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Customer Reviews (1)
History in the Making
This is not a history book. Rather, this book is history. The author wrote what is now a time capsule forever poised on the breaking edge of world events. The year was 1920. The Russian Revolution--despite huge difficulties due to World War I and, following that, attacks from the Western powers--was triumphant. Russell went to Moscow as a huge VIP, a world-famous mathematician/philosopher who believed in Socialism and Communism. Further, he considered capitalism both evil and doomed...And yet, and yet, as we'll see, Bolshevism was for Russell a step too far.
Russell had one of the best minds of the century. Writing this book, he was 48, at the height of his powers. It is altogether delightful to travel through history with a tip-top intelligence. Russell is rigorous, careful, precise, decent, and highly educated. He waltzes gracefully from point to point, fact to fact, deduction to deduction. Remember, he is in the very crucible of history, trying to make sense of events even as they unfold outside his window. I believe an entire college course could be made from this short book. Of course, students would have to read lots of additional material to run along side Russell and evaluate all the arresting things he says, for example: "Bolshevism combines the characteristics of the French Revolution with those of the rise of Islam; and the result is something radically new, which can only be understood by a patient and passionate effort of imagination."
Students taking such a course would understand what so many American intellectuals, all through the 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's, did not. Blinded by their love of Communism and their hatred of the West, they consistently aided and abetted what was the very definition of an evil government, the USSR under Stalin. Russell's mind is more subtle and sinuous. He wants a better world but sees that the Bolsheviks are willing to destroy everything to get it; but then it's not better, it's only rubble and death. Writing in 1920, when Lenin was in total control and Stalin was a minor figure, Russell nonetheless saw everything that was coming. He dissects the fanaticism, the many ways in which Bolshevism functions as a religion and its adherents become murderous ideologues.
Russell writes, with sadness but also alarm: "While some forms of Socialism are immeasurably better than capitalism, others are even worse. Among those that are worse, I reckon the form which is being achieved in Russia, not only in itself, but as a more insuperable barrier to further progress."
Aside: I ordered this book because I knew that Russell spent an hour with Lenin, a figure I wanted to know more about. Russell noted a cruel streak; for example, Lenin "described the division between rich and poor peasants, and the Government propaganda among the latter against the former, leading to acts of violence which he seemed to find amusing." This at a time when the country could not feed itself! I'm intrigued by cold-hearted intellectuals who think nothing of leveling what civilization there is in order to build their brave new worlds. Let us never forget Pol Pot who went back to Cambodia and killed 25% of his own country. In the field I mostly write about, education, there's our own John Dewey, who set out to dumb down an entire country so he could build his version of socialism. Lenin was a tough guy relative to the professorial Dewey, but I detect the same megalomania in both men.
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