Twenty years ago today. The following is from “The Origin of Russian Communism” by Nicholas Berdyaev (published by Geoffrey Bles, 1937):
Marxism is not only a doctrine of historical and economic materialism, concerned with the complete dependence of man on economics, it is also a doctrine of deliverance, of the messianic vocation of the proletariat, of the future perfect society in which man will not be dependent on economics, of the power and victory of man over the irrational forces of nature and society. There is the soul of Marxism, not in its economic determinism.
In a capitalist society man is completely determined, and that refers to the past. The complete dependence of man upon economics can be explained as a sin of the past. But the future is otherwise; man can be freed from slavery. And the active agent which frees humanity from slavery and establishes the best life, is the proletariat.
To it are ascribed messianic attributes, to it are transferred the attributes of the chosen people of God; it is the new Israel. This is a secularization of the ancient Hebrew messianic consciousness. The lever with which it will be possible to turn the world upside down has been found. And there Marx’s materialism turns into extreme idealism.
[ … ]
Lenin did not believe in man. He recognized in him no sort of inward principle; he did not believe in spirit and the freedom of the spirit, but he had a boundless faith in the social regimentation of man. He believed that a compulsory social organization could create any sort of new man you like, for instance, a completely social man who would no longer need the use of force. Marx believed the same thing, that the new man could be manufactured in factories.
This was Lenin’s utopianism, but it was a utopianism which could be and was realized. One thing he did not foresee; he did not foresee that class oppression might take an entirely different form. The dictatorship of the proletariat, having increased the power of the State, is developing a colossal bureaucracy which spreads like a network over the whole country and brings everything into subjection to itself. This new Soviet bureaucracy is more powerful than the Tsarist regime. It is a new privileged class which can exploit the masses pitilessly. This is happening.
And ordinary workman very often receives 75 rubles a month, but a Soviet civil servant, a specialist, gets 1,600 rubles a month, and this portentous inequality exists in a communist state. Soviet Russia is a country of state capitalism which is capable of exploitation no less than private capitalism. The transitional period may be drawn out indefinitely. Those who are in power in it acquire a taste for power and desire no changes, which are unavoidable for the final realization of communism. The will-to-power becomes satisfying in itself and men will fight for it as an end and not as a means.
All this was beyond Lenin’s view. In this he was particularly utopian and very naive. The Soviet state has become like any other despotic state. It uses the same methods of falsehood and violence. It is first and foremost a state of the military police kind. Its international politics are as like the diplomacy of bourgeois states as two peas. The communist revolution was distinctively Russian, but the miraculous birth of the new life did not take place. The old Adam has remained and continues to act, if in another form.