Judging Russia (1927)

Judging Russia (1927)

There is no question but that a government can carry on business. Every government does. Whether governmental industry compares in efficiency with private industry depends entirely upon what we call efficiency. And here it is and not elsewhere that the Russian experiment is astonishing and new and of fateful importance to the future civilization. What we call efficiency in America is judged primarily by the resultant profit to the rich and only secondarily by the results to the workers. The face of industrial Europe and America is set toward private wealth; that is, toward the people who have large incomes. We recognize the economic value of small incomes mainly as a means of profit for great incomes. Russia seeks another psychology. Russia is trying to make the workingman the main object of industry. His well-being and his income are deliberately set as the chief ends of organized industry directed by the state.

One can stand on the streets of Moscow or Kiev and see clearly that Russia has struck at the citadels of the power that rules modern countries. Not manhood suffrage, woman’s suffrage, state regulation of industry, social reform nor religious and moral teaching in any modern country have shorn organized wealth of its power as the Bolshevik Revolution has done in Russia. Is it possible to conduct a great modern government without the autocratic leadership of the rich? The answer is: this is exactly what Russia is doing today. But can she continue to do this? This is not a question of ethics or economics; it is a question of psychology. Can Russia continue to think of the State in terms of the worker? This can happen only if the Russian people believe and idealize the workingman as the chief citizen. In America we do not. The ideal of every American is the millionaire—or at least the man of “indepentent” income. We regard the laborers as the unfortunate part of the community and even liberal thought is directed toward “emancipating” the workingman by relieving him in part if not entirely of the necessity of work. Russia, on the contrary, is seeking to make a nation believe that work and work that is hard and in some respects disagreeable and work which is to a large extent physical is a necessity of human life at present and likely to be in any conceivable future world; that the people who do this work are the ones who should determine how the national income from their combined efforts should be distributed; in fine, that the Workingman is the State; that he makes civilization possible and should determine what civilization is to be.

For this purpose he must be a workingman of skill and intelligence and to this combined end Russian education is being organized. This is what the Russian Dictatorship of the Proletariat means. This dictatorship does not stop there. As the workingman is today neither skilled nor intelligent to any such extent as his responsibilities demand, there is within his ranks the Communist party, directing the proletariat toward their future dictatorship. This is nothing new. In this government “of the people” we have elaborate and many-sided arrangements for ruling the rulers. The test is, are we and Russia really preparing future rulers? In so far as I could see, in shop and school, in the press and on the radio, in books and lectures, in trades unions and National Congresses, Russia is. We are not.

Visioning now a real Dictatorship of the Proletariat, two questions follow. Is it possible today for a great nation to achieve such a workers’ psychology? And secondly, if it does achieve it what will be its effect upon the world? The achievement of such a psychology depends partly upon Russia and partly upon Western Europe and the United States. In Russia one feels today, even on a casual visit, the beginning of a workingman’s psychology. Workers are the people that fill the streets and live in the best houses, even though these houses are dilapidated; workers crowd (literally crowd) the museums and theaters, hold the high offices, do the public talking, travel in the trains.

Nowhere in modern lands can one see less of the spender and the consumer, the rich owners and buyers of luxuries, the institutions which cater to the idle rich. One sees in Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev neither first-class hotels, nor luxurious restaurants, nor private motor cars, nor silk stockings, nor prostitutes. All these insignia of the great modern city are lacking. On the other hand, the traveler misses the courtesy and savoir faire which one meets in the hotel corridors of London and Paris; one misses the smart shops and well-groomed men and women who are so plentiful in Constantinople and Berlin. Does this mean that Russia has “put over” her new psychology? Not by any means. She is trying and trying hard, but there are plenty of people in Russia who still hate and despise the workingman’s blouses and the peasant’s straw shoes; and plenty of workers who regret the passing of the free-handed Russian nobility; who miss the splendid pageantry of the Czars and who cling doggedly to religious dogma and superstition. There must be in Russia dishonest officials and inefficient statesmen. But here Russia has no monopoly. There are those in Russia and out who say that the present effort cannot succeed for exactly the same reasons that men said the Bourgeoisie could never rule France.

But it is the organized capital of America, England, France and Germany which is chiefly instrumental in preventing the realization of the Russian workingman’s psychology. It has used every modern weapon to crush Russia. It sent against Russia every scoundrel who could lead a mob and gave him money, guns and ammunition; and when Russia nearly committed suicide in crushing this civil war, modern industry began the industrial boycott, the refusal of capital and credit which is being carried on today just as far as international jealousy and greed will allow. And can we wonder? If modern capital is owned by the rich and handled for their power and benefit, can the rich be expected to hand it over to their avowed and actual enemies? On the contrary, if modern industry is really for the benefit of the people and if there is an effort to make the people the chief beneficiaries of industry, why is it that this same people is powerless today to help this experiment or at least to give it a clear way? On the other hand, so long as the most powerful nations in the world are determined that Russia must fail, there can be but a minimum of free discussion and democratic difference of opinion in Russia.

There is world struggle then in and about Russia; but it is not simply an ethical problem as to whether or not the Russian Revolution was morally right; that is a question which only history will settle. It is not simply the economic question as to whether or not Russia can conduct industry on a national scale. She is doing it today and in so doing she differs only in quantity, not in quality from every other modern country. It is not a question merely of “dictatorship.” We are all subject to this form of government. The real Russian question is: Can you make the worker and not the millionaire the center of modern power and culture? If you can, the Russian Revolution will sweep the world.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1927. “Judging Russia.” The Crisis. 33(4):189–190.