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The Psychology of



Author of






Copyright. 1919, by Harper & Brothers

Printed in the United States of America

Published December, 1919


In this little volume I have attempted to
explain the psychology of that great move-
ment of impassioned discontent and violent
revolution which, because of its rapid de-
velopment in Russia, and because of the im-
petus it has received from its terrible pre-
eminence in that unfortunate country, we call

Revolutionary Communism is a menace to
civilization. It is an ironic fact, providing
food for deep and serious thought, that the end
of the great world war has brought mankind
not peace, but only a more difficult and serious
conflict. The Peace Treaty signed at Ver-
sailles remarkable as documentary historical
evidence of the complete failure of the most
ambitious and arrogant militarist scheme in
history does not really mark the return of
peace to a war-weary world, but a new align-
ment of mankind for a war even more ter-
rible. Every organized nation, with its cul-
ture, its laws, its arts, and its institutions its
civilization, in a word is menaced by a new
form of despotism and terrorism.

In country after country we find large
masses of people ready to revolt against the


existing social order, and to establish by the
relentless and unscrupulous use of brute force
a despotism more formidable than anything
ever attempted by Hapsburg. Hohenzollern,
or Romanov. Like these and all their pred-
ecessors, the creators of the new tyranny
make fair promises of ultimate freedom, well-
being, and happiness. But in their ex-
periment upon the living body of human so-
ciety they would destroy the institutions and
the usages which alone can make possible the
orderly development of humanity toward a
self-chosen ideal.

If we are to overcome this new peril, if
civilization is to be preserved, we must under-
stand not only the program but the spirit and
the mental processes which have de-
veloped the program. What are the ex-
periences which have led so many of the
toilers to see no hope except in this terrible
experiment? What are the sources of their
grim despair and of their irrational hopes?
And what makes men and women of educa-
tion and sincere democratic idealism, men
and women who might well be expected to
appreciate the great danger to all that is best
in civilization, accept the Bolshevist program
as a panacea for the ills of mankind, contrary
to all the lessons of human experience?


To these and kindred questions I have tried
to give the answer in uncompromising candor
and plain and forthright language. I have
no pet theories to promulgate, nor any in-
terest other than to assist in making Bolshev-
ism understood in order that it may be in-
telligently combatted. It cannot be charged
against me that I am satisfied with existing
social arrangements, or that I lack sympathy
with the desire to bring about radical, and
even revolutionary, changes in society. Dur-
ing many years I have devoted such gifts as
I possess to the work of convincing my fel-
low citizens of the need for a thorough re-
organization of our economic life.

My studies of the social problem long ago
convinced me that the socialization of the
economic life must depend ultimately upon
the socialization of human thought and char-
acter. Anti-social conduct, whether on the
part of individuals or masses, can never ad-
vance genuine Socialism. No social state can
be stronger than its human foundations. Only
men and women whose lives are governed by
social consciousness can build and maintain
a truly socialized society. Bolshevism is
wrong because it is anti-social, because its
ideals and its methods are as selfish and
tyrannical as those of unrestrained capitalism,


or even those of Czarism itself. It emulates
the worst and most oppressive policies of past
oppression to bring about future freedom.

In analyzing the various types of men and
women who become imbued with the spirit
of Bolshevism I have had the advantage of
an extensive acquaintance with a very large
number of men and women, belonging to
widely differing social groups, who are either
intense Bolsheviki or belong to the large class
of near-Bolsheviki. I could easily have fol-
lowed the "case" method and given detailed
descriptions of many individuals to illustrate
each group or category. That method, how-
ever, while admirable in many respects, par-
ticularly for the use of specialists, would have
had the great disadvantage of limiting the ap-
peal of the book to a relatively small circle of
readers. By setting forth my views in the
present form I hope to assist a larger number
of readers to a better understanding of the
Bolshevist menace.

My thanks are due to the editors of the
World's Work, the New York Evening Post,
and the Christian Century, of Chicago, for
their courteous permission to use material
previously published in their pages.






GREAT mass movements, whether these
be religious or political, are, at first,
always difficult to understand. Invariably
they challenge existing moral and intellectual
values, the revaluation of which is, for the
normal mind, an exceedingly difficult and
painful task. Moreover, the definition of
their aims and policies into exact and com-
prehensible programs is generally slowly
achieved. At their inception, and during the
early stages of their development, there must
needs be many crude and tentative statements
and many rhetorical exaggerations. It is safe
to assert as a rule that at no stage of its his-
tory can a great movement of the masses be
fully understood and fairly interpreted by a


study of its formal statements and authentic
expositions only. These must be supple-
mented by careful study of the psychology of
the men and women whose ideals and yearn-
ings these statements and expositions aim to
represent. It is not enough to know and com-
prehend the creed : it is essential that we also
know and comprehend the spiritual factors,
the discontent, the hopes, the fears, the in-
articulate visionings of the human units in the
movement. This is of greater importance in
the initial stages than later, when the articula-
tion of the soul of the movement has become
more certain and clear.

It is not at all difficult to understand the
main features of the Bolshevist creed, as these
have been formulated in many languages by
leaders of the movement in many lands. The
outlines of the creed are fairly firm and clear,
though there are, naturally, many gaps and
many crudities. Many problems have been
evaded, many have not even been recognized,
while many more have been only tentatively
and fearfully approached. Nevertheless, the
outlines are impressively clear. They are
quite easy to understand, because there is so
little in them that is not so familiar as to be
commonplace. Neither in principle nor in



policy does Bolshevism present anything of
material consequence that is original, or that
cannot be found amply and explicitly stated
in the voluminous literature of Socialism,
Anarchism, and Syndicalism which antedated
the emergence of the Bolsheviki from Rus-
sia's chaos with their sinister challenge to
civilization. Lenine, the foremost theorist of
the Bolsheviki, the only one thus far to com-
mand serious intellectual attention, is by no
means a great original thinker. On the con-
trary, it would be extremely difficult to name
any writer who ever attained anything like
such intellectual eminence and prestige whose
writings were so absolutely unoriginal. His
theoretical ideas, together with his statement
of them, he takes from Marx. Marxian gen-
eralizations, in Marxian phraseology, consti-
tute the whole of his philosophical equipment.
Even in the domain of political practice he
is altogether bereft of originality and in-
ventiveness, his practical program and tactical
policy being slavishly copied.

If this critical estimate detracts somewhat
from the glamor which has lately surrounded
this strange figure, and from the homage
which even his bitterest critics have paid to
the first statesman of Syndicalist-Communism,


it at the same time adds impressiveness to his
position, and to him as a symbol of a great
challenging power. It is precisely because
he has announced no new ideas or ideals, but
has confined himself to familiar principles,
stated in the most orthodox Socialist language,
that he has so easily won so great a following.
New and radically novel ideas spread very
slowly: the human mind is innately con-
servative and slow to abandon old ideas and
ideals for new ones. This is especially true
when the old ideas form the credo of a sect,
school, cult, or party. The more passionate
and ardent the loyalty in any of these, the
more intensified the emotional factors, the
more determined is the resistance to new
ideas and the more fanatical the sense of
orthodoxy. The early and enthusiastic stages
of every religion have been the most dogmatic
and intolerant. These are the reasons why
radicals and radical movements are prover-
bially intolerant, sticklers for orthodoxy,
given to heresy-hunting, and slow to accept

Had Lenine renounced the old Marxian
theories and shibboleths and sought to sub-
stitute for them new and unfamiliar theories
and shibboleths, he would not have found fol-


lowers in large numbers for a long time. They
would have come slowly, one by one, and,
even so, it would have required a genius he
has given no indication of possessing, to stir
the interest and arrest the serious attention of
mankind. His strength, and therefore, his
menace, rests altogether upon his utter lack
of originality, his orthodoxy. His appeal in-
volved no keen intellectual or spiritual strug-
gle on the part of those to whom it was ad-
dressed. To savagely desperate men who
were in a mood to destroy he preached active
destruction. He did not call upon them to
abandon any cherished article of faith, to open
any closed chambers in their minds, to re-
ceive any new doctrines. He did not say to
them: "What Marx and his immediate dis-
ciples taught us long ago no longer holds
good; we must abandon it and revise our
creed in accordance with new conditions, new
knowledge, and new needs." Had he done
that, however brilliantly, he would have had
to contend against the immense resistance to
change common to every "ism" and nowhere
stronger than in the Socialist movement.
Choosing the line of least resistance, he rested
his appeal for destruction upon the orthodox

faith of his Socialist comrades, appealing to

2 s


them in this sense: "Marx long ago showed
the way we must go. Nothing can change the
truth. Those who urge us to change are all
false prophets. Loyalty to the old faith alone
can bring victory."

Unless wt bear in mind the fact that its
intellectual appeal professes to rest upon the
authoritative traditions of the Socialist move-
ment, that Lenine depends for intellectual
authority upon the intellectual authority of
Marx, we shall never be able to understand
the rapid and world-wide spread of the creed
of Bolshevism. Yet, paradoxically, Bolshev-
ism and Marxian Socialism have little in
common, and between the teachings of Marx
and those of Lenine there is little likeness.
What Lenine presents in the name of Marx
is a caricature of Marx's real thought. The
name and the words of Marx are often upon
his lips, but the essential spirit of Marx is

Here, too, we have a phenomenon that is
familiar enough in the psychology of pop-
ular movements. In practice orthodoxy
rarely conforms to the pattern. The formula-
tions carefully made by great theologians be-
come the nominal theology of a sect or church,
but the actual working theology is nearly al-



ways quite different. It is conceived upon a
lower intellectual plane. The master-minds
are reflected by the lesser minds, but much is
changed in the process. Phrases and formulae
are retained and tiresomely repeated, but their
original values are modified or altogether lost.
The everyday theology thus becomes a
caricature of the nominal theology. In the
same way, Lenine and his followers have
evolved a caricature of the Marxian teach-
ings they profess to follow.

This is illustrated by the cardinal feature
of Bolshevist policy the attempt to establish
that form of class rule called the "Dictator-
ship of the Proletariat." Seventy-two years
ago, November, 1847, in formulating a
"theoretical and working program" for the
Socialist movement of the time, Marx pre-
dicted that in the course of the evolution to a
higher state of society, the existing struggle
between the capitalist class and the working
class, the latter, which he called the pro-
letariat, would become the masters of society.
Triumphant, this class would set up, he pre-
dicted, a dictatorship the Dictatorship of the
Proletariat. Because of this prediction by
Marx, Lenine and his followers claim that
they are the true and orthodox exemplars of



Marx's teachings when they try to set up, in
the conditions existing to-day, something that
they call a proletarian dictatorship. Lenine
makes no claim to originality.


Since we are not concerned here to vindicate
Marx, it is not necessary to discuss the man-
ner in which the facts of historical develop-
ment belied the forecast. Like many another
nineteenth century forecaster, Marx fared
badly enough in the twentieth century. Our
concern is not with nineteenth century fore-
casts, but with twentieth century realities. It
is only because Lenine and his co-conspirators
have been and are supported by many Social-
ists who, confounded by phrases, believe
that the wretched bureaucratic dictatorships
set up by Lenine and his followers are what
Marx had in mind, that it is worth while to
point out how far this is from the truth.

Marx was strongly influenced by Barnave
and other intellectuals of the French Revolu-
tion, and used the term "proletariat" in the
sense in which it was used by them. So used,
it connotes something more than poverty,



namely, a contemptible position in society, lit-
tle better than serfdom, including lack of the
rights of citizenship. In Roman society the
term was applied to a large class, held in con-
tempt, including peasants, wage-laborers and
all others without capital, property, or as-
sured means of support, regarded as contrib-
uting only proles offspring to the wealth
of the State and unfit and unworthy to ex-
ercise political rights. 1 The proletarian es-
tate was not poverty merely, but poverty plus
political disfranchisement. The greater part
of our working-class, except the unnaturalized
alien workers, is not proletarian at all in the
strict Marxian sense.

When Marx wrote his famous Communist
Manifesto the growing wage-working class
was almost universally proletarian in this
sense. Neither in England nor in any coun-
try of continental Europe did the wage-
earners as a class enjoy the franchise and di-
rect parliamentary representation. It was not
until many years later that the working-classes
obtained the right of suffrage and their
spokesmen appeared in the parliaments. In

*One learned modern philologist suggests that the word
"proletarian" is derived from pro-oletarius manure-worker,
hence a person of low and degraded estate.


1847, that degree of emancipation did not ap-
pear within the limits of practical politics.
At that time and for long afterward Marx
had no vision of the great amelioration of the
condition of the working-class to be brought
about through electoral reform, social legis-
lation, successful trades-unionism, and other
agencies. He believed that a development
the exact opposite of that which took place
was inevitable. His theory of an eventual
proletarian dictatorship rested upon, and was
inseparable from, his belief that the mass of
mankind was doomed to proletarianization;
that the inexorable laws of capitalist develop-
ment condemned the overwhelming majority
of civilized mankind to ever increasing
misery, and, finally, to proletarian degrada-

It was a grim tragedy that he sketched:
An ever diminishing class of exploiters grow-
ing richer and richer; an ever growing class
of exploited growing poorer and poorer. No
humane instinct or sense on the part of the
rulers to lessen the brutality of the process,
nor any state craft free to check it. Finally,
when the overwhelming majority of people
reached the uttermost limit of endurable

misery, then, and then only, would occur the



inevitable cataclysm, the irresistible revolt of
the many against the few. In that great hour
of retribution, Marx believed, the victorious
proletariat, the overwhelming majority of
mankind, would establish the "Dictatorship
of the Proletariat," ruling instead of being
ruled. Ultimately, Marx believed, as Lenine
now does, this class oppression would cease,
and in place of classes a fraternal co-operative
democracy be realized. But first of all must
come the revolution itself and then the pro-
letarian dictatorship, this to be continued long
enough to enable the proletariat "to abolish
itself as proletariat" to use the cryptic
phrase of Engels that is to say, to abolish
the degrading conditions which make pro-
letarians of the workers, to reconstruct the
social order.

Obviously, there is only a nominal relation-
ship between this theory of rule by an im-
mense majority and the wretched despotism
of a small minority which Lenine and his col-
leagues have imposed upon Russia's millions,
or the like tyranny of the few over the many
which the Spartacists sought to set up in Ger-
many. Whatever we may think of Marx's
theory, which he himself abandoned, be it

observed, it cannot by any rational process be



interpreted to cover these grotesque Utopias
of despotism. These latter are related rather
to the pre-Marxian conspiracies to set up the
dictatorship of militant minorities, from
Robespierre to Blanqui. During the greater
part of his life he was in constant conflict with
the advocates of such conspiracies.


The philosophy of the Russian Communist
leader, whose influence, especially outside of
Russia, is so largely derived from his appeal
to Marxian orthodoxy, is essentially pre-
Marxian and anti-Marxian. It is not so sur-
prising after all that so many of the orthodox
followers of Marx have failed to perceive
this, and have accepted Lenine at his own
valuation. The writings of Marx are dif-
ficult reading. Like the Bible, they are far
oftener referred to and quoted than read.
Only an infinitesimal minority of those who
call themselves Marxian Socialists have ever
studied Marx at first hand. Few possess the
intellectual training necessary for such a
study. The great majority know only a few
isolated texts. They know Marx only through

popular written and oral expositions, many of



which are very crude and very far from ac-
curately representing the thought of Marx.
In other words, the actual working theology
of the Marxian sect differs radically from its
nominal theology, being conceived on a lower
intellectual plane. It is significant that, with
only one exception, so far as I have been able
to discover, every recognized Marxian scholar
in the Socialist movement of every country,
including Russia, has denounced and com-
batted Bolshevism. The exception is Nikolai
Lenine. , ,

We encounter here a psychological fact of
very great importance, namely, that the
restraints implicit in Marx's teachings are,
unfortunately, inoperative so far as a very
numerous body of his professed followers are
concerned. Lacking the education and the
mental training requisite for a full under-
standing of the Marxian system, they are at
all times mentally ready to condone, and,
under favorable conditions, to attempt, that
conspiratory form of agitation and struggle
against which the Marxian system is es-
sentially directed. This was the case even
while Marx was alive and active in the inter-
national Socialist movement. Again and

again he found himself engaged in bitter con-


flict with individuals and factions in the
movement who were advocating policies not
materially different from those of the Bolshev-
ist conspiracies of these latter days. These
conflicts threw into strong relief the complete
dependence of the social revolution as Marx
conceived it upon a long evolutionary proc-
ess. Thus, in 1850, in the Communist league,
for which the famous Manifesto was written,
there arose a faction in the Central Commit-
tee which wanted "revolutionary action" and
an immediate attempt to capture the reins of
government by some daring coup de surprise
and set up proletarian dictatorships. Against
these impatient Hotspurs Marx stoutly con-
tended that, far from being ready to institute
a new social order, it would take the workers
a long time, possibly fifty years, not to change
society to their ideal, but to fit themselves for
political power. With infinite scorn he de-
nounced the "revolutionary phrase-mongers"
and their silly flattery of the proletariat.

It has been observed that in every uprising
the leaders of the Bolsheviki have manifested
greater bitterness toward the non-Bolshevik
Socialists than toward either capitalists or the
political upholders of the old regime. This
is entirely logical and consistent. No political



philosophy, no theory of society, no system of
industrial organization, accepted by the up-
holders of capitalist society, is so diamet-
rically and irreconcilably opposed to Bolshev-
ism as modern Socialism when properly
understood. The more developed the Socialist
movement is, the closer its contact with reality
and, consequently, the clearer its perception
of its responsibilities, the more bitter the con-
flict with Bolshevism becomes. Here in the
United States, where Socialism is an insignif-
icant political force as yet, where, as the lead-
ing organ of the party has said, there are many
districts in which elephants are more nu-
merous than Socialists, this conflict is mainly
rhetorical and academic. But in Russia and
Germany it inevitably assumed the character
of civil war.

The reconstruction of society upon a Social-
ist basis is a very formidable program. Its
realization must, under the most favorable
conditions imaginable, take a great many
years. Indeed, it must take many years to
make any appreciable structural changes in
the social organization. Society cannot be
socialized faster or farther than the human
units of which it is composed are socialized.
Social forms and institutions change very



slowly in response to propaganda and ideal-
istic forces. Only under the impact of great
economic developments do they change with
relative rapidity. Even so, the relative
rapidity of such changes is painfully slow
when measured in terms of the duration of an
individual human life. A short speech by a
convincing speaker, an epigram, or a cleverly
written leaflet, may completely change the
character and direction of a man's thinking
and result in his commitment to a program
too far-reaching to be completely realized in
fifty or even a hundred years. It is not strange,
but perfectly natural, that many men and
women find the tax upon their patience and
their fate too severe and fall victims to po-
litical despair or to the blandishments of
those who profess to have discovered shorter
routes to the goal. Get-rich-quick schemes
depend for their success upon the same hu-
man weakness of impatience, the desire for
twelve o'clock at eleven.

Naturally, where the Socialist propaganda
results in a strong organization which suc-

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Online LibraryJohn SpargoThe psychology of bolshevism → online text (page 1 of 8)