Nehru reviews Bertrand Russell's "Roads to Freedom"

By Jawaharlal Nehru

This incomplete review of Bertrand Russell's book, Roads to Freedom, first published in 1918, was written sometime after April 1919.

“A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of Communism.” So wrote Marx in his famous Communist manifesto over seventy years ago. And today the spectre has materialised and is holding the western world in its grip. Russia and Hungary have ended the age-long domination of the capitalist and the owner of property; Germany and Austria, finding no hope in the peace imposed upon them, are openly flirting with Bolshevism; and ominous murmurs are heard even in the realms of the Big Four who are fashioning the world in the Salle d’Horloge in Paris. And the statesmen and the diplomats like the kings of old, fearful lest the spirit might put an end to their power and authority, are marshalling their hosts to exorcise this spectre. What is this spectre, this new spirit which is conquering the peoples of Europe and America and yet is so bitterly opposed and maligned by the men in authority? Few people in India have apparently given a thought to it, although on the high authority of H.E. the Viceroy, not to mention the oracles of the Anglo-Indian press, the recent disturbances in the Punjab and elsewhere were due to the poisonous influence of Bolshevism. To most of us Bolshevism has come to mean the most degraded and the most cruel tyranny it is possible to imagine, just as Anarchism to the average man means the throwing of bombs on innocent people. Horrible excesses are ascribed to the Bolshevists in Russia and we naturally judge of the theory by its exponents. But if this is so then it is difficult to imagine how millions of human beings should prefer this tyranny and degradation and should voluntarily labour to bring it into existence. Europe must either be “rattling back into barbarism” or else there must be something deeper, something more worth having in these various isms than the newspaper accounts would lead us to believe. In either event a dispassionate and critical study of the ideas underlying the world movements of the day cannot but be of help to us in solving the problems which affect our own country.

It is for this reason amongst others that we welcome Mr. Bertrand Russell's Roads to Freedom (Grant Allen). Mr. Russell, who has been described as “the ablest and most unpopular figure in contemporary England”, belongs to no definite party, nor is he a blind follower of any ism . His sympathies and inclinations are well known but he cannot be accused of being an orthodox socialist or an unyielding anarchist like Kropotkin. In his book he has critically examined Marxian Socialism with its later variations, Anarchism and Syndicalism, and having taken the good points of each has suggested his own scheme for the fashioning of a happier and a better world.

The search for freedom and the attempt to better the lot of humanity is no new thing. In India it has for ages past taken the spiritual form of the search for the Ultimate Reality, and the old Indian reformers have laid little stress on the physical side of existence. But as modern life has grown more complex it has become impossible, even if it were possible in the dim and distant past, to ignore the material side of human life. True salvation may or may not be obtained by means of religion alone, but how is a poor starving and oppressed wretch who can hardly keep body and soul together and whose entire being is centred in his empty stomach, think of religion and of eternity ? So it was that modern thinkers in India laboured to better the material condition of the people, but at every turn they were checkmated, not so much by the superstitions and the ignorance of the masses, but by the inherent difficulty of progress in a country under alien domination. All effort was then concentrated on gaining political freedom for the country and we looked to representative institutions as the panacea for all ills. Some sort of representative institutions and a toy responsible government have now been promised us under the new Reform Bill but it is doubtful if anyone besides Mr. Montagu is enamoured of them. Full responsible government would no doubt be a great step in advance for us, but let us not forget that representative institutions and democracy as prevalent in Western countries at present have proved failures. Much was expected of the war. It was to have revolutionised the fabric of human affairs, but it has ended without bringing any solace or hope of permanent peace or betterment. President Wilson's brave words have remained but words, and the “fourteen points”, where are they ? We have sorrowfully to recognise that “the Millennium is not for our time. The great moment has passed and for ourselves it is again the distant hope that must inspire us, not the immediate breathless looking for deliverance.”

Present-day democracy, manipulated by the unholy alliance of capital, property, militarism and an overgrown bureaucracy, and assisted by a capitalist press, has proved a delusion and a snare. It is as overbearing, as militant, as chauvinistic as the autocracy or plutocracy which preceded it. But this is not the fault of democracy. Rather it is due to the many-sided influences which capitalists, aided and abetted by a host of others who fatten under the present regime, have exercised over the governments of the West. The problem before us is to free democracy from their malign influences. The task is not easy, for the entrenched hosts of what has been happily called the “interestocracy” will fight to the last and use all the devices they are past masters of to delude and defeat the people. But let us at least fix upon our idea and labour for its realisation. The rest lies with the gods. Orthodox Socialism does not give us much hope. The war has shown that an all-powerful state is no lover of individual liberty. It is the breeding ground for the bureaucrat, who in the West as in the East, is most intolerant of criticism and is seldom enamoured of progress. Life under Socialism would be a joyless and a soulless thing, regulated to the minutest detail by rules and orders framed by the all-powerful official Cortes.

Syndicalism and Guild Socialism were both revolts against orthodox socialism and against parliamentary action. They pin their faith on the General Strike whereby they hope to attain their end. They would retain the state but would at the same time make all the industries autonomous, each industry having its National Guild. The various National Guilds will elect a Guild Congress which will be the final authority in all matters concerning the producers. Parliament will represent the consumers and will be co-equal in its power with the Guild Congress. In matters of dispute a joint committee of Parliament and the Guild Congress will be the ultimate sovereign body. Thus under this form of socialism there will be a kind of dyarchy after Mr. Montagu’s own heart.

Anarchism—we do not of course refer to the throwing of bombs by lunatics and criminals — would place the liberty of the individual above everything. It would not allow any State to interfere with it, in fact it would have no central authority whatever. To us, born and bred in a world so utterly different from the Anarchist’s Utopia, it is most difficult to appreciate practicability of his principles. Pure Anarchism postulates a community of saints and few of us, if any, with the exception of Mr. Gandhi, have any claims to sainthood.

Mr. Russell approves of Anarchism as the ultimate ideal but considers its adoption for some time to come impossible. For the present lie suggests a judicious mixture of Guild Socialism and Anarchism, lie discusses and meets the various difficulties and doubts which arise and produces a scheme which on the face of it is certainly not a wholly impracticable one. Doubts remain and many problems still await solution but what scheme or system of Government is free from them ? Indian politicians would do well to spend some of the time they give to the blue books, which a benevolent Government hurl at them every few days, to Mr. Russell’s able and illuminating work.

We in India have yet to travel over the long road of representative government before we can proceed on different lines. But we are a communal people and when the time comes perhaps some form of communism will be found to suit the genius of the people better than majority rule. Let us prepare for that time and let our leaders give thought to it. For representative Government by itself will not bring full satisfaction to the tortured soul of India even as it has failed to solve the problems of the West. It will not give its the world we are looking for. For in the words of Mr. Russell “....

Source: SWJN, Series 1, Vol. 1, pp. 140-144

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