and the revolutionary world
Long out of print, here is the complete text of the above book through the first six chapters. These chapters cover Deweys visit to Soviet Russia in the summer of 1928. They were originally published as separate articles in the magaizine New Republic in November and December of the same year—the versions in the book are the same as those in the magazine except for two added footnotes.
The chapters covering Deweys visits to Mexico, Turkey, and China are not included here.
Deweys footnotes are numbered and marked “–Dewey.” Non-Dewey footnotes are asterisked and marked “–Editor.” Some of the facts in the non-Dewey footnotes were obtained from Prof. William W. Brickmans introduction and footnotes to the later Columbia Teachers College edition.
A few words about the content of Deweys book follow.
Lenin coined a paradoxical but accurate term for Western intellectuals who parroted Soviet propaganda, either in the misguided belief that it was true, or from willful ignorance. Such people he called “useful idiots.”
That phrase being spoken for, what shall we call those intellectuals who praised what was true?
Dewey was at times "useful idiot" and at other times accurate reporter. And in both cases he praised what he saw.
As is clear from Deweys gushing text, he arrived in Leningrad eager to admire the creation of what he calls a “collectivistic mentality.” And to that end he excused, even at times admired, the methods of Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin. Evil means to an evil end.
In particular he praised the collusion of school and state. The prime lesson to be learned—in reverse—from Dewey's book is that school and state must be kept entirely separated in a free society. For the elaboration of this idea see Free the Schools.
Now for the book. To make searching easier all six chapters are on this one webpage. You can just scroll down or else click on one of the following to go right to a particular chapter:
Title page Impressions of Soviet Russia
Chapter I Leningrad Gives the Clue
Chapter II A Country in a State of Flux
Chapter III A New World in the Making
Chapter IV What Are the Russian Schools Doing?
Chapter V New Schools for a New Era
Chapter VI The Great Experiment and the Future
To those with limited time who just want to get the flavor of Dewey's book we recommend the following pages: 11, 24, 43, 48–50, 53–56, 61, 69–78, 86, 100, 107, 113.
and the revolutionary world
NEW REPUBLIC, INC.
SOVIET RUSSIA, 1928
Leningrad Gives the Clue
The alteration of Petrograd into Leningrad * is without question a symbol, but the mind wavers in deciding of what. At times, it seems to mark a consummation, a kind of completed transmigration of souls. Upon other occasions, one can imagine it a species of mordant irony. For one can picture an enemy of the present
* In 1914 the name of the city of St. Petersburg had been changed to Petrograd. Four years before Deweys visit it was changed again, to Leningrad. (After the collapse of the Soviet government in 1991 it reverted to St. Petersburg.) – Editor.
régime finding malicious satisfaction in the baptism of this shabby, down-at-heels city with the name of Lenin; its decadent, almost decaying, quality would strike him as sufficient commentary on the Bolshevik * claim of having ushered in a new and better world. But one also understands that more than the name of Peter was stamped upon the city which his energetic will evoked. Everything in it speaks of his creative restlessness. Perhaps Peter, the Tsar, was, after all, what he is often called, the First of the Bolsheviki, and Lenin is his true successor and heir.
At all events, in spite of the unkempt town, whose stuccoed walls, with their peeling paint, are a splendid dress in rags, one has the impression of movement, vitality, energy. The people go about as if some mighty and oppressive load had been removed, as if they were newly awakened to the consciousness of released
* The word Bolshevik was coined in 1903 when the Russian Social Democratic Party, meeting in London, was divided between supporters of Lenin (Bolsheviki from bolshinstvo, majority) and the dissenters (Mensheviki from menshinstvo, minority). The Bolshevik Party was renamed the Communist Party in 1919. – Editor (after WWB).
energies. I am told that when Anatole France visited Russia he refused to collect statistics, accumulate date, investigate “conditions.” He walked the streets to derive his ideas from the gestures and the faces of the folk. Never having been in the country before, I have no standard of comparison with what was immediately seen. Nevertheless, one has seen the common people of other countries, and I find it impossible to believe that the communicated sense of a new life was an illusion. I am willing to believe what I have read, that there is a multitude of men and women in Russia who live in immured and depressed misery, just as there is a multitude in exile. But this other multitude that walks the streets, gathers in parks, clubs, theaters, frequents museums, is also a reality, as is their unbowed, unapologetic mien. The idea forces itself upon one that perhaps the first reality is of the past, an incident of a revolu-
tion, and the second reality is of the present and future, the essence of the Revolution in its release of courage, energy and confidence in life.
My mind was in a whirl of new impressions in those early days in Leningrad. Readjustment was difficult, and I lived somewhat dazed. But gradually there emerged one definite impression that has stayed with me and has been confirmed by subsequent experiences. I have heard altogether too much about Communism, about the Third International, * and altogether too little about the Revolution; too much about the Bolsheviki, even though the final revolution was accomplished by their initiation. I now realize that any student of history ought to be aware that the forces released by revolution are not functions, in any mathematical sense, of the efforts, much less the opinions and hopes, of those who set the train of events in motion. In irritation at not having applied this obvious
* The Third International, aka the Communist or Red International, aka the Comintern, was set up in Moscow in 1919 as a center for world communism and springboard for a world revolution against capitalist governments. – Editor (after WWB).
historic truth to an understanding of what is taking place in Russia, I would have shifted the blame of my misapprehension to others—I felt resentment at those adherents and eulogists as well as critics and enemies, who, I felt, had misled me with constant talk and writing about Bolshevism and Communism, leaving me ignorant of the more basic fact of a revolution—one which may be hinted at, but not described, by calling it psychic and moral rather than merely political and economic, a revolution in the attitude of people toward the needs and possibilities of life. In this reaction I am perhaps inclined to underestimate the importance of the theories and expectations which operated to pull the trigger that released suppressed energies. I am still at a loss in trying to formulate the exact importance of the communistic formulæ and the Bolshevist ideals in the present life of the country; but I am in-
clined to think that not only the present state of Communism (that of non-existence in any literal sense), but even its future is of less account than is the fact of this achieved revolution of heart and mind, this liberation of a people to consciousness of themselves as a determining power in the shaping of their ultimate fate.
Such a conclusion may seem absurd. It will certainly be as offensive to those to whom Marxian orthodoxy constitutes the whole significance of the Russian Revolution as to those who have imbibed the conventional notion of Bolshevist Russia. Yet with no desire to minimize the import of the fate of Bolshevist Marxianism for Russia and for the whole world, my conviction is unshaken that this phase of affairs is secondary in importance to something else that can only be termed a revolution. That the existing state of affairs is not Communism but a transition to it; that in the
dialectic of history the function of Bolshevism is to annul itself; that the dictatorship of the proletariat is but an aspect of class-war, the antithesis to the thesis of the dictatorship of bourgeois capitalism existing in other countries; that it is destined to disappear in a new synthesis, are things the Communists themselves tell us. The present state is one of transition; that fact is so obvious that one has no difficulty in accepting it. That it is necessarily a state of transition to the exact goal prescribed by the Marxian philosophy of history is a tenet that, in face of the new energies that have been aroused, smells of outworn absolutistic metaphysics and bygone theories of straight-line, one-way “evolution.”
But there is one impression more vivid than this one. It is, of course, conceivable that Communism in some form may be the issue of the present “transition,” slight as are the evi-
dences of its present existence. But the feeling is forced upon one that, if it does finally emerge, it will not be because of the elaborate and now stereotyped formulæ of Marxian philosophy, but because something of that sort is congenial to a people that a revolution has awakened to themselves, and that it will emerge in a form dictated by their own desires. If it fails, it will fail because energies the Revolution has aroused are too spontaneous to accommodate themselves to formulæ framed on the basis of conditions that are irrelevant—except on the supposition of a single and necessary “law” of historical change.
In any case, Communism, if one judges from impressions that lie on the surface of Leningrad, lies in some remote future. It is not merely that even the leaders regard the present status as only an initial step, hardly complete even as a first step, but that the prevailing
economy is so distinctly a money economy to all outward appearances. We used to speculate what would have been our impression if we had arrived in Leningrad with no knowledge of past events and no antecedent expectations as to its economic status. It was, of course, impossible to denude the mind sufficiently of prior prepossessions to answer the query. But I had a strong feeling that, while I should have been conscious of a real psychological and moral difference from the rest of the world, the economic scene would not have seemed especially unlike that of any European country that has not yet recovered from the impoverishment of war, foreign and civil, blockade and famine.
At first, the impression was one of poverty, though not of dire want; rather a feeling that perhaps there was something to be said for all being poor alike, as if the only communism
were that of sharing a common lot. But it did not require much time to enable the eye to make distinctions. One readily discriminated, by means of attire and bearing, at least four classes, or perhaps one should say grades, of the kind one meets in any large city of the world. The extremes are not so marked, especially on the side of luxury and display. The classes shade into one another more than one would find to be the case in New York or London. But the distinctions are there. Although fairly long lines are seen waiting at some shops, especially where food is sold, there are no marked signs of distress; the people are well nourished; theaters, restaurants, parks and places of amusement are thronged—and their prices are not cheap. The store windows are filled with the same kind of goods one sees anywhere, though usually of the quality associated with cheap bazaars, childrens toys and
cheap jewelry drawing the larger crowds at the windows, here as elsewhere. What money there is—and, as I have said, in quality if not quantity there is a purely money economy—is evidently in easy circulation.
I have confined myself to the impressions of the early days, at least to those which subsequent events deepened and confirmed, and to impressions that came directly and upon the surface, unaffected by questions, explanations and discussion. Special knowledge, gained later by more definite inquiry, put some of the earlier impressions in a modified light. Thus one learned that the chief reason why people spend money so freely, and on amusements as well as necessities, is because the entire political control is directed against personal accumulation, so that money counts as a means of direct and present enjoyment, not as a tool of future action. Similarly, as one goes below the sur-
face, ones first impressions of the similarity of the economic system to that of any impoverished country is modified by knowledge that, while the régime is distinctly capitalistic, it is one of government rather than private capitalism. * Yet these subsequent modifications converted impressions into ideas rather than annulled the first impressions themselves. The net result for me was that a definite reversal of perspective in preconceptions was effected. The sense of a vast human revolution that has brought with it—or rather that consists of—an outburst of vitality, courage, confidence in life has come to the front. The notion that the Revolution is essentially economic and industrial has in the same degree moved to the background—not that it is, even as far as it has already gone, insignificant, but that it now appears, not as the cause of the human, the psychological, revolution, but as an incident
* “Government capitalism” is an oxymoron. Evidently Dewey here uses the word “capitalism” to mean, not respect for everyones property, but any use of property no matter how it was acquired. – Editor.
of it. Possibly it is only because of dullness that I did not reason out this conclusion at home. Looking back and judging in the light of history, it is perhaps just what one should have expected. But since the clamor of economic emphasis, coming, as I have said, from both defenders and enemies of the Bolshevik scheme, may have confused others as it certainly confused me, I can hardly do better than record the impression, as overwhelming as it was unexpected, that the outstanding fact in Russia is a revolution, involving a release of human powers on such an unprecedented scale that it is of incalculable significance not only for that country, but for the world. ¹ *
1 Comments made since the original appearance of these sentences have shown me that my remarks upon the subordinate character of the economic phase of the revolution are too sweeping. I should not think of denying that the political aspect of the economic revolution in elevating labor, especially the interests of the factory workers, from the bottom of the social scale to the top is an integral factor in the psychological and moral transformation. (Note added in republication.) [– Dewey.]
* Dewey here seems to pretend that before his visit he had no opinion about the Revolution. He had praised the Revolution from its beginning. For what it was really like in Leningrad at this time see the autobiography of the Russian ballerina Tamara Geva, Split Second. – Editor.
A Country in a State of Flux
I tried in my first article to give some account of the total feeling aroused in me by the face of Russian life as I saw it in Leningrad. It ought to be easier (and probably more instructive) to forgo the attempt to convey a single inclusive impression, in order to record, in separate fashion, ideas or emotions aroused by this or that particular contact. But the accomplishment of this latter task is made dif-
ficult by the fact that, without a prolonged stay, wide contacts and a knowledge of the language, accurate information is hard to come by. One gets about as many views as there are persons one converses with, even about things that might be supposed to be matters of fact; or else one finds questions evaded in an embarrassed way. (For some reason, this latter statement is much truer of experiences in Leningrad than in Moscow. Some things mentioned only in a whisper in the former city were loudly proclaimed in the latter; the atmosphere of avoidance changed to that of welcoming discussion. I do not know why this should have been so, but perhaps the pall of the past with its ruthlessness still hangs over one city, while the energy that looks to the future is centered in the other.)
For example, although ones chief concern is not with economic conditions, one naturally has
a certain curiosity about that aspect of affairs, and asks questions. Here are a multitude of shops, selling to customers, to all appearances, for money and a money profit like similar shops in other parts of the world. How are they stocked and managed? How many are government-owned; how many are coöperative and what is the relation of coöperative undertakings to the State? How many are private enterprises? How is honest public accountability secured? What is the technique for regulating the temptation to profiteer on the side? The questions seem natural and innocent. But it was not easy to find their answers, nor did the answers, when given, agree very well with one another. In part, the explanation is simple enough; I did not apply to persons who were sufficiently interested to be well informed; any traveler knows how easy it is anywhere in the
world to amass misinformation. But along with this fact and behind it there was a cause that seems to me of general significance, one that should be known and reckoned with in any attempt at appraisal of Russian affairs. Its nature may be illustrated by an answer that was often given me at first in reply to questions about the nature of coöperative stores; namely, that they were in effect merely government shops under another name. Later on, through access to more authoritative sources, I learned that the fact of the case was quite to the contrary; not only has the coöperative movement grown eight-fold since its very promising beginnings before the War, but its management is primarily of the autonomous, classic Rochdale type. ¹ From a certain point of view,
1 This refers to the internal management of the coöperatives. Ultimate price-control is of course in the hands of the government. (Added note.) [– Dewey.]
perhaps one more important than that which I entertained during my visit, a report upon the development and prospects of coöperative undertakings in present-day Russia would be more significant than anything I have to say. But I am not an economist, and my purpose in alluding to this matter is not that of giving economic information. What I learned from my experience in this matter (rendered typical by a variety of similar experiences) is the necessity of giving an exact dating to every statement made about conditions in Soviet Russia. For there is every reason to believe that the misinformation I received about the status of coöperative undertakings in Russia was not only honestly given, but was based on recollection of conditions that obtained several years ago. For there was a time when the whole industrial structure of Russia was so disorganized, from the World War, the block-
ade and civil war, that the government practically took over the management of the coöperatives. (Even of this period it is important to know that the latter jealously safeguarded in legal form their autonomy by formally voting, as if they were their own independent decisions, the measures forced upon them by the government.) This state of affairs no longer exists: on the contrary, the free and democratically conducted coöperative movement has assumed a new vitality—subject, of course, to control of prices by the State. But ideas and beliefs formed during that period got into circulation and persist. Were I not convinced that the instance is typical, so typical that a large part of what passes for knowledge about Soviet Russia is in fact only reminiscence of what was the condition at some time during some phase of affairs, I should not dwell upon it at such length.
This necessity for exact dating of every statement made about Russian conditions, if one is to have any criterion of its value, is indicative of a fact—or a force—that to my mind is much more significant than most of the “facts”—even when they are really facts—that are most widely diffused. For they indicate the extent to which Russia is in a state of flux, of rapid alterations, even oscillations. * If I learned nothing else, I learned to be immensely suspicious of all generalized views about Russia; even if they accord with the state of affairs in 1922 or 1925, they may have little relevancy to 1928, and perhaps be of only antiquarian meaning by 1933. As foreigners resident in the country frequently put it to me, Russia lives in all its internal problems and policies from hand to mouth; only in foreign politics is there consistency and unity. In the mouths of those sympathetic with what is going
* In December 1927 Stalin exiled Leon Trotsky to Alma Ata, Kazakhstan in Soviet Central Asia; while Dewey was visiting Russia the collectivization of agriculture was under way; final preparations were made for the inauguration of the First Five-Year Plan; and the Sixth Congress of the Comintern was in progress. These were some of the changes that Dewey may have had in mind. – Editor (after WWB).
on in Russia, the formula had a commendatory implication; the flux was a sign that those who are managing affairs have an attitude of realistic adaptation to actual conditions and needs. In the mouths of the unsympathetic, the phrase implied incapacity on the part of the rulers, in that they had no fixed mind of their own, even on important matters. But the fact of change, whether favorably or unfavorably interpreted, remained outstanding and unchallenged. In view of current notions (which I confess I shared before my visit) about the rigidity of affairs in Russia, I am convinced that this fact of change and flux needs all the emphasis that can possibly be given it.
While my preconception as to the rigidity of affairs in Russia was the one which turned out most contrary to facts, it may not be one that is widely shared. But there are other preconceptions—most of which I am happy to say I
did not share—which seem after a visit even more absurd. One of them is indicated by the question so often asked both before and after the visit: How did the party * dare go to Russia?—as if life there were rude, disorderly and insecure. One hesitates to speak of this notion to an intelligent public, but I have found it so widely current that I am sure that testimony to the orderly and safe character of life in Russia would be met with incredulity by much more than half of the European as well as the American public. In spite of secret police, inquisitions, arrests and deportations of Nepmen and Kulaks, ** exiling of party opponents—including divergent elements in the party—life for the masses goes on with regularity, safety and decorum. If I wished to be invidious, I could mention other countries in Eastern Europe in which it is much more annoying to travel. There is no country in
* Dewey was among a group of 25 educators who toured the U.S.S.R. under the auspices of the American Society for Cultural Relations with Russia. – Editor (after WWB).
** Nepmen were private, middle-class businessmen and industrialists who took advantage of the NEP (New Economic Policy), a compromise with capitalism promulgated by Lenin in 1921 which permitted some degree of private enterprise. Stalin abolished this system in 1927. Kulaks were comparatively rich, individualistic peasants who owned machinery or who hired laborers. Stalin began liquidating (killing or pauperizing) the kulaks the year of Deweys visit. – Editor (after WWB).
Europe in which the external routine of life is more settled and secure. Even the “wild children” who have formed the staple of so many tales have now disappeared from the streets of the large cities. *
Another warning that appears humorous in retrospect is that so often given by kindly friends, against being fooled by being taken to see show places. It is hard to exercise imagination in one environment about conditions in a remote and strange country; but it now seems as if it would not have required great imagination to realize that the Russians had enough to do on their own account without bothering to set up show establishments to impress a few hundred—or even thousand—tourists. The places and institutions that were “shown” us—and the Leningrad Society for Cultural Relations had prepared a most interesting program of sight-seeing—were show-places in the
* The “wild children” (bezprizornye) were groups of homeless children orphaned or separated from their parents during W.W. I and the Russian Revolution. Contrary to Dewey, they had by no means disappeared. These children were often organized into criminal gangs. An unknown number were killed by the military or died of disease and starvation. – Editor (after WWB).
sense that they were well worthy of being shown. I hope they were the best of their kind, so as to be representative of what the new régime is trying to do; there is enough mediocrity everywhere without traveling thousands of miles to see it. But they exist for themselves, either because of historic conditions, like the old palaces and treasures, or because of present urgent needs. Some of the resorts for workers vacation periods on the island in the Neva River had a somewhat perfunctory air; the old palatial residence, now used as a workers summer club-house, seemed to have no special active functions. The much advertised “Wall-newspaper” seemed, when its contents were translated, much like what would elsewhere have been less ambitiously called a bulletin board. But such episodes only brought out by contrast the vitality of other institutions, and the gay spontaneity of the “Wall-news-
papers” in the childrens colonies and homes. *
Of the “sights” contained in the official program, the one enduringly impressed in memory is a visit to a childrens colony in a former Grand Dukes summer palace in Peterhof—up the Neva from Leningrad. The place marks the nearest approach of the White Armies to Leningrad; the buildings were more or less ruined in the warfare, and are not yet wholly restored, since the teachers and children must do the work; there is still need in some quarters for hot water and whitewash. Two-thirds of the children are former “wild children,” orphans, refugees, etc., taken from the streets. There is nothing surprising, not to say unique, in the existence of orphan asylums. I do not cite the presence of this one as evidence of any special care taken of the young by the Bolshevik government. But taken as evidence of the native capacity of the Russian stock, it was
* One function of the Wall-newspaper in the schools was to help maintain discipline. A pupil who did not believe properly might be satirized in a cartoon or otherwise ridiculed. It was edited by a group of children chosen from the Young Pioneer (Junior Communist) organization. – Editor (after WWB).
more impressive than my command of words permits me to record. I have never seen anywhere in the world such a large proportion of intelligent, happy, and intelligently occupied children. They were not lined up for inspection. We walked about the grounds and found them engaged in their various summer occupations, gardening, bee-keeping, repairing buildings, growing flowers in a conservatory (built and now managed by a group of particularly tough boys who began by destroying everything in sight), making simple tools and agricultural implements, etc. Not what they were doing, but their manner and attitude is, however, what stays with me—I cannot convey it; I lack the necessary literary skill. But the net impression will always remain. If the children had come from the most advantageously situated families, the scene would have been a remarkable one, unprecedented in my experience. When
their almost unimaginable earlier history and background were taken into account, the effect was to leave me with the profoundest admiration for the capacities of the people from which they sprang, and an unshakable belief in what they can accomplish. I am aware that there is a marked disproportion between the breadth of my conclusion and the narrowness of the experience upon which it rests. But the latter did not remain isolated; though it never recurred in the same fullness, it was renewed in every institution of children and youth which I visited. And in any case, I feel bound to let the statement stand; its seemingly exaggerated quality will at least testify to the depth of the impression I received of the intrinsic capacity of the Russian people, of the release the Revolution has effected, of the intelligence and sympathetic art with which the new conditions are being taken advantage of educationally by
some of the wisest and most devoted men and women it has ever been my fortune to meet.
Since I am dealing only with impressions received at first hand and not with information proceeding from systematic inquiries, I shall conclude with selecting two other impressions, each of which happened to arise apart from any official guidance. The hours of several days of leisure time before the arrival of the party of fellow American educators * in Leningrad were spent in the Hermitage. ** Of this museum as a treasure house of European painting it is unnecessary to speak. Not so of the human visitors, groups of peasants, working men, grown men and women much more than youth, who came in bands of from thirty to fifty, each with a leader eager and alert. Every day we met these bands, twenty or thirty different ones. The like of it is not to be seen anywhere else in the world. And this experi-
* Dewey arrived in Leningrad ahead of the rest of the group of 25. – Editor (after WWB).
** The Hermitage was originally a palace for Catherine II. In the 19th century it was converted to a museum. – Editor (after WWB).
ence was not isolated. It was repeated in every museum, artistic, scientific, historical, we visited. The wondering question that arose in me the first day, whether there was not a phase of the Revolution, and a most important one, which had not before dawned upon me, became, as time went on, almost an obsession. Perhaps the most significant thing in Russia, after all, is not the effort at economic transformation, but the will to use an economic change as the means of developing a popular cultivation, especially an esthetic one, such as the world has never known.
I can easily imagine the incredulity such a statement arouses in the minds of those fed only by accounts of destructive Bolshevik activities. But I am bound in honesty to record the bouleversement of the popular foreign impression which took place in my own case. This new educative struggle may not succeed; it has
to face enormous obstacles; it has been too much infected with propagandist tendencies. But in my opinion the latter will gradually die of inanition in the degree in which Soviet Russia feels free and secure in working out its own destiny. The main effort is nobly heroic, evincing a faith in human nature which is democratic beyond the ambitions of the democracies of the past.
The other impression I would record came from a non-official visit to a House of Popular Culture. Here was a fine new building in the factory quarter, surrounded by recreation grounds, provided with one large theater, four smaller assembly halls, fifty rooms for club meetings, recreation and games, headquarters for trade unions, costing two million dollars, frequented daily—or rather, nightly—by five thousand persons as a daily average. Built and controlled, perhaps, by the government? No,
but by the voluntary efforts of the trade unions, who tax themselves two percent of their wages to afford their collective life these facilities. The House is staffed and managed by its own elected officers. The contrast with the comparative inactivity of our own working men and with the quasi-philanthropic quality of similar enterprises in my own country left a painful impression. It is true that this House—there is already another similar one in Leningrad—has no intrinsic and necessary connection with communistic theory and practice. * The like of it might exist in any large modern industrial center. But there is the fact that the like of it does not exist in the other and more highly developed industrial centers. There it is in Leningrad, as it is not there in Chicago or New York; ² and there it is in a society sup-
* Dewey seems unacquainted or unconcerned with the function of the House of Culture as a medium for adult education specifically along Communist lines. See Changing Man: The Education System of the U.S.S.R. by Beatrice King. – Editor (after WWB).
2 The Amalgamated Center in Chicago should perhaps be excepted. [– Dewey.]
posedly rigidly managed by the State on the basis of dogmatic theory, as an evidence of the vitality of organized voluntary initiative and coöperative effort. What does this mean? If I knew the answer, perhaps I should have the beginning of an understanding of what is really going on in Soviet Russia.
A New World in the Making
Two remarks were frequently heard in Leningrad. One was that that city was an outpost of Europe, rather than truly Russian; the other was that Moscow is authentic Russia and is semi-oriental. I should not venture to put my brief experience against these statements, but it may be of some use to tell wherein it differed. Leningrad, while in no sense oriental, hardly struck me as European, and present-day Moscow, at least, appeared ultra-western. As to the first city, its architects were
indeed imported from Italy, and perhaps intended to reproduce a European city. But if so, the spirit of the place entered their minds and took control of their hands and they constructed something of which they had no prescience. And the genius loci, the lustrous sky, the illimitable horizon, the extravagant and tempestuous climate, did not remind me of any Europe previously known. As to Moscow, while there is something semi-oriental in its physical structure and while orientals throng portions of the city, its psychic aspect and figure are far from what is associated with the slow-moving and ancient East. For in spirit and intent, Moscow is new, nervously active, mobile; newer, it seemed to me, than any city in our own country, even than a frontier town.
Of the two cities, it was Leningrad that seemed ancient. Of course, history tells a
different story, and if I were writing as an historian or antiquarian, I should speak differently. But if one takes Moscow immediately, as it presents itself to the eye and communicates itself to the nerves, it is a place of constant, restless movement, to the point of tension, which imparts the sense of a creative energy that is concerned only with the future. In contrast, Leningrad speaks, even mournfully, of the past. We all know a certain legend appropriate to the lips and pen of the European visitor to America: here is a land inhabited by a strangely young folk, with the buoyancy, energy, naïveté and immaturity of youth and inexperience. That is the way Moscow impressed me, and very much more so than my own country. There, indeed, was a life full of hope, of confidence, almost hyperactive, naïve at times and on some subjects incredibly
so, having the courage that achieves much because it springs from that ignorance of youth that is not held back by fears born from too many memories. Freed from the load of subjection to the past, it seems charged with the ardor of creating a new world. At one point the comparison fails. Running through the élan, there is a tempering sense of the infinite difficulty of the task which had been undertaken (I speak of the educational leaders with whom alone we had contact). It cannot be said that they are depressed, but they appear, along with all their hopeful enthusiasm, as if borne on contending currents that make it uncertain whether they will come to the port they envisage, or be overwhelmed. The union of spontaneity and humor with fundamental seriousness may or may not be a Russian trait; it certainly marked the men and women who are
carrying the load of creating, by means of education, a new mentality in the Russian people.
Our stay in Moscow thus differed markedly from the Leningrad visit. The latter was more of the nature of sight-seeing carried on under most favorable auspices, leaving us to form our own ideas from what we saw and had contact with. But Moscow is more than a political center. It is the heart of the energies that go pulsing throughout all Russia, that Russia which includes so much of Asia as well as of Europe. Hence it was that in Moscow one had the feeling as one visited various institutions that one was coming into intimate contact, almost a vicarious share, in a creative labor, in a world in the making. It was as if, after having seen in Leningrad monuments of the past and some products of the present, we were
now suddenly let into the operative process itself. Naturally the new experience modified as well as deepened the Leningrad impressions that I have already recorded. The deepening was of the sense of energy and vigor released by the Revolution; the modification was a sense of the planned constructive endeavor which the new régime is giving this liberated energy.
I am only too conscious, as I write, how strangely fantastic the idea of hope and creation in connection with Bolshevist Russia must appear to those whose beliefs about it were fixed, not to be changed, some seven or eight years ago. I certainly was not prepared for what I saw; it came as a shock. The question that has most often been asked me (along with the question whether there is any freedom there), is whether there is anything constructive going on. The currency of the question indicated the hold that the reports of the
destructive character of Bolshevism still have upon the public imagination, and perhaps increases the obligation incumbent upon one who has experienced a different face to events, to record the effect of that experience. So, before speaking of the more positively significant aspect of constructive effort, it may be worth while to say (what, indeed, so many visitors have already stated) that in the great cities, what impresses one is the conserving, rather than the destructive, character of the Revolution. There is much more in the England that has come to us from Henry the Eighth of the sort that is associated with Bolshevist rage than there is in Moscow and Leningrad. Having just come from England and with the memories of ruin and vandalism fresh in mind, I often wished that there might be prepared for the special benefit of the die-hard Anglo-Saxon mind (which is American as well as British) an
inventory of the comparative destruction of art and architecture in the revolutions of the two countries. One positive sign of interest in conservation is the enormous enlargement and multiplication of museums that has occurred in Russia. For the establishment of museums and the pious care of historic and artistic treasures are not the sort of thing that prevails where the spirit of destruction is supreme. There are now almost a hundred museums in Moscow alone, and through the country, in provincial towns, they have multiplied under the present régime more than five times, while the efforts to render their treasures accessible and useful to the people have kept pace with the numerical increase.
Contrary, again, to the popular myth, this work of conservation has included the temples of the Orthodox Church and their art treasures. All that has been said of the anti-clerical and
atheistic tendencies of the Bolshevist is true enough. But the churches and their contents that were of artistic worth are not only intact, but taken care of with scrupulous and even scientific zeal. * It is true that many have been converted into museums, but to all appearances there are still enough to meet the needs of would-be worshipers. The collections of ikons in museums in Leningrad and Moscow are an experience which repays the lover of art for a voyage to these cities. In the Kremlin the aid of experts, antiquarians, scholars of history, chemists has been enlisted in beginning the work of highly important restoration. There was, indeed, a “restoration,” of the type with which one is too familiar, undertaken in the old régime; the lovely primitives of the frescoes were, for example, gaudily repainted by “artists” of a higher-grade house-painting sort. This work is now undoing; meretricious orna-
* In fact the Bolshevists desecration of churches went beyond confiscating them and turning them into museums, about which Dewey sees no crime. – Editor.
ments, the product of a combination of superstition, too much money and execrable taste, are stripped off. When the work is completed, the Bolshevist régime, in spite of seemingly more urgent demands on time and money, will have recovered in its pristine charm one of the great historic monuments of the world.
Were it not for the popular impression of Bolshevist Russia as given over to mad destructiveness, such things would perhaps be worthy only of passing note. But as things stand, they take on a significance which is typical. They are symbolic not only of constructive activity, but of the direction in which, to my mind, this work of construction is vital: the formation of a popular culture impregnated with esthetic quality. It is no accident that Lunacharsky, to whom, most of all, the careful conservation of the historic and artistic treasures of Russia is due, is the Commissar of Education. * For while
* Anatolii Vasilievich Lunacharskii (1875-1933), an Old Bolshevik who had become known as a poet, dramatist, and critic. From 1917 to 1929 he served as the first Peoples Commissar of Education of the R.S.F.S.R. – Editor (after WWB).
a revival of interest in artistic production, literary, musical, plastic, is characteristic of progressive schools all over the world, there is no country, unless it be possibly Mexico, where the esthetic aim and quality so dominates all things educational as in Russia today. It pervades not only the schools, but that which, for the lack of a better word, one must call “adult education”—ludicrously insufficient as is that term, in the meaning it derives from activities in our own country, to convey the organized widespread diffusion and expansion taking place in the country of “destructive” Bolshevism. There is a peculiar tone of irony that hangs over all the preconceptions about Russia that one finds current, and which one has come unconsciously more or less to share. But perhaps the contrast between the popular notion of universal absorption in materialistic economy and the actual facts of devotion to creation
of living art and to universal participation in the processes and the products of art strikes the ironic note most intensely.
I write, as perhaps I should remind the reader more frequently, from the angle of educational endeavor; I can speak of Russia with any degree of confidence only as the animating purpose and life of that country are reflected in its educational leaders and the work they are attempting. The reader will naturally ask a question which I have often addressed to myself: How far is the impression gained in this particular reflection a just one with reference to the spirit and aim of Soviet Russia as a whole? That one gets from this particular point of view an idea of that spirit and aim in its best and most attractive, because most constructive, aspect, I freely recognize. But while conceding that the picture formed in this particular reflection is purer and clearer than one
could or would get from studying the political or the economic phases of life, I must also record my conviction that it is fundamentally a truer picture as well. It is, of course, impossible for me to cite objective evidence that would justify the reader in sharing this conviction. I may, however, indicate the nature of the grounds upon which there gradually grew up in my own mind the belief that one can appreciate the inner meaning of the new Russian life more intimately and justly by contact with educational effort than with specific political and industrial conditions. *
Some of the grounds may be classed as negative: the failure of what I have read, when written from an exclusively political and economic point of view, to convey a sense of reality in comparison with what was personally felt and seen from the educational side. The books contain, some of them, much more in-
* Indeed there was no dichotomy. The Communist Party used the schools to further its political, social, economic, and cultural objectives. – Editor.
formation than I shall ever possess; they are written, some of them, by men who know the Russian language and who have had wide contacts. If, then, I indulge in the presumption of trusting my own impressions rather than their reports in some vital matters, it is not because I think they have—again, some of them—wilfully falsified; nor, indeed, because of what they say, but rather because of what they do not say, what they have left out, and which I am sure is there. * Consequently, these works affect me as marked by a certain vacuity, an emptiness due to an insensitiveness to what is most vitally significant. They present static cross-sections isolated from the movement which alone gives them meaning.
These remarks are doubtless too indefinite, too much at large, to be illuminating. Possibly they may gain definiteness by reference to a particular book, and I select Kalgrens [sic] “Bol-
* Dewey insinuates that most critics of Soviet Russia are incompetents and liars.
shevist Russia.” * There is no doubt of the competency of the authors knowledge of the language, or his assiduity in collecting data; I do not question the honesty of his aims; the authenticity of most of his material is vouched for by the fact that it is derived from Bolshevist sources. Why not, then, accept his almost wholly unfavorable conclusions? In part because the book does not sufficiently date its material; it does not indicate the special context of time and conditions under which the evils reported occurred. But in greater part because I fail utterly to get form the book the sense of the quality of moving events which contact with these events gives. In consequence, admitting that all of the evils complained of existed at some time and place, and that many of them still exist, the total effect is dead, empty, evacuated of vital significance. Take, as one instance, the very fact that Bol-
* Bolshevist Russia by Anton Karlgren, translated from the Swedish by Anna Barwell (New York: Macmillan, 1928). Karlgren, professor of Slav at the University of Copenhagen, visited the U.S.S.R. and wrote a highly critical report (according to WWB). Further on Dewey says that Karlgren relied on Soviet sources, and insinuates that the Soviets had reformed—perhaps the reason he chose this book over one relying on independent sources. Not having read the book I cannot say where Karlgren obtained his information. It is remarkable that Dewey expects nothing but the truth from the Soviets. In any case, the Nazis kept detailed records of their activities and did not consider them crimes. – Editor.
shevist sources are themselves drawn upon for the mass of damning facts. The net effect of this material is one thing when taken by itself, as a pile of ultimate isolated facts which are self-explanatory. It is quite another thing when taken as evidence of a characteristic tendency. For when one looks for some positive and ruling endeavor with which the collection and publication of these condemnatory data are connected, one finds himself in the presence of a deliberate and systematic effort at exploration and self-examination which is unparalleled in other countries. And in turn one finds this movement to be connected with a belief in the reality of a science of society, as a basis for diagnosis of social ills and projection of constructive change. One may not believe in the alleged “science,” but disbelief does not alter the fact that one gets a dead and distorted idea from the report of isolated facts, however
authentic, until they have been brought into relation with the intellectual movement of self-criticism of which they are a part.
The positive reason for attaching primary significance to this intellectual movement, and for thinking of it as educational, is the fact that by the necessities of the case the central problem of the Soviet leaders is the production of a new mentality, a new “ideology,” to employ one of the three or four words that one hears the most frequently. There can be no doubt of the tenacity with which the dogma of “economic determinism” is held to; it is an article of faith that the content and temper of ideas and beliefs which currently prevail are fixed by economic institutions and processes. But it is not true that the prevalent Marxian economic materialism denies efficacy to ideas and beliefs—to the current “ideology,” whatever that is. On the contrary, it is held that,
while originally this is an effect of economic causes, it becomes in time itself a secondary cause which operates “reciprocally.” Hence, from the communist standpoint, the problem is not only that of replacing capitalistic by collectivistic economic institutions, but also one of substituting a collective mentality for the individualistic psychology inherited from the “bourjui” * epoch—a psychology which is still ingrained in most of the peasants and most of the intellectuals as well as in the trading class itself. Thus the movement is caught in a circular predicament, only it would be officially described as an instance and proof of “dialectic.” Ultimate popular ideology is to be determined by communistic institutions; but meantime the success of their efforts to introduce these institutions is dependent upon ability to create a new mentality, a new psychological attitude. And obviously this latter
* The Russian word for bourgeois is usually spelled burzhui. It means variously: property owners, businessmen. – Editor (after WWB).
problem is essentially one of education. It accounts for the extraordinary importance assumed in the present phase of Russian life by educational agencies. And in accounting for their importance, it enables one to use them as a magnifying glass of great penetrating power by which to read the spirit of events in their constructive phase.
An incidental confirmation of the central position, during the present state of “transition,” of educational agencies is the omnipresence of propaganda. The present age is, of course, everywhere one in which propaganda has assumed the rôle of a governing power. But nowhere else in the world is employment of it as a tool of control so constant, consistent and systematic as in Russia at present. Indeed, it has taken on such importance and social dignity that the word propaganda hardly carries, in another social medium, the correct
meaning. For we instinctively associate propaganda with the accomplishing of some special ends, more or less private to a particular class or group, and correspondingly concealed from others. But in Russia the propaganda is in behalf of a burning public faith. One may believe that the leaders are wholly mistaken in the object of their faith, but their sincerity is beyond question. To them the end for which propaganda is employed is not a private or even a class gain, but is the universal good of universal humanity. In consequence, propaganda is education and education is propaganda. They are more than confounded; they are identified.
When I speak, then, of educational agencies, I mean something much wider than the operation of the school system. Of the latter as such, I hope to write something later. But here I am concerned with it only as a part of
the evidence that the essential constructive work of present day—or “transitional”—Russia is intrinsically educational. In this particular aspect, the work of the schools finds its meaning expressed in words one often hears: “Nothing can be done with the older generation as a whole. Its ideology was fixed by the older régime; we can only wait for them to die. Our positive hope is in the younger generation.” But the office of the schools in creating a new “ideology” cannot be understood in isolation; it is part of a “reciprocal” operation. Political and economic changes and measures are themselves, during the present period, essentially educational; they are conceived of not only as preparing the external conditions for an ulterior communistic régime, but even more as creating an atmosphere, an environment, favorable to a collectivistic mentality. The mass of the people is to learn the
meaning of Communism not so much by induction into Marxian doctrines—although there is plenty of that in the schools—but by what is done for the mass in freeing their life, in giving them a sense of security, safety, in opening to them access to recreation, leisure, new enjoyments and new cultivations of all sorts. The most effective propaganda, as the most effective education, is found to be that of deeds which raise the level of popular life, making it fuller and richer, while associating the gains as indissolubly as possible with a “collective” mentality.
I may perhaps best sum up the difference between my Leningrad and Moscow impressions by saying that in the latter place the notion of the present as a “transition” took on a new significance. My feeling when I left Leningrad, put baldly, was that the Revolution was a great success, while communism was a
frost. My experience in Moscow did not alter the latter impression to the extent of convincing me that there is in practice any more actual Communism that I had supposed that there was. But those experiences convinced me that there is an enormous constructive effort taking place in the creation of a new collective mentality; a new morality I should call it, were it not for the aversion of Soviet leaders to all moral terminology; and that this endeavor is actually succeeding to a considerable degree—to just what extent, I cannot, of course, measure.
Thus the “transition” appears to be in considerable degree a fact. Towards what it is a transition seems to me, however, a still wholly undetermined matter. To the orthodox Marxian, the goal is, of course, certain; it is just the communistic institutions his special philosophy of history requires. But personally, I am
strongly of the impression that the more successful are the efforts to create a new mentality and a new morality of a coöperative social type, the more dubious is the nature of the goal that will be attained. For, I am wholly inclined to believe, this new attitude of mind, in just the degree in which it is really new and revolutionary, will create its own future society according to its own desires and purposes. This future society will undoubtedly be highly unlike the régime characteristic of the western world of private capital and individual profit. But I think the chances are that it will be equally unlike the society which orthodox Marxian formulæ call for.
I hope the tone of what I have written makes it clear that I am dealing with impressions rather than with matters capable of any objective proof. I can readily understand that I may put a higher estimate on the value and
validity of my personal impressions than I can expect anyone else to do. But even if my impressions are not only inadequate, which they are sure to be, but also quite wrong, I feel bound to record the one impression which my contacts in Moscow wrote most indelibly in my mind: the final significance of what is taking place in Russia is not to be grasped in political or economic terms, but is found in change, of incalculable importance, in the mental and moral disposition of a people, an educational transformation. This impression, I fear, deviates widely from the belief of both the devotees and the enemies of the Bolshevik régime. But it is stamped in my mind and I must record it for what it is. *
* It is remarkable that Dewey praises this impression. – Editor.
What Are the Russian Schools Doing?
I gave in my last article some reasons for believing that in the “transitional” state of Russia chief significance attaches to the mental and moral (pace the Marxians) change that is taking place; that while in the end this transformation is supposed to be a means to economic and political change, for the present
it is the other way around. This consideration is equivalent to saying that the import of all institutions is educational in the broad sense—that of their effects upon disposition and attitude. Their function is to create habits so that persons will act coöperatively and collectively as readily as now in capitalistic countries they act “individualistically.” The same consideration defines the importance and the purpose of the narrower educational agencies, the schools. They represent a direct and concentrated effort to obtain the effect which other institutions develop in a diffused and roundabout manner. The schools are, in current phrase, the “ideological arm of the Revolution.” In consequence, the activities of the schools dovetail in the most extraordinary way, both in administrative organization and in aim and spirit, into all other social agencies and interests.
The connection that exists in the minds of Soviet educators between the formulation of attitudes and dispositions by domestic, industrial and political institutions and by the school may perhaps be indicated by reference to the account given, by one of the leaders of the new education, of his own development. His efforts at educational reform date back to the early years of this century, when he joined with a fellow Russian (who had been connected with the University Settlement in New York City) in conducting a social settlement in the working mens quarter of Moscow. Naturally they were compelled to operate along non-political lines and in the neutral fields of childrens clubs, recreation, health, etc.; in fact, in the familiar fields of our own settlements of the distinctively philanthropic type. Even so, they met with constant opposition and embarrassment from the old régime. For example, the
educator who told this story was one of the first to introduce football into Russia; in consequence, he spent several months in jail. For the authorities were convinced that there could be only one object in playing the game: namely, to train young men so that they could throw bombs more accurately! (Incidentally, I may remark that the spread of sports and games is one of the characteristic features of existing social life; one Sunday afternoon, for example, we attended a trotting match sponsored by the horse-breeding department of the government commissariat of agriculture, and a soccer match, each having an audience of fifteen to twenty thousand persons.) In 1911, wishing a broader field, he started an educational experimental station in the country, some eighty or a hundred miles distant from Moscow, getting assistance from well-to-do Russians of liberal temper. This school, so I
was informed, was based on a combination of Tolstoys version of Rousseaus doctrine of freedom and the idea of the educational value of productive work derived from American sources.
The story thus far is of some historical significance in indicating some of the causal factors in the present Soviet educational system. But its chief value depends upon a further development; especially the effect upon the minds of educational reformers of the constant opposition of established authority to even the most moderate and non-political efforts at educational reform and amelioration of the condition of the working population. The educator of whom I am speaking began as a liberal reformer, not a radical but a constitutional democrat. He worked in the faith and hope that the school, through giving a new type of education, might peacefully and gradually
produce the required transformations in other institutions. His pilgrims progress from reforming pedagogue to convinced communist affords a symbol of the social phase of the entire Soviet educational movement. In the first place, there was the striking and unescapable fact that those reforming and progressive endeavors which were hampered in every possible way by the Tsars régime, a fact that certainly influenced many liberal intellectuals to lend their coöperation to the Bolshevist government. One of them, not a party * member, told me that he thought those intellectuals who had refused to coöperate wherever they could with the new government had made a tragic mistake; they had nullified their own power and had deprived Russia of assistance just when it was most needed. As for himself, he had found that the
* Sic. “Party” as in “Communist Party.” – Editor.
present government cleared the way for just the causes he had had at heart in the old régime, and whose progress had always been hopelessly compromised by its opposition; and that, although he was not a communist, he found his advice and even his criticism welcomed, as soon as the authorities recognized that he was sincerely trying to coöperate. And I may add that, while my experience was limited, I saw liberal intellectuals who had pursued both the policy he deplored and the one he recommended. There is no more unhappy and futile class on earth than the first, and none more fully alive and happy—in spite of narrowly restricted economic conditions, living quarters, salaries, etc.—than the second.
This first consideration, the almost unimaginable contrast between the career and fate of social aspirations under the old régime and
under the Soviet government, is something to which I, at least, had not given due weight in my prior estimates of Bolshevist Russia. And I imagine there are many who, while they are aware in a general way of the repressive and despotic character of the Tsars government, unconsciously form their appraisal of the present Russian system by putting it in contrast with an imaginary democratic system. * They forget that for the Russian millions the contrast is with the system of which alone they have had actual experience. The Russian system of government at the present time is like that to which the population has been accustomed for centuries, namely, a personal system; like the old system, it has many repressive traits. But viewed in the only way which the experience of the masses makes possible for them, it is one that has opened to them doors that were formerly shut and bolted; it is as
* Because the Czarist monarchy had a repressive and despotic character, that same character in the Soviet communists is familiar and unobjectionable to the people. – Editor.
interested in giving them access to sources of happiness as the only other government with which they have any acquaintance was to keep them in misery. This fact, and not that of espionage and police restriction, however excessive the latter may be, explains the stability of the present government, in spite of the comparatively small number of communists in the country. It relegates to the realm of pure fantasy those policies for dealing with Russia that are based on the notion that the present government is bound to fall from internal causes if only it can be sufficiently boycotted and isolated externally. I know of nothing that is more indicative of the state of illusion in which it is possible for isolated groups to live than the fact that, of five or six Russian dailies published by the émigrés in Paris, three are devoted to restoration of the monarchy.
I have become involved in a diversion,
though one naturally suggested by the marvelous development of progressive educational ideas and practices under the fostering care of the Bolshevist government—and I am speaking of what I have seen and not just been told about. However, the second factor that operated in the transformation of the educator (whose history I regard as typical and symbolic) takes us out of the region of reforming and progressive ideas into that of communism proper. It is the factor that would, I am sure, be emphasized by every communist educator rather than that which I have just mentioned. The frustration of educational aims by economic conditions occupied a much larger place in the story of the pilgrims progress from pedagogy to communism than did explicit and definite political and governmental opposition. In fact, the latter was mentioned only as an inevitable by-product of the former. There
are, as he puts it, two educations, the greater and the smaller. The lesser is given by the school; the larger, and the one finally influential, is given by the actual conditions of life, especially those of the family and neighborhood. And according to his own story, this educator found that the work he was trying to do in the school, even under the relatively very favorable conditions of his experimental school, was undone by the educative—or miseducative—formation of disposition and mental habit proceeding from the environment. Hence he became convinced that the social medium and the progressive school must work together, must operate in harmony, reinforcing each other, if the aim of the progressive school was not to be constantly undermined and dissipated; with the growth of this conviction he became insensibly a communist. He became convinced that the central force in undoing the work of
socialized reform he was trying to achieve by means of school agencies was precisely the egoistic and private ideals and methods inculcated by the institution of private property, profit and acquisitive possession.
The story is instructive because of its typically symbolic character; if it were expanded, it would also lead into an account of the definite content of Soviet school activities in the concrete. For as far as the influence of this particular educator is concerned (and it extends very far), the subject-matter, the methods of teaching, and the spirit of school administration and discipline are all treated as ways of producing harmony of operation between concrete social conditions—taking into account their local diversity—and school procedures. My contacts were not sufficiently prolonged to enable me, even if space permitted, to give an
adequate report of the structure and technique of this work of harmonization. But its general spirit may at least be suggested. During the transitional régime, the school cannot count upon the larger education to create in any single and whole-hearted way the required collective and coöperative mentality. The traditional customs and institutions of the peasant, his small tracts, his three-system farming, the influence of home and Church, all work automatically to create in him an individualistic ideology. In spite of the greater inclination of the city worker towards collectivism, even his social environment works adversely in many respects. Hence the great task of the school is to counteract and transform those domestic and neighborhood tendencies that are still so strong, even in a nominally collectivistic régime.
In order to accomplish this end, the teachers must in the first place know with great detail
and accuracy just what the conditions are to which pupils are subject in the home, and thus be able to interpret the habits and acts of the pupil in the school in the light of his environing conditions—and this, not just in some general way, but as definitely as a skilled physician diagnoses in the light of their causes the diseased conditions with which he is dealing. * So this educator described his philosophy as “Social Behaviorism.” Whatever he saw, a mode of farming, farm implements, style of home construction, domestic industry, church building, etc., led him to ask for its probable effect upon the behavior of those who were subject to its influence. On the other hand the teacher strove to learn, whenever he was confronted with any mode of undesirable behavior on the part of a pupil, how to trace it back to its definite social causation. Such an idea, however illuminating in the abstract, would,
* The government also used this spying on parents to control them politically. – Editor.
of course, remain barren without some technique to carry it into effect. And one of the most interesting pedagogical innovations with which I am acquainted is the technique which has been worked out for enabling teachers to discover the actual conditions that influence pupils in their out-of-school life; and I hope someone with more time than I had at command will before long set forth the method in detail. Here I can only say that it involves, among other things, discussions in connection with history and geography, the themes of written work, the compositions of pupils, and also a detailed study throughout the year of home and family budgets. Quite apart from any economic theory, communistic or individualistic, the results are already of great pedagogical value, and promise to provide a new and fruitful method of sociological research.
The knowledge thus gained of home condi-
tions and their effect upon behavior (and I may say in passing that this social behaviorism seems to me much more promising intellectually than any exclusively physiological behaviorism can ever prove to be) is preliminary to the development of methods which will enable schools to react favorably upon the undesirable conditions discovered, and to reinforce such desirable agencies as exist. Here, of course, is the point at which the socially constructive work of the school comes in. A little something will be said about this later in detail, when I come to speak of the idea of “socially useful” work as a criterion for deciding upon the value of “projects”—for Soviet education is committed to the “project method.” But aside from its practical working out, it is also interesting in that it locates one of the burning points of present Russian pedagogical theoretical education. For there is still a
school that holds that educational principles can be derived from psychology and biology—although the weight of citations from Marx is now eclipsing their influence—and that correct educational methods are bound to produce the desired effect independently of concrete knowledge of domestic and local environment.
I have dwelt too long on certain general considerations, at the expense of any account of what schools are actually doing and how they are doing it. My excuse is that, in relation to the entire Russian situation, it is these generic points of social aspiration and contact that are significant. That which distinguishes the Soviet schools both from other national systems and from the progressive schools of other countries (with which they have much in common) is precisely the conscious control of every educational procedure by reference to a single and comprehensive social purpose. It is this refer-
ence that accounts for the social interlocking to which I referred at the outset. The point may be illustrated by the bearing of school activity upon the family institution as that is conceived by the orthodox Marxian socialists. That thorough-going collectivists regard the traditional family as exclusive and isolating in effect and hence as hostile to a truly communal life, is too familiar to require rehearsal. Apart, however, from the effect of the oft-recited Bolshevist modifications of marriage and divorce, the institution of the family is being sapped indirectly rather than by frontal attack; its historic supports, economic and ecclesiastical, are weakened. For example, the limitation of living quarters, enforced in Russia as in other countries by the War, is deliberately taken advantage of to create social combinations wider than that of the family and that cut across its ties. There is no word one hears
oftener than Gruppe, * and all sorts of groups are instituted that militate against the primary social importance of the family unit. In consequence, to anyone who looks at the matter cold-bloodedly, free from sentimental associations clustering about the historic family institution, a most interesting sociological experimentation is taking place, the effect of which should do something to determine how far the bonds that hold the traditional family together are intrinsic and how far due to extraneous causes; and how far the family in its accustomed form is a truly socializing agency and how far a breeder of non-social interests. **
Our special concern here is with the rôle of the schools in building up forces and factors whose natural effect is to undermine the importance and uniqueness of family life. It is obvious to any observer that in every western
* Dewey probably means gruppa, Russian for group. Gruppe is German. – Editor (after WWB).
** One wonders how the guinea pigs felt about this most interesting experiment. – Editor.
country the increase of importance of public schools has been at least coincident with a relaxation of older family ties. What is going on in Russia appears to be a planned acceleration of this process. For example, the earliest section of the school system, dealing with children from three to seven, aims, in the cities, to keep children under its charge six, eight and ten hours per day, and in ultimate ideal (although far from present fact) this procedure is to be universal and compulsory. When it is carried out, the effect on family life is too evident to need to be dwelt upon—although at present even in Moscow only one-tenth of the children of this age are in such schools. Nor does the invasion of family life stop at this point in dealing with young children. There are in contemplation summer colonies in the country, corresponding to our fresh-air homes for children from slums, in which children from
these all-day “kindergarten” schools will spend a large part of the summer months. Some of the summer colonies are already in existence; those visited compare favorably with similar institutions anywhere, with respect to food, hygiene, medical attention and daily nurture. Now, it would be too much to say that these institutions are deliberately planned with sole reference to their disintegrating effect upon family life; there are doubtless other more conspicuous causes. They are part of a whole network of agencies by means of which the Soviet government is showing its special care for the laboring class in order to gain its political support, and to give a working object-lesson in the value of a communistic scheme. One derives from this, as from many other social undertakings, the impression that the Soviet authorities are trying to forestall, in deliberately
planned and wholesale manner, those consequences of industrialization which in other countries have crept upon society piece-meal and unconsciously. For every large industrial center in any western country shows that in fact the effect of machine industrialization has been to disintegrate the traditional family. * From this point of view, the Russian government is doing on a large scale what private philanthropy has done in our cities by means of crèches, ** etc. But even when these allowances are made, it remains true that we have here a striking exemplification of the conscious and systematic utilization of the school in behalf of a definite social policy. There are many elements of propaganda connected with this policy, and many of them obnoxious to me personally. But the broad effort to employ the education of the young as means of realizing
* Perhaps Dewey means women working away from home. – Editor.
** Nursery schools. – Editor.
certain social purposes cannot be dismissed as propaganda without relegating to that category all endeavor at deliberate social control. *
Reference to this phase of Soviet education may perhaps be suitably concluded by a quotation from Lenin that has become a part of the canonical scriptures of Bolshevist educational literature. For it indicates that, were it necessary, official authority could be cited for the seemingly extreme statements I have made about the central position of the schools in the production of a communist ideology as a condition of the successful operation of communist institutions. “The school, apart from life, apart from politics, is a lie, a hypocrisy. Bourgeois society indulged in this lie, covering up the fact that it was using the schools as a means of domination, by declaring that the school was politically neutral, and in the service of
* Dewey here makes no distinction between government and private propaganda. – Editor.
all. We must declare openly what it concealed, namely, the political function of the school. While the object of our previous struggle was to overthrow the bourgeoisie, the aim of the new generation is much more complex: It is to construct communist society.” *
* Possibly quoting Lenin. Lenin frequently expressed such ideas about education. Another example, from his speech at the First All-Russian Educational Congress, August 28, 1918: “We say that our work in the sphere of education is part of the struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. We publicly declare that education divorced from life and politics is a lie and hypocrisy.” V. I. Lenin, Collected Works: Volume XXIII, 1918-1919, p. 215. – Editor (after WWB).
New Schools for a New Era
The idea of a school in which pupils, and therefore, studies and methods, are connected with social life, instead of being isolated, is one familiar in educational theory. * In some form, it is the idea that underlies all attempts at thorough-going educational reform. What is characteristic of Soviet education is not, there-
* This idea is at least as old as Seneca (3 BC–65 AD): “non vitae sed scholae discimus.” Epistle 106.12 ("We are taught for the schoolroom not for life.") – Editor (after WWB).
fore, the idea of a dovetailing of school activities into out-of-school social activities, but the fact that for the first time in history there is an educational system officially organized on the basis of this principle. Instead of being exemplified, as it is with ourselves, in a few scattering schools that are private enterprises, it has the weight and a authority of the whole régime behind it. In trying to satisfy my mind as to how and why it was that the educational leaders have been able in so short a time to develop a working model of this sort of education, with so little precedent upon which to fall back, I was forced to the conclusion that the secret lay in the fact that they could give to the economic and industrial phase of social life the central place it actually occupies in present life. In that fact lies the great advantage the Revolution has conferred upon educational reformers in Russia, in comparison with those in the rest
of the world. I do not see how any honest educational reformer in western countries can deny that the greatest practical obstacle in the way of introducing into schools that connection with social life which he regards as desirable is the great part played by personal competition and desire for private profit in our economic life. This fact almost makes it necessary that in important respects school activities should be protected from social contacts and connections, instead of being organized to create them. The Russian educational situation is enough to convert one to the idea that only in a society based upon the coöperative principle can the ideals of educational reformers be adequately carried into operation. *
The central place of economic connections in the dovetailing of school work with social life outside the school is explicitly stated in the
* In other words, only in a communist society can educational reformers make their ideals a reality. – Editor.
official documents of Commissar Lunacharsky. He writes: “The two chief present problems of social education are: (1) The development of public economy with reference to Socialist reconstruction in general and the efficiency of labor in particular; (2) the development of the population in the spirit of communism.” The aims of education are set forth as follows: “(1) The union of general culture with efficiency of labor and power to share in public life; (2) supply of the actual needs of national economy by preparation of workers in different branches and categories of qualifications; (3) meeting the need of different localities and different kinds of workers.”
Like all formal statements, these propositions have to be understood in the light of the practices by which they are carried into effect. So interpreted, the fact that among the aims the “union of general culture with efficiency of
labor” precedes that of supply of special needs through preparation of workers assumes a significance that might not otherwise be apparent. For perhaps the striking thing in the system is that it is not vocational, in the narrow sense those words often have with us, namely, the technical training of specialized workers. On the contrary, such training is everywhere postponed and subordinated to the requirements of general culture, which is, however, itself conceived of in a socially industrial sense; that is to say, as discovery and development of the capacities that enable an individual to carry on in a coöperative way, work that is socially useful, “socially useful” being conceived in the generous sense of whatever makes human life fuller and richer. Perhaps the easiest way to grasp the spirit of the industrial connections of school work with general social activities is to take the utterances of our own Manufacturers
Association on the same topic and then reverse them. Preparation for special occupations is deferred to the stage of special schools called Technicums, * which can be entered only after seven years of the public “unified” school ** have been completed. These schools are called “polytechnic,” but the word is a misleading one in its ordinary English associations. For with us it signifies a school in which individual pupils can select and pursue any one of a considerable number of technologies, while in the Russian system it signifies a school in which pupils, instead of receiving a “mono-technical” training, are instructed in the matters which are fundamental to a number of special industrial techniques. In other words, even in the definitely vocational schools, specialized training for a particular calling is postponed until the latest years, after a general technological and scientific-social foundation has been laid.
* A tekhnikum was a secondary school preparing students for semiprofessional work – Editor (after WWB).
** Unified Labor School, edinaya trudovaya shkola. – Editor (after WWB).
As far as could be determined, there are two causes for the adoption of this broad conception of industrial education, in identification with the general culture appropriate to a coöperatively conducted society. One is the state of progressive educational theory in other countries, especially the United States, during the early formative years after the Revolution. For a leading principle of this advanced doctrine was that participation in productive work is the chief stimulus and guide to self-educative activity on the part of pupils, since such productive work is both in accord with the natural or psychological process of learning; and also provides the most direct road to connecting the school with social life, because of the part played by occupations in the latter. Some of the liberal Russian educators were carrying on private experimental schools on this basis before the Revolution; the doctrine had the
prestige of being the most advanced among educational philosophies, and it answered to immediate Russian necessities.
Thus from an early period the idea of the “school of work” (Arbeit-schule, école du travail, escuela dacción) * was quite central in post-revolutionary school undertakings. And a main feature of this doctrine was that, while productive work is educative par excellence, it must be taken in a broad social sense, and as a means of creating a social new order and not simply as an accommodation to the existing economic régime.
This factor, however, accounts only for the earlier period of the growth of Soviet education, say, up to 1922 or 1923, a period when American influence, along with that of Tolstoy, was upon the whole predominant. Then there came in a reaction, from a Marxian standpoint.
* It is a puzzle why Dewey translates the English into German, French, and Italian. The Russian is trudovaya shkola. – Editor (after WWB).
The reaction, however, did not take the form of discarding the notion of productive work as central in schools. It only gave the idea a definitely socialistic form by interpreting the idea of work on the basis of the new estate of the worker brought about by the proletarian revolution. The change was a more or less gradual one, and even now there is hardly a complete translation or fusion. But the spirit of the change is well indicated in the words of one of the leaders of educational thought: “A school is a true school of work in the degree in which it prepares the students to appreciate and share in the ideology of the workers—whether country or city.” And by the worker is here meant, of course, the worker made conscious of his position and function by means of the Revolution. This transformation of the earlier “bourgeois reforming idea” through emphasis upon the ideology of the labor movement thus
continued and reinforced the earlier emphasis upon the general idea of the connection of the school with industry.
This report is necessarily confined to a statement of general principles: the skeleton would gain flesh and blood if space permitted an account of the multifarious threads by which the connection between the schools and coöperatively organized society is maintained. In lieu of this account I can only pay my tribute to the liberating effect of active participation in social life upon the attitude of students. Those whom I met had a vitality and a kind of confidence in life—not to be confused with mere self-confidence—that afforded one of the most stimulating experiences of my life. Their spirit was well reflected in the inscription which a boy of fourteen wrote upon the back of a painting he presented me with. He was in one of the schools in which the idea just set
forth is most completely and intelligently carried out, and he wrote that the picture was given in memory of the “school that opened my eyes.” All that I had ever, on theoretical grounds, believed as to the extent to which the dull and dispirited attitude of the average school is due to isolation of school from life was more than confirmed by what I saw of the opposite in Russian schools.
There are three or four special points that call for notice in the identification established between cultural and industrial education. One of them is suggested by the official statement regarding the meeting by the schools of local conditions and needs. Soviet education has not made the mistake of confusing unity of education with uniformity: on the contrary, centralization is limited to the matter of ultimate aim and spirit, while in detail diversification is permitted, or rather encouraged. * Each
* In other words: “You can do and say anything, so long as what really matters is approved by the Comintern.” Diversity in accidental details, conformity in ultimate aim; this was a Stalinist idea. – Editor.
province has its own experimental school, that supplements the work of the central or federal experimental stations, by studying local resources, materials and problems with a view to adapting school work to them. The primary principle of method officially laid down is that, in every topic, work by pupils is to begin with observation of their own environment, natural and social. (The best museum of natural and social materials for pedagogical purposes I have ever seen is in a country district outside of Leningrad, constructed on the basis of a complete exhibit of local fauna, flora, mineralogy, etc., and local antiquities and history, made by pupils excursions under the direction of their teachers.)
This principle of making connections with social life on the basis of starting from the immediate environment is exemplified on its broadest scale in the educational work done
with the minority populations of Russia—of which there are some fifty different nationalities. The idea of cultural autonomy that underlies political federation is made a reality in the schools. Before the Revolution, many, most of them had no schools, and a considerable number of them not even a written language. In about ten years, through enlisting the efforts of anthropologists and linguistic scholars—which branch of science Russia has always been strong—all the different languages have been reduced to written form, textbooks in the local language provided, each adapted to local environment and industrial habits, and at least the beginnings of a school system introduced. Aside from immediate educational results, one is impressed with the idea that the scrupulous regard for cultural independence characteristic of the Soviet régime is one of the chief causes of its stability, in view
of the non-communist beliefs of most of these populations. Going a little further, one may say that the freedom from race- and color-prejudice characteristic of the régime is one of the greatest assets in Bolshevist propaganda among Asiatic peoples. The most effective way to counteract the influence of that propaganda would be for western nations to abandon their superiority-complex in dealing with Asiatic populations, and thereby deprive Bolshevism of its contention that capitalism, imperialistic exploitation and race prejudice are so inseparably conjoined that the sole relief of native peoples from them lies in adoption of communism under Russian auspices.
The central place of human labor in the educational scheme is made manifest in the plan for the selection and organization of subject-matter, or the studies of the curriculum.
This principle is officially designated the “complex system.” Details appropriately belong in a special educational journal, but in general the system means, on the negative side, the abandonment of splitting up subject-matter into isolated “studies,” such as form the program in the conventional school, and finding the matter of study on some total phase of human life—including nature in the relations it sustains to the life of man in society. Employing the words of the official statement: “At the basis of the whole program is found the study of human work and its organization: the point of departure is the study of this work as found in its local manifestations.” Observations of the latter are, however, to be developed by “recourse to the experience of humanity—that is, books, so that the local phenomena may be connected with national and international industrial life.”
It is worthy of note that, in order to carry out this conception of the proper subject-matter of study, it is necessary for the teachers themselves to become students, for they must conceive of the traditional subject-matter from a new point of view. They are compelled, in order to be successful, both to study their local environment and to become familiar with the detailed economic plans of the central government. For example, the greatest importance is attached in the educational scheme to natural science and what we call nature-study. But according to the ruling principle, this material must not be treated as so much isolated stuff to be learned by itself, but be considered in the ways in which it actually enters into human life by means of utilization of natural resources and energies in industry for social purposes. Aside from the vitalization of physical knowledge supplied by thus putting it in its human
context, this method of presentation compels teachers to be cognizant of the Gosplan *—that is, the detailed projects, looking ahead over a series of years, of the government for the economic development of the country. An educator from a bourgeois country may well envy the added dignity that comes to the function of the teacher when he is taken into partnership in plans for the social development of his country. Such an one can hardly avoid asking himself whether this partnership is possible only in a country where industry is a public function rather than a private undertaking; he may not find any sure answer to the question, but the continued presence of the query in his mind will surely serve as an eye-opening stimulus.
In American literature regarding Soviet education, “the complex system” is often identified with the “project method” as that has
* Short for Gosudarstvennii Planovii Komitet, The State Planning Committee, which planned the economy and social life of the U.S.S.R. – Editor (after WWB).
developed in our own country. In so far as both procedures get away from starting with fixed lessons in isolated studies, and substitute for them an endeavor to bring students through their own activity into contact with some relatively total slice of life or nature, there is ground for the identification. By and large, however, it is misleading, and for two reasons. In the first place, the complex method involves a unified intellectual scheme of organization: it centers, as already noted, about the study of human work in its connection on one side with natural materials and energies, and on the other side with social and political history and institutions. From this intellectual background, it results that, while Russian educators acknowledge here—as in many other things—an original indebtedness to American theory, they criticize many of the “projects” employed in our schools as casual and as trivial, because
they do not belong to any general social aim, nor have definite social consequences in their train.
To them, an educative “project” is the means by which the principle of some “complex” or unified whole of social subject-matter is realized. Its criterion of value is its contribution to some “socially useful work.” Actual projects vary according to special conditions, urban or rural, and particular needs and deficiencies of the local environment. In general, they include contributions to improvement of sanitation and hygienic conditions (in which respects there is an active campaign carried on, modelled largely upon American techniques), assisting in the campaign against illiteracy; reading newspapers and books to the illiterate; helping in clubs, excursions, etc., with younger children; assisting ignorant adults to understand the policies of local
Soviets so that they can take part in them intelligently; engaging in communist propaganda, and, on the industrial side, taking some part in a multitude of diverse activities calculated to improve economic conditions. In a rural school that was visited, for example, students carried on what in a conventional school would be the separate studies of botany and entomology by cultivating flowers, food-plants, fruits, etc., under experimental conditions, observing the relation to them of insects, noxious and helpful, and then making known the results to their parents and other farmers, distributing improved strains of seed, etc. In each case, the aim is that sooner or later the work shall terminate in some actual participation in the larger social life, if only by young children carrying flowers to an invalid or to their parents. In one of the city schools where this work has been longest carried on, I saw,
for example, interesting charts that showed the transformation of detailed hygienic and living conditions of the homes in a working mens quarter effected through a period of ten years by the boys and girls of the school.
A word regarding the system of administration and discipline of Soviet schools perhaps finds its natural place in this connection. During a certain period, the idea of freedom and student control tended to run riot. But apparently the idea of “auto-organization” (which is fundamental in the official scheme) has now been worked out in a positive form, so that, upon the whole, the excesses of the earlier period are obsolescent. The connection with what has just been said lies in the fact that as far as possible the organizations of pupils that are relied upon to achieve self-discipline are not created for the sake of school
“government,” but grow out of the carrying on of some line of work needed in the school itself, or in the neighborhood. Here, too, while the idea of self-government developed in American schools was the originally stimulating factor, the ordinary American practice is criticized as involving too much imitation of adult political forms (instead of growing out of the students own social relationships), and hence as being artificial and external. In view of the prevailing idea of other countries as to the total lack of freedom and total disregard of democratic methods in Bolshevist Russia, it is disconcerting, to say the least, to anyone who has shared in that belief, to find Russian school children much more democratically organized than are our own; and to note that they are receiving through the system of school administration a training that fits them, much more systematically than is attempted in our pro-
fessedly democratic country, for later active participation in the self-direction of both local communities and industries. *
Fairness demands that I should say in conclusion that the educational system so inadequately described exists at present qualitatively rather than quantitatively. Statistically considered, its realization is still highly restricted—although not surprisingly so when one considers both the external difficulties of war, famine, poverty, teachers trained in alien ideas and ideals, and the internal difficulties of initiating and developing an educational system on a new social basis. Indeed, considering these difficulties, one is rather amazed at the progress made; for, while limited in actual range, the scheme is in no sense on paper. It is a going concern; a self-moving organism. While an American visitor may feel a certain patriotic pride in noting in how many respects
* See Deweys footnote on page 19. – Editor.
an initial impulse came from some progressive school in our own country, he is at once humiliated and stimulated to new endeavor to see how much more organically that idea is incorporated in the Russian system than in our own. * Even if he does not agree with the assertion of communist educators that the progressive ideals of liberal educators can actually be carried out only in a country that is undergoing an economic revolution in the socialist direction, he will be forced into searchings of heart and mind that are needed and wholesome. In any case, if his experience is at all like mine, he will deeply regret those artificial barriers and that barricade of false reports that now isolates American teachers from that educational system in which our professed progressive democratic ideas are most completely embodied, and from which accordingly we might, if we would, learn much more than from
* We would draw the opposite conclusion. That our schools have come to resemble those of a "collectivising" totalitarian state is cause for alarm rather than pride. – Editor.
the system of any other country. I understand now as I never did before the criticism of some foreign visitors, especially from France, that condemn Soviet Russia for entering too ardently upon an “Americanization” of traditional European culture.
The Great Experiment and the Future
To sum up ones impressions about Russia is of necessity to engage in speculations about its future. Even the belief that has inspired what I have hitherto written, namely, that the most significant aspect of the change in Russia is psychological and moral, rather than political, involves a look into an unrevealed future. While the belief is doubtless to be accounted for by contacts that were one-sided, with edu-
cational people, not with politicians and economists, still there is good authority for it. Lenin himself expressed the idea that with the accomplishment of the Revolution the Russian situation underwent a great transformation. Before it had taken place, it was Utopian, he said, to suppose that education and voluntary coöperation could achieve anything significant. The workers had first to seize power. But when they had the reins of government in their hands, there took place “a radical change in our point of view toward Socialism. It consists in this, that formerly the center of gravity had to be placed in the political struggle and the conquest of power. Now this center of gravity is displaced in the direction of pacific cultural work. I should be ready to say that it is now moving toward intellectual work, were it not for our international relations, and the necessity of defending our position in the inter-
national system. If we neglect that phase and confine ourselves to internal economic relations, the center of gravity of our work already consists in intellectual work.” He went on to say that the cause of Socialism is now, economically speaking, identical with that of the promotion of coöperation, and added the significant words: “Complete coöperation is not possible without an intellectual revolution.”
Further testimony to the same effect developed in an interview some of us had with Krupskaia, Lenins widow, * an official at the head of one branch of the government department of education, and naturally a person with great prestige. Considering her position, her conversation was strangely silent upon matter of school organization and administration; it was about incidents of a human sort that had occurred in her contact with children and women, incidents illustrative of their desire
* Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya (1869-1939) married Lenin in 1898. – Editor (after WWB).
for education and for new light and life—evincing an interest on her part that was quite congruous with her distinctly maternal, almost housewifely type. But at the close she summed up the task of the present régime: Its purpose is, she said, to enable every human being to obtain personal cultivation. The economic and political revolution that had taken place was not the end; it was the means and basis of a cultural development still to be realized. It was a necessary means, because without economic freedom and equality, the full development of the possibilities of all individuals could not be achieved. But the economic change was for the sake of enabling every human being to share to the full in all the things that give value to human life. *
Even in the economic situation the heart of the problem is now intellectual and educa-
* Since Dewey is referring to Soviet Russia, by “freedom” he does not mean freedom from unwarrented state coercion, but rather the freedom to take, via the state, from others; by “equality” he does not mean equality before the law, but rather equality of possessions; and by “all the things that give value to human life” he does not include recognition of the right to one's own life. – Editor.
tional. This is true in the narrower sense that the present industrial scheme and plan cannot possibly be carried through without preparation of skilled technicians in all lines, industrial and administrative. What Wells said about the world is peculiarly true of Russia; there is a race between education and catastrophe—that is, industrial breakdown. It is also true in the fundamental sense that the plan cannot be carried through without change in the desires and beliefs of the masses. Indeed, it seems to me that the simplest and most helpful way to look at what is now going on in Russia, is to view it as an enormous psychological experiment in transforming the motives that inspire human conduct. *
There are, of course, two points of view from which it is not a genuine experiment, since its issue is foredoomed. The fanatic of individual capitalistic business for private gain and the
* One might just as well refer to the Third Reich as an “experiment.” The experiment neednt have been attempted for one to know that it violates inalienable human rights. – Editor.
Marxian dogmatic fanatic both have the answer ready in advance. According to the first, the attempt is destined to failure; * it is fated to produce, in the words of Mr. Hoover, ** an “economic vacuum”; according to the latter, the transformation from individualism to collectivism of action is the absolute and inevitable result of the working of laws that are as positively known to social “science” as, say, the law of gravitation to physical science. Not being an absolutist of either type, I find it more instructive to regard it as an experiment whose outcome is quite undetermined, but that is, just as an experiment, by all means the most interesting one going on upon our globe—though I am quite frank to say that for selfish reasons I prefer seeing it tried in Russia rather than in my own country.
Both beliefs in their dogmatic form have served a purpose. The first—the “individual-
* Set aside the epithet “fanatic.” An individualist would be against collectivism as such, not worry over its success or failure. As for its success or failure, he would not possess so low an opinion of human beings to think it would succeed. – Editor.
** Herbert Hoover was no advocate of individualism. – Editor.
istic” philosophy—has enabled men to put up with the evils of the present order of things. If this is as fixed as human nature, and if human nature is built upon the pattern of the present economic order, there is nothing to do but bear up as best we can. The Marxian philosophy gave men faith and courage to challenge this régime. But ignoring both of these dogmatic faiths, I should say that what there is in Russia is an experiment having two purposes. The first and more immediate aim is to see whether human beings can have such guarantees of security against want, illness, old-age, and for health, recreation, reasonable degree of material ease and comfort that they will not have to struggle for purely personal acquisition and accumulation, without, in short, being forced to undergo the strain of competitive struggle for personal profit. In its ulterior reaches, it is an experiment * to discover whether
* Set aside what Dewey thought the purpose of the experiment was. By using the passive voice Dewey fails to acknowledge who is conducting the experiment, namely the likes of Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky. It is remarkable that Dewey constantly refers to “voluntary coöperation” when even his own words show it to be anything but voluntary. – Editor.
the familiar democratic ideals—familiar in words, at least—of liberty, equality and brotherhood will not be most completely realized in a social régime based on voluntary coöperation, on conjoint workers control and management of industry, with an accompanying abolition of private property as a fixed institution—a somewhat different matter, of course, than the abolition of private possessions as such. The first aim is the distinctly economic one. But the farther idea is that when economic security for all is secured, and when workers control industry and politics, there will be the opportunity for all to participate freely and fully in a cultivated life. That a nation that strives for a private culture from which many are excluded by economic stress cannot be a cultivated nation was an idea frequently heard from the mouths of both educators and working people.
It was at this point that my own antecedent notions—or, if you will, prejudices, underwent their most complete reversal. I had the notion that socialistic communism was essentially a purely economic scheme. The notion was fostered by the almost exclusive attention paid by socialists in western countries to economic questions, and by the loudly self-proclaimed “economic materialism” of Marxian communists. I was, therefore, almost totally unprepared for what I actually found: namely, that, at least in the circles with which I came in contact (which, however, included some working men as well as educators), the development of “cultivation” and realization of the possibility of everyones sharing in it, was the dominant note. It turned out, most astonishingly that only in “bourgeois” countries are Socialists mainly concerned with improving
the material conditions of the working classes, as if occupied with a kind of public as distinct from private philanthropy in raising wages, bettering housing conditions, reducing hours of labor, etc. Not, of course, that the present Russian régime is not also occupied with such matters, but that it is so definitely concerned with expanding and enlarging the actual content of life. Indeed, I could not but feel (though I can offer no convincing objective proof) that foreign visitors who have emphasized widespread poverty as a ground for predicting the downfall of the present régime are off the track. In the first place, poverty is so much the historic heritage of the masses that they are not especially conscious of the pinching of this particular shoe; and in the next place, there are large numbers, especially of the younger generation, who are so devoted to the human and moral ideal of making free
cultivation universal that they do not mind the pinch; they do not feel it as a sacrifice.
Perhaps I should have been prepared to find this attitude. That the movement in Russia is intrinsically religious was something I had often heard and that I supposed I understood and believed. But when face to face with actual conditions, I was forced to see that I had not understood at all. And for this failure, there were two causes as far as I can make out—I am, of course, only confessing my own limitations. One was that, never having previously witnessed a widespread and moving religious reality, I had no way of knowing what it actually would be like. The other was that I associated the idea of Soviet Communism, as a religion, too much with intellectual theology, the body of Marxian dogmas, with its professed economic materialism, and too little with a moving human aspiration and devotion. As it
is, I feel as if for the first time I might have some inkling of what may have been the moving spirit and force of primitive Christianity. I even hate to think of the time, that seems humanly inevitable, when this new faith will also have faded into the light of common day, and become conventional and stereotyped. I am quite prepared to hear that I exaggerate this phase of affairs; I am prepared to believe that, because of the unexpectedness of the impression, I have exaggerated its relative importance. But all such allowances being made, I still feel sure that no one can understand the present movement who fails to take into account this religious ardor. That men and women who profess “materialism” should in fact be ardent “idealists” is undoubtedly a paradox, but one that indicates that a living faith is more important than the symbols by which it tries to express itself. Intellectual
formulæ seem to be condemned to have about them something pathetically irrelevant; they are so largely affected by accidents of history. In any case, it is hard not to feel a certain envy for the intellectual and educational workers in Russia; not, indeed, for their material and economic status, but because a unified religious social faith brings with it such simplification and integration of life. “Intellectuals” in other countries have a task that is, if they are sincere, chiefly critical; those who have identified themselves in Russia with the new order have a task that is total and constructive. They are organic members of an organic going movement.
The sense of disparity between the Soviet official theology, the Marxian doctrines, and the living religious faith in human possibilities when released from warping economic conditions, remains. A similar disparity seems to
have attended all vital movements hitherto undertaken. They have had their intellectual formulations; but use of the latter has been to provide a protective shell for emotions. Any predictions about the Russian future has [sic] to take into account the contradiction and conflict between rigid dogmas on one side and an experimental spirit on the other. Which will win, it is impossible to say. But I cannot but suppose that the Russian people will, in the end, through a series of adaptations to actual conditions as they develop, build something new in the form of human association. That these will be communistic in the sense of the leaders of the revolution, I doubt; that they will be marked by a high degree of voluntary coöperation and by a high degree of social control of the accumulation and use of capital, seems to be probable. Symbols, however, have a great way of persisting and of adapting themselves
to changes in fact, as the history of Christianity and democracy both show. So, unless there is some remarkable breach of continuity, it is likely that the outcome, whatever it may be in fact, will be called communism and will be taken as a realization of the creed of its initial authors.
Education affords, once more, the material for a striking illustration of the rôle of experiment in the future evolution of Soviet Russia. In a region something less than a hundred miles from Moscow, there is a district fairly typical of northern rural Russia, in which there is an educational colony under the direction of Schatzsky. * This colony is the center of some fourteen schools scattered through a series of villages, which, taken together, constitute an extensive (and intensive) educational experiment station for working out materials and
* Stanislav Teofilovich Shatskii (1878-1934), the same man discussed starting on page 62. – Editor (after WWB).
methods for the Russian rural system. There is not in my knowledge anything comparable to it elsewhere in the world. As the summer colony was in operation, we had the satisfaction of visiting the station and also noting its effect on the villages that have come under its influence. A somewhat similar undertaking under Pistrak * exists in Moscow to deal with the problems of urban workers. It was closed on account of the vacation period, and so my knowledge is less at first hand. But it is in active and successful operation. Then, as has been noted, each province has its own experimental station to deal with specifically local problems. These enterprises are under the government, having its sanction and authoritative prestige. There is also in existence a supreme scientific council having a pedagogical section. The duties of this Scientific Council are in general to form plans for the social and
* Moisei Mikhailovich Pistrak (1888-1940). – Editor (after WWB).
economic development of Russia; the program, while flexible, looks ahead over a term of years and includes much detail based on researches that are continuously conducted. Of this undertaking, probably the first in the world to attempt scientific regulation of social growth, the pedagogical section is an organic member; its business is to sift and audit the results of the educational experiments that are carried on, and to give them a form in which they may be directly incorporated into the school system of the country. The fact that both Schatzsky and Pistrak are members of this Council ensures that conclusions reached in the experiment stations receive full attention. *
This matter is referred to here rather than in the account of Soviet education to which it properly belongs, in order to suggest, through a concrete example, that, however rigid and dogmatic the Marxian symbols may be, actual
* The alleged honesty of Schatzsky and Pistrak is not the issue. “The problem isnt the abuse of power, its the power to abuse.” (Michael Cloud) School and state should be separate for the same reason as church and state.
practices are affected by an experimental factor that is flexible, vital, creative. In this connection it may be worth while to quote from Pistrak, the words being the more significant because he is a strict party * member. “We cannot apply the same rules to every school condition; that procedure would be contrary to the essence of our school. It is indispensable to develop in teachers aptitude for pedagogical creation; without this, it will be impossible to create the new school. The notion that pedagogues are artisans rather than creators, seems to us incorrect. Every human being is more or less a creator, and while an individual in isolation may fail to find a creative solution of a problem, in collectivity we are all creators.” No one would claim that this ideal of creation is as yet realized, but no one can come in contact with educational activities without feeling that this spirit marks the Russian school leaders
* Sic. “Party” as in “Communist Party.” – Editor.
to an extent unknown in other countries. In my first article, before coming into any close contact with educational endeavor, I wrote of the feeling of vitality and liberation that was got from contact with the face of the Russian scene. The later educational contacts confirmed this surface impression, while they also left the feeling of being initiated into the definite movement by which the movement of liberation was intensified and directed.
I do not believe that any persons particular guess about the exact form of the outcome of the present Russian movement is of any importance; there are too many unknowns in the equation. If I venture in the direction of a prediction, it is only by way of calling attention to two movements already going on. The factor of greatest importance seems to me to be the growth of voluntary coöperative groups.
In the orthodox theory, these form a transition stage on the road to the predestined end of Marxian Communism. Just why the means should not also be the end, and the alleged transitory stage define the goal, is not clear to me. The place occupied by the peasant in Russian life, the necessity of consulting his interests and desires, however disagreeable that consultation is, the constant concessions made to him in spite of official preference for the factory city worker, strengthens belief in the probability of coöperative rather than a strictly communistic outcome. Side by side with this factor, though of less immediate practical force, I should place the experimental aspect of the educational system. There is, of course, an immense amount of indoctrination and propaganda in the schools. but if the existing tendency develops, it seems fairly safe to predict that in the end this indoctrination will be sub-
ordinate to the awakening of initiative and power of independent judgement, while coöperative mentality will be evolved. It seems impossible that an education intellectually free will not militate against a servile acceptance of dogma as dogma. One hears all the time about the dialectic movement by means of which a movement contradicts itself in the end. I think the schools are a “dialectic” factor in the evolution of Russian communism. *
These remarks do not detract from the significance of the Russian revolutionary movement; rather they add, in my mind, to it, and to the need for study of it by the rest of the world. And it cannot be studied without actual contact. The notion that a sixth of the world can be permanently isolated and “quarantined” is absurd enough, though the consequences of acting upon the absurdity are more likely to be tragic than humorous. But it is
* It beggars reason to think that intellectual freedom could possibly result from the mentality and control that Dewey has been gushing over for a hundred twenty eight pages. – Editor.
even more absurd to suppose that a living idea that has laid hold of a population with the force and quality of a religion can be pushed to one side and ignored. The attempt, if persisted in, will result in an intensification of its destructive features and in failure to derive the advantages that might accrue from knowledge of its constructive features. Political recognition of Russia on the part of the United States would not go far in bringing about the kind of relations that are in the interest of both countries and of the world, but it is at least a necessary antecedent step. I went to Russia with no conviction on that subject except that recognition was in line with our better political traditions. I came away with the feeling that the maintenance of barriers that prevent intercourse, knowledge and understanding is close to a crime against humanity.
The phase of Bolshevism with which one
cannot feel sympathy is its emphasis upon the necessity of class war and of world revolution by violence. These features of Soviet Russia tend to recede into the background because of the pressure the authorities are under to do a vastly difficult constructive work in Russia itself. But the spirit that produces them is fed by the belief that the rest of the world are enemies of Soviet Russia; that it must be constantly on the defensive and that the best defense is aggressive attack. I do not think that free intercourse with the rest of the world would cause an immediate disappearance of the idea of stirring up civil war in capitalistic countries. But I am confident that such intercourse would gradually deprive the flame of its fuel and that it would die down. One derives the impression that the Third International is Russias own worst enemy, doing harm to it by alienating other peoples sympathy. Its
chief asset, however, is non-recognition. The withdrawal of recognition by Great Britain has done more than any other one thing to stimulate the extremists and fanatics of the Bolshevist faith, and to encourage militarism and hatred of bourgeois nations.
I cannot conclude without mentioning one point that is not strictly connected with the remainder of this summary. In times of peace the Third International does, as I have said, more injury to Russia than to other countries. But if there is a European war, it will, I believe, spring to life as a reality in every European nation. I left Russia with a stronger feeling than I had ever had before of the criminal ineptitude of those statesmen who still play with the forces that generate wars. There is one prediction to which I am willing to commit myself. * If there is another European war,
* Dewey had promoted U.S. entry into the Great War, that is, W.W. I, but after the war was over he joined the movement to “end all war.” Later still he promoted U.S. entry into W.W. II. – Editor.
under present conditions, civil war will add to the horrors of foreign war in every continental country, and every capital in Europe will be a shambles in which the worst horrors of the days of revolution will be outdone.
Add to Favorites
Email the editor