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.

The Egoism Of The Crowd-mind The Psychology Of Revolutionary Crowds facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail