Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bolshevism and the West, Russell's Rebuttal

Negative Refutation (pages 66-78), by Bertrand Russell

Mr. Nearing assumes that Western civilization will collapse, and then assumes away any objection to the notion that there might be barriers remaining to a Bolshevik-style transition to socialism. I (Russell) am unconvinced about the inevitability of Western collapse, though surely it is a contingency worth taking into account. I think it would only happen in the wake of military defeat, and I doubt all Western countries would simultaneously suffer a military defeat. The US is unlikely to be defeated in a war, and hence a change in US economic arrangements will have to occur outside of a crisis.

Gradual methods can institute socialism in the West. Revolutions are too destructive of complex, industrial societies. The cataclysm would be so painful that the survivors wouldn’t turn to any rational plan of orderly government. Fortunately, even in times of peace and prosperity, Western populations can be convinced of the need to adopt a socialist economy.

Again, the only route to a revolutionary crisis in the West is through an unsuccessful war. That outcome can be avoided by not going to war. “Of course, if you embark upon war, it may be successful war. That is perhaps just a little bit better than unsuccessful war [p. 71].” But better to avoid the risk altogether. You can’t get to the happy socialism that Mr. Nearing hopes for through the gate of war. “Human society moves towards good things slowly, towards bad things fast [p. 72].”

Peaceful propaganda appealing to human intelligence will have a long-term, salutary effect in convincing Western nations to adopt socialism. People do not have to be on the verge of starvation before accepting changes that will make them better off. Rich people take chances to make themselves still richer. The same energy and initiative can spread more widely and impel the poorer classes to improve their lot. Industrial society is young, and our thought patterns remain those appropriate for agricultural communities. But these thought patterns will adapt themselves to the circumstances of industrialization, and institute the changes that both Mr. Nearing and I (Russell) support. An attempt to force the matter by grabbing power during a crisis might be momentarily successful but will not be lasting: people have to want the change. [Here Russell echoes a point he made in Proposed Roads to Freedom.] The Bolsheviks will prove to be like Cromwell – people were forced to sample Puritan ideas, and decided they didn’t care for Puritanism. “It is no use to try things until people are more or less ready for them [pages 74-75].”

Mr. Nearing seems to adopt a Hegelian-Marxian perspective that indicates sharp, logical changes from one stage of development to another. The rise of Darwinism and evolutionary thought suggests that human societies have a more gradual flowering, one that does not proceed in any pre-ordained direction. Revolutions have a way of changing the names of things without changing the underlying reality. The ownership of land by peasants is likely to be the only element of the Bolshevik revolution that will survive – and this reform could have been accomplished with much less suffering. The West should realize that socialism, like all great changes, can only be introduced slowly, and without the drama of a revolution.

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