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The Fruits Of Revolution New Crowd-tyrannies For Old

So much for the psychology of the revolutionary propaganda. Now let us
look at what happens in the moment of revolutionary outbreak. We have
dwelt at some length on the fact that a revolution occurs when a new
crowd succeeds in displacing an old one in position of social control.
At first there is a general feeling of release and of freedom. There is
a brief period of ecstasy, of good will, a strange, almost mystical
magnanimity. A flood of oratory is released in praise of the "new day of
the people." Everyone is a "comrade." Everyone is important. There is an
inclination to trust everyone. This Easter-morning state of mind
generally lasts for some days--until people are driven by the pinch of
hunger to stop talking and take up again the routine tasks of daily
living. We have all read how the "citizens" of the French Revolution
danced in the streets for sheer joy in their new-won liberty. Those who
were in Petrograd during the days which immediately followed the
downfall of the Tsar bear witness to a like almost mystical sense of the
general goodness of human kind and of joy in human fellowship.

With the return to the commonplace tasks of daily life, some effort, and
indeed further rationalization, is needed to keep up the feeling that
the new and wonderful age has really come to stay. Conflicts of interest
and special grievances are viewed as involving the vital principles of
the Revolution. People become impatient and censorious. There is a
searching of hearts. People watch their neighbors, especially their
rivals, to make sure that nothing in their behavior shall confirm the
misgivings which are vaguely felt in their own minds. The rejoicing and
comradeship which before were spontaneous are now demanded. Intolerance
toward the vanquished crowd reappears with increased intensity, not a
little augmented by the knowledge that the old enemies are now at "the
people's" mercy.

There is a demand for revenge for old abuses. The displaced crowd likely
as not, foreseeing the doom which awaits its members, seeks escape by
attempting a counter-revolution. A propaganda of sympathy is carried on
among members of this same class who remain in the dominant crowd in
communities not affected by the revolution. There is secret plotting
and suspicion of treason on every hand. People resort to extravagant
expressions of their revolutionary principles, not only to keep up their
own faith in them, but to show their loyalty to the great cause. The
most fanatical and uncompromising members of the group gain prominence
because of their excessive devotion. By the very logic of
crowd-thinking, leadership passes to men who are less and less competent
to deal with facts and more and more extreme in their zeal. Hence the
usual decline from the Mirabeaus to the Dantons and Cariers, and from
these to the Marats and Robespierres, from the Milukoffs to the
Kerenskys and from the Kerenskys to the Trotzkys. With each excess the
crowd must erect some still new defense against the inevitable
disclosure of the fact that the people are not behaving at all as if
they were living in the kingdom of heaven. With each farther deviation
from the plain meaning of facts, the revolution must resort to more
severe measures to sustain itself, until finally an unsurmountable
barrier is reached, such as the arrival on the scene of a Napoleon. Then
the majority are forced to abandon the vain hope of really attaining
Utopia, and content themselves with fictions to the effect that what
they have really is Utopia--or with such other mechanisms as will
serve to excuse and minimize the significance of existing facts and put
off the complete realization of the ideal until some future stage of
progress. It is needless to add that those who have most profited by the
revolutionary change are also most ready to take the lead in persuading
their neighbors to be content with these rational compromises.

Meanwhile, however, the revolutionary leaders have set up a dictatorship
of their own, which, while necessary to "save the revolution," is itself
a practical negation of the revolutionary dream of a free world. This
dictatorship, finally passing into the hands of the more competent
element of the revolutionary crowd, justifies itself to the many;
professing and requiring of all a verbal assent to the revolutionary
creed of which its very existence is a fundamental repudiation. This
group becomes in time the nucleus about which society finally settles
down again in comparative peace and equilibrium.

In general, then, it may be said that a revolution does not and cannot
realize the age-long dream of a world set free. Its results may be
summed up as follows: a newly dominant crowd, a new statement of old
beliefs, new owners of property in the places of the old, new names for
old tyrannies. Looking back over the history of the several great tidal
waves of revolution which have swept over the civilization which is
to-day ours, it would appear that one effect of them has been to
intensify the hold which crowd-thinking has upon all of us, also to
widen the range of the things which we submit to the crowd-mind for
final judgment. In confirmation of this it is to be noted that it is on
the whole those nations which have been burnt over by both the
Reformation and the eighteenth-century revolution which exhibit the most
chauvian brand of nationalism and crowd-patriotism. It is these same
nations also which have most highly depersonalized their social
relationships, political structures, and ideals. It is these nations
also whose councils are most determined by spasms of crowd-propaganda.

The modern man doubtless has a sense of self in a degree unknown--except
by the few--in earlier ages, but along with this there exists in "modern
ideas," a complete system of crowd-ideas with which the conscious self
comes into conflict at every turn. Just how far the revolutionary crowds
of the past have operated to provide the stereotyped forms in which
present crowd-thinking is carried on, it is almost impossible to learn.
But that their influence has been great may be seen by anyone who
attempts a psychological study of "public opinion."

Aside from the results mentioned, I think the deposit of revolutionary
movements in history has been very small. It may be that, in the
general shake-up of such a period, a few vigorous spirits are tossed
into a place where their genius has an opportunity which it would
otherwise have failed to get. But it would seem that on the whole the
idea that revolutions help the progress of the race is a hoax. Where
advancement has been achieved in freedom, in intelligence, in ethical
values, in art or science, in consideration for humanity, in
legislation, it has in each instance been achieved by unique
individuals, and has spread chiefly by personal influence, never gaining
assent except among those who have power to recreate the new values won
in their own experience.

Whenever we take up a new idea as a crowd, we at once turn it into a
catchword and a fad. Faddism, instead of being merely a hunger for the
new is rather an expression of the crowd-will to uniformity. To be
"old-fashioned" and out of date is as truly to be a nonconformist as to
be a freak or an originator. Faddism is neither radicalism nor a symptom
of progress. It is a mark of the passion for uniformity or the
conservatism of the crowd-mind. It is change; but its change is

It is often said that religious liberty is the fruit of the Reformation.
If so it is an indirect result and one which the reformers certainly
did not desire. They sought liberty only for their own particular
propaganda, a fact which is abundantly proved by Calvin's treatment of
Servetus and of the Anabaptists, by Luther's attitude toward the Saxon
peasants, by the treatment of Catholics in England, by the whole history
of Cromwell's rule, by the persecution of Quakers and all other
"heretics" in our American colonies--Pennsylvania, I believe,
excepted--down to the date of the American Revolution.

It just happened that Protestantism as the religion of the bourgeois
fell into the hands of a group, who, outside their religious-crowd
interests were destined to be the greatest practical beneficiaries of
the advancement of applied science. Between applied science and science
as a cultural discipline--that is, science as a humanistic study--the
line is hard to draw. The Humanist spirit of the sciences attained a
certain freedom, notwithstanding the fact that the whole Reformation was
really a reactionary movement against the Renaissance; in spite,
moreover, of the patent fact that the Protestant churches still,
officially at least, resist the free spirit of scientific culture.

It is to the free spirits of the Italian Renaissance, also to the
Jeffersons and Franklins and Paines, the Lincolns and Ingersolls, the
Huxleys and Darwins and Spencers, the men who dared alone to resist the
religious crowd-mind and to undermine the abstract ideas in which it had
intrenched itself, to whom the modern world owes its religious and
intellectual liberty.

The same is true of political liberty. England, which is the most free
country in the world to-day, never really experienced the revolutionary
crowd-movement of the eighteenth century. Instead, the changes came by a
process of gradual reconstruction. And it is with just such an
opportunist reconstructive process that England promises now to meet and
solve the problems of the threatened social revolution. In contrast with
Russia, Socialism in England has much ground for hope of success. The
radical movement in England is on the whole wisely led by men who with
few exceptions can think realistically and pragmatically, and refuse to
be swept off their feet by crowd-abstractions. The British Labor party
is the least crowd-minded of any of the socialistic organizations of our
day. The Rochdale group has demonstrated that if it is co-operation that
people desire as a solution of the economic problem, the way to solve it
is to co-operate along definite and practicable lines; the co-operators
have given up belief in the miracle of Jericho. The British trade-union
movement has demonstrated the fact that organization of this kind
succeeds in just the degree that it can rise above crowd-thinking and
deal with a suggestion of concrete problems according to a statesmanlike
policy of concerted action.

To be sure it cannot be denied that the social reconstruction in England
is seriously menaced by the tendency to crowd-behavior. At best it
reveals hardly more than the superior advantage to the whole community
of a slightly less degree of crowd-behavior; but when compared with the
Socialist movement in Russia, Germany, and the United States, it would
seem that radicalism in England has at least a remote promise of
reaching a working solution of the social problem; and that is more than
can at present be said for the others.

In the light of what has been said about the psychology of revolution, I
think we may hazard an opinion about the vaunted "Dictatorship of the
Proletariat"--an idea that has provided some new catchwords for the
crowd which is fascinated by the soviet revolution in Russia. Granting
for the sake of argument that such a dictatorship would be desirable
from any point of view--I do not see how the mere fact that people work
proves their capacity to rule, horses also work--would it be possible? I
think not. Even the temporary rule of Lenin in Russia can hardly be
called a rule of the working class. Bolshevist propaganda will have it
that such a dictatorship of the working class is positively necessary
if we are ever to get away from the abuses of present "capitalistic
society." Moreover, it is argued that this dictatorship of the organized
workers could not be undemocratic, for since vested property is to be
abolished and everyone forced to work for his living, all will belong to
the working class, and therefore the dictatorship of the proletariat is
but the dictatorship of all.

In the first place, assuming that it is the dictatorship of all who
survive the revolution, this dictatorship of all over each is not
liberty for anyone; it may leave not the tiniest corner where one may be
permitted to be master of himself. The tyranny of all over each is as
different from freedom as is pharisaism from spiritual living.

Again, what is there to show that this imagined dictatorship of all is
to be shared equally by all, and if not have we not merely set up a new
privileged class--the very thing which the Socialist Talmud has always
declared it is the mission of the workers to destroy forever? While the
workers are still a counter-crowd, struggling for power against the
present ruling class, they are of course held together by a common
cause--namely, their opposition to capital. But with labor's triumph,
everybody becomes a worker, and there is no one longer to oppose. That
which held the various elements of labor together in a common crowd of
revolt has now ceased to exist, "class consciousness" has therefore no
longer any meaning. Labor itself has ceased to exist as a class by
reason of its very triumph. What then remains to hold its various
elements together in a common cause? Nothing at all. The solidarity of
the workers vanishes, when the struggle which gave rise to that
solidarity ceases. There remains now nothing but the humanitarian
principle of the solidarity of the human race. Solidarity has ceased to
be an economic fact, and has become purely "ideological."

Since by hypothesis everyone is a worker, the dictatorship of the
workers is a dictatorship based not on labor as such, but upon a
universal human quality. It would be quite as truly a dictatorship of
everyone if based upon any other common human quality--say, the fact
that we are all bipeds, that we all have noses, or the fact of the
circulation of the blood. As the purely proletarian character of this
dictatorship becomes meaningless, the crowd-struggle switches from that
of labor as a whole against capital, to a series of struggles within the
dominant labor group itself.

The experience of Russia has even now shown that if the soviets are to
save themselves from nation-wide bankruptcy, specially trained men must
be found to take charge of their industrial and political activities.
Long training is necessary for the successful management of large
affairs, and becomes all the more indispensable as industry, education,
and political affairs are organized on a large scale. Are specially
promising youths to be set apart from early childhood to prepare
themselves for these positions of authority? Or shall such places be
filled by those vigorous few who have the ambition and the strength to
acquire the necessary training while at the same time working at their
daily tasks? In either case an intellectual class must be developed.
Does anyone imagine that this new class of rulers will hesitate to make
use of every opportunity to make itself a privileged class?

"But what opportunity can there be," is the reply, "since private
capital is to be abolished?" Very well, there have been ruling classes
before in history who did not enjoy the privilege of owning private
property. The clergy of the Middle Ages was such a class, and their
dominance was quite as effective and as enduring as is that of our
commercial classes today. But let us not deceive ourselves; in a soviet
republic there would be opportunity aplenty for exploitation. As the
solidarity of labor vanished, each important trade-group would enter
into rivalry with the others for leadership in the co-operative
commonwealth. Every economic advantage which any group possessed would
be used in order to lord it over the rest.

For instance, let us suppose that the workers in a strategic industry,
such as the railways, or coal mines, should make the discovery that by
going on a strike they could starve the community as a whole into
submission and gain practically anything they might demand. Loyalty to
the rest of labor would act no more as a check to such ambitions than
does loyalty to humanity in general now. As we have seen, the crowd is
always formed for the unconscious purpose of relaxing the social control
by mechanisms which mutually justify such antisocial conduct on the part
of members of the crowd. There is every reason, both economic and
psychological, why the workers in each industry would become organized
crowds seeking to gain for their particular groups the lion's share of
the spoils of the social revolution. What would there be, then, to
prevent the workers of the railroads or some other essential industry
from exploiting the community quite as mercilessly as the capitalists
are alleged to do at present? Nothing but the rivalry of other crowds
who were seeking the same dominance. In time a modus vivendi would
doubtless be reached whereby social control would be shared by a few of
the stronger unions--and their leaders.

The strike has already demonstrated the fact that in the hands of a
well-organized body of laborers, especially in those trades where the
number of apprentices may be controlled, industrial power becomes a much
more effective weapon than it is in the hands of the present
capitalistic owners.

A new dictatorship, therefore, must inevitably follow the social
revolution, in support of which a favored minority will make use of the
industrial power of the community, just as earlier privileged classes
used military power and the power of private property. And this new
dominance would be just as predatory, and would justify itself, as did
the others, by the platitudes of crowd-thinking. The so-called
dictatorship turns out, on examination, to be the dictatorship of one
section of the proletariat over the rest of it. The dream of social
redemption by such means is a pure crowd-idea.

Next: Freedom And Government By Crowds

Previous: The Psychology Of Revolutionary Crowds

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