Bolshevism: Practice and Theory

by Ber-trand Russell. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Howe. 1920. 8vo, 192 pp. $2.50.
AMONG the many books which have recently been written about the Bolshevist régime in Russia, this is by all odds the most significant. It is the work of an avowed Communist, who went to Petrograd and Moscow for a close-up view of an interesting experiment in representative government.’ What he saw was an interesting experiment, he admits, but an experiment in government of an absurdly unrepresentative type. His
visit convinced him that Russia is writhing in the grasp of a truculent dictatorship, one of the most flagrant impostures upon the principle of selfgovernment that the world has seen in many generations. It has given the Russian people neither liberty, nor security, nor prosperity. What is worse, it holds out no substantial hope that any of these things will ever be achieved so long as the Bolsheviki remain in power.
Coming from one who still confesses himself an unabashed Communist, there are some strong sentences in this book. Things which, to the ordinary mind, would constitute a severe indictment of Communism have no terrors for Mr. Russell. He sets them forth frankly, without any attempt to gloss them over or explain them away. As an experiment in Marxian government, Mr. Russell realizes that the Russia of to-day is a colossal failure, and his mission in this volume is merely to inquire why and how it became so. Other writers have contented themselves with throwing the entire blame upon those ‘ bourgeois ’ countries which have declined to trade with the Russian people. But this explanation, as the author easily demonstrates, is altogether inadequate. There is plenty of food in Russia; the peasants are better fed today than they were in the days of the Romanoffs. The squalor and chaos is in the cities and towns where industry has completely broken down because the Bolsheviki let it break down. By so doing they threw away what Mr. Russell calls ‘the supreme condition of success in a Communist revolution,’ which is the keeping of industry at full speed. When Russian industry went to pieces, the sequence of tragedies began.
In his journeyings of several weeks through Russia, it is significant that Mr. Russell never chanced upon a Communist. Those whom he met were always paraded before him by the authorities. This is not surprising, however, if we accept his estimate that the adherents of Lenin constitute only one half of one per cent of the Russian population as a whole. With anything akin to a system of representative government, therefore, the present rulers of Russia would be ousted in a jiffy. But by orthodox Jacobin methods, including the complete suppression of all political independence, they manage to hang on, and, to all appearances, they are likely to do so for some time to come.
Not the least interesting chapter in Mr. Russell’s book is the concluding one, in which he discusses the possibility of a Communist revolution in England and the United States. The United States, he believes, holds the key to the whole situation. The suggestion is put forward that ’a prolonged and devoted propaganda of ideas’ should be undertaken, ‘especially among the wage-earners of the United States.’ This has a sinister sound, and Mr. Russell would have left a better impression upon his American readers if he had omitted it. W. B. M.
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