1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bolshevism

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BOLSHEVISM, the name given since the Russian revolution to the form of Communism adopted under the Soviet system of government. Bolshevism as a doctrine and an organization is not of purely Russian growth; it is a branch of European Communism. The development of the latter is discussed in the article Communism. The earliest and most powerful expression of modern Communism is to be found in the Communist Manifesto drawn up by K. Marx and F. Engels in 1847. This Manifesto has remained a kind of gospel for extreme Communists, and its pronouncements served as a guidance in the attempt of the Russian Bolsheviks (Russian for “Majority” party) to create a Communist republic in Russia. Another element in the circle of ideas appropriated by the Bolsheviks was provided by the activity of Bakunin, the indefatigable Russian anarchist, who fought for world revolution in 1849 in Dresden and in 1870 in Lyons, and who passed 12 years of his life in prison and in exile. He was an admirer of Marx's learning and analytical power, but he would never submit to the tyrannical pedantry of Marx's school and stood up for an elemental awaking of revolutionary instincts. State and law were enemies to be fought and overthrown without any regard for tradition or practical considerations. A third element was introduced by the rise of militant syndicalism in France (see Syndicalism). These three currents combined to produce the three fundamental ideas of Bolshevism: the conquest of society by the proletariat class, the power of revolutionary instinct and the dictatorship of a compact minority.

The combination proved admirably adapted in Russia for the practical purpose of the overthrow of the previously existing order. Theoretically it was a compound of contradictory elements. This was clearly discerned and exposed by a leading Marxist writer, Kautsky. He said in his book on the Dictatorship of the Proletariat: — 

“The Socialist party which governs Russia to-day gained power in fighting against other Socialist parties, and exercises its authority while excluding other Socialist parties from the executive.

“The antagonism of the two Socialist movements is not based on small personal jealousies: it is the clashing of two fundamentally distinct methods, that of democracy and that of dictatorship.

“For us, therefore, Socialism without democracy is unthinkable.”

Kautsky had no difficulty in showing that, in consequence of this fundamental flaw, the practical results of Soviet rule were deplorable. It was obliged to work by means of an unwieldy bureaucracy: — 

“The absolute rule of bureaucracy leads to its ossification, to arbitrariness and stultification. The forcible suppression of all opposition is its guiding principle. How can a dictatorship remain at the helm against the will of the majority of the people?

“In circumstances where the majority of the population mistrust the proletarian party, or stand aloof from it, this attitude would be shared by the bulk of the intellectuals. In that case, a victorious party would not only be without great intellectual superiority to the rest of the people, but would even be inferior to its opponents in this regard, although its outlook in general social matters might be a much higher one.

“The method of Paraguay is therefore not practicable in Europe. There remains to be considered the method adopted by Napoleon the First on Brumaire 18 1799, and his nephew, the third Napoleon, on Dec. 2 1852. This consists in governing by the aid of the superiority of a centralized organization to the unorganized masses of the people, and the superiority of military power, arising from the fact that the armed force of the Government is opposed to a people who are defenseless or tired of the armed struggle.

“Can a Socialist system of production be built up on this foundation? This means the organization of production by society, and requires economic self-government throughout the whole mass of the people. State organization of production by a bureaucracy, or by the dictatorship of a single section of the people, does not mean Socialism. Socialism presupposes that broad masses of the people have been accustomed to organization, that numerous economic and political organizations exist, and can develop in perfect freedom. The Socialist organization of Labour is not an affair of barracks.”

No wonder that Lenin and Trotsky were highly incensed by Kautsky 's criticism. They excommunicated him as a traitor to the cause, along with other Socialist leaders. But it was significant that they had to adopt the badge of “Communism” in order to mark their precise position in the field of rival doctrines. They had ceased to be Socialists in the accepted sense of the term.

The course taken by Bolshevist rule in Russia is narrated in the article Russia.