotism has revived — a deadly, fanatical patriotism, which recalls the republican zealots who ravished the world under Bonaparte. Lenin dreams of an empire of Europe, bowing to Moscow and built in Soviets. Bolshevism has become a jingoist Socialism.

And each day new deviations from the pattern of Marx appear. Lenin now offers to acknowledge the national debt; to reimburse the foreign capitalists for their expropriated property; to sell concessions in Russia to American exploitation. And how well this tells of his faded dream! Capitalism is returning into Russian industry. The proletariat is resuming the yoke. Bolshevism has forgotten Marx, and Lenin has learned that in the workaday life there is no class struggle.

And this is the lesson which theory always learns when it undertakes to do. History is but a long gallery of Lenins who dreamed, in their studies, of Utopia. For a moment, the dead levels of life are stirred by a gorgeous vision. Millions move to the magic of grandiose dreams. But life — sophisticated, remorseless life — still calmly flows in its age-old channel, unshaken by the whirlwinds. And always, the theory evaporates at last into opportunism: the zealot becomes a despot.

The Soviet government has already completed its economic cycle. It has learned that industry is a practical, not an ideologic problem. It has learned that society is an interlaced network of economic groups — each indispensable. It has learned that the conquering races are those who have achieved, not class struggle, but class integration; that classes are complements, not rivals.

And this is the lesson of Liberalism. This programme of democracy, this, our own ideal, waits for the Bolsheviki at the ending of the road. The task of progress is not won by revolutions: it comes through the ordered evolution of reform. The Bolshevik adventure has been a glorious vindication, not of the future, but of the past. Bitterly Lenin scorned political democracy, in the days of his propaganda, but he eagerly turns to its methods when he assumes the helm of power. And Bolshevism, which began as an abysmal challenge to the age, has now become but a raucous advance-post in a State Socialistic experiment which all nations are accepting. Every day it marches further to the right. The drift of the times in all nations is toward a measure of industrial democracy. Bolshevikiland, with its Soviets and Industrial Committees, may wrap itself in fearsome phrases, but it is little in advance of Great Britain, where an industrial parliament is already in the process of birth. The fangs of Russia are already dulled.

The real greatness of Lenin and his group is the greatness of demagogy.

They have caught a formula of glittering words: they have learned the verbal cadences which move the masses to ecstasy: they have learned to paint a vision of heaven, that shall outflare, in the minds of their followers, the shabby miseries of a Bolshevik earth. They are master phraseocrats, and in Russia they have reared an imperium on phraseocracy.

The alarmists who shriek of Russia would do well to turn their thoughts from Russia’s Socialistic menace. The peril of Russia is not to our industries, but to our states. The menace of the Bolsheviki is not an economic, it is a political menace. It is the menace of fanatic armies, drunken with phrases and sweeping forward under Lenin like a Muscovite scourge. It is a menace of intoxicated proletarians, goaded by invented visions to seek to conquer the world.

In Nicolai Lenin, the Socialist, we have nought to fear. In Nicolai Lenin, the political chief of Russia’s millions, we may well find menace, for his figure looms over the world. His Bolshevik Abracadabra has seduced the workers of every race. His stealthy propaganda has shattered the morale of every army in the world. His dreams are winging to Napoleonic flights, and well he may dream of destiny; for in an age when we bow to phrases, it is Lenin who is the master phraseocrat of the world.