Letter to the Editors from the April 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard
To The Editor.
Sir,—In this month's Socialist Standard I read an unsigned article entitled "Where we Stand." I take it for granted that it is the object of the writer to outline the S.P.G.B. position in relation to "Bolshevism" and kindred subjects.
Perhaps you will also permit a little criticism from an ignorant wage slave, one, at least, upon whose shoulders the mantle of the Pope has not fallen.
This article is apparently intended to impress upon its readers that the Bolshevik Government in Russia is not in any way Socialist, in consequence if that is where WE are to stand I maintain that WE shall be anything but Socialists. In the words of the S.P.G.B. Declaration of Principles,
"Socialism is the establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community."
That is Socialism, and that is what the Bolsheviks are now doing. It is obvious to all reasonable men that it cannot all be done at once, especially considering the horrible mess Czarism and Kerenskyism left Russia in.
Therefore I maintain that Bolshevism is Socialism in embryo, and in truth Bolsheviks are Socialists in practice.
Our friend says: "On what do the Bolshevist leaders depend for their strength ? Certainly not on a class-conscious working class." Perhaps in next month's "S.S." he will explain how it is that the workers of Russia overthrew the Czarist and then the Kerensky Government if they were not class-conscious. They must have distinctly realised the difference between Czarist Feudalism, Kerensky Capitalism, and Bolshevik Socialism. In order to achieve this they must be class-conscious. There is no necessity for one to read the whole mountain of Socialist literature in order to become class-conscious. The idea is quite easy of understanding, and the Russian peasant, although illiterate, probably thinks more clearly than the alcohol-drenched, narcotic-poisoned, syphilitic, football-playing, novel-reading, mis-educated mob of OUR civilisation. The peasant living in his village commune knows the value of self-help and mutual aid. He knows also his miseries are due to the class above him. His tutors have been of the class war, bitter experience, the knout, the Cossack, and the bayonet. He is class conscious in the real sense of the word; that is why he flung out Kerensky & Co.
Our writer goes on to tell us "the peasant cannot understand Socialism." I have discovered the only thing necessary to overcome in the teaching of Socialism is prejudice. It is unnecessary for the peasant to read vols. I., II., III. of "Capital," but merely to realise, as he undoubtedly does, that the reason why his lot is so deplorable, or was, is because his home, his tools, his life, his labour and the land on which he works is owned and controlled by a robber baron who grinds him down for the product of his labour power. He knows also the only way to achieve salvation is by means of the Social Revolution and the establishment of that system advocated, taught and fought for by Lenin known as Socialism.
The Russian peasant understands not the theories of philosophy, economics, and science, but he has tasted the fruit of Socialism, and in consequence is a Socialist. Our friend further says: "How is it likely that they" (the peasants) "can conceive any advantage arising from common ownership of the land?" Isn't it perfectly obvious to all that the peasant must immediately see the advantages accruing from the social ownership of land? He who has been enslaved in serfdom from time immemorial by the despotism of a land-owning gang of archdukes under Czarism, cannot see the advantages accruing to his own freedom of organisation and control through the Soviet. Our friend's ideas of the establishment of Socialism are also very curious. He seems to imagine Socialism will spring up in a night all the world over like the proverbial mushroom.
I presume Socialism will grow and spread, experience victories and suffer defeats like all other social growths, and at last become a world owned by workers. The Russian Socialist Commonwealth is the first great blow but even now it is extending ; in every country Bolshevism is showing its head. On p. 54 our friend sneers at the idea of Industrial organisation, but I would point out that in the Socialist Commonwealth we must have the workers committees in every workshop ; it is the only way for the workers to democratically control their work. We want political and industrial control. If the writer wishes to maintain the parliamentary system of perennial cackle about nothing in particular, he is not a Socialist. As a closing word I protest against the mean, belittling attitude to the Bolsheviks maintained by some members of the S.P.G.B.
At the present moment Bolshevism is the grandest movement of history in progress before our eyes, a proletarian revolution. The expropriators have been expropriated ; the workers of Russia have united and broken their chains. When the Russians read of this Pecksniffian criticism, not a word of praise or appreciation, they will say, are there any Socialists in the S.P.G.B.? Let this Philistine remember those who are real Socialists, those who have sacrificed all for the Cause and some who have died for it—Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxembourg, Franz Mehring, Clara Zetkin, and last but not least, Lenin and Trotsky.
—Yours, "A Wage Slave."
Like most of the Bolshevist supporters in this country, our correspondent reveals himself a genius for loose thinking, translating itself into random utterance. Take, for example, one of his earliest assertions : "In the words of the S.P.G.B. Declaration of Principles, 'Socialism is the establishment of a system of Society,' " and so on. A person who can imagine that our Declaration of Principles contains any such statement may well say that the mantle of the Pope has not fallen on his shoulders. The "Pope's mantle" has graced the shoulders of many a rogue, but never a fool. The establishment of a system of society, no matter on what basis, is not Socialism. It is an act—Socialism is not an act, it is a system of society.
One who is ready to write so loosely, and with such small regard for the truth, finds it easy enough to show that Socialism has been established in Russia. He simply declares it for a start, and then embarks or a course of fiction to ''lend an air of verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative." So it is "unnecessary for the peasant to read . . ' Capital,' but merely to realise, as he undoubtedly does, that the reason why his lot is so deplorable, or was, is because his home, his tools, his life, his labour, and the land on which he works is owned and controlled by a robber baron . ." and "He who has been enslaved in serfdom from time immemorial," and so on.
Now that might pass as fiction of the kind which is not "founded on fact." But in real life "He who has been enslaved in serfdom from time immemorial" was emancipated from serfdom over 50 years ago in the first place; his "home, tools, labour and the land on which he works" are not "owned and controlled by a robber baron" in the third place, and even if the peasant were still living under feudalism his home and the rest of it would not be owned and controlled by a robber baron, for such conditions belong, not to feudalism, but to chattel-slavery. Might not the facts as here out lined make some difference in what it is necessary for the peasant "merely to realise" ?
Of course, one who cannot see the difference between a peasant and a serf; one who fails to understand that the conditions of feudalism are not those of chattel-slavery, is hardly likely to appreciate the point that a social order is a system, in which every part stands as cause and effect to the other parts. Hence his difficulty.
Our correspondent, rising to olympic heights of irony, suggests that we should, by way of supporting our contention that the Bolsheviks do not depend on a class-conscious working class for their strength, explain how it is that the "workers of Russia overthrew the Czarist and then the capitalist Kerensky Government if they were not class-conscious." The answer to that is that they did nothing of the sort. If our critic has any proof, nay, even any evidence, that what he suggests is correct, we challenge him to produce it. As a matter of fact it is admitted by the staunchest friends of the Bolshevist movement that the election for the Constituent Assembly (an election based upon a popular franchise) resulted in a bourgeois majority. So far is it from being true, therefore, that the working class overthrew the Kerensky crowd, that the working class voted the bourgeoisie into power, and the Bolsheviks it was who squashed the Kerensky crowd by suppressing the Constituent Assembly.
"Isn't it perfectly obvious to all that the peasant must immediately see the advantages accruing from the social ownership of land?" asks our critic. Well, in the first place there is no evidence to show that the Bolsheviks have attempted to place the land on a basis of social ownership. The reports of those most favourable to the insurrection even, fall short of this, and claim that each peasant may own as much land as he can till without hired assistance. That is not social ownership, but the very reverse. Socialisation of the land would take away from the peasants the land which they previously owned, and seemingly it was so "perfectly obvious" to the Bolsheviks that such a proposal would not commend itself to the peasants that they dared not attempt to proceed to it. When the Russian serfs were "emancipated" and became peasants the trouble was that, in order to compel them still to work for the nobles, they were given insufficient land to support them. Enormous taxation was superimposed on this. The natural view-point of the peasant is therefore quite clear. His aspirations would be, not in the direction of giving up his little land to society, but of getting more land—an economic holding. In those districts where the mir still exists, and the land is the property of the commune, the opposition would for obvious reasons be even stronger.
There are other points we should like to have dealt with, and had not our correspondent abused our space with a lot of sentimental twaddle we should have had room to answer more fully the wild and unsupported statements he has treated us to. But for the present our space is quite exhausted.