Tuesday, 16 May 2017

“It can’t be helped”: The Bolshevik Myth by Alexander Berkman

That the psychological disorders of early communist thinkers has done nothing to dissuade successive generations from following in their naïve footsteps is evidence enough to support the view that IQs globally have declined precipitously over the last century or more. As proof of this, a right thinking reader need look no farther than (((Alexander Berkman))).

Let me at the outset heartily recommend this tome. My distaste for communists and Mr. Berkman should not be misconstrued as censure of his work. Quite the contrary; any reader interested in gaining an insight into infantile leftism should immediately contact their local library.

(((Ovsei Osipovich Berkman))) (1870 – 1936) was one of the most pretentious, naïve and immature members of the international anarchist movement for more than half a century, and he is still well worth remembering seventy years after his death. A Lithuanian Jew by birth, his emigration to America at seventeen provides a stark reminder as to why migration has failed to make the United States a better country. In 1892, Berkman tried to assassinate Henry Clay Frick, an American industrialist and union buster. He spent 14 years in prison, and upon release opposed conscription when the US entered WWI, for which he was jailed again. A supporter of the Russian Revolution from the outset, he was deported from Ellis Island in December 1919 to Russia, where he was able to see first-hand how mightily Russian society had advanced under the Bolsheviks.

As attentive readers will have noted, Berkman was deported from his cell on Ellis Island, along with a boatload of fellow Europeans agitating for the communist overthrow of the American government. What a marvellous piece of history to reflect upon in the current age, and a grand American tradition that should see a revival. As Berkman notes, the detectives overseeing their deportation “laughed boisterously, and swore and sneered” as they herded he and his fellow revolutionaries to the boat. “Don’t like this country,” Berkman quotes one of the guards saying to them, “damn you! Now you’ll get out, ye sons of b------.” It’s wonderful to see a book so full of humour. A bullet would have been better, but that would have denied us the joy of seeing the author’s bubble of gullibility pricked so viciously over the following two years.

Finally setting foot on Russian soil in January 1920, Berkman can’t contain his joy. “Never before, not even at the first caress of freedom on that glorious May day, 1906 – after fourteen years in the Pennsylvania prison – had I been stirred so profoundly … It was the most sublime day of my life.” Things started souring almost immediately.

In Petrograd, he attends a celebration where he notes inscriptions on the wall reading:

“Socialism is the religion of Man;
A religion not of heaven but of the earth.”

A more grounded individual might have seen this as the apocryphal writing on the wall. Not our brave diarist, though, who is more delusional than an infant in the forest.

To his credit, and which is what makes this such a fascinating work, Berkman does not shy away from describing the appalling conditions under which Russians lived in the early 1920s (and from which many did not recover). Starvation and tough winters mixed with bloody-minded Bolshevik bureaucracy, violence and graft do a paradise on earth not make. If schadenfreude alone is not enough to make you read this, then his accounts of people’s lives will. Most of the book is based on diaries he kept during his two-year stay, so it’s fair to say it is probably accurate. He is easy to read, and keeps things short, which makes him quite an engaging writer.

Apart from the scales falling slowly from his eyes, Berkman offers some tantalising glimpses of the useful idiots who visited Russia during this period (1920 – 1922). These include journalists and trade union delegations, the most interesting one being the British Labour Mission of May 1920. Berkman acted as translator, and he notes Russian delegates at meetings commenting on the British members:

“There, look at him!” a worker behind me exclaimed, “you can tell he’s from abroad. Our people are not so fat.”

“What wonder!” a soldier replied, “it isn’t Russia, England isn’t, and people don’t go hungry there.”

“The workers starve everywhere,” a hoarse voice said.

No, they didn’t, you poor deluded sod. And despite being presented with Potemkin villages at every turn, the British leftists weren’t entirely convinced either. Even Bertrand Russell, who accompanied the Mission and later opined “that Communism is necessary to the world”, saw through the Bolshevik charade.

When Berkman finally gives up and leaves Russia, devastated that his beloved revolution has turned into a free-for-all festival of violence and terror that makes Clockwork Orange look like pre-schoolers acting out a nativity scene at Christmas, he simply concludes that it’s all the fault of utilitarian Bolsheviks like Lenin who sent the whole project off the rails. Berkman never gives up on Communist Anarchism, until at the age of 66 he does the world a favour and tops himself.

One of the Russian phrases that pops up time and again in the text is “nitchevo ne podelayesh”, which means “it can’t be helped.” Berkman often hears this. He hears it when there’s no food, anarchists are jailed, there’s nowhere to live, citizens are rounded up and killed, etc., etc., etc. It can’t be helped, shrug his communist interlocutors; what choice did we have?

Indeed. Hopefully the reading of this book will instil in a new generation the genuine need to rid the world of communist parasites, anarchists, antifa and other hangers on, and when they complain say with a sigh, “Nitchevo ne podelayesh.”

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