Correspondence: The “Bolshies” Again
To The Editors.
“Sirs,—the writers of your paper are certainly entertaining in their aptness for attempting to discount any display of working-class solidarity or effort to overthrow the capitalist system. With a zest that is hardly excelled by the hireling journalists of the kept Press they wantonly attack . .” [There is a lot of this sort of thing which, since it neither hurts us nor helps our correspondent, is mere space-wasting tripe. Mr. Ward may find it acceptable to a Northern contemporary, but we have something better to fill our columns with,—Eds. “Socialist Standard“] “Your leader on Russia offers a case in point, or perhaps I should write your leader on the S.L.P.
“We are asked ‘On what do the Bolshevist leaders depend for their strength ? Certainly not on a class-conscious working class. To talk about the millions of Socialist books and pamphlets being printed in Russia is beside the question, since 70 per cent, of the people will need to be taught to read them. The peasantry—the backbone of the country, on whom the movement must ultimately rest—cannot understand Socialism, for in the first place they are generally illiterate and cannot have read Socialist literature ; in the second place they are so isolated and have been so under official guardianship, that it is altogether unlikely that Socialist propaganda has been carried on among them. How is it possible that they can see sound reasoning in the proposal that they shall grow the food for the whole people and receive in return such few products of the factories as they have need of ? ‘
“This statement needs analysis. Granted that capitalism was comparatively weak in Russia, it is nevertheless perfectly obvious that class-conscious workers, albeit a minority, were responsible for the overthrow of the Bourgeois. These workers have undoubtedly taken full advantage of their unique position, and are able to record practically a complete cessation of capitalist propaganda. In the towns and to a great extent in the provinces the newspapers, theatres, and all educational facilities have been utilised for the purpose of propagating Socialist views. Imagine, if your jaundiced vision permits, the result of a complete change of front in all our propagandist agencies in this country through Socialist seizure of the Press. We are reminded that a great percentage of the Russian people cannot read. Surely lack of ability to read does not necessarily imply lack of sufficient intelligence to grasp the simple principles of Socialism.
“Instructed orally, there is no earthly reason why the simple peasant should not realise the necessity for the obliteration of exploitation. . . . So far as the Bolshevists are concerned we may safely assume that they have conducted wide-spread oral campaigns without the organised obstruction we meet with in this country.
“Regarding the land question, it would be folly to imagine that revolutionaries of the quality of our Russian comrades have not produced a workable scheme of co-operative farming as a transitional measure.
“The wise-acres of your party inform us that the peasants’ wants end with their few simple tools and their boots. Ye gods ! a peasant clad in boots but minus the proverbial fig leaf enters into our dreams for ever.
“The statement that no evidence exists as to an attempt to establish Socialism in Russia is probably intended to be taken as S.P. humour. . . If owing to the supineness and cowardice of workers in Western Europe the international capitalists ultimately smash the Socialist Republic of Russia we may be sure that wholesale massacres of revolutionary workers will follow.
When our correspondent wrote that our statement needed analysing we expected him to proceed with the analysis. Instead of which he simply denies a few asseverations, makes a few assumptions, and treats us to a number of assertions, without troubling to provide reasons, justification, or evidence to support his remarks. We stated that the Bolshevik leaders do not depend for their strength upon a revolutionary working CLASS ; our critic declares that class-conscious workers were responsible for the overthrow of the Bourgeois—quite a different thing. Without ascribing to the statement we may pass on, for it is quite immaterial whether a minority of class-conscious workers were responsible for the overthrow of the Bourgeoisie or not. The point is, on what do they depend for their strength ? Our statement on that point is what our critic should have “analysed”—he leaves it severely alone.
Mr. Ward states that the Bolsheviks have utilised all educational facilities for the purpose of propagating Socialist views. But we have never denied that. Nevertheless we ask our critic for his evidence. There are plenty of people in this country propagating views which they fondly imagine are Socialist views, but which are in reality anti-Socialist. We challenge Mr. Ward to prove his statement.
As our correspondent says, lack of ability to read does not necessarily imply lack of sufficient intelligence to grasp the simple principles of Socialism. Who said it did ? And if the illiterate were stone deaf also, the same remark would apply, but it is hard to imagine how the simple principles of Socialism could be communicated to such people.
”Instructed orally,” we are next told, “there is no earthly reason why the simple peasant should not realise the necessity for the obliteration of exploitation.” What a wonderful fellow is Mr. Ward for stating truths (perhaps) which get us no further. Abolition of exploitation and Socialism are not exactly synonymous. The peasant would probably conceive exploitation to be abolished under a system which secured him enough land to obtain his living upon, so that he had no need to work for a master, and an incidence of taxation such as he considered fair. This, however, is a very different thing from realising the necessity for establishing Socialism.
If Mr. Ward’s statement that there is no earthly reason why the peasant should not realise the necessity for the abolition of exploitation is true (and he would be on safer ground in telling us that he knows of no reason rather than affirming non-existence dogmatically) we can, at all events, give him ample and cogent reasons why the peasant of Russia is not likely prove an easy convert to Socialism.
Speaking generally, he has had land enough to enable him produce part of his living, but so little as to compel him to work for wages also. The ruling powers have put upon his shoulders enormous taxation, amounting in some cases to 90 per cent. of the produce of his land. To pay these taxes he has been compelled to mortgage his future labour upon terms of almost incredible brutality. So sooner or later the peasant’s awful slavery has culminated in the loss of all he possessed, and commonly with him making the acquaintance of the tax-gatherer’s knout.
What is likely to happen when the Socialist missionary begins to expound the “simple principles of Socialism” to these men ? The sources of all their troubles, as far as they can see, have been the tax collector and the usurer. They know that, given an economic holding, that is, enough land to provide for their needs, and relieved of the incubus of the taxes, and set free from the grasp of the usurer, whose toils they are already in, they have no difficulty in gaining their livelihood. The exploitation of the factories they could hardly understand, and could hardly be expected to be deeply interested in if they did. To talk to them of the socialisation of the means of production would be like talking astronomy to a monkey. Their own solution to their own troubles stands too near, is too clear, simple, and sure, for them to be able to see beyond it. All they want is possession of the land and freedom from crushing taxes, and so plainly would this present itself as the cure for their troubles that the Socialist propagandist would have a almost hopeless task to convert them to his views.
What could you offer the Russian peasant in the name of Socialism that he would appreciate? Education for himself?—He would not consider it worth the trouble; for his children?—He would think them better at work than wasting their time over that for which they have no use. Art?—it would be an unknown language to him. Leisure?—Ah! he could understand that, but who could convince him that by making his land the property of the community and forcing him to surrender to the community the products of his toil, he was going to get more leisure ?
It is not the man who produces everything for himself that you can convince of the need for Socialism (for in fact it is not necessary to him) but the man who produces nothing for himself —which is what we meant when we said that only those to whom the world is necessary can be ripe for Socialism.
This brings us to our correspondent’s attempt to get a cheap sneer out of our statement that the Russian peasant’s wants end with his few simple tools and his boots. But in the original text that statement followed immediately upon the reference to the products of the factories quoted by Mr. Ward, while the words which immediately follow were : “All else, practically, they produce for themselves.” This context leaves no doubt as to our meaning, and shows our critic’s quotation to be utterly dishonest. There is, of course, the alternative that he is a fool, but it would be uncomplimentary to assume that.
If Mr. Ward thinks that the Bolsheviks have been able, in the short time at their disposal, to find and train the scores of thousands of speakers who would be necessary to reach this vast mass of semi-barbarian humanity, scattered in tiny villages through immense distances, with bad means of transit in the summer and no chance to speak in the winter, then, frankly, we do not. And if they had found them we are sure, judging from our own experience of the enormous labour of converting to Socialist assent much more suitable material, that they would need many years of toil even to break down fierce and general opposition. The more clearly they made the peasants understand that they proposed to make their land communal property, the more furiously would their resentment burn.
Like most of our critics upon this matter, Mr. Ward safely assumes this and supposes that. He tells us that “it would be folly not to imagine that revolutionaries of the quality of our Russian comrades have not produced a workable scheme of co-operative farming as a transitional measure.” Some people, of course, think it folly not to imagine anything that will help their argument or cover their lack of it.
Lastly, “the supineness and cowardice of the workers of Western Europe,” or, to put it more correctly, their political ignorance, is just one of those important factors which must enter into the calculations of level-headed revolutionaries of Russia and this country alike. The recent elections, both in this country and in Germany, shows the depth of this political ignorance, and a great responsibility rests upon those who would lead the Bolsheviks to rely upon assistance that they cannot receive, and a spirit of revolt in other countries which does not exist.