Max Nomad, Aspects of Revolt, 1959.


In a letter to Lord Holland, written in 1822, Byron dropped the following prophetic remark: "It were a difficult point to decide whether religion, education or literature, in the hands of power, would tend most to its stability. It is certain, however, if by any means it could obtain all three, its influence would be unbounded, and a nation so enslaved would enjoy only an automaton existence, following every impulse of its rulers."

The poet was no doubt thinking of a possible return of the Dark Ages with their cultural totalitarianism; though he also might have had in mind Plato's ideal, as presented in his Republic. He hardly thought of Russia -- yet it may be safely assumed that this passage is not frequently quoted behind the Iron Curtain.

It took a few decades after Byron's death before writers of the most different outlok began to express similar fears at the thought of the triumph of certain radical tendencies. There were among them philosophers like Herbert Spencer whose "coming slavery" has become a winged word used by all opponents of social change, anarchist men of action like Michael Bakunin, Marxist theorists like Rosa Luxemburg and Julius Martov, and philosophers like Bertrand Russell.


Curiously enough, it was Lucien de La Hodde, journalist, poet, conspirator and stool-pigeon of the thirties and forties of the last century who, out of the depths of his cynical "realism," was able to see through the veil of propaganda phrases and to catch a glimpse of the true aim of the movement which he was to betray. In his History of Secret Societies, published in 1850, a book which combines keen insight with vicious personal slander, he speaks of the "true principle" of the revolutionary communist declasses, which was "to place all the possessions of the country in the hands of the State, and then turn the State over to the leaders of the masses."1 It was, in its most succinct form, a prediction of what was to happen in Russia seventy years later, when the industries and the rest of the national wealth were taken over by the government, and the government became the exclusive property of a party of professional revolutionists.


Nearly a quarter of a century after the appearance of Lucien de La Hodde's book, Michael Bakunin, the founder of the modern anarchist movement, made his prophetic prediction as to what a "proletarian government" championed by Karl Marx would be like. That government, he said, would be in the hands of a "privileged minority," and he continued:

"That minority, the Marxists say, will consist of workers. Yes, perhaps of former workers. And these, as soon as they become rulers or representatives of the people, will cease to be workers and will look upon the entire world of manual workers form the heights of the State. They will no longer represent the people, but themselves and their own pretensions to rule the people. Whoever has any doubts about that does not know human nature. But these selected men will be ardently convinced, and at the same time learned socialists. The term 'scientific socialism' which continually occurs in the works of the Lassalleans and of the Marxists, proves that the alleged People's State will be nothing else but the quite despotic rule over the popular masses by a new and not very numerous aristocracy of real or spurious savants. The mass is uneducated, which means that it will be completely free from the worries of government; that it will be included in the ruled herd....

"They [Marx and his friends] will concentrate the reins of government in a strong hand, because the ignorant people are in need of quite a firm guardianship. They will establish a single State Bank that will concentrate in its hands all commercial-industrial, agricultural and even scientific production; and the mass of the people will be divided into two armies, the industrial and the agricultural, which will be under the direct command of government engineers who will constitute a new privileged scientific political class."2

This was written in 1873, The resemblance of Stalin's finished product to the prophetic vision conjured up by one of his countrymen so many years ago is almost uncanny.


Eleven years after Michael Bakunin, in 1884, Herbert Spencer, in his Man versus the State, made a prediction which in its essence is identical with that of the great Russian rebel, though it may be assumed as an absolute certainty that the English philosopher never heard of Bakunin's pamphlet which was at that time and for many decades afterwards available only in Russian. Says Spencer:

"The socialist speculation is vitiated by an assumption like that which vitiates the speculations of the 'practical' politician. It is assumed that officialdom will work as it is intended to work, which it never does. The machinery of Communism, like existing social machinery, has to be framed out of existing human nature; and the defects of existing human nature will generate in the one the same evils as in the other. The love of power, the selfishness, the injustice, the untruthfulness, which often in comparatively short times bring private organizations to disaster, will inevitably, where their effects accumulate from generation to generation, work evils far greater and less remediable; since, vast and complex and possessed of all the resources, the administrative organization, once developed and consolidated, must become irresistible___

"... The final result would become a revival of despotism. A disciplined army of civil officials, like an army of military officials, gives supreme power to its head___

"... It would need but a war with an adjacent society, or some internal discontent demanding forcible suppression, to at once transform a socialistic administration into a grinding tyranny like that of ancient Peru; under which the mass of the people, controlled by grades of officials, and leading lives that were inspected out-of-doors and in-doors, labored for the support of the organization which regulated them, and were left with but a bare subsistence for themselves___

"... The defective natures of citizens will show themselves in the bad acting of whatever social structure they are arranged into. There is no political alchemy by which you can get golden conduct out of leaden instincts."

(While Spencer's prophecy fits to a nicety what was to happen nearly forty years later in Communist Russia, it does less than justice to the concept of those democratic socialists who reject the idea of one hundred percent nationalization of all economic activities. However, in Spencer's time the view he criticizes was accepted by practically all Socialists except those -- mostly Anarchists -- who believed in a voluntary cooperative form of public ownership.)


The Marxist assertion that the expropriation of the capitalists implied the abolition of exploitation was contested by the Polish-Russian revolutionary thinker Waclaw Machajski (see Chapter V of this volume) in his Um-stvennii Rabochii (The Intellectual Worker) published between 1899 and 1905. In Part II of Volume III, entitled Socialist Science as a New Religion, he anticipated the coming rule of a government bureaucracy which would absorb in itself all the educated elements of the capitalist system that preceded it. Says the Polish heretic in the prophetic pamphlet written nearly two decades before the Bolshevik office-holders and managers stepped into the shoes of the expropriated Russian capitalists:

"The expropriation of the capitalist class by no means signifies the expropriation of the entire bourgeois society.3 By the mere elimination of private employers the modern working class, the modern slaves, do not cease to be slaves condemned to life-long manual labor. The national surplus value produced by them does not disappear, but passes into the hands of the State, as the fund for the parasitic existence of all exploiters, of the entire bourgeois society. The latter, after the elimination of the capitalists, remains the same society of educated masters as it was before -- the world of the "white-hands.'4 It remains the owner of the national surplus value which is distributed in the form of high salaries paid to the intellectual workers. Due to the institute of family property and to the family form of life that fund is maintained and reproduced in their offspring."

While Machajski spoke in general terms about the bureaucratic ideal of the modern radical intelligentsia, other Russian revolutionists voiced their prophetic warnings about the real political aims of Bolshevism which had just made its appearance as a separate faction of Russian Marxism. In 1904, Leon Trotsky, then still bitterly opposed to Lenin, wrote a pamphlet entitled Our Political Tasks of which later, during his association with Lenin, he did not like to be reminded. That pamphlet contains a sentence which, in its profound insight, outweights anything he was to write during the rest of his life. For in it he said, thirteen years before the Bolshevik Revolution, that a party organization, such as contemplated by Lenin, would inevitably lead to a personal dictatorship of the top leader.5 Sixteen years later, in a speech delivered on March 31, 1920, Lenin calmly stated that "the Soviet Socialist democracy is in no way inconsistent with the rule and dictatorship of one person; the will of a class is at times best carried out by a dictator, who alone will accomplish more and who is often more needed."6

An attitude quite similar to Trotsky's was, at about the same time, taken by George Plekhanov, founder of Russian Marxism and teacher of both Lenin and Trotsky. In his Diary of a Social-Democrat, a periodical in which he expressed his personal views, as opposed to those of the two warring factions within the Russian Marxist camp, he forecast not only the dictatorship of Lenin, but apparently even the personal despotism of Stalin, who at that time was still altogether unknown. "In the long run," he said, "everything will revolve around one man who will concentrate all power in his hands."7


This much for the writers who foresaw what was to come, at a time when the Russian Revolution was still in the realm of wishes and hopes. When that dream came true at last, there were those among the radicals and the liberals who visualized the dangers inherent in the repressive measures adopted by the new rulers. Their predictions and warnings struck a discordant note in the general rejoicing. But if their prophecies erred in any way, they did so on the side of understatement rather than exaggeration. One of the first warners was Rosa Luxemburg, near-Bolshevik Marxist of the extreme Left, a prominent theorist and leader of German and Polish Socialists, who, in a pamphlet written in 1918, expressed her apprehensions as to the potentialities of the budding tyranny. That pamphlet, entitled Die Russische Revolution, (Berlin, 1922), contained the following passages:

"Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party -- however numerous they may be -- is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of 'justice', but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when 'freedom' becomes a special privilege....

"... With the repression of political life in the land as a whole, life in the Soviets must also become more and more crippled. Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of the press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinions, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless idealism direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading, and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously; at bottom, then, a clique affair -- a dictatorship, to be sure; not the dictatorship of the proletariat, however, but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, that is, a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense, in the sense of the rule of the Jacobins..."


In an article printed early in 1919 Julius Martov, the leader of the Menshevik wing of the Russian Marxists, after quoting all the ultra-democratic, libertarian promises made by Lenin a few months before the seizure of power by his party, gave the following diagnosis and prognosis as to the direction in which the new regime was moving:

"The 'Soviet State' has established neither electiveness nor recall of any public officials. It has not suppressed the regular police... It has not done away with social hierarchy in production. It has not lessened the complete subjection of the municipal administration to the central government. On the contrary, as it develops, the Soviet State shows a tendency in the opposite direction. It shows a tendency towards intensified government centralism, a tendency towards the utmost possible strengthening of the principles of hierarchy and compulsion. It shows a tendency toward the development of a more specialized apparatus of repression than before. It shows a tendency towards the complete freedom of the executive organs from all control by the voters."8


One year after Martov's article was written, that is, early in 1920, Bertrand Russell went to the land of the Soviets, his heart full of enthusiasm for the new world in the making. He expected to see in operation that ideal of democracy which since time immemorial has been the dream of philosophers. A few extracts from his impressions published in the July 31 and August 7, 1920 issues of The Nation (New York) show that to the great thinker a few weeks fully sufficed not only for discovering the naked truth but also for perceiving all those tendencies which, in the 1930s and 1940s, were to attain their full development. Says Bertrand Russell:

"... As yet the men in high place in Russia are mostly very ardent Communists, who in former times showed a readiness to sacrifice everything for their beliefs. These men will obviously in time give place to others less devoted, more opportunist, who will regard the situation, as most practical politicians do, from the standpoint of practical advantage. Such men, if they could find means of carrying the army with them, would have little difficulty in decreeing large salaries and special privileges for the governing aristocracy. With success would come increased opportunities for corruption, and of exploitation of undeveloped countries. I cannot believe that the temptations would be permanently resisted... Almost all men, when they have acquired the habit of wielding great power, find it so delightful that they cannot voluntarily abandon it. If they are men who were originally disinterested, they will persuade themselves that their power is still necessary in the public interest; but, whether with or without self-deception, they will cling to power until they are dispossessed by force. This is bound to happen to the communist minority when, as in Russia, it acquires a military dictatorship originally intended to be temporary. Given a few energetic and able men who have a great empire and a great army to play with, it is psychologically all but certain that they will find some excuse for not sharing their power more than they can help. And those who have most power, always can, if they choose, also have most wealth."


1 Lucien de La Hodde, Histoire des Societes Secretes et du Parti Republican de 1830 a 1848, Paris, 1850, p. 265 (Book II, Chap. 3).

2 Mikhail Bakunin, Gosudarstvennost' i Anarkhia (Statism and Anarchy) in Izbranniye Sochineniya (Selected Works), Petrograd-Moscow, 1922, Vol. I, pp. 233-237.

3 In Machajski's terminology, "bourgeois society" stands for both the property-holders and for the non-capitalist owners of education, the intellectual workers, in other words, the so-called new middle class.

4 The equivalent of "white hand" is often used in Russian to designate all those who are not engaged in manual ("black") labor.

5 The exact wording of that passage in Trotsky's pamphlet entitled "Our Political Tasks" was as follows: "The party organization at first substitutes itself for the party as a whole, then the Central Committee substitutes itself for the organization; and finally a single "dictator" substitutes himself for the Central Committee."

6 V. I. Lenin, Collected Works (in Russian), Moscow, 1925, Vol. XVII, p. 89.

7 Dnievnik Sotzialdemokrata (Diary of a Social Democrat), quoted in Boris Souvarine's Staline, Paris, 1935, p. 67.

8 Included in J. Martov, Mirovoi Bolshevism (World Bolshevism), Berlin, 1923, p. 37. The article in question was part of a series printed in Mysl (Thought), April-July, 1919, published in Kharkov, in the Ukraine, at the time when that section of the former tsarist Empire was a democratic republic not yet occupied by the Soviet Army. The pamphlet was published in English under the title of The State and the Socialist Revolution, New York, 1938.