2 OCTOBER 1920, Page 16


THESE little essays on the doctrines of some famous revolu- tionaries would not seem to us worth serious notice were it not that they are a phenomenon of the times. When revolution is in the air there are always a certain number of literary camp- followers who, with the best intentions in the world—at least we assume so—make their contributions to the sum of revolu- tionary knowledge or discussion. They write in a popular way for all to understand. Being intellectuals they do not deal in frenzy or in passion. They stand for the graces and delights of subversive ideals, and when their language is not moderating it is academically dispassionate. Nevertheless, they do a good deal of harm. Under the belief that they are increasing idealism or encouraging high thinking they are really increasing prejudice, for the kind of writers we have in mind generally have no power of ratiocination, no judgment, no aptitude for applying principles to facts. They take a fearful joy in playing with revolution, and with the greatest urbanity carry revolution into drawing-rooms and discuss it at tea-parties. Mr. Burns is the type of this kind of writer. He frankly implies—we do not say positively asserts because he never positively asserts anything—that everything in our world is all wrong and needs reconstruction from the beginning. He omits to mention, or to remember, that this kind of sudden upheaval and recasting is wholly foreign to the British nature, and that so far as reputable historians have been able to explain the admired stability of our institutions they have explained it on the ground that those institutions never required a wholesale act of faith, or the swallowing of some constitutional camel, but arose out of the gradual empirical solutions of one problem after another. In a word, they were the fruit of experience.

Mr. Burns suggests that it would be very much better to sweep away all the results of experience and substitute for them a suddenly invented social and political system. He is what the Americans call a "parlour Bolshevik." He is careful to point out that the revolutionaries whom he admires, Rousseau, Karl Marx, Mazzini, William Morris and Tolstoi—very different kinds of revolutionary, by the way—did not desire violence.

• The Principles of Revolution A Study in Ideals. By 0. Gentile DUMB.

London: George Allen and Unwl.n. 15s. net.l .

Of course they did not. Robespierre, Denton, Saint-Just and the other Jacobins never wanted violence for its own sake. They took to violence in panic when they doubted the security of the system they had set up and the safety of their own persons. Having once reconciled their minds to bloodshed, they pro- moted bloodshed, too, into a system, and their doctrines on the subject became indistinguishable from what might have emerged from the brain of a fanatic who regarded the shedding of blood as the purification of the world. So it has been in Russia. When the voice of the Bolsheviks was first heard tentatively expressing pions opinions at Brest-Litovsk, it was the voice of a lamb. Since then we have had a Bolshevik Terror which, if horror be reckoned by the number of deaths, has probably outstripped even the Terror of the French Revolution. And those who have survived have survived by virtue of consenting to a plan of government that has turned them into industrial slaves. Mr. Burns leaves us quite unsympathetic when be writes :—

" Thus from opposing points of view a use may be found in gathering together and analysing the influences which work,

not towards destruction, but towards a new order. These influences come from many different lands ; and the prophets

selected for notice hero are proof enough, that in every part of the civilized Western world men of intelligence and imagination are in revolt against the circumstances into which they have been born. Not even the silliest reactionary can persuade him- self that men like Tolstoi are uneducated and unintelligent agitators. Rousseau and Morris were not starving slum- dwellers irritated by their own grievances. Mazzini and Marx have had a definite influence on practical politics. Thus practical genius, fine intelligence, and altruism can be found in the exponents of revolutionary principles. The movement is too widespread, the inspiring leaders too groat, for suppression or neglect ; and indeed it is only a question of time for the best administrators to offer themselves as servants of the public with a view to radical changes in society."

It is particularly useless to tell us that Tolstoi was educated and intelligent. You can have seas of education and intelligence upon which the sunshine of common sense never glistens. Common sense is the greatest of all political gifts, and it may exist in the uneducated as easily as in the educated. This, after all, is an obvious fact ; were it not so Great Britain would not be so efficient and secure as she is. Learning and wit may act as the ornaments of common sense to any extent, but they cannot replace it.

Mr. Burns, in his characteristic give-and-take manner, says : " The miserable peasantry of Rousseau's day has been freed at least from the more obvious forms of forced labour. Rousseau assisted in the change which has destroyed these old evils, but in many details his ideas are certainly mistaken." Unfortunately for Mr. Burns, the immediate result of trying to put Rousseau's principles into practice was to strengthen the bourgeoisie and by comparison to help the peasant very little. As for "obviousf arms of forced labour," these are to-day in Russia the demonstrable result of the sort of principles which Mr. Burns so prettily praises. After quoting a long passage from Rousseau, he says : " This passage, and others like it, have had an immense effect throughout the century following that in which it was written, and we now see its latest commentary in the constitution of the Russian Soviet Republic which gives civic rights only to those who work." " Civic rights only to those who work " is a delight- fed glees upon industrial conscription. In the chapter on " Tolstoi and Christianity " Mr. Burns says :— " Whether his (Tolstoi' Is) prophecies come true or not, clearly Russia is showing the world something hitherto unknown. The organization of the Russian government may be more influenced by Marx than by Tolstoi, but Tolstoi did the preparatory work in destroying the ancient glorification of war. The humane scepticism of common folk when they are urged to seek the glory of their rulers and their se-rolled country has been most clearly expressed by Tolstoi ; and this scepticism it was which corroded the Russian army when the Czar and his courtiers expected them to fire upon the revolting populace in 1917. Tolstoi is still regarded as the most dangerous of all revolutionaries because he quite definitely aims at destroying the subservience of men in armies and navies ; and governments still rely upon force— ultimately armed force—and not upon the approval of the governed."

Unfortunately again for Mr. Burns, the Bolsheviks, inspired though they may be by Tolstoi as well as by Marx, are deliberately adding aggression to domestic terror.

Mr. Burns apparently believes, with Rousseau, that people cannot really be " represented " by Members of Parliament and that the only solution for making the people sovereign is to split up government into small unite. Soviet government in theory is the rule of small unite ; in practice, as we see it Russia, it is the most complete autocracy recorded in modern history. This autonaey governs the many in the interests of the few, and yet Mr. Burns can write with excellent truth that " the true life of a society is in the General Will of its members."

Ultimately Mr. Burns's inability to relate causes and effects and to see things in their due proportion may be owing to a lack of humour. LA us give an example of his humour which is

perhaps more illuminating than any comment we could make on his writing:—

" The man himself [Marx] is becoming a figure of myth. Ho' is presented by some as a proletarian deity, by others as the devil incarnate, and oven those educated at our older universi- ties have heard of him. A rumour of his name, as that of a dangerous Hun, has reached tho War Offico ; and doubtless the Home Office has asked the police to be on the look-out lest he might leave his internment at Highgate. But he has somehow escaped the vigilance of governments, and, though long dead, is a more powerful enemy of the established order than many living rhetoricians."