Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
MORE than six years have elapsed since the downfall of the autocratic régime in Russia. Many changes have since taken place in Russian life, not only external changes in constitution and legislation, but also internal ones in the class and social structure of the Russian community.
Under the autocracy the dominant and directing rôle belonged to three basic social strata: the nobility, the wealthy bourgeoisie, and the bureaucracy.
The nobility counted as the ranking class, and the tsars liked to say: "I myself am the first nobleman of the Russian Empire." Through the process of history this class had come into possession of enormous wealth in land--about one-third of the whole area under cultivation. But the nobility were not an entirely homogeneous group, either from an economic or from a politicocultural point of view. This was the case because alongside of the noble aristocracy, who were for the most part titled and in possession of large estates, there was a nobility of owners of medium sized and small estates running down to the freeholders (owners of a single farm) who could hardly be distinguished from the ordinary peasants. There was also another kind of stratification representing the modern spirit. For some time there had been an increasing group of the nobility who were trying to modernize their agricultural methods by introducing improved machinery, rotation of crops, fertilizers, industrial farming, cattle and horse breeding, etc. This section of the nobility had progressive, liberal and at times even democratic and populistic tendencies. And this was by no means solely because they were better educated and more cultured than the old-style gentry--the "buffaloes," as they were nicknamed later when, having organized and come out into the political arena, they surprised everybody by their antediluvian views.
The fact was that in its economic policies the autocratic government had to manoeuvre between the interests of commercial industry on one side and the country's agricultural welfare on the other. The upbuilding of a Russian machine industry, for instance, demanded a protective tariff; but this was a handicap to the progress of agriculture, with the latter's demand for better and cheaper foreign machinery and implements. The antagonism between the sugar-refiners (organized into a syndicate) and the sugar-beet growers assumed a somewhat different form. Here the autocratic government, determined by all means to create a strong national industry, gave decided preference to the industrial over the agricultural interests, while endeavoring to compensate the land-owners by special favors, privileges, and even by direct subsidies.
This sort of thing created a split in the land-owning nobility. A part of them liked nothing better than to be in the position of honorary wards of the state; they carried on their husbandry in routine fashion and at random, renting their land to the peasants or cultivating it by means of peasant labor--exploiting like usurers the peasants' need for land. This was the easier because at the time of the abolition of serfdom the land-owning nobles had been intentionally left in possession of important perquisites such as the ownership of forests and pasture grounds which were utterly indispensable for the peasants; hence the survival of certain peonage forms of peasants' work for the proprietors.
The other section of the landed proprietors looked with shame upon these "odious privileges" and were disgusted by the exploiting methods of agricultural husbandry; they murmured against the absolutistic government and its one-sided protection of the industrial bourgeoisie, and they attempted in the field of local administration, through the zemstvos, to come into closer contact with the peasants and to guide them.
At that time it used to be said in Russia that there were "noble noblemen" and "zemstvo noblemen," the one fiercely reactionary and absolutistic, the other liberal and inclined towards constitutionalism, the one blindly loyal after the manner of the Prussian agrarian junkers, the other quasi-democratic, at times even flirting with revolutionary parties. The leaders of the first group were at the head of the parties of the right, including the "black hundred;" the leaders of the second group were connected with and influenced largely the political outlook and the programs of the so-called Kadet Party.
During the period of the Kolchak, Denikin, Wrangel, and other similar movements, Europe was surprised to see that the distinction between Russian liberalism and the most stubborn Russian reaction had almost vanished and that the erstwhile enemies of autocratic days had become allies. Both alike had become partisans of a peculiar Russian pseudo-bonapartism, champions of military dictatorship, and when they suffered defeat in their efforts to realize their aims they both perished. In Russia they today are completely disintegrated and have ceased to exist as organized parties, and those who have emigrated abroad are in a similar state of dissolution and decay.
The explanation of this phenomenon lies in the fact that the Russian revolution has been above all an agrarian peasant revolution. It has proceeded elementally, from below. The revolution has destroyed all forms of land-owning, except that of the peasant working on the land. The more liberal landed proprietors turned out too weak to demonstrate their utility to the peasant, whether from a political or an economic point of view. The peasant's age-long hatred of his former serf-masters was presently enlarged to include all the nobility, and at times even all the "neat looking gentry" whose hands were not callous with toil. The muzhik, the "taciturn of the ages," the enigmatic sphinx, showed his real face. And there was revealed in him, alongside of his vague and unsatisfied yearnings for a higher truth and justice, a veritable sea of hatred which presently burst out into a flood of vengeance for ages of oppression and suffering.
Then it was that a real spiritual catastrophe took place in the ranks of Russian liberalism. At times even the best of its leaders did not grasp that the influence of the three years of world war had made itself felt, slowly but surely lowering the value of human life and loosing the beast in man. They simply concluded that our people were like a wild beast, and therefore needed a tamer.
This was the peculiarity of Russian pseudo-bonapartism as expressed in the rising of numerous generals, each of whom undertook to play the part of "supreme ruler" at the time of the civil war. It was a peculiarity which, contrary to the expectations and prophecies of Europe, brought it to ultimate defeat instead of victory. French bonapartism originated from a revolution of which it was the product and consummation. Napoleon was a pupil of Robespierre. The revolutionary army which had conquered all Europe made him ruler of France. The Russian candidates for the role of Napoleon came nearer to the generals of the Vendee; like these, their relations to hostile Europe were those of stipendiaries; there were grouped about them, for the most part, social elements who were "everything in the past." The fraction of the democratic and even of the moderate socialistic intelligentsia which believed, by analogy with the French revolution, in the inevitable victory of these dictators, and which was getting ready to play the part of the legal opposition to them, discredited itself completely in the minds of the people and ended with a fiasco even more pitiable than had been that of the French Girondists.
As for the Russian bourgeoisie, it is significant that in their own days they had yielded preëminence in the ranks of the liberal opposition to the zemstvo nobility. Their political character (perhaps it would be more correct to say their unpolitical character) was conditioned by the peculiar development of Russian capitalism, which had followed the course laid down by the imperial government. Its existence was stimulated not only by means of a protective tariff and duties, but by more direct support; government orders, subsidies, premiums, a norm of production and prices sanctioned by the authorities guaranteed minimum dividends. The Russian bourgeoisie had truly an "unwritten constitution" of its own--its stock exchange committees, its congresses and associations of manufacturers, its committees which often participated in the drawing up of industrial legislation. It possessed a multitude of ways of bringing pressure on the government, but always so to speak by the back door.
In France the bourgeoisie had said, by the lips of Sieyès: "What is the third estate at present? Nothing. What will it be? Everything." In Russia, one of the prominent representatives of the plutocracy, during the piping times of autocracy and general absence of political rights, calmly gave utterance to the well known phrase: "There is nothing the Russian bourgeoisie cannot do."
Hence follows the fundamental contradiction in Russian capitalism: its specific gravity in the general system of the national economy and production was quite small. At the same time, strange as it may seem, it stood higher than German or even American capitalism in the concentration of its organization. This enabled many of its enterprises to attain the last word of western technique as regards apparatus and equipment. Nevertheless, Russia remained an industrially backward country. The isolated flourishing industrial oases were surrounded by a primitive cultural and economic desert.
Politically, the Russian bourgeoisie was likewise isolated. Russian liberalism was not of its creation and was in a way hostile to it, being based on the zemstvo nobility and the moderate democratic section of the intelligentsia. Nor did the bourgeoisie predominate in the Russian conservative circles; there the leadership was in the hands of the agrarian junkers and the higher bureaucratic elements. All the attempts to create a purely bourgeois party were wrecked by the political inertia and lack of political coherence among this class. The rare exceptions, prominent leaders of industry, men of strong character and political temper (described by Gorki) who in their protest against the stifling influence of absolutism went so far as to sympathize with and even assist the revolutionaries, were nothing but the stray swallows who do not make a spring.
The Russian bourgeoisie was unable either to lead the masses of the people, staggering under the age-long burden of oppression, or to attract the support of the intellectual and moral flower of the nation, the intelligentsia. The rich luxuriant development of Russian capitalism, like the similarly colossal growth of Russian militarism, took place at the cost of the systematic weakening of its own foundation, i.e., its toiling agriculturalists. The impoverishment of the villages set in. This threatened a curtailment of the home market, which meant the more to Russian industry since access to foreign markets was barred by the competition of the more powerful capitalism of Germany, England and Japan. Russian capitalism was characterized by a particularly unfavorable proportion between the usual negative destructive features on the one hand and positive creative ones on the other, present in various degrees in every national capitalism. And the more unfavorable that ratio became the more difficult it was for Russian capitalism to find advocates and champions in the intellectual flower of the nation, and the easier it was to find critics and opponents. This is why among the Russian intelligentsia there was revealed such a predominant, almost epidemic tendency towards socialism.
The foregoing presents the explanation of the extraordinary weakness shown by the Russian bourgeoisie in the face of the Bolshevist onslaught on its position. It was able to offer hardly any resistance. It was beaten almost without a struggle. The ease of the victory amazed the victors themselves. This victory, however, had been fully prepared by the previous course of events.
The World War had strengthened still more the dependence of Russian capitalistic industry on the state, while at the same time tremendously increasing its own profits. Also the war swallowed up all its productive capacity. The villages suffered from a marked diminution in their supply of articles of industry--iron ware, agricultural implements, etc. In consequence, the technique of land cultivation was impaired, the more so as it was precisely from the villages that the larger part of the adult male population was taken for the needs of the front. And although it would seem that, owing to the blockade, there ought to have remained in Russia an immense quantity of the products previously exported, the progressive impoverishment of the village, both in man power and in technique, coupled with the tremendous growth of unproductive consumption, soon outweighed this advantage. A food crisis set in and became acute. At first it was supposed to have been caused by the reluctance of the peasants to give up their grain in exchange for depreciated paper currency, accompanied by an increasing difficulty in obtaining the necessary industrial products in return. The state thereupon took over the grain, and fixed prices were introduced. But the crisis grew worse and manifested itself in a decrease of the areas sown. Raw material for the factories became more and more insufficient. Even as it was, the productive capacity of the metallurgical industry was overstrained by the demands of the war; transportation repairs grew worse and worse; a fuel crisis completed the disorganization of the railroad traffic. The whole national economic mechanism became subject to distressing jerks and interruptions. The cost of living increased. The war, like an enormous pump, was draining the last resources of the impoverished country.
Everything has a limit. In a fight to the finish somebody must give in first. This naturally was the fate of the country with the weakest and most badly organized economic structure. In the March revolution of 1917 Russia experienced the first feverish convulsion of its national organism.
For a time it seemed that the revolution was not only a symptom of disorganization, but also a means of overcoming it. In the beginning the revolution was almost bloodless; there was no outburst of elemental destructiveness. The toiling democratic elements without dispute left the power in the hands of the well-to-do, and the latter formed a coalition government with the socialists. All classes of the population were called to wide activity, to cooperate in the attempt to combat the disorganization. But at this point it became clear that the Russian bourgeoisie could not or would not cooperate in the common effort. Its behavior was beneath criticism, not only from the higher standpoint of the interests of the commonwealth, but even from the standpoint of its own class. One can rightly say that the Russian capitalists completely divorced their interests from those of Russian capitalism.
The vast majority of the capitalists simply did not desire to exchange their previous secure existence under the wings of absolutism for the responsible and arduous task of combatting the impending economic decomposition of the country. Accustomed to a sheltered existence and to guaranteed dividends, they preferred to "get out" in time. Long before the Bolshevist Revolution, Russian capitalists manifested a growing tendency quietly to realize their capital into cash, convert it into foreign exchange, and ship it abroad, where it became affiliated with the international capital which at the time was making enormous profits out of the half-contraband trade with the warring countries. The escape of Russian capital from the country compelled the Provisional Government to restrict private exchange operations in foreign values. In all this the Russian bourgeoisie, in spite of its patriotic phrases, clearly showed its greed, its shortsightedness, its incapacity for common national achievement. And it was not that the bourgeoisie was repelled by the radicalism of the Provisional Government; later, when the struggle against Bolshevism (and indirectly against all the democracy of workers) was taken up by the counter-revolutionary generals, the latter complained bitterly of the utter indifference of the financial circles who expected salvation from those generals, but would not loosen their purses for the cause.
Thus the old time Russian bourgeoisie preferred to desert from the political and social arena, and did not even always bother to keep up appearances and avoid creating the impression of a previously planned gradual lockout. For instance, a delegation of the manufacturers of the Petrograd district waited on the Provisional Government and, after complaining of the decline in discipline of the workmen and of their exorbitant economic demands, threatened in unambiguous terms the complete stoppage of industry--and this in war time! In Moscow such an industrial magnate as Riabushinski made the famous remark that the workman would forget his exorbitant pretensions when "the bony hand of starvation has him by his throat." The Bolsheviks later made good use of this tendency to industrial desertion as a justification of their arbitrariness in replacing with their henchmen the owners of the factories which they had "nationalized" by a single stroke of the pen.
But if the bourgeoisie put up no real resistance to Bolshevism, the bourgeois economic structure of society did put one up.
The land-owning nobility were eliminated from Russian life easily and irrevocably. This was because they were not an organic part of the economic community. They were not indispensable to the increase in the productivity of agriculture. They had a strong competitor in the peasant who, with the aid of the local agronomical and cooperative society, could carry on his own shoulders the whole burden of the nation's agriculture.
The case of industry was different. There it was easy to overthrow the capitalist, but more than difficult to get along without him. In fact it proved impossible in a country so backward as Russia, with little education and with a proletariat which had not had any opportunity to go through a long schooling of trade unionism and cooperatives where it could learn self-discipline and economic self-organization. The Bolsheviks tried every method, beginning with the anarchistic assigning of full power to the workmen's committees of the individual factories and ending with a centralized, bureaucratic dictatorship exercised from headquarters. Production would not pay for itself, it grew sick, it diminished, it put a burden on the budget of the state. "Expel nature through the door, it will come back through the window." In the end the old owners had to be sought for high and low, and put back as managers in their former enterprises, which were leased to them or granted as concessions. When this, too, proved insufficient, it became necessary to create a form of half-state, half-private capitalism, to establish autonomous mixed trusts.
In the matter of the supply and distribution of products things went even more badly than in that of production. The apparatus for distribution dragged on such a miserable existence that it could never displace the former apparatus for trade. No prohibitions, decrees or executions were of any avail. They only raised the speculator's premium for the risk. Underground trading and the wildest speculation became rampant. The lack of goods only raised the speculator's profit, a good part of which was to go in the form of bribes and graft to the proper controlling and punitive organs. There was a popular joke to the effect that the Bolsheviks succeeded in "nationalizing" one thing only, speculation. Speculation indeed infected everything and everybody. Even the organs of the state, in their mutual dealings, soon adopted the principles of speculative operations, with the usual attributes--large commissions and direct bribes. The spirit of graft reigned over all and the cases brought before courts, each more scandalous than the last, were of no avail and only testified to the utter helplessness of the Bolshevik Government before the actual force of things.
In other words, Russia experienced the broadest imaginable extension of clandestine capitalism. The victory of the Bolsheviks over the bourgeoisie turned out only a victory over the old bourgeoisie. It called into being a new bourgeoisie recruited from all quarters, not excluding the ranks of the governing Communist Party.
Wherein does the new bourgeoisie differ from the old? Is it better or worse? This is difficult to answer in a few words. At any rate the new bourgeoisie has more vitality. It is not used to petting and protection, but to oppression and persecution; it is not debauched by subsidies but is steeled by adversity; it knows all the ins and outs of the Soviet institutions; it is energetic, adventurous, slippery as an eel, enterprising to the point of audacity and infinitely adaptable. It lacks, however, the soundness, self-control and reliability of the old bourgeoisie. No wonder, for it was brought up in an atmosphere of gambling. It is less cultured than the old one, it includes a multitude of unlettered plunderers, upstarts from the very dregs of the populace. These representative of "underground capitalism" from the very nature of their occupations belong to the criminal world. No wonder, therefore, that they are often unfamiliar with the simplest elements of commercial ethics. The old bourgeoisie had certain narrow but persistent moral traditions; the new bourgeoisie is free from all traditions and all morals. It is a power, of course, but brutal and of animal rapacity. Perhaps some time in the future these bourgeois elements may be able to play their part in the economic reconstruction of Russia; at present, however, they are grafters, capable of skimming the cream, but utterly unaccustomed and unsuited to the organization of any stable, solidly founded business demanding a large expenditure of creative energy and conceived on the basis of steady and gradually growing profits.
The old bourgeoisie had in general been conservatively inclined and therefore quickly and naturally became counter-revolutionary, but in a passive and cowardly fashion. As for the new bourgeoisie, it has no political principles and its attitude towards the revolution is twofold. On the one hand, it desires the completion of the revolution and the introduction of stable order of an essentially "bourgeois" type so as to protect its acquired property. On the other hand, it has acquired that property in a far from irreproachable way, profiting not a little from the period of "robbing the robbers" and having warmed its hands at somebody else's house a-fire. For this reason it cannot be over orthodox regarding the sacredness of property, and it is inclined to play with revolutionary phraseology in general and with the right of expropriation in particular. It was born in the time of the Soviet régime, which on that very account it does not reject in principle, like the old bourgeoisie, but accepts as a point of departure. It is trying to "snuggle up to" the men and the institutions of this régime and lead them to a transformation which, from the standpoint of those "snuggled up to," would be rather a deformation. But "snuggling up to" anyone can only be done by an ally, therefore the new bourgeoisie adheres politically to Bolshevism, valuing its ability to establish a strong dictatorial power and noting with satisfaction that that power is gradually exhaling its past revolutionary substance while retaining the form of dictatorship in all its nakedness. The new bourgeoisie wishes for nothing better than to accelerate and assist that natural process. It is quite scattered as yet and unorganized and therefore acts instinctively rather than consciously and systematically. If it knew how to express its aspirations in a formula it would probably give its whole programme in six words: Painless transformation of Bolshevism into Russian-bonapartism.
Is there a chance that on the same basis, i.e., with a new personnel, a class of large landed proprietors may similarly reappear? Does it not exist already in an embryonic stage? Some people point out that alongside of "underground capitalism" there has existed, and exists, a clandestine form of real estate ownership. There is indeed a certain foundation for such a statement. An illicit trade in real estate (particularly farm- and house-sites) went on long after the land had been socialized and the houses municipalized (or rather Sovietized). The former owners, unadapted to the new order of things, were willing to sell for a song their problematic titles to possessions from which they had already been expelled, with a flaming sword like Adam from Paradise. This was their last resource to prolong their half-starved existences. For the enterprising "new rich" these purchases were sometimes a speculation on a possible revolution, sometimes a sort of insurance for "anything may happen." Even abroad people and concerns with an eye on Russia's forest, oil, and other such concessions considered it worth while to find former owners and to obviate any possible legal claims on their part by buying up for a trifle their jus nudum. These buyers, however, these new owners in spe of real estate, do not form a separate class. People are differentiated into classes by the social source of their incomes. But the people who got an income from the clandestine sale of their real estate got one of such low value as to make them proletarians, and the purchasers acquired nothing but a risky hope for the future, a sort of lottery ticket, with the difference that a lottery ticket could be pawned while the illicit deed must be kept hidden to avoid the penalties of the Cheka.
We are thus forced to the conclusion that the class of large landowners in Russia has disappeared altogether, while the bourgeoisie has only renewed its personnel and been driven for a while underground, where, however, it has manifested such strength that it has had to be counted with; and in the end, after the coming in of the "new economic policy," it has had to be legalized in part.
The third foundation of the autocratic régime had been the bureaucracy, closely united by personal ties with the land-owning as well as with the financial aristocracy. The bureaucracy with its strict hierarchy culminated in a sharp summit, the person of the monarch; that summit rested immediately on a camarilla of dignitaries, the "star chamber" as it was termed. The bureaucracy itself was divided, in the first place, into the secular and the spiritual, i.e., the hierarchy of the church which received payment from the state and was no less directly subject to the monarch than any other official department. Secondly, the bureaucracy fell in two divisions, civilian and military.
Bolshevism is particularly proud of having broken up all this apparatus of governing the bodies, souls and actions of the people, and of having filled all posts with men of plebeian origin--in short, of having democratized the machinery of the state. Clearly, however, the plebeisation of the bureaucratic personnel should not be confused with the democratization of the apparatus of administration. Bolshevism, after a short epoch of semi-anarchical proclaiming "all power to the localities themselves," has taken to an increasingly centralized dictatorship. Far from weakening Russian bureaucracy it raised it to a maximum, to an absurd degree. By nationalizing with one stroke of the pen commerce and industry it incorporated into state officialdom all the employees of private enterprises. Everybody in Russia possessing educational or technical qualifications of use to the cultural or economic need of the country was officialized and accordingly riveted to his lot by a "labor mobilization" of a military character.
This was not democratization of the machinery of government. On the contrary it was universal bureaucratization of all the cultural and economic functions, a bureaucratization based on increased centralizing and stern mechanical discipline. Granted that in the beginning the posts were filled in large measure by "fresh elements," these very soon, however, fell with extraordinary quickness under the influence of their new situation and developed a corresponding psychology. They proved the biological law that the function creates the organ. That is why the "commissared workers" have often been more hated by workingmen than have all other commissars. In the inner circles of the ruling communistic party the question of bureaucratic degeneration, raging like an epidemic among its members, soon became a permanent topic of the day. But this degeneration facilitated an accord with those of the old bureaucracy who had assumed in the beginning an attitude of sullen opposition, but who presently had seen the old familiar conditions reappear under the new sign and had realized that the practical thing to do was to adapt themselves and put on the new coat of political paint of triumphant but very rapidly fading communism.
The renovation of the personnel of the bureaucracy naturally produced a change in its quality. The old bureaucrats were solemnly deliberate, pompous, addicted to routine, but in their way reliable, specialized and highly qualified, though unaccustomed to think for themselves or display initiative or creative power. They had developed only the qualities of the subordinate.
The swarm of new elements were of an altogether different psychological type. Prior to the revolution they had been far removed from practical life; the better among them were theorists, idealists, romanticists, doctrinaires; the worse were bohemians, dilettantes, men of superficial education without self-discipline and disposed to be foolhardy. If the old bureaucrats had been slow of comprehension, always behind the times and ossified by routine, the new ones knew no limit in their reckless experiments on the living body of the land and the people and turned everything upside down, showing tremendous energy which was rendered futile by their utter incompetence. The result was sheer chaos. To cure this evil somehow the Bolsheviks were forced, here too, to hunt up the expelled specialists and to become practically dependent upon them. This has taken place not only in the civilian but in the military branch, where newly fledged "red commanders" have been trained by tsarist generals, among whom there are many chameleons from the counter-revolutionary camp, attracted by the lure of career and pay. It is self-evident that all these "hangers on" have a mutual attraction, political and ideological, with the new bourgeoisie, and cherish even more definitely bonapartistic hopes.
It remains to notice that the Bolsheviks, thanks to the separation of the church from the state, have eliminated the clergy from the ranks of the bureaucracy. By proclaiming that religion is the opium of the people, by conducting at state expense an anti-religious propaganda, by organizing processions to caricature the ritual, by exhuming the relics of the saints in an attempt to discredit the church, and by using the calamities of the famine as a good pretext to seize the treasures of the churches and monasteries, the Bolsheviks had hoped to administer a deadly blow to their enemy. They have achieved, however, practically the opposite results. The old clergy, in spite of the primitive religiosity of the masses, had no influence whatever in the parishes, and were spiritually inert and lethargic. The Bolshevik persecutions have waked them up. The church has become spiritually alert and has begun to fight for its existence. The Bolsheviks, generally well meaning towards the intelligentsia, transformed them into state officials and thus all but killed their free creative spirit. In the case of the church they adopted the opposite tactics; out of ill will to the clergy they de-bureaucratized them and sent them back into the ranks of the liberal professions, into the class of the free intelligentsia. And from a half dead body the church became once more a spiritual force. Then the Bolsheviks tried to split it. They found in it a number of opportunists who were willing to come to an understanding with the Soviet régime and to proclaim a church reform under the protection of the Cheka. Again they only helped cleanse it of its servile elements.
Moreover, the Orthodox clergy had looked on the Roman Catholic church as a "brood of hell," and on Roman Catholics almost as pagans. Under the influence of persecutions there has been growing a tendency to what until recently had been but the dream of a few far-sighted religious philosophers, a union of the two churches. This idea has always been cherished by the Vatican. If such a union ever takes place, Europe will owe it in large measure to the Bolshevik policy which has the knack of bringing results directly opposite to the intentions of its authors.
To the triple alliance of the nobility, the plutocracy, and the bureaucracy, which had marched under the banner of the monarchy, there succeeded after the Russian revolution another triple alliance; the revolutionary intelligentsia, the industrial proletariat and the toiling peasantry.
The intelligentsia has been the best able to comprehend and take to heart the interests of the state and nation in their totality.
Bolshevism, being the incarnation of the revolution in its most demagogic form, has more than once trampled on these interests and has imperiled the very existence of the state. Hence the fierce anti-Bolshevism among the majority of the Russian intelligentsia, a feeling which has easily taken the form of fear of the revolution in general, of deep disappointment in the people and of loss of faith in democracy. It was the intelligentsia who, long after the Bolshevik victory, by passive resistance and by boycotting the new power prevented the victors from getting hold of the machinery of the state as well as of the organs of self-government. In this struggle the intelligentsia was doomed to be defeated. For its audacity it paid a cruel price, often with the lives of its members. Later the revolutionary legislation destroyed the material foundations of its existence. The general nationalization did away with its former sources of income. Then the labor mobilization dragged all into the net of Soviet officialdom. Then the policy of reduction of staffs and of denationalization again threw the intellectuals out onto the street. No class has been reduced to such a bitter and hopeless economic situation as the intelligentsia. And now, starved, ragged, demoralized, used to compromise and humiliation, forgetful of its higher aspirations in the bitter struggle for a loaf of stale bread, it has become disillusioned and unpolitical and has lost its confidence and self-respect. Its level of culture and its special qualifications have also suffered. This is the general picture. Of course, there are elements among the Russian intelligentsia whose moral temper have become steeled under the blows of fate, and who have risen to actual heroism. But these are white ravens.
There has grown up also, alongside the old professional intelligentsia, a new semi-intelligentsia of a purely plebeian, peasant and proletarian origin. It has shown remarkable vitality in the struggle for existence, and under superficial culture contains many elements of psychologically "healthy barbarism." They are vital elements of the future in spite of their unattractive present. They are far from having said their last word, and will have to be reckoned with.
The industrial proletariat had, prior to the revolution, played a part quite disproportionate to its small numbers. This was largely due to the fact that Russian industry, while of no great magnitude, was highly concentrated, geographically and in its organization. As the workmen were crowded into a few districts they acquired far greater strength than if they had been more equally distributed throughout the land. This facilitated the carrying out and triumph in Russia, undeveloped industrially though she was, of a plan to institute what so far has not been realized elsewhere, the dictatorship of the proletariat.
During the war a stupid experiment was performed on the Russian industrial proletariat. The military specialists of the autocracy did not expect a prolonged war which would exact the use of all their technical development, a sound organization of the rear, and all the strength of those engaged. Accordingly, in the mobilization for the front they did not spare the valuable and none too numerous skilled workers and technical industrial personnel. On the other hand, the subsequent forced growth of the military industries created a new improvised working class gathered from anywhere, undisciplined, without experience and without traditions of organized and sustained class struggle. As it became dissatisfied this new proletariat showed itself extremely impulsive, changeable, unreliable, utterly lacking in discipline, and full of naïve faith in "the social miracle." Its socialism was usually of the primitive distributing and receiving variety. This section of the proletariat furnished the Bolsheviks with a great many of their fiery, but half-baked and unreliable adherents.
Then came the period of the Bolshevik experimentation in industry, resulting in the wholesale stoppage of the factories. The working class began to run away from the industrial centers and to turn to agriculture and village trades. Indeed almost all would have dispersed had not the government taken action when it perceived the danger of losing the ground under its feet, of remaining with a proletariat dictatorship but without any proletariat. Enterprises were therefore kept going at a loss to the state; factories worked only spasmodically. A part of the proletariat became more or less the state's "free boarders." Another section managed to exist by illegally or semi-legally appropriating to their own use a part of the goods they produced and selling them on the market at speculation prices, or else by manufacturing, with the state's instruments and raw materials, small articles also to be sold in the market. Certain of the workmen enjoyed various privileges (granted them as proletarians by the new régime) such as exclusive rights to make trips to rich grain regions to purchase and bring back flour which could be sold at exorbitant prices. A part joined some of the food-collecting or controlling detachments and the like, which lived by direct or indirect robbery of the peasants. The laborers were thus condemned to the role of small traders or speculators or robbers. The best of them, mainly members of the true, competent, prewar working class despised these make-shifts and escaped to the villages, disregarding the threats of penalties for "desertion." The worst became more demoralized, and formed a sort of civilian pretorian guard of the ruling party. Some of them joined the communists or became "sympathizers," others with greater cleverness formed groups of "honest non-party workers" and sold their support to the ruling party for "considerations." Life, however, is weeding out these unsound elements from the working class and a sound core is again gradually being formed.
As for the peasantry, it certainly gained a great deal during the first period of the revolution. The peasants had considerably enlarged their holdings, they no longer had to pay tribute to landlords, and likewise they stopped paying taxes, which was easy enough to do while anarchy reigned in the country. To a certain extent they became more homogenous as they divided the land with more equality, but inasmuch as its socialization had been brought about unsystematically, by means of disorderly seizure, there were considerable differences between local groups. Further equalization was done very rudely by the so-called committees of the poorer peasantry.
Meanwhile the Bolsheviks, after finishing their expropriations in the cities and almost destroying industry, were in the position of a power which had deprived itself of objects that could be taxed. They had to turn to the villages. A system of extortions served to reduce the peasants to a minimum level of property. The villages tried to foil the authorities by passive resistance. They had no use for the non-productive city with its worthless paper currency. When they were required to surrender as a tax to the state all the surplus of their produce they retorted by reducing the area under actual cultivation and doing away with the "surplus." The Soviet authorities at first replied by calling everything above the "hunger ration" a surplus and hunting out and confiscating all stores of grain. The villages, left without any reserves, were doomed to famine at the first poor crop, but that did not cow them. Then the Bolsheviks tried to take a step still further. They declared sowing of the land to be an obligation to the state. This was a return to ancient conditions and the villages talked of Soviet serfdom. The utopia of state regulation of the whole economic existence of the peasantry collapsed from its own ineptitude and from the dreadful catastrophe of the famine. With the "new economic policy" in the cities a gradual inevitable liberation of the villages set in.
All this time, under the flag of the proletariat dictatorship, a fierce struggle was going on between the city and village. The villages lived through an epoch of broad-cast but isolated insurrections which were drowned in the blood of the peasants. From open rebellion they changed to the warfare of guerilla bands. To cope with this the Bolsheviks reintroduced the mediaeval custom of making the whole village responsible for its individual rebels, and thanks to this barbarous method they triumphed, but the village fell back on its last suicidal means of revenge, further reduced the sowing area and starved itself to starve the city. The Bolshevik Government had to beat a retreat before this hara-kiri by famine.
Much as the villages suffered in this obstinate struggle, often as they met with defeat, the last word was theirs, and they realized it. The specific weight of the peasantry as a productive force has markedly increased in consequence of the general breakdown of industry and the eclipse of culture. Granting that the vitality and tenacity of the village is that of the lower organisms surviving under conditions where higher ones could not exist, it matters not. The village knows that everything depends on it, on its productive forces. This growth of its economic importance stands in flagrant contradiction to its political subjugation and lack of rights. Such a contradiction can not continue long. The possessor of economic strength must have political power. This is why Bolshevism, alien to the village and unable to establish proper relations with it, is doomed to permanent instability in spite of all its physical victories.
Such are the changes which have taken place in the class structure of revolutionary Russia. They offer the key to the understanding of contemporary Russian political parties.
The former masters of the situation, the monarchists, are recruited from the old nobility, the old bourgeoisie and the old bureaucracy. They are déclassés, dragging out their existence in exile, a motley crowd, who have forgotten nothing, learned nothing and are in a state of political decomposition. They are split into sects, each with its own pet candidate for the Russian throne, which is thought of by nobody in Russia except by a few old men tottering to their graves. The exiles of this sort have no political prospects nor tactics, unless we designate as tactics their attempts to stab in the back their neighbors from the democratic parties, whom they cannot forgive for their participation in the revolution before the Bolshevik period.
The new lords of the situation, the Bolsheviks, were joined at the time of the October Revolution by a great crowd of adherents from the masses, but their numbers consistently dwindled as their illusions were shattered by reality. This withdrawal of the disappointed masses was interrupted by the attack of the counter-revolutionary generals, whose attempts to restore the buried social and political past revived Bolshevik sentiment in the community and drove back to the Soviet fold many who were frightened at the prospect of a reactionary victory. Only after the final liquidation of the dictatorship of generals and of foreign interventions in their favor did the delayed process of debolshevisation of the workers set in again. This is going on at the present time, and has reached a stage where the Bolsheviks have no other support than their bayonets. But as to bayonets, there is an old saying that, whatver else one can do with them, one cannot sit on them.
The new bourgeoisie, the hangers on from the ranks of bureaucracy and the turn-coats from the camp of its former enemies, are now the allies of Bolshevism and, in secret, its would-be successors. Their political philosophy is based on the hope that the Bolsheviks are unconsciously fulfilling an historical mission: to establish firm authority, to expand the territory of Russia (too much reduced in the time of war and anarchy), to reestablish her military power, and to improve her international position and prestige. After the bankruptcy of the Bolshevik social utopia, and the successful solution of the national problem, their work will have been completed. And unless they know enough to change over to a bourgeois-bonapartistic form of government they will have to yield their power to another group, their present allies.
The once great Constitutional Democratic Party (Kadets), the party of people's liberty, in losing the liberal zemstvo nobility, has lost its old social foundation, without which it would have been a party of professors and lawyers, a staff without an army. It is not surprising, therefore, that in Russia it has disappeared as entirely as if it never had existed. Its remnants, cast out abroad, have split up; some in their thorough hatred of the revolution have united their fate with that of the Russian Koblentz. Others, led by P. N. Miliukov, are in search of a new social basis, and are making an effort to win the sympathy of the future power, the peasantry.
The Social Democrats (Mensheviks) are appealing exclusively to the section of the proletariat that was not affected by the process of disintegration during the past few years. Numerically small, and with the Bolshevist reign of terror still fresh in mind, they are at present more than a political-social club than a party, championing Marx's teachings in their pure form as against Bolshevist distortions. Powerless for anything except legal opposition, the Mensheviks constantly emphasize the loyalty of their attitude towards the existing authorities, and until recently have endeavored to exist as a legally recognized party. The latest persecutions, however, have driven them underground, though without affecting their tactics.
The party of the Social-Revolutionaries, which at the elections for the Constituent Assembly in 1917 received more votes than all the other parties combined, remains as before the most serious rival of the Bolsheviks. As before, it tries to unite under the same banner the industrial proletariat, the toiling peasantry, and the idealistic section of the intelligentsia. Defections from its left wing towards a compromise with the Bolsheviks, and from its right towards an alliance with the military dictatorship, have only served to strengthen and solidify it. The attempts of the Bolsheviks to discredit it at the great Moscow Trial had the opposite effect and decidedly strengthened its popularity. This explains why the blows of Bolshevist repression are unceasingly directed against it. But it is growing larger and stronger in spite of them.
Besides these old important parties there are several small detached groups; and there are also the embryos of future new parties. The two chief of these are worth noting. One is made up of elements hovering between the Kadets and the Social-Revolutionaries, not unlike the Radical Socialist party in France; the other is narrowly peasant-agrarian, on the lines of the German "Bauernibündler." Both of them hope to get recruits from the villages and from sections of the intelligentsia which have hitherto been leaning towards the Social-Revolutionaries. However, both of them exist as yet only in project, and are privately talked about only among backsliders among the Social-Revolutionaries and Kadets who have been compelled to swerve a little toward the left.
These are the changes in the class-structure of pre-revolutionary Russia. These are the political groups and regroupments. Without a clear understanding of them it is impossible to understand political happenings in Russia or to see into the future.