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British Intellectuals visit Moscow

In 1920 there was much debate among intellectuals in the West concerning the Bolshevik Revolution. The celebrated British writer HG Wells, a socialist, met Lenin in 1920 and found him to be "without a trace of hauteur" and a man who laughed a lot, but a laugh he described as grim. Wells did not care for what he believed was the narrow-minded rigidity of Lenin's ideology, including Lenin's belief that private property was the root of all evil. And Wells was critical of Bolshevik ruthlessness and criticized them for being dictatorial. He pointed out privileges that were already accruing to Communist Party personnel and said that if the Bolsheviks remained in power he expected them to continue to be despotic. But believing that most things change he expressed hoped that the Soviet regime would change for the better. Trotsky described Wells as a bourgeois and condescending. Winston Churchill took issue with Wells, saying something about leopards not changing their spots, and Well's responded with a verbal attack on Churchill's past.

Bolshevik poster

The poster reads: "Comrade Lenin cleanses the earth of filth." (Wikimedia commons)

Also visiting the Soviet Union and Lenin in 1920 was Lord Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, mathematician, and a socialist. Russell was one of the few British intellectuals who from the start opposed British involvement in World War I, and in 1920 after returning to England from Russia he published a small book in which he described Britain's labor movement as having done much toward making a "first-class" war against the Bolsheviks impossible. He mentioned the sympathy for the revolution among the British Left and within Britain's labor movement. He mentioned the hope for a better world that the Bolsheviks had created, but he added that Bolshevism was a "tragic delusion." The hopes that inspire communism are as admirable, he wrote, as are those instilled by the Sermon on the Mount, and they are held as fanatically and likely to do as much harm. Bolshevism, he wrote, had supplied a new religion out of a mood of disillusionment and despair. Russell wrote of a "Marxian gospel" replacing the Christian martyr's hope for Paradise.

Russell wrote that Western socialists who had visited Russia had "seen fit to suppress the harsher features of the present regime." He acknowledged that some of Bolshevism's harshness was a response to attacks from its enemies, but he stated that this was no excuse for many of the Soviet regime's brutalities. He wrote that he found some Bolsheviks kind. He wrote of an enthusiastic audience cheering itself hoarse and giving Trotsky a standing ovation when Trotsky put in an appearance at the Opera, and of Trotsky asking for and getting great hurrahs from the audience for the brave soldiers fighting for the revolution at the front. Describing his interview with the Russian writer Maxim Gorky, Russell wrote that the celebrated author was ill and obviously heartbroken but that Gorky supported the Soviet government, not because it was faultless but because he believed that possible alternatives would be worse. Gorky begged me, wrote Russell, that "in anything I might say about Russia, always to emphasize what Russia has suffered."

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Copyright © 1998-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.