I Wanna Be Literated #248

I Wanna Be Literated #248

Wednesday, 02 February 2022

The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism
by Bertrand Russell

This is such a special book to me because it combines two things I really love: Soviet history (particularly the early era) and Bertrand Russell (who is the world’s main man). I tried prepping for this book by reading Bruce Lincoln’s book about the Civil War to have the events fresher in my mind, and this helped immensely. Not that it’s a requirement for anyone reading The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, but historical knowledge of where the Bolsheviks were when Russell’s accounts take place is important.

Bertrand Russell is in the unique position of having visited the Soviet Union in 1920 and seeing accounts there firsthand. The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism is a summary of what Russell saw in his visits and how he views the new society that the Bolsheviks are trying to create. He even met Lenin and Trotsky and talks about them in this book.

Russell first admits that the Bolsheviks are still in the throes of a Civil War and that this contributes to the scarcity and misery that is life for the common person in Russia but that they were treated with the greatest courtesy and respect by the authorities while they were there and that this might have influenced what they were able to see or experience. However, it seems like the main reason that the Bolsheviks have been unable to truly overcome their problems is their dogmatic adherence to Marx. They believed that the solutions to all their problems lied in Marx’s teachings and that he would never err in any circumstance. This, of course, is absolutely crazy, but when Lenin and Trotsky are supporting this kind of orthodoxy there is very little wiggle room or real freedom of the mind to try and solve the very dire circumstances facing Soviet Russia, “binding the free intellect and destroying initiative.” The reality in Russia right now is that the majority of the population lives in absolute misery while those in the government have a much happier lifestyle. Those in charge have no problem inflicting widespread misery in order to uphold the virtues of Marx. And free elections are not allowed so the population has little choice in their own destiny. By proclaiming themselves sole friend of the working class, the Communists have been able to establish an iron discipline that not even the most capitalist country would be able to.
Russell finds the idea of Marxism being only capable in a country that has been defeated by war the main problem as to why Communism will fail, because if things are going well in a country, the population will never resort to a revolution that will things completely upside down. In the end Russell rejects Bolshevism claiming the price to pay would be too high, and that it would never achieve what it claims to be achieving anyway.

Russell says he went into Soviet Russia a communist, but after thinking about what he saw, that might not be the case anymore. This is a short but incredibly informative and sobering book. It’s well-written, easy to understand and contains a message is powerful message.

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