On Bolshevism

Marian massonius (1862-1945)



Philosopher, pedagogue. B. Feb. 1, 1862, Kursk (Russia). Studied law at the Warsaw University, but before completing the course he went abroad, where he took up philosophical and pedagogical studies at various German universities, mainly in Leipzig. He worked for the St. Petersburg weekly Kraj, and contributed to Głos, Tygodnik Ilustrowany, Wisła, Gazeta Warszawska, and Gazeta Polska. 1897-1914 on the editing board of Przegląd Filozoficzny. In 1906 elected to the first National Duma. 1906-14 lectured for the open university in Warsaw. 1920-32 lectured in philosophy and pedagogy at the Stefan Batory University in Vilnius, focusing on epistemology and aesthetics; his works include Szkice estetyczne (“Aesthetic Essays”, 1884), Über den kritischen Realismus (1887), Racjonalizm w teorii poznania Kanta (“Rationalism in Kant’s Theory of Knowledge”, 1898), and Rozdwojenie myśli polskiej (“Duality of Polish Thought”, 1901); he translated and prefaced works by E. Tardieu, A. Schopenhauer and E. Dubois-Reimond. D. 1945, Vilnius.

The selected fragments are from are from O bolszewizmie. Odczyt wygłoszony w dniu 21 sierpnia 1920 roku w Poznaniu (“On Bolshevism. Lecture Presented on Aug. 21, 1920, in Poznań”), “Głosy na czasie” series, no. 45, Księgarnia św. Wojciecha: Poznań-Warsaw 1921, pp. 8-19, 40-42 and 56-64.


                The Bolsheviks, who aimed at a comprehensive destruction and overthrow not only of the system prevailing in Russia before the revolution, but also of the entire form of life, both socio-political and economic, sought support among the socialists as a group best lending itself to this task. Socialism was for them a useful starting point, but it hardly constitutes their destination.

                They continue to claim that their goal is to establish a socialist system (in its communist form) and they continue to define themselves as socialists, namely communists. However, I think this is only because they simply have to present, both domestically and for foreign consumption, some program that would at least in some parts be positive. The communist program, as the most radical and the most hostile to all existing social arrangements, was best suited for that purpose. It was taken up as a banner, as an indispensable cause, in the conviction, later confirmed by events, that its enactment would in practice not be needed.

                However, what is the true end of the Bolshevik movement, if it is not the realization of the socialist-communist system?

                The immediate and negative end is the total destruction of the hitherto dominant form of life, the destruction not only of those components that from some perspective would appear undesirable, but the whole of it. They aim at so comprehensive an annihilation that even a partial reconstruction would be impossible; they have in mind a complete pulverization and expunging of the old system.

                The next aim, also essentially negative, is to rearrange the classes. Not the goal of honestly conceived socialism, that is bringing about a classless society, not raising on new foundations a society without class divisions, but a rearrangement of the classes. First, the hitherto leading lass is to be completely wiped out, with all its constituent elements: landed gentry, industrialists, merchants, capitalists, officials, army officers, intelligentsia, and the professions. This deprives them of financial independence, upsetting and unbalancing them to such a degree that they would be incapable of any concerted action.

                The next aim is to place at the head of society a new class, not only a leading one, but also a ruling and privileged class in the broadest sense of the word.

                Very useful here was the communist program, namely the well-known manifesto of Marx and Engels from 1847, with its dictatorship of the proletariat. The group that the Bolsheviks placed at the head was labeled the proletariat.

                In fact it has nothing to do with the proletariat. It contains some workers and peasants as an embellishment, but this is usually intended as a means of persuading the workers and peasants that it is they who constitute the new ruling class. In reality it is composed of the so-called “commissars”, corresponding roughly to the former governors, heads of administrative districts (volost’), prosecutors, heads of treasury offices, directors of school departments, etc. It is composed of members of the so-called Cheka (the full title is “The Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counterrevolution and Sabotage”), in some measure of Red Army officers, regarded as blagonadiozhny (right-thinking); it is composed of people who do not hold any defined office, but belong to the communist clubs which exist in every town.

                These clubs, which have a strong and very efficient central organization, constitute the actual, though unofficial government, or rather the body overseeing the activities of the ostensible and official government.

                This should be well noted. From the very beginning the foremost aim was not to bring about equality among the classes, but to create a new ruling and privileged class. Civil equality not only is not the goal, it is also the object of derision. […]

                Before, in some indefinite future (and let me add, not believed in by anyone), a stateless communism arrives, after the overthrow of the bourgeois state we have the proletarian state.

                This proletarian state is a state with a vengeance: since – this is how Lenin interprets Marxian doctrine – every state is (and must be) an instrument of oppression by the ruling class of all other classes, the proletarian state is an instrument of oppression by the proletariat of all other classes.

                The purpose, then, of the proletarian state is oppression. And since this is so, it would be superfluous and even damaging to rehearse all those proclamations of liberty, equality, and justice, not to speak of fraternity! These causes have their practical value, as weapons of the destruction of the bourgeois state. However, once they have fulfilled this function, their place is in the junkyard. […]

                The Soviet State, then, is not and is not meant to be a modern, democratic state. On the contrary, both in the main principles of its constitution, and in its methods of exercising power, it is a thoroughly and blatantly reactionary state.

                The main principle of this state is the privileged class, and the method of exercising power is the complete rejection of the freedom of expression and of the press, the freedom of association and assembly, the complete striking out of open court procedure, judicial independence, procedural safeguards for the defendant, and habeas corpus. In fact the whole point is to make the citizens, or rather the subjects of the Soviet Republic forget about such fancies. The point is to inculcate in them the sense that their business is to pay taxes and keep quiet, that any attempts at gaining civil liberties will be punished by prison, secret procedures in the Cheka, often involving torture, and death. The point is to give them the very distinct feeling that they are now in stronger hands than those of the Tsarist bureaucracy, which after all did have some respect for legal forms. […]

                For a Russian (I am not talking about a Ruthenian, but about a Russian, a Muscovite) the Roman and European conception of law is deeply alien. Even more than alien, law as something which, before it has been modified within the framework of the established legal order, has absolute validity and permanently regulates life, is regarded by a Russian as an impediment, a hindrance to maintaining order in the Russian sense of the word. […]

                What in the Russian mind takes the place of the concept of legality, or the rule of law, is the concept of “blagonadiozhnost’”. This word does not lend itself to precise translation. For lack of a better term we may render it as “right-thinking”. Etymologically the adjective “blagonadiozhnii” means a person in whom one can place “good hope”, who is trustworthy, or something in that vein.

                In the political context a “blagonadiozhnii” person is a person who willingly, out of conviction or predisposition, motivated by reason or by temper, goes in the direction which the ruling authorities of the state regard as desirable. Rightful conduct in relation to the state is not the conduct of a citizen strictly abiding by the rules of law, but of a person whose mood is in tune with the general tenor of the state. This is, I dare say, an aesthetic conception of the state as something moody. […]

                 In order, then, to have a good or at least a bearable life, an official or a citizen should be guided not by the text of the law, but by feeling, he should have a good feel for the mood; and if he succeeds, he has no need to worry.

                We must admit in fairness that the majority of Russians possess this feeling ability, this, so to speak, state instinct. Even people guilty of political crimes, those who deliberately opposed the state mood, who spent most of their lives in prisons or in the Siberia, and often ended up on the scaffold, did what they did not for lack of this instinct, but against this instinct. We need look no further for a proof of this than to the proposed agrarian reform presented to the first Duma by the so-called “Kadet” party, a party whose program gave priority to setting up the rule of law in Russia. This proposal is such an insult to any concept of law that any non-Russian (regardless of his political colors) must be dumbstruck by it. […]

                So very much akin to this and so evidently issuing from the same soul is the more broadly conceived and impressively simple way in which the Bolshevik government dealt with criminal law! The relevant decree says that until a new criminal code is prepared and published, the existing code is in force, as long as it does not conflict with the aims of revolution and with revolutionary conscience.

                Such an aesthetic idea of the state is the polar opposite to any European conceptions, but it is not in itself absurd. It has its own logic. The relevant reasoning of a Russian would, I think, go along roughly the following lines:

                Laws are created, prescribed and formulated by people, and thus by erring creatures. No law is perfect, not only with respect to its clarity and unambiguity, but often also with respect to its correspondence to the intended goal. Furthermore, some laws are made in response to various minor circumstances, under the pressure of external necessity, and they can be quite contrary to the essential ends of the state, to its true spirit. And since ultimately the law is to serve people and not the other way round, the overriding norm of the life of the state should be not the text of the law, but the feel for the real aim of the state. We might talk here of the “spirit of the law”, although Montesquieu probably had something different in mind.

                Under certain political circumstances, such a conception of the “spirit of the law” creates conditions that would be simply unbearable for a European. No one can be certain when the bell might toll for him, there is a pervading atmosphere of spying, denunciation, no one knows if a word said imprudently to a servant, a colleague, even a “friend” will not send him to prison, torture, and death.

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