LXVI. The Revolution and Famine in Russia

It speedily became evident that these Bolshevik socialists were men of a very different quality from the rhetorical constitutionalists and revolutionaries of the Kerensky phase. They were fanatical Marxist communists. They believed that their accession to power in Russia was only the opening of a world-wide social revolution, and they set about changing the social and economic order with the thoroughness of perfect faith and absolute inexperience. The western European and the American governments were themselves much too ill-informed and incapable to guide or help this extraordinary experiment, and the press set itself to discredit and the ruling classes to wreck these usurpers upon any terms and at any cost to themselves or to Russia. A propaganda of abominable and disgusting inventions went on unchecked in the press of the world; the Bolshevik leaders were represented as incredible monsters glutted with blood and plunder and living lives of sensuality before which the realities of the Tsarist court during the Rasputin regime paled to a white purity. Expeditions were launched at the exhausted country, insurgents and raiders were encouraged, armed and subsidized, and no method of attack was too mean or too monstrous for the frightened enemies of the Bolshevik regime. In 1919, the Russian Bolsheviks, ruling a country already exhausted and disorganized by five years of intensive warfare, were fighting a British Expedition at Archangel, Japanese invaders in Eastern Siberia, Roumanians with French and Greek contingents in the south, the Russian Admiral Koltchak in Siberia and General Deniken, supported by the French fleet, in the Crimea. In July of that year an Esthonian army, under General Yudenitch, almost got to Petersburg. In 1920 the Poles, incited by the French, made a new attack on Russia; and a new reactionary raider, General Wrangel, took over the task of General Deniken in invading and devastating his own country. In March, 1921, the sailors at Cronstadt revolted. The Russian Government under its president, Lenin, survived all these various attacks. It showed an amazing tenacity, and the common people of Russia sustained it unswervingly under conditions of extreme hardship. By the end of 1921 both Britain and Italy had made a sort of recognition of the communist rule.

But if the Bolshevik Government was successful in its struggle against foreign intervention and internal revolt, it was far less happy in its attempts to set up a new social order based upon communist ideas in Russia. The Russian peasant is a small land-hungry proprietor, as far from communism in his thoughts and methods as a whale is from flying; the revolution gave him the land of the great landowners but could not make him grow food for anything but negotiable money, and the revolution, among other things, had practically destroyed the value of money. Agricultural production, already greatly disordered by the collapse of the railways through war-strain, shrank to a mere cultivation of food by the peasants for their own consumption. The towns starved. Hasty and ill-planned attempts to make over industrial production in accordance with communist ideas were equally unsuccessful. By 1920 Russia presented the unprecedented spectacle of a modern civilization in complete collapse. Railways were rusting and passing out of use, towns were falling into ruin, everywhere there was an immense mortality. Yet the country still fought with its enemies at its gates. In 1921 came a drought and a great famine among the peasant cultivators in the war-devastated south-east provinces. Millions of people starved.

But the question of the distresses and the possible recuperation of Russia brings us too close to current controversies to be discussed here.