1950s >> 1958 >> no-652-december-1958

Editorial: Russian Riddle Explained

Winston Churchill, in one of his little oratorical exercises, once described Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” If he meant that it is hard to foresee where Russian internal strains and stresses will thrust out next, and the precise form they will take in foreign policy, it could have represented his true opinion. But on a rather larger scale he was doing himself an injustice. With his background and outlook, and his own easy disregard for political party shibboleths and loyalties when British capitalist interests are concerned, he could have no difficulty in understanding long-term Russian state policy and actions: one representative of aggressive imperialism can hardly fail to appreciate his opposite numbers in Russia.
But if Churchill chose to write himself down as more ignorant than he is, there are many others who claim to understand about Russia much more than they do.
These reflections are provoked by an article by Emanuel Litvinoff, reviewing E. H. Carr’s Socialism in One Country (Manchester Guardian, 14th November, 1958). Carr’s book describes developments in Russia in the years 1924-1926. His theme is that “Mother Russia was digesting the Bolshevik Revolution.” “As the Soviet. Government became more and more openly the heir of Russian state power and attracted to itself traditional feelings of Russian patriotism, it proclaimed its mission in terms which conveyed to sensitive ears unmistakable echoes of the Russian past  . . .  the cause of Russia and the cause of Bolshevism began to coalesce into a single undifferentiated whole.”
It is on this theme that Carr explains the passing of the “Westerners,” Trotsky, Lunacharsky and others and the rise of Stalin with his isolationist slogan “Socialism in one country.”
Emanuel Litvinoff accepts this proposition and opens his review by recounting a remark made to him by a Communist friend who is troubled about the Russian tyrannies. He said: “For me the important question now is whether these arise out of something inherent in the Communist movement, or whether they are specifically Russia.”
Carr and Litvinoff and the “Communist” friend are all wide of the mark. Of course, different countries have different histories, different geographical features, different institutional developments and different traditions, but in their study of these the men we are criticising have been so obsessed with the detailed differences that they cannot see the underlying capitalist development that marks Russia and the West, and the whole of the modem world of Capitalism. They cannot see that the democracies of Western Europe had a history that mirrors Russia’s present stage of institutional evolution. They have been so busy studying the varieties of leaf and flower that they cannot even see the trees, let alone the wood.
What basis is there for their repetition of the popular misconception that Russia is “Socialist,” or for their new misconception that Russia is not Capitalist but ‘‘Russian.”? Apart from the political dictatorship—which they could study in the past of Britain and Western Europe—where are or ever were these so-called Socialist features of Russia? Commodity production, the production of goods for sale and profit, the existence of a great propertyless wage-earning class, the huge national debts and bond-holding, the banks and insurance institutions, the inequalities of income and the complex taxation systems, the preoccupation with Capitalist investment, foreign trade and the military struggle for territories and the control of trade routes—these are the features not of Russia as such or America or Britain as such, but of world-embracing Capitalism.
Their defence for their unsupportable notions always is that Russia has gone further in State intervention, in the form of the great nationalised industrial and commercial monopolies. This, of course, is the crux of the question and the source of their confusion. These features are not Socialist, but Capitalist: State Capitalism is not Socialism and cannot be shown to be anything else, but a form of Capitalism and one familiar enough in all countries.
And if thrown out of that indefensible position, they retire to their second line of defence, i.e., that “Socialism” now means “State Capitalism,” because they and so many others profess to think that it does, they have to explain away the fact that the early Bolsheviks in Russia never held that view, but always lined themselves up with the Marxian conception which flatly rejected it.
What has happened in Russia is not the mere continuation of Russian tradition under another name, nor the development of a different “Socialism” (which would be like deciding to call chalk, cheese), but the emergence of Capitalism, growing more marked with the passage of time, in place of feudalism. Russian evolution is Russia’s delayed version of the Revolution which brought Capitalism to supremacy in France a century and a half ago.
The turn of events in Russia is not the failure of Socialism or its corruption by Russian tradition, but the total failure of the Bolsheviks to impose Socialism on an unready country, against the wishes of the population who were not and are not Socialists.
The S.P.G.B. foretold this failure at the start, forty years ago. How long will it take the Carrs and Litvinoffs to see the riddle as it really is, no riddle at all?