Russia at Home
MORE and more as tumult subsides and prejudice cools, it is possible to get a proper perspective upon what has happened in Russia. Tsarisl memoirs are already entering the sentimental domain, hitherto reserved for the French Revolution, and, on the other hand, the hasty impressions of chance travelers are at last being accepted at their face value. Meantime, through the study and observation of those who have lived and worked under the Soviet, we are being acquainted with the new nation and the new faith, which seem here to stay however welcome or unwelcome.
IN the introduction to his volume, Soviet Russia: A Living Record and a History (Little, brown and Atlantic Monthly press, $5.000), William Henry Chamberlin says: I can hardly expect that my book will satisfy those extreme partisans in opposed controversial camps who regard bolshevism as either the greatest calamity or the greatest blessing which ever befell mankind. This extreme partisanship has been the bane of all students of Russian conditions, neither side in its prejudice being willing to concede sincerity and honesty of purpose to publications which are at odds with its prejudices. Mr. Chamberlin, with eight years of residence in Russia, and a Russian wife to aid his observations, has written a thoroughly objective study of the bolshevist state. He has treated it as a tremendous experiment, the ultimate of which it is too early to foresee. You will search his pages in vain for expressions of righteous condemnation of the heavy-handed and often inhuman methods by which the Bolsheviki have imposed their will upon the people, but on the other hand he is equally free from imputing to their programme any certainty of success, or ascribing to their economic theories any superiority over those of capitalistic states. Indeed he quotes, without attempted contravention, Balfour’s remark that Bolshevism seemed to be wholly successful in making rich men poor, but had not yet demonstrated its power to make poor men rich.
The Soviet Government has undertaken the most problematical enterprise under way in the world to-day not excepting the Fascist experiment in Italy. It has undertaken to banish poverty and riches alike from its land, to eliminate all class distinctions, to eradicate from the minds of its people any idea that industry or trade should be prosecuted for profit, or that such a thing exists as the right of private property. The bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia have been subjected to such unbearable oppressions that, they too have almost disappeared: the .‘government of the proletariat’ recognizes only workmen and peasants as coming within its favored category — and it is having grave troubles with the peasantry. To communize manufacturing, to regiment and discipline town workers, has been easy, but the peasant has been a harder problem. Mr. Chamberlin tells, dispassionately, of the endeavors now making to persuade the peasant that the revolution which took the land from the landlords and gave it to him is equally right in taking control of it from him and giving it to the state. His future id to be a worker on state-owned farms, or on great coöperative farms of which the tract of land he fondly supposed to be his forms a small portion.
This struggle between the government and the peasants, and the effort now making to break down the influence of the churches and to establish the ‘Godless state,’ are the present-day phenomena in Russia in which the outer world is taking the most interest. Mr. Chamberlin handles both as though he, writing months ago, had heard the questions now almost hourly posed, His chapters, ’The Struggle for the Russian Soul’ and >Karl Marx and the Peasant Sphinx,’ read as though prepared with journalistic speed in response to the appeal of an insistent editor. Nor does he prophesy the outcome. Of the religious struggle he says: ‘The issue depends largely upon how far religion is the product of such mechanical influences as habit, authority, tradition, early training, and how far it is a spontaneous psychological and spiritual need of human nature.’ And as to the struggle over the farm problem, he says: ‘Is it possible to “build socialism” in a peasant country without a large, perhaps a fatally large, allay of concession to the peasant instincts for self-enrichment and private property? This question is bound up with the riddle of Russia’s future. And the answer to that riddle lies with the Peasant Sphinx,’
Maurice Hindus, Russian by birth, American by education and residence from an early age, has undertaken to tell in his book, Humanity Uprooted (Cape and Smith, $3.00), the same story as Mr. Chamberlin. The narratives differ in the manner of telling rather than in substance. Both writers are admirably objective; neither is cold or indifferent. Mr. Hindus, in particular, appreciates and interprets the fervor and enthusiasm with which the Communist leaders pursue their aims. Life in Russia, he says, ’is so violent an experience, so painful a trial, and, to him who bursts with the new faith, so glorious an experience that one cannot remain simply passive.’ There is more of enthusiasm and less of calm analysis, more picturesque writing and less judicial appraisal, in Mr. Hindus’s book than in that of Mr. Chamberlin. It lacks, furthermore, the other’s careful documentation. But his chapters on religion are peculiarly valuable, and the array of facts and the conclusions of the two have a singular identity. Perhaps the careful restraint of Mr. Chamberlin gives his volume an air of greater authority, while the picturesque dietion and enthusiasm of Mr. Hindus make his book eminently readable.
Dr. E. J. Dillon, an English journalist of distinction, writer of perhaps the best history of the Paris Conference, a professor in a Russian university, and editor at times of Russian newspapers, revisited Russia in 1928. In Russia Today and Yesterday (Doubleday, Doran, $3.50), he presents su.eli a picture of Bolshevism at work as could have been drawn only by one who knew the old Russia and was able to make illuminating comparisons with the new. The casual observer of Bolshevist, methods to-day thinks them barbarous, inhuman, worthy of world-wide reprobation. Dr. Dillon tells something of conditions under the Tsar which makes the reader suspect that it may be racial characteristics rather than an economic fallacy that have produced these deeds of savagery. Do the peasants seem now to be exploited, reduced to abject poverty, deprived of liberty to work the lands which the Revolution gave them? ‘The plain truth,’he says, ‘would seem to be that the Russian peasants have been treated, ever since history has taken notice of them, as mere taxpaying machines whose well-being, families and lives mattered little or nothing.’ Hapless as is their condition today, the writer thinks that ’the Russian mooshik has been restored to the ranks of humanity. The Bolsheviks freed him, roused him from his lethargy, introduced him to the world of action, set him ennobling tasks and qualified him to perform them.'
Dr. Dillon is one whom the Sovietists made to suffer, as he sets forth in his preface. Nevertheless he is not blind to the prodigious enthusiasm and the sinister determination of the driving force behind Bolshevism. Rightly he refuses to consider it as a Russian phenomenon alone. ‘It is.’ he writes, ‘a live revolutionary center for the kindling and spreading of revolutions on all sides. Its function now and for all time is to generate “whirlwinds of tempestuous pie” among capitalist peoples, Lenin wrote of it thus: ’The dictatorship of the proletariat consists in the tenacious struggle, bloody and bloodless, violent and pacific, military and economic, pedagogical and administrative, against the forces and traditions of the old régime.’
The fruits of this dictatorship Dr. Dillon has observed and describes dispassionately in this book. Perhaps more than the other authors I have dealt with, he deals with the conditions that bred Bolshevism. But of his horror of it he leaves no doubt. No better characterization of its origin, its nature, and its potentialities could be given than this closing paragraph of his book: —
‘Bolshevism takes its origin in the unplumbed depths of being; nor could it have come into existence were it not for the necessity of putting an end to the injustice and iniquities that infect our superannuated civilization. It is amoral and inexorable because it is transcendental.
11 has come, as Christianity came, not for peace but for the sword, and its victims outnumber those of the most sanguinary wars. To me it seems to be the mightiest, driving force for good or evil in the world to-day. It is certainly a stern reality, smelling perhaps of sulphur and brimstone, but with a mission on earth and a mission which will certainly be fulfilled.'
WILLIS J. ABBOT