Thursday, 15 July 2010

Road to revolution

devotion to socialism remained steadfast. It involved an animus against 'capitalism.' An entry in his diary, dated 17 June, 1844, commends the Fourierists for condemning mercantilism and modern industrialism as 'a syphilitic sore infecting the blood and bone of society.' On the positive side, it was a commitment to a humane ideal, now free from supernaturalism. The goal was a secular, rationally organized society. Not that he was clear what form the organization ought to take. Certainly the available blueprints were far from satisfactory. In the writings of Saint-Simon and Fourier there were prophetic hints, he thought, but also des niaiseries. Proudhon's denunciation of private property appealed to him, but he was unable to rid himself of the feeling that private property was essential to a complete personality. As for communism, he could discover in it nothing but 'negation.' Before long he would describe it as 'Russian autocracy upside down.' In any event, socialism was not a subject one could deal with in print. As a writer, he inveighed against quietism in philosophy and indirectly advocated greater freedom in private life.

Some of the Westernists, like the Decembrists before them, assumed that if everyone were assured human rights and the opportunity to pursue his economic advantage, all would be well. Others found this view no longer acceptable. From the West came sinister rumours of the disastrous effects of the laissez-faire policy on the masses. These reports were echoed in the native literature. In a book of philosophic dialogues, published in Petersburg in 1844, one year before the appearance of Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England, it was argued that unrestricted economic competition wreaks havoc on the health, the happiness, the morals of generations. In 1847 an instructor in the University of Petersburg published a study in which he commended 'the social school of economists' who would restrict freedom of competition, replace anarchy with order, and impose a just and rational organization on industry.

Socialism seemed to offer an escape from the prospect of falling from the frying-pan of quasi-feudalism into the fire of capitalism. It teased the imagination with the dream-like vision of a society where body and spirit were at ease. A contemporary notes that by 1843 the works of Proudhon, Cabet, Fourier, and Leroux were in the hands of everyone in Petersburg, forming 'the object of study, ardent discussion, questions, and all manner of hopes.' In Moscow Saint-Simon was popular. Herzen has it that there socialism went hand in hand with Hegelianism. Nor was the vogue restricted to the capitals. A young engineer, writing from a small town in the province of Yaroslavl, requested his brother to get him La Phalange or the works of Considerant, saying he would rather go without boots than without the books of one of Fourier's apostles. The importation of such literature was of course forbidden, but dealers were careful to stock up on the titles they found on the Index, and pedlars called at the homes of trusted customers, prepared either to lend or sell bootlegged books. Though Slavophilism had adumbrated a connexion between the European Utopias and such native realities as the obshchina and the artel, socialism was plainly an imported article.

No comments: