Marxism and Russia
Mrs. Barbara Wootton has a reputation as an economist and is accepted by many people as an authority on the theories of Marx. She holds views on the relationship of Marxian theories to the social system in Russia which are fairly common. In the Highway, organ of the Workers’ Educational Association (December), she sets out to interpret Russia for the benefit of non-Russians who wish to understand what is going on in that country.
Her explanation is a simple one:
“The Soviet Mind is a single mind. It is this which gives life in present-day Russia its peculiar flavour. … In other countries no such common collective purpose is known, unless it be the purpose of making war. . . . The Soviet mind not only knows what it is after; it is also after very strange things. . . . These strange things are, of course, nothing less than those embodied in the philosophy called Marxism.”
Mrs. Wootton describes briefly some of the strange things. Among them is concentration on increasing the productivity of industry, what she calls “the glorification of economic output.” This, she says, leads the Russians to esteem sobriety because the sober worker has a bigger output. He must shun “licentious pleasures.” He must get up early and be punctual.
Another of the strange things is that the Russian child is taught to study phases of the class-struggle in other countries, but not in Russia. (According to Mrs. Wootton the children are taught that the class-struggle no longer exists in Russia.)
These and various other examples are given by Mrs. Wootton to “illustrate the extraordinary unity and consistency of Soviet ideas in every field.”
The whole of this is rubbish. There is no “common collective purpose” in Russia. The “strange things” are not strange. They are perfectly familiar to every student of capitalism everywhere, and Marx is not responsible for them.
Let us first take the “single mind” of Russia. Not a week passes without authoritative reports of the shooting or imprisonment of peasants and others who have come into conflict with the Russian Government. Frequent armed punitive expeditions are sent against rebellious groups of private peasants or members of collective farms. Dissident Communists are disgraced, exiled and imprisoned. At the moment a wholesale purge of the Russian Communist Party is taking place. The “single mind” is that of the Communist officials who control the vast repressive forces of the State. The appearance of unity is like its counterpart in every other country: it is imposed by those who have power on those who have not. Mrs. Wootton’s analogy of the alleged “common collective purpose” of the nation making war is not a bad illustration of the absurdity of her argument. The war-making governments had to use conscription, supported by intensive lying propaganda and the savageries of military discipline to drive millions of unwilling or indifferent men into the trenches. Mrs. Wootton thinks that this is a common collective purpose. It did not look like that to the conscripts.
Then for the boosting of big output. Here Mrs. Wootton herself has to admit that the Russian “strange thing” bears a resemblance to the propaganda used in the U.S.A. before the present depression. She might also recall the official British “increased production” campaign of 1919-1920, backed by politicians in the three big parties (Labour included) and made the subject of innumerable newspaper articles, coloured posters in the streets, platform speeches and divinely-inspired sermons in the pulpits of churches of every denomination.
Then there is Mrs. Wootton’s discovery that in Russia the children are taught to ignore the class-struggle at home and fix their eyes on the shocking state of unrest abroad. This is precisely what happens in every capitalist country. We are allowed to know that there were class struggles in the past and class struggles in benighted foreign countries, but the educational system does not recognise the existence of a class struggle here and now. There is no need to deal with her belief that the class struggle has disappeared from Russia. The rulers of that country officially admit that it is more acute than ever. That is why they have to depend for protection on their huge police and military forces, and that is why, in spite of Mrs. Wootton’s nonsense, they do not trust to the “common collective purpose” supposed to have been derived by the Russian population from the theories of Marx.
Anyone acquainted with Marx’s writings would know how he denounced the inhumanity of capitalism, sacrificing the comfort and health of the workers in order to build up huge production plants for the profit of the investors. Yet Mrs. Wootton holds Marx responsible for precisely the same process imposed on the Russian workers by the dictatorship. While the majority of Russian workers tighten their belts the home and foreign bondholders get their 10 per cent, or more on their investments out of the proceeds of the workers’ labour, and specialists and bureaucrats draw their high salaries.
Mrs. Wootton shows by her article that she knows little of Russia, not very much about capitalism elsewhere, and understands nothing at all of Marx. Her views are not in themselves of special importance, but unfortunately her misrepresentations of Marx are widely held and do great harm to the Socialist movement.