The newspapers never say anything about the danger of Bolshevism. To some this statement may seem a little strange; to some it may occur that they have, from time to time, seen some mention of the matter in our journalism. But they are wrong and the statement is right. Not a word of warning about the evil of Bolshevist propaganda has ever appeared in the English press; because the pressmen are quite incapable of understanding what the evil of it is. The evil of such a thing, because the essence of such a thing, is an idea. And those who understand a stunt, a scoop, a scare, a slogan, a catchword, or a caption, never do understand an idea. It is something that exists before any of its manifestations; it is something anterior to a policy, a programme, or a propagandist movement; it is simply a thought. Now hardly anybody has the least notion of what this one thought of Trotsky and his school really is; and it has nothing whatever to do with the thoughtless things that are thrown at them. Need less to say, it is not “The Soviet,” which is simply a particular sort of elected council that might be established without much change in Putney or Peckham Rye. It is not even Communism. This second point is rather less obvious and more important.
Communism cannot be an evil; it can only be a misapplied good. If all human beings quite sincerely wanted to be Franciscans, it would not be wicked; it would only be very inconvenient. It would also be in a sense narrow; for it would be the exclusion of another kind of good, which we in this paper have made it our special duty to defend. But we only say that it is good to own as well as good to share; we do not say it is good to own and bad to share. We say that something is added to life by the individual giving out of his best deliberately and in detail, rather than surrendering finally and entirely. Perhaps the best illustration of this particular point of honour is the point of hospitality. We say that it is better for normal men like Jones and Brown if they live in separate houses; and if Jones sometimes entertains Brown and Brown sometimes entertains Jones. For in this way certain elements are added to experience; which are not added when Jones and Brown live together in a large hotel and share the same organisation. There is, for instance, the element of surprise; perhaps the sharpest element in enjoyment; when Brown receives the first full shock of the colour-scheme arranged by Jones; or Jones collapses happily under the benevolent practical jokes prepared by Brown. There is the element of creation or craftsmanship; as when Mrs. Brown feels that nobody else can imitate her cowslip wine; or Mr. Jones is firmly convinced that he can make a salad. There is the element of courtesy; in that each party is the better for remembering his part in a drama; last, but not least, there is the element of change, in that each actor does not always play the same part. All these things, we say, make for a fuller humanity; and the large hotel is not more universal, but less. But we do not say that the large hotel is wicked; and we certainly do not say that the large monastery is wicked. We certainly do not say that the Loving Cup, making its happy round as it is passed perpetually backwards and forwards between Jones and Brown, is necessarily wicked. Sharing as such is in itself generous and fraternal; it is at the least innocent, and at the worst insufficient. Communism is in itself Christian and even saintly; anyhow, it is not Communism that is the matter with the Communists.
Nor is it really, or in the last resort, any of the crimes or insanities with which Communism has been sought. If it were, the condemnation would be less; it would not be the first time that good things have been sought by bad methods; and Communism would not be the less like Catholicism because ruffians and tyrants had sometimes waged its wars. But this element of horror at crime is about the nearest that the newspapers ever get to the truth. They are right when they rebuke the Bolshevist crimes of massacre and pillage; they would be still more right if they also rebuked the Capitalist crimes of usury and chicane.
But the real crime of Bolshevism was committed in the mind of the first Bolshevist. It is necessary to use the mind in order to understand it; and it is needless to say that the newspapers have never tried. The evil should not be called Bolshevism but Marxism; or perhaps a particular policy founded on the materialism of Marx. To realise it, its opponents would not only have to endure the pain of thought; they would also require the moral courage to read the literature of the people they denounce; and it is much easier merely to denounce it.
In one of the Communist pamphlets which they always revile and never read, the thing was most correctly described as “a brilliant understanding of economic determinism.” What it really means is this. Conceiving all ethical states as the product of economic states, the true Marxian conspirator does go about to establish (by any means or moral professions) the economic arrangement which he thinks will itself change the minds of men. The special point about it is that he reverses the usual logical order of propaganda; and especially of revolutionary propaganda. He does not justify it that it may be established; he would rather establish it that it may be justified. He would set the material forces at work, and treat the moral forces as if they were material forces; that is, use them rather than agree with them. Among these moral forces would be discontent; but he does not use it because he thinks it a divine discontent. He uses it to engineer something with which he will be content; but which I, for instance, should hardly call even a human content. It is rather a bestial or vegetable content; not as a question of its quality, but rather of its process of production. It is imposed by forces upon men; as gardening is imposed upon flowers. For instance, the hatred of religion does indeed break out into blasphemy and sacrilege, and maxims like “Religion is the opium of the people.”
But this, which is the largest part of the scandal, is the least part of the evil. The more subtle Marxian carefully explains that he would not denounce faith merely because it is false, or preach abstract atheism because it is true. That is mere idealism or “ideology”; his is the practical atheism that would produce by any means the material state in which he hopes that men would be materialists. For that purpose he will if necessary be moderate, not to say hypocritical. His principle is that principles are no good until they have become practice. It is that prudence that is for us a heresy from hell; and worse than a hundred naming churches. For it is a war against the will; a denial of the primal right of the mind over its own thought and choice; a hideous nightmare of the cart dragging the horse.
It is true in a sense that there can be no debate, but only war, with those who think that they cannot really think. For any conception of popular rule it is, of course, a paralysis. Materialism makes citizens as such merely passive. Irreligion is the opium of the people.