G. L. Arnold addresses himself here to the central dilemma that has confronted the West in its efforts to help “backward peoples” achieve the economic and social transformation towards which they are driving. Himself a firm adherent of the British Labor tradition, Mr. Arnold offers a way out that will startle many who subscribe to the liberal-labor faith in a “backward nation” program of land reform, progressive recasting of income tax, and the granting of large funds for industrial reconstruction—”with no strings attached.” This “hands-off” policy simply won’t achieve the economic and social ends desired, Mr. Arnold argues; some form of centralized political control under the reins of “foreign” power is a sine qua non; and if the West doesn’t step in, the Soviets will, installing a rule which destroys all liberties without achieving economic progress. Understanding why this is so—and what forms control may properly take—thus becomes the real problem; and it is to this that Mr. Arnold then devotes his attention.
Throughout the greater part of the world, the chief political issue today is whether Communists or non-Communists will direct those revolutionary movements of backward countries which have for their aim a radical break with the pre-industrial past. We mean economic and social transformations similar to those which Western Europe and North America effected in the course of their history, and which Eastern Europe has been trying to effect during the past century.
Continuing Europe’s historic work of reconstructing traditional society, it is Western technology, Western organization, even some aspects of Western thought, that the revolutionaries of Eastern Europe and the Far East are trying to impose. In this struggle, we witness ideas and values derived from Western experience being utilized, though usually altered, inverted, and turned against their originators. Thus we have the spectacle of Russians and Chinese conducting their anti-Western campaigns under the banner of Marxian socialism; Indian orators quoting Gladstone and the Webbs; Arab nationalists employing the vocabulary of the French Revolution to justify secession from France; and Latin American demagogues appealing to Jefferson and Lincoln in support of the latest propaganda drive against the United States.
What accounts for this perversion by which Western ideas and aspirations are turned against the West? It comes about when the revolutionaries are faced with the problem of imposing Western forms and possibilities on people still living under primitive conditions. Such radical leaders, finding themselves confronted with traditional, stagnant societies, impoverished peasantries, corrupt bureaucracies, petrified cultures, easily fall prey to the Stalinist myth of the October Revolution which promises a short-cut through this tangle of obstacles. Democracy, unhappily, seems to offer no comparable method of refashioning society, and for the “professional revolutionaries” of the intelligentsia, impatient with the thick layers of ignorance, passivity, and cultural backwardness of the masses, dictatorship holds many attractions. The movement, from being revolutionary, becomes dictatorial and finally totalitarian. And under present circumstances, this usually means joining the Soviet camp.
Thus the basis is laid by which the Soviet regime—despite its political and technical backwardness, and the low level of its intellectual culture, by Marxist standards or any others—is able to exploit the historic cleavage between Western and Eastern societies, which corresponds and runs parallel to the conflict of interest between industrial and agricultural countries. It is aided in this by the fact that Sovietism is itself the offspring of a revolution resulting from the impact of Western ideas and techniques upon a society closer in some respects to the East than to Europe. The breakdown of 1917 resulted from an abortive attempt to modernize traditional Russian society on Western lines, and the regime to which it gave rise combines modern techniques with the political methods of the great Oriental despotisms of the past. This outcome was not foreseen. In 1917 and for some time afterwards, the collapse of the Russian state could be regarded either as the opening phase of a socialist world revolution—it was so regarded by the Bolsheviks and by Communists in the West—or as a belated “bourgeois” revolution confined to Eastern Europe.
In hard fact, it turned out to be neither, but the starting point of an entirely novel chain of events leading to the establishment of a totalitarian empire. In the historical perspective, it was the Kerensky Revolution of 1917 that was the successor, and the East European counterpart, of the French Revolution of 1789; much as the American Revolution of 1776 was a belated consequence of the Puritan Commonwealth of 1648-60. The Stalinist regime, however, as it now exists, has no counterpart and no predecessor, though superficial analogies can be and have been drawn with the later imperialism to which the French Revolution ultimately gave birth. Combining Eastern and Western features in an unprecedented manner, it is an entirely new political and social formation, and it is capable of indefinite expansion into regions impervious to Western penetration. Not a European formation, as the St. Petersburg regime on the whole was, it deliberately attempts to build up a Eurasian synthesis, and it persecutes the adherents of Europeanism even within the privileged Communist party. It hopes to overawe and incorporate Europe, after having revolutionized—and to some extent Europeanized—its own Asian hinterland; but it does not intend to amalgamate with Europe. It regards Europe as a mere adjunct in the expected trial of strength with America.
The appearance of a Eurasian empire in the place of the Russian state—which was a member of the European family, though a late-comer and in some respects not a full member—has changed the world balance of forces in the West’s disfavor, for this empire intervenes between the Western centers of industrial civilization and the world’s agrarian hinterland—Asia. European predominance in the 19th century made possible a fleeting and precarious balance between advanced and backward countries. This balance was maintained by uncontrolled migration and capital investment, and guaranteed in the last resort by the Pax Britannica. The successive shocks sustained by this system in the 1914-18 war, in the world economic crisis of 1930-33, and in the war of 1939-45, when it finally collapsed, gave rise in each case to Utopian expectations of imminent worldwide social and political breakdown. The Kremlin, for all that it consistently overrated the chances of revolution, and underestimated the West’s capacity to reorganize itself under American leadership, did perceive more clearly than its opponents the opportunities offered to a consistently anti-Western policy in Asia. Lenin had told his followers to look to agrarian revolution in China and India as a stimulus to proletarian revolution in America and Europe, on the grounds that Western capitalism maintained itself (and the high living standard of the “aristocracy of labor”) only at the expense of the primary producing countries. His economics were crude and oversimplified, but they fitted the political exigencies of Soviet foreign policy, as well as the anti-Western prejudices which the Bolsheviks had inherited from the Narodniks, and the latter from the Slavophiles. In consequence, the anti-Western policy he laid down was continued and accentuated by the Stalinist regime, long after most of the genuine innovations introduced by the revolution had been “liquidated.”
It was at first not perceived in the West that this line of approach laid bare a basic weakness in the international system of economic and political relationships of which Russia had after 1917 ceased to be a member. The economic nexus depended upon the free flow of capital and technical skill from highly developed to relatively primitive areas, which in consequence tended to fall under the political control of the great industrial centers, i.e., the leading Western nations. The resulting inter-imperialist rivalries might be thought to have provoked the catastrophe of 1914, but in any case they could be used to mobilize working-class opposition in the West, as well as nationalist movements in the dependent territories. Thus Comintern strategy took shape, under Soviet direction, in a way serviceable to Russian national interests as well as Bolshevik preconceptions. When the Kremlin denounced Western imperalism, it justified its policy of repudiating Czarist debts and confiscating foreign holdings; when it identified colonialism with overseas penetration into Africa and Asia, it established an oblique defense of the Czarist achievement in colonizing Siberia and Central Asia: an accomplishment it had no intention of surrendering. That the landlocked Russian empire had been unable to practice overseas colonization, though it expanded overland until it reached the Pacific, was an excellent reason for condemning all Western expansion as criminal. These naive prejudices were rationalized by Lenin, who shared the Great Russian view of Western history, into a doctrinaire system which the Stalinists continue to employ, though they no longer feel bound by its logic.
What has rendered this self-serving Russian ideology intellectually respectable to Western socialists is its emphasis on a previously neglected side of the role played by European capital along with its great internal expansiveness, that of hindering the economic and political development of backward countries. Soviet theorists do not feel bound to state in public that some form of imperialism is the inevitable consequence of “uneven development,” though the entire policy of their government is based on this realization. They are content to note that foreign capital stimulates economic development, but at the same time restricts the modus operandi of the local bourgeoisie. The latter, thus driven into opposition, become good material for a “united front” policy. That this policy is consciously directed towards the ultimate replacement of Western control, not by local nationalist rule but by Soviet imperialism, need not be proclaimed from the house tops.
The Soviet Union and the West, accordingly, are competitors in a common revolutionary task; and since there now exist two rival centers of power, there is no inherent reason why some backward countries should not be drawn to the quasi-revolutionary imperialism of Moscow. The trouble, from the Soviet viewpoint, is that the political attractiveness of the Communist solution for the revolutionary peoples has diminished pari passu with the improvement of its material chances of realization.
Soviet prestige was high among anti-colonial rebels in the decade following the revolution, but at that time the program was flawed by Russia’s military and economic weakness. Moscow might denounce imperialism as exploitation, but the primary producers needed machinery and manufactures, and were dependent upon markets in the industrialized countries. Dissatisfaction with the terms of trade, or with Western political control, might stimulate nationalism, but could hardly induce a suicidal impulse to break away from the world market. This conflict of motivations underlay the Chinese nationalist revolution of the mid-20’s which ended with a sharp defeat for the Chinese Communist party and the Comintern. Only after the Soviet Union had emerged as a world power rivaling the United States was it possible for Communist parties to take over the direction of national-revolutionary movements.
By that time, however, the glory of the October rising had been tarnished by the Stalinist despotism. The pretense that the Soviet Union is not an imperialist power can hardly be maintained any longer, and Western spokesmen, having recovered some of their self-confidence, are now habituated to denouncing the enemy in the classic accents of democratic liberalism. To that extent the characteristic 19th-century relationship between the Russian empire and the liberal West has latterly been restored.
Yet on the whole the West remains on the defensive, and it is relevant to inquire into the reasons. Some of them are obvious: two world wars have discredited the notion that competing imperialisms can safely be entrusted with the task of “opening up” the world market and spreading the benefits of a Western civilization which has itself given rise to the monstrosities of European fascism. On the economic side, the primary producers were all but ruined by the world crisis of the early 1930’s, which resulted from an industrial slump in the United States, and they have no guarantee that the disaster will not be repeated. There is also the memory of colonialism. These reminiscences, however, do not wholly account for the strength of anti-Western sentiment in regions freed from foreign control, such as India, or never subjected to it. The “anti-imperialist” campaign is running full blast in countries whose long-term interests clearly point towards closer association with the United States and Western Europe. This is puzzling and disappointing to American liberals and British socialists. “Imperialism” has been buried; why then should Soviet and Communist propaganda make so much headway?
The main reason is that the liquidation of imperial control by itself was no great economic benefit to the countries concerned, all suffering from the consequences of “uneven development” and crying out for massive capital investment, as well as for radical internal changes. Nationalism had won a great victory; it was now confronted with the fact that backward areas can develop their wealth only if advanced countries are willing to export surplus capital. But foreign investment on a large scale, whether public or private, means some degree of foreign control, however camouflaged.
Under the old liberal-imperialist scheme of things, the whole process went forward more or less spontaneously, capital following the lure of profits, markets, and raw material sources, and political control by the imperial metropolis establishing itself in its wake. The breakdown of this integration meant that a new mechanism had to be devised to enable capital to cross national frontiers. Bretton Woods, the Marshall Plan, Point Four were efforts in this direction. But partly because their scale was inadequate, partly because they were not backed by popular movements able to compete with the Stalinist integration of imperialism and revolution, they never really touched the imagination of those key groups in the recipient countries whose cooperation was and remains essential. What little is being done along these lines by the United States in Latin America and India, or by European countries in their remaining African and Asian dependencies, cannot stem the Communist drive, which has behind it not merely the resources of a great power, but a worldwide totalitarian movement.
The cold war must be viewed against this background. In form a conflict between two groups of powers, it really concerns the political control of those regions which the “uneven development” of the world economy has placed in a position of inferiority towards the great metropolitan centers. Success or failure for the West must in the long run depend on our ability to replace the old imperialism by a system broadly fulfilling the same economic functions, but better able to satisfy national and social aspirations. The dilemma of the West is that the attempt to raise the backward countries economically either produces political opposition or is frustrated by political incompetence. If experience is any guide, semi-dependent countries will develop anti-foreign and nationalist movements pari passu with the influx of capital, while sovereign states will waste foreign assistance on arms and other unproductive purposes. In such circumstances it may not be possible to avoid the “fatal imperialist consequences” of imposing political control, visible or otherwise. We must face the plain fact that imperialism, in the broad sense of the term, that is, the process and relations of empire in some form, remains a necessary concomitant of “uneven development.” And no one realizes this better than the “anti-imperialists” in the Kremlin.
Given even a reasonably progressive and efficient government in the recipient country, the influx of publicly owned capital must raise the further problem of turning the state into an organ of modernization and “revolution from above.” It is not easy to see how this can be done unless centralized state control is adopted. Public funds, in the nature of the case, cannot simply be turned over to private investors, even if their existence could be taken for granted. In fact, of course, “private enterprise” is almost totally lacking in backward countries. What goes under this name is a caricature of the genuine article, from the encouragement of which only the Communists can profit. The main investment sectors will have to be under state control for a long time to come, if only because basic industries and services have to be created which cannot for many years be expected to show a profit. The flow of private capital from the United States and other Western countries is in any case unlikely to be substantial, for why should entrepreneurs risk almost certain loss and confiscation abroad when high and secure profits are possible at home? There is little danger of the old imperialism based on capital in search of foreign investment coming back. Today capital has to be lured from its hiding place, and this problem will hardly be solved except at the taxpayer’s expense.
In the economic sphere there is then no choice: publicly controlled capital (if any can be found) will have to be directed to areas where the investment program is under the control of the public authorities. The difficulty begins when these comforting abstractions are translated into definite social and political terms. It then appears that public authorities of this kind are either colonial administrations, of the type established, e.g., by Britain in the Sudan—very efficient and relatively immune to local pressures, but remote from the inhabitants and subject to nationalist attack—or home-grown dictatorships. No third choice presently exists to hand: democracy as known to advanced Western countries is not possible, and the kind of parliamentary oligarchy which has established itself here and there, in the wake of Western influence, is useless for the purpose, whatever its other merits. It is usually corrupt, but even if it were not the task would be beyond it. Oligarchies are unable to control a social revolution, not because they are “selfish,” but because they are not centralized, and consequently cannot master the state apparatus on whose effectiveness everything depends.
This problem has been obscured by the menace of totalitarianism: a particular form of dictatorship, but not the only form of centralized control possible. Essentially it is a question of centralizing the authority of the state by making the executive independent of sectional pressure groups, of which there are always a number. This process is inevitable in a period of rapid social change, if authority is not to disappear altogether. It is the stresses set up by the modernization of a hitherto backward country that reinforce the need for a strong central government, and this is particularly true if industrialization is accompanied by agrarian reform, as it must be if the whole process is to be genuine and not a sham. But in the last resort, the reinforcement of governmental authority is necessitated by the weakness of the middle class and the low level of private savings. What the local bourgeoisie cannot or will not do must be done, tant bien que mal, by the bureaucracy. Above all, the state must impose collective savings far beyond the limit of what individuals would be likely to save privately, if left to their own devices. Where average incomes are so low that voluntary savings are inadequate to finance the necessary investments, the saving has to be done by the government. Land reform and the progressive recasting of income tax—the favorite panaceas of modern liberalism—are irrelevant to this particular problem, for although in the long run they tend to improve living standards and consequently encourage saving, their immediate effect is to stimulate consumption, just when the need for the expansion of capital equipment calls for an increase in savings. Yet structural reform is necessarily part of the program. Backward countries are typically plagued by the overcrowding of badly farmed, sub-marginal land by an expanding number of impoverished peasant farmers, working with antiquated tools on fragmented holdings, in debt to moneylenders and other pests, and unable either to increase the yield of their land or to find employment in urban industry. Only by withdrawing surplus labor from sub-marginal land and employing it in industry can a net addition be effected to the community’s total output, and such a policy calls for action of a kind which the entrepreneurial class is generally unable to take.
This assumption by the state of the entrepreneurial function, whether on totalitarian lines or not, is in fact common to all genuinely modern attempts to hasten the industrialization of backward areas. The revolutionary regime derives its justification from it, and at the same time owes to it whatever inspiration it brings to the people under its control. It is, indeed, the realization that only state action can shake society out of its rut which impels revolutionaries to seek power. It is consequently the weakness, and not, as Lenin has it, the predominance of the national bourgeoisie, which finds expression in the phenomenon of revolutionary nationalism. If the entrepreneurs were able to direct the process of modernization on “classical” lines there would clearly be no need for national dictatorships, national organizations of capital and labor, state parties, state-controlled youth movements, and the other paraphernalia of modern statist politics. Regimes of this kind need not be fully totalitarian, but they can hardly fail to be revolutionary and centralist. Whether they are Stalinist, Titoist, Socialist, Kemalist, Fascist, or Perónist depends on which faction of the revolutionary movement manages to seize power during the period which precedes the centralization of activity by, through, and under the state. But whatever the political regime, centralization is bound under these circumstances to become both the prime goal and the chief instrument of revolution.
The conviction that centralization of economic activity under state direction is “progressive,” i.e., represents the sine qua non of rapid modernization, is the common bond linking all factions of the national revolutionary movement. But for this common conviction, there would be no common “anti-imperialist” platform, no united front, no Trojan horse, and no chance for the Communists to gain control of the process. All disputes within a revolutionary movement of this kind are at bottom differences about the degree and form of centralization requisite for the task of building a modern nation. All political conflicts among the various factions go back to disagreements over the kind of state best suited to this purpose. Discussion always centers upon such questions as the scope left to private enterprise, the use made of the traditional government classes (assuming they are not to be “liquidated”), the role of labor, etc. Generally speaking, the faction which can secure the adherence of organized labor and the largest possible number of people in the managerial stratum will tend to come out on top. If it can persuade itself and others that its activities have something to do with “building socialism,” so much the better for its morale. Thus modernization will favor the extension of state control, even under conditions where power still lies with the entrepreneurs and allied groups. All the more will this be the case where a genuine revolution has taken place and the former ruling classes have been displaced. The mechanics of this process apply impartially to Latin American dictatorships of the Perónist variety, Kemalism in the Middle East, and Titoism in Yugoslavia, and, in a sense, to the early stage of Mussolini’s dictatorship in Italy.
That the Soviet Union should threaten to become the main beneficiary of what is really a worldwide phenomenon, quite unrelated to Communist aims, must be regarded as one of the by-products of the cold war. In the 1930’s and early 1940’s, fascism held greater attraction for these movements than Stalinism. Yet the prestige accruing to the Soviet Union from its military victory over Germany, and the progress of industrialization in Russia, do not wholly account for the change that has taken place. There is an element peculiar to Stalinism which favors a synthesis with national and colonial revolution. Unlike fascism, with which otherwise it has so much in common, the Stalinist regime is able to exploit a revolutionary mystique. Moreover, its techniques are consciously directed towards a thorough transformation of society by what is best called a “revolution from above.” The point is that every Communist party now has before it the image of a successful revolution imposed by force upon “the masses” after the capture of power. It is not too much to say that this conception, and the technique for realizing it, represent the central arcanum of Stalinism.
The nature of this challenge is frequently masked by the very real threat represented by Soviet military expansion. Essentially the heart of the Soviet menace lies in the illusion of a revolutionary short-cut imposed from above by the state. From the Communist viewpoint, this terrifying vision has the character of an immense discovery: there is no need to accept things as they are! A means lies at hand to revolutionize society as thoroughly as it was to have been revolutionized, according to the original formula, by a victorious popular uprising. Total revolution is still possible, but it must be imposed from above. The managed revolution which does not have to await a victorious popular uprising, this is the great discovery of Stalinism, its shibboleth, the sign by which the initiated recognize one another. It justifies all the horrors of the interim period, for at its conclusion there lies the promised land—or so the worshippers imagine.
Thus, in the last resort the cold war—like the series of wars and upheavals in Eastern Europe during the past generation—arises (to quote H. Seton-Watson’s The East European Revolution)
from the impact of the West on the East, the conflict between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries which exist side by side in Eastern Europe. This phenomenon is by no means confined to Eastern Europe. It is found in different forms in Asia, the Middle East and South America, and is beginning to appear in Africa.
Yet rural poverty, population pressure, the failure of the traditional governing class, and the presence of a nucleus of politically conscious workers in industry do not of themselves give rise to a revolutionary situation. The “subjective factor,” whose absence in Western Europe after 1918 the Comintern theorists found so hard to explain, is represented by the intelligentsia; to be precise, by that part of it which refuses to accept things as they are, and turns—again I quote Seton-Watson—to political action:
The Iron Guard in Rumania, the early Wafd in Egypt, the early Kuomintang in China, the first Communist movements in the Balkans, all have in common the frustration of the intellectual who has savored the delights of the twentieth century and knows that his people is living in the sixteenth. All were movements for both national and social revolution.
In a sense, Russian Bolshevism is only a special case of this general phenomenon. . . . Lenin was the heir not only of Marx but of the Russian revolutionary intellectuals. He was fighting not only a class war against Russia’s rulers, but a war for the national liberation and the modernization of Russia. The revolutionary leader of a country whose industrial wealth largely belonged to French, British, German and Belgian capitalists felt a special sympathy for the national revolutionary movements of the colonial and semi-colonial countries. Under the rule of the Georgian Stalin this element in Soviet policy, and so in world Communist doctrine, became still more prominent.
The rise of Bolshevism is significant because it is the classic case of a revolutionary elite of “professionals” becoming the core of a political party which proved capable of overthrowing the Russian state. This could not have been done by a democratic mass movement, however broadly based. Any movement of that character, whether liberal, socialist, or agrarian, would have been amenable to class, i.e. sectional, interests and pressures which every revolutionary regime must for a time override and ignore. It could only be done by an organization which was already highly centralized and dictatorial. Because the hard core of the Bolshevik party was “classless” and composed of “professionals,” it was able to lead the revolution, and for the same reason it was able subsequently to establish the first great totalitarian system in modern history. The latent totalitarianism of the intelligentsia, of which we hear so much today, must be related to this phenomenon of revolutionary professionalism. The “professional” need not be an intellectual in the usual meaning of the term; he can belong to any social stratum; he can be an army officer. Professional soldiers, too, are in a sense classless and consequently able to sponsor revolutionary measures which cut across established relationships. Such action will be motivated by concern not for “the revolution,” but for the state or the public good. It is nonetheless an expression of a particular revolutionary current in society.
It is, however, the totalitarian political party which comes closest to being the ideal instrument of “the revolution,” i.e., of the intelligentsia’s break with the past and its attempt to found a modern state. A party of this kind embraces a much wider field than a mere officers’ junta and can act over a larger and more complex area. An army is a specialist body; a political party is potentially all-embracing, that is, totalitarian—but only on condition that its origins are free from the taint of class interest. It is this fact which gives a key role to the intelligentsia, the only non-specialized, or rather omni-specialized, body in society. The organization of professional revolutionaries, which on the morrow of its victory transforms itself into the nucleus of a new ruling class, is potentially totalitarian because it is independent of the established class interests. It can organize the whole of society because it is not organically a part of any section of it. That is its professionalism, and the secret of its power and attraction. Were it organically part of any major class—as the Communist party claims to be the “vanguard” of the working class, and as the fascist party is mistakenly supposed to represent the bourgeoisie—it could never become genuinely totalitarian. It could not, that is to say, become a state party. For the state to become totalitarian, the party that captures it must have originated from a nucleus of revolutionaries with control over all organizations reflecting ordinary economic and social interests, from trade unions to chambers of commerce.
That the state party regime can, under favorable circumstances, count on the support of the bureaucracy, or at least a large fraction of it, has been repeatedly shown in recent decades. The main reason, usually overlooked by historians of revolution, is that the state apparatus consists of functionaries whose activities to some extent transcend sectional class and group interests—otherwise the state would not be able to function at all. Their consciousness, that is to say, takes shape at the point of intersection of group conflicts. The same is true of the intelligentsia, in particular that part of it which eventually joins the revolutionary movement, and a fortiori of the “professionals.” Thus the social function of the state bureaucracy corresponds to that of the revolutionary elite: both specialize, as it were, in general activities, and their peculiar Weltanschauung rests on the interrelation of sectional needs and viewpoints, and on the need to synthesize and manage them. Both groups are in consequence able to merge, after the revolution has taken place, in the totalitarian state party which continues the stabilizing activity of the one, and the revolutionary aims of the other.
As the nature of this challenge is gradually coming to be better understood, a tendency arises to seek a counter-irritant in the form of non-Communist dictatorships with progressive social aims. The trouble with this solution is that in nine cases out of ten it becomes an excuse for shirking the real issue.
Dictatorship can be a necessary short-cut to the “revolution from above”; it can also be a façade imposed on a rotting framework. The difference depends on the personnel of the regime, which in turn depends on the aims it is supposed to serve. Ever since Cromwell, and in particular since the French Revolution, a temporary dictatorship of the “left” has had its defenders even among democrats. It is, however, dangerous to ignore the ambiguous use to which this solution can be put. Most dictatorships, being neither based in the people nor interested in popular aims, are ineffective. The Kemalist regime in pre-war Turkey, and the Titoist one in present-day Yugoslavia, are exceptions to the general rule, and their effectiveness was and is largely bound up with their quasi-totalitarian character. The Kemalist revolution owed its impetus to the break with Islam—hitherto a unique phenomenon—and it was carried through by a revolutionary junta which for many years tolerated no rival. Marshal Tito’s dictatorship would collapse if it were not propped up by the Yugoslav Communist party; and heretical Communist movements do not grow on trees. The Yugoslav miracle was an uncovenanted piece of luck for which Western policy-makers have not ceased to apologize, since 1948, as though it were something to be ashamed of. They are unfortunately not likely to suffer a succession of such embarrassments. With a Republican administration ensconced in Washington, it is far more probable that the West will continue to be deluged with offers of support from conservative generals, Perónist demagogues, and elderly bed-ridden intriguers in the distinguished succession of Doctors Mossadegh and Syngman Rhee. This is a misfortune, for there is reason to doubt whether a dictatorship not backed by a quasi-revolutionary mass movement can nowadays function effectively at all.
The cause must probably be sought in the growing complexity of modern society which makes the task of coordination and management impossibly difficult for an old-fashioned regime of the military or bureaucratic kind. This problem is accentuated if the regime tries to bring about genuine changes—and if it does not, it is doomed anyway. Revolutionary mass movements with their organized youth sections, women’s sections, and so forth, are indispensable to a central government which is trying to reach down into deeper strata of the population in order to mobilize popular support for a policy of modernization and reform. It follows that non-totalitarian dictatorships will tend to be socially conservative, while revolutionary regimes will develop totalitarian tendencies. Since social revolution and totalitarianism are alike distasteful to Western opinion, preference is likely to be given to “respectable” dictators who refrain from tampering with established property rights, and who do not indulge in the modern practice of setting up as charismatic popular leaders. There is no doubt that regimes of this kind are easier to get on with; unfortunately they are also more likely to be swept away by the next wave of unrest.
Benevolent dictatorship continues nonetheless to have its supporters among advanced liberals and socialists anxious for a short-cut to reform. Both among New Dealers, now temporarily out of office, and in quarters closer to the “extreme center” of modern liberalism, there is a tendency to seek a panacea in land reform decreed by military dictators. This ignores the lesson of the inter-war years, when fairly radical measures of agrarian redistribution in Eastern Europe failed for lack of social policies discriminating in favor of the poorer peasants, as well as from shortage of capital and technical skill. (Compare H. Seton-Watson’s Eastern Europe Between the Wars.) Further left, emphasis is placed on welfare economics, and particularly on the need to stimulate food production in backward areas by means of gigantic transfers of capital under Point Four, in order to break the vicious circle of poverty, malnutrition, technical backwardness, and low productivity. These suggestions are sound so far as they go, but they seem to underrate the time factor and the difficulty of revolutionizing archaic peasant economies by the application of outside technical aid and advice. It may well be that a comparatively small investment of capital and skill could yield disproportionate results, provided the peasants were willing to cooperate, and the local administration was capable of giving the necessary stimulus. But this is to beg the question. Capable administrations simply do not exist under such circumstances unless they are provided by foreigners, in which case they become the target for nationalist attacks. There is also the likelihood that any increase in output will be swallowed up by an even more rapid growth of population unless economic change is accompanied by cultural revolution. This particular problem usually settles itself in the long run, but runs of that length concern the historian of cultural epochs rather than the political scientist, much less the practicing politician. Welfare economics (which result in falling death rates and rapid population growth, in advance of any significant rise in output) are no answer to the problems of these regions, or of the yet more backward colonial areas which are only now beginning to experience these peculiarly modern stresses.
The challenge of Soviet imperialism has in recent years called forth a variety of reactions ranging from short-lived reliance on the military factor to plain defeatism. Among the defeatists one must include those historians of culture who are obsessed with the Decline of the West, and in search of solutions transcending the political sphere. It is in these quarters that Communism is taken seriously as a quasi-religion, and much anxious thought is given to the possibility that Asia and Africa may yet escape the contamination by clinging to their old religions or adopting Roman Catholicism (and Rome’s doctrines on birth control?). The fact that Communism is spreading much faster in Roman Catholic areas than Catholicism is in Asia, appears to have escaped notice. On present evidence there seems no reason to believe that the international situation would be more manageable if China and Japan had been converted by Jesuit missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries—a suggestion which startled some hearers of Dr. Toynbee’s recent series of Reith Lectures.
As he looks beyond the Mediterranean, towards the border regions between the Soviet empire and the West, the historian of this strip is inevitably attracted by the ancient and petrified totalitarianism of Islam. Inevitably, too, the dignified stagnation of Islamic society appeals to conservative instincts in the beholder. Cannot this archaic structure be reinforced with bits of concrete—treaties, air bases, arms, etc.—so as to become another defensive “bulwark”? This policy is now over a generation old. Its net achievement is a situation in which quite small “cadres” of Communists are potentially strong enough to upset all the established governments of the region—not, of course, under their own flag but by spearheading national-revolutionary movements. The exception is Turkey, where Islam was disestablished in the 1920’s, with the result that the Republic is today the only genuinely Westernized portion of the former Ottoman Empire (leaving Israel aside as not belonging to the Middle East proper). In the remainder of the area, pan-Islamism is crumbling, while pan-Arabism provides an excellent cover for rival fascist and Stalinist cliques, and an instrument for blackmailing the Western powers.
The region has for long been the favorite playground of politically minded Orientalists, historians anxious for a role in the cold war, and people who prefer horse-drawn vehicles to motor traffic. Various eminent members of this school were at one time or another associated with the abortive inter-war project of constructing a kind of Anglo-Arab Caliphate from the debris of the Ottoman Empire, while others, slightly more up-to-date, busied themselves with schemes for fashioning a lasting alliance between British foreign policy and pan-Arabism. The miscarriage of these curious experiments, and the postwar decline of British influence in the Middle East, have brought about a malaise which finds expression in gloomy Spenglerian prognostications and in persistent nagging at the Americans, the French, the Turks, and the Israelis: all of them unhampered by memories of personal and collective failure in building dream castles in the Arabian desert, and consequently apt to take a somewhat more robust view of Western prospects. It is in these circles that discreet support is given to every Utopian or reactionary scheme for driving the French from North Africa, pushing Turkey into a confederation with the creaking Islamic states of the Middle East, or removing that persistent thorn in the flesh, Israel. For why should these relative newcomers presume to interfere with the Decline of the West?
It is indeed undeniable that the impact of the West upon Islamic society creates a special problem. Islam is a totalitarianism which safeguards the culture of a society economically stagnant for so long that it cannot adapt peacefully or gradually to modern conditions. At the ideological level, where this failure to adapt enters the consciousness of the participants, it translates itself into a conflict between two sets of motives: an inflexible resolve to keep things as they are, and a furious determination to break with the past at all cost. Both attitudes are clearly pathological; at least they would be so described in relation to an individual. In social terms they portend the kind of cycle of rebellion and stagnation which Spain has undergone since the early 19th century.
Unlike Spain, though, the Middle East, apart from its Mediterranean fringe, could be incorporated in the Soviet orbit at small cost to its inhabitants. The peasants obviously could not be worse off than they are, and the professional class might find satisfaction in running the revolution. There clearly is no necessary link between nationalism and social conservatism, let alone between nationalism and affection for the “free world.” Nationalism can be conservative, liberal, democratic, or totalitarian, depending on the circumstances. It can be Communist or fascist. Tito is a nationalist and so is Franco. The question whether Mao Tse-tung is primarily a nationalist “or” a Communist belongs to the realm of scholasticism: he is both one and the other, and the Chinese Communist party is more nationalist in some respects than the Kuomintang, with its roots in the Westernizing business class, ever was. There is no inherent reason why nationalism and Stalinism should not form a stable amalgam in the Islamic Middle East, as they have done in China and may yet do in India. The reason they have not done so in Turkey is that Turkish nationalism has shaped itself upon a different model, owing to the success of the Kemalist revolution in modernizing the country, i.e., promoting its rupture with the decaying medieval tradition: the very process which Islamic conservation seeks to impede elsewhere. Turkey is today a nation because the people have learned to identify themselves with the state, and they have been able to do so because the state has reorganized their lives. What is by courtesy described as “the state” in other countries formerly belonging to the Ottoman Empire has no real existence, and in consequence there is nothing for the national consciousness to lay hold of.
It is one of the many oddities of the contemporary situation that this topic is still for the most part discussed in terms of Lenin’s doctrine of nationalism, which the Stalinists no longer take seriously. In its pure form, Leninism involves a distinction between the “natural” emotion of patriotism and the allegedly “bourgeois” concept of sovereign nationality, which is supposed to reflect the impact of capitalism and the creation of an internal market. This doctrine attributes to the bourgeoisie emotions which are in fact held by the peasants, and fails to explain why the submerged rural populations of Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America have made their political debut in national dress. Following Lenin, Western writers and policy-makers—influenced perhaps by scraps of Communist theory acquired during their student days—have persistently misinterpreted national movements as expressions of bourgeois class interest, with results which now and then have been serious. We thus get to the notion that indigenous “bourgeois nationalism” can be played off against “international Communism,” and the resultant confusion in understanding such movements as Vietminh and the Chinese revolution.
What really happens is that, as the self-contained village community breaks down under the impact of modern technology, communications, taxation, conscription, and radio, the peasant forms a mental image of a countrywide peasant community which for him is the nation. If this process is speeded by agrarian upheaval, and the mental contours rendered sharper and clearer by foreign control—a more palpable object of dislike than the traditional rulers within one’s own community—a revolutionary situation may arise which an active minority can exploit to impose its own leadership. If this minority consists of Communists, the Communist party will dominate the nationalist movement, and Western observers will wonder how such a thing could happen, and how it squares with either “true” Communism or “true” nationalism (which by definition is “bourgeois”). This shows the inconvenience of being guided by Leninist textbooks, particularly when the enemy has abandoned them.
In backward, i.e., agrarian—the terms are interchangeable—countries, national movements are an aspect of the countryside’s, not the bourgeoisie’s, political awakening. The recognition of this fact is Soviet Communism’s pecular contribution to modern sociology. Like most discoveries, it was made by accident: as Soviet and Comintern policy after 1917 collided with the West, it gradually became clear that its best chance lay with the exploitation of “anti-imperialist” movements in Asia and elsewhere, and that these movements were linked with peasant unrest. Doctrinal evolution proceeded slowly and haltingly, but has now reached the point where the “October Revolution” is made to symbolize the racial awakening of Asia and much else besides. Underlying all, there is the dim recognition that the peasant masses can be roused by national slogans because nationalism is one of their ways of asserting their class interest. This fact is obvious enough where the towns are the seat of an alien government or an alien ruling nationality, as was the case, for example, in 19th-century Ireland and in most East European countries before 1919, or even later. In these circumstances the traditional conflict between town and country becomes the vehicle of national animosities which can lead to the collapse of multi-national empires such as Austria-Hungary. The peculiar achievement of Communism consists in extrapolating this historic conflict on a world scale, in the revolt of the vast peasant hinterland against the industrial West. Hence the appeal of “anti-imperialism,” which is a social as well as a national slogan.
And yet Lenin, who armed his followers for this struggle, now raging all over the globe, unwittingly bared the Achilles heel of Communism when he pointed out that the peasantry is vitally interested in the growth of democracy. For only majority rule and political freedom can safeguard its longterm economic and political interests. With that blunt realism which is the distinguishing mark of his thought, the Bolshevik leader in 1905 told his followers—then still Social Democrats and not yet Communists—that after the revolution against the Czar (the “democratic revolution”) they would find themselves confronted with the problem of the peasant majority and its vested interest in democracy:
. . . the peasantry will inevitably become a bulwark of the revolution and the republic, for only a completely victorious revolution can give the peasantry everything in the sphere of agrarian reforms—everything that the peasants desire, of which they dream and of which they truly stand in need . . . in order to emerge from the mire of semi-serfdom, from the gloom of oppression and servitude, in order to improve their-living conditions as much as it is possible to improve them under the system of commodity production.
Moreover, the peasantry is drawn to the revolution not only by the prospect of radical agrarian reform but by its general and permanent interests. Even in the struggle with the proletariat the peasantry stands in need of democracy, for only a democratic system is capable of giving exact expression to its interests and of insuring its predominance as the mass, the majority. The more enlightened the peasantry becomes . . . the more consistently and determinedly will it favor a thoroughgoing democratic revolution, for . . . it has nothing to fear from the supremacy of the people, but, on the contrary, can only gain by it. (Lenin, Two Tactics of Social Democracy. Italics mine.)
“Only a democratic system” is capable of safeguarding the peasantry’s interests: one may easily guess what would happen to a Soviet writer who made inopportune use of this devastating remark. But Westerners need not suffer similar inhibitions. Even if Lenin had not spelled it out for them, they should by now be aware of the conflict between Communist policies and peasant aims. In 1905 it was still possible for the future leader of the revolution to remark in all candor that the peasants needed to defend themselves not only against the Czar but also against “the proletariat,” i.e., the revolutionary movement he himself represented. After 1917 such candor became inexpedient; today it has disappeared altogether, at least in public. This need not disturb democratic socialists, since they have no wish to impose a totalitarian dictatorship upon the peasant majority in agrarian countries. Their problem is to win the latter’s consent to changes that are in its interest: something the Communists have never even tried. In supporting their efforts to erect a genuine “bulwark against Communism,” the West can take heart from the fact that in working for democracy they are also serving the interests of the peasants, i.e., doing in fact what the Stalinists merely pretend to be doing. Political freedom is no luxury, to be reserved for a few favored Western countries; it is just as essential to the submerged peoples of the East, for it is only through the democratic process that they can safeguard their material aims. From which it follows that revolutionary dictatorships should never be regarded as anything but brief interregnums making possible a radical break with the past. As such they may be necessary evils; if they pretend to be more they become totalitarian.
Armed with such criteria for distinguishing true revolutions from false ones, the West may yet hope to win over a majority of Eastern revolutionaries to its cause. It must, however, be acknowledged that there is no easy remedy for a situation due in large part to the decentralized character of our world. If Western society were as streamlined, efficient, and self-conscious as the Stalinists imagine it to be, the problem would never have arisen. Unfortunately it is not, and there is no immediate prospect of its becoming so. It may be years before the United States can be brought to underwrite the necessary combination of economic planning and social revolution, and it is plainly impossible for the other Western countries to proceed very far without American backing. Meanwhile, Moscow runs away with the national-revolutionary movement and advertises its brand of despotic planning to power-hungry intellectuals who care little for democracy and much for some means to drag society out of its stagnation. The Communist claim to represent the vanguard of the “proletarian revolution,” like every myth, has real power to move human beings to act, and deserves to be taken seriously. But it ought not to be believed.
The greatest mistake the West can make is to think of the Communist issue in terms of class, and to pit against a wholly mythical “proletarian” movement the resources of the traditional state and its governing groups. The real issue lies between genuine libertarian revolutionaries and those who envisage the transformation of society only in terms of the Soviet experience since 1917. Revolution there must be—failing direct and effective Western control—for no movement, however libertarian its ultimate aims, will renounce the hope of using the concentrated power of the state to end the dreadful poverty and squalor in which the bulk of mankind still lives at the present day. In the struggle to prevent the enemy from gaining control of the entire process, the West cannot succeed if it does not match his resolution.