All millennial programs, religious or secular, imply a change for the better from current phase of human nature, but is implication was disregarded by the impatient disciples of Karl Marx. The man himself was a mathematician, demoted to the perfectly correct theory that wo plus two equals four, but dogmatically md to the fact that he was working with numbers of much less value than two. Human nature was too petty; the expected result was too grandiose. The solution his o lowers frequently find is the tragic dictum of pedagogic rage: Rub it out! Liquidate.
The scroll of soviet experiment has now been unrolling for a sufficient time to allow a more comprehensive view than was afforded by the first glimpses of the promised land in the making, and the design that has come in sight is not one of Marxian communism. Points of divergence from that pattern, although surrounded by almost impenetrable screens of explanation and apology, may now be noted. One of the first was on the question of money. In the first flush of victory over the old order, and as soon as the task of liquidating probable and possible dissenters allowed, money was abolished by decree. It then began to appear that money, the symbol of greed, was also a time-tested substitute for bookkeeping. Bogged down among their ration cards and clothing accounts, the commissars heaved sighs of relief as the rubles went into circulation a second time. The explanation of this abandonment of Marx, if my memory is correct, was to the effect that the people were not ready, not sufficiently educated—an explanation that has since become familiar.
Then came the N.E.P. Human ordering of supply and demand failed, and minor capitalism was allowed to creep back. Small merchants were permitted nervously to purvey articles which according to the Marxian program should have been distributed by the government—“to everyone according to his needs”—and had not been. This was openly admitted as an “economic retreat,” a 3-foot drop down the ladder in preparation for a 4-foot upward surge. The people, again, were not sufficiently grounded in Marx.
The question began to obtrude: “How much grounding in Marx is necessary in the case of, for instance, a bricklayer who needs shoes and lacks faith in the shoe- distributing qualities of the regime?” His ability lies in the building of walls. His need is shoes. The evil of the ages whispers to him “No shoes; no wall.” The Commissar of Morale urges faith. The police smile, and show him the muzzle of a machine gun. He works, but with failing zest. Multiply this case by several million, and the beautiful picture of the communist paradise fades. Instead of the proletariat working for the love of work, with implicit faith in the ordering of its future, we find the workers laboring under an increasingly strong compulsion, tempered by relentless, dingdong propaganda.
Stakhanovism comes, the speed-up, followed by another retreat, not so widely heralded. Different tasks now command different pay, and this is decidedly a retrogression. To everyone, not according to his needs, but according to his ability.
So, even under the conditions which communists set down as necessary for the growth of communism, i.e., among an industrial proletariat, the heart has been cut out of the communist creed in order that industry may continue to exist.
The impact of communism on the Russian countryside, culminating in rigidly enforced centralization, is intensely interesting. Professor Dealey has pointed out in one of his lectures on China that the continued existence of that country as an entity has been largely due to the decentralization of Chinese life. The farming families, the groups of village elders, are the sound integers forming a nation which is pliable but phenomenally resistant. Decentralization, in a nation of sufficient bulk to make it an indigestible morsel for a foreign conqueror to engulf at one bite, is a guarantee of persistence.
In a healthy farming country, this decentralization has always taken the form of the minor capitalism of the small farmer. He who disrupts the normal life of a countryside, organized by natural law and given tone by the altruistic level of the inhabitants, may expect (if I may be Irish for a moment) unexpected results. Taken out of their natural routine and placed in a centralized organization, with its complicated overhead demanding a delicate balance, there will be a chaotic period of readjustment should the mechanism not work. Disregarding this danger, the soviet government proceeded with a strong hand.
The Russian farmer was a hard nut to crack. He was land-hungry. Life came from the land, and he wanted land. Communism gave it to him, with a great parade of the dispossession of the nobility. Various talkative prophets circulated through the countryside constantly voicing some nonsense about common ownership, but he had land. He could reach down and feel it. He was satisfied. Then came agents to take a large share of his produce for the city people, the “workers.” This was evidently a tax. Well, there had always been taxes. He hid some of his grain.
Soldiers appeared. Those farmers who had waxed rich in the last few years must necessarily have been cheating, else they could not have become wealthy. The kulak was published to the world as no nice person, and liquidated. The bulk of the farmers, not being wealthy, acquiesced. Then came the collective farms.
The farmers, suspicious of the disciplined life of the collectives, and having an unreasoning feeling for their own small holdings, were slow in joining. They were finally coerced. Their cattle, they were given to understand, would be taken by the government. They would be compensated in various ways, by the use of tractors, by issues of clothing—perhaps. To everyone according to his need—perhaps. The farmers began to eat the cattle. The ensuing meat shortage in the cities is now history, and, from information now coming to light, a subterranean form of war began between the factories and the farms. The government, obsessed with the idea of machines, dazzled by the fact that the Moscow subway was really operating, favored the factories. The peasants of many districts slow-timed and reaped barely more than enough for themselves. The government, in retaliation, forcibly collected most of the harvest. The cities were fed. Famine came to the farms, and the peasants died by thousands.
Russian farming is now in the hands of disciplined collectives. The system is working satisfactorily, but the land is not the promised land of Marx. An older and more workable theory of government ls in use, one which was in vogue during the building of the pyramid of Cheops.
It is an interesting point that the first intensive course in Marx should have been given to the people of Russia. There has always been an innate tendency in the Russian character toward communal life of one sort or another. Communal sects and semimonastic communities have flourished in the land. The Russian Soul, that item so well publicized twenty years ago when the writing fraternity of the world ailed the new era of Kerensky, seems to have been formed chiefly of generosity and unworldliness. Studies of military character bear out this communal trend—we are a familiar with Du Picq’s observations on the behavior of Russian troops at Inkerman, coming under sudden fire and huddling in groups instead of scattering. The action of the Russian reserves at the Yalu, defying orders and joining the engaged line as soon as fire opened, was apparently due to an inborn desire for nearness. Other nationalities tend to seek elbowroom, but not the Russian. Nelson’s memorandum on the projected battle with the Russian fleet showed him aware of this trait. He intended to outmaneuver them; whereas his custom when facing the French was to attack at once.
Oswald Spengler gives, as the “symbol” of the Russian, the limitless plane with its implication of universal brotherhood, in opposition to the constructive, thrusting quality which he sets down as the chief characteristic of Western Europe. In fact, wherever one turns, evidence and opinions can be found upon which to base the conclusion that, if Marxian communism could have succeeded in any country in the world, it could have come to pass most easily in Russia.
The past twenty years have shown a progressive jettison of Marxian trappings. Leaders of international communism, in various select hide-outs, shout insulting accusations of state capitalism at those who tried to make communism actually work. The evidence in the case points to the fact that it has not been a success in Russia, and the accompanying conclusion is that Marxian communism is unworkable.
In spite of the internal falling-away from Marx, Russian aid continues to be furnished to the communist cause outside of Russia. As Zinoviev and Kamenev are executed, Russian planes are flying in Spain in support of the internationalists. This, apparently, is somewhat of a paradox, confusing until we examine communism, not merely as a theory of government, but as a creed to which enthusiastic followers rally. The religious aspect of communism immediately strikes us.
Karl Marx launched a movement which could be regarded in three ways: as a method of government; as a religion; or as a technique of insurrection. It appeals through one of these three channels to each of its adherents. Those in Russia who regard it as a practicable means of government are either changing their views or becoming very liquid. However, in this world of ours it is very possible for a person to profess a religion and at the same time to balk at a thorough application of his religious principles to his daily life; and it now appears that a similar compart- mentation of religion and government is occurring in Russia. Communism’s campaign against religion—against pre-communist religions, rather—has tended to obscure the picture; but when the Marxists say that religion is the opium of the people, it does not mean that they wish to abolish the opium—they merely desire a monopoly in narcotics.
Viewed from this angle, the present Russian situation is entirely understandable. Russia is a country, with a state religion, which finds it impossible to reconcile the needs of government with the tenets of its religion, but which nevertheless proceeds with an ambitious missionary campaign. Russia is again becoming Holy Russia, though not in the Orthodox sense, and there are signs of the arrival of an accompanying phenomenon. There is a feeling of nationalism in the latest Russian activities. In fact, the connection with the Spanish civil war seems very like one of those international adventures so denounced by communists under the heading of imperialism, though of course it may be merely a form of missionary activity.
Throughout the world there are thousands of scattered communists to whom Russia is forbidden ground, or at least dangerous ground. A great many of these are bitter-enders, no-compromise boys, fanatics who would apply the complete Marxian program to government, regardless of what would happen to the country concerned. However, I imagine that most of them possess a different mental texture, and cherish communism solely for its invitation to revolt. It often happens that a successful revolutionist cannot stand the necessary slow, constructive work that follows revolution, and becomes an outcast from the very regime he was instrumental in establishing. Such men live with, by, and for insurrection, and to such subterranean minds Marx offers a ready textbook. The word “proletariat” carries with it a flavor of discontent, and the
Marxist dictum that the revolution can most readily occur among an industrial proletariat points rather to a discontented than to an industrial section of mankind. These wide-scattered exiles and converts, posing as theorists in good government, are for the most part not even fanatics of the communist world-religion; they are professional exploiters of discontent.
Trotzky in Mexico, biting his beard in chagrin at having figuratively missed his train for America during the recent depression, is a case in point. To cause a revolt, or to ally himself with an insurrection, would be to find himself again the prominent figure he was in 1920. Hundreds of other bitter little men, churned in the bustle of huge populations, find they are noticed by their fellows only when they can appeal to discontent. Through intrigue they obtain fame, and often money. These are the borers-from-within, the international communists.
They are homeless, and doomed to homelessness. Should their intrigues bear fruit their occupation ends, they face the uncongenial tasks of constructive administration, and are presently ejected as revolutionists. If, through a burning belief in Marx, they can forget their years of insurrection, they then face a renunciation of their principles in favor of a workable form of government. Communism itself is homeless, and will remain so until that day in the infinite future when the millennium finally dawns. Even then the poor communists, urging their principles of government, will hear people yawn and say, “We don’t need any government at all. This is the millennium.”
Government is a means to an end, and that end is the preservation of property and order.— Brooks Adams, “War as the Ultimate Form of Economic Competition.”