More on the Short 20th Century

M A Jones mark at
Thu Sep 16 01:15:20 MDT 1999

I am resuming a series of postings I began to L-I earlier this summer, on
the 20th century World System, its mutations, dynamics and outcomes. I
earlier posted on some aspects of the the Thirties and High Stalinism. Now I
plan to retrace my steps and look more closely at the crucible in which the
century was formed: the epoch of Revolutions which began in 1917.
For information, I am copying this and a few other shorter postings to WSN
and Marxism-list; to get the whole deal you have to sub to L-I by sending a
<subscribe> msg to <majordomo at>
(Note: L-I is now and will be maintained as a place of sober, low-volume,
high-value discussions).

For openers, here is Herbert Hoover's seminal Letter to President Wilson of
28 March 1919. This document challenges us even now with its ringing
restatement of the American verities, of democracy freedom and markets, and
Hoover proclaimed an unrelenting struggle against 'Bolshevik tyranny' (even
through the use of proxies, and 'Neutrals', thus Hoover foreshadowed all the
well-known black arts of the CIA). The Versailles peace process was under
way. This was a defining moment in US policy formation: here in a few
hundred words Hoover analyses the hinge on which the "short 20th century"
turn --  American policy towards Bolshevism. Many attributes of US
imperialism, as it entered into world hegemony, were reflexively defined by
the struggle to contain and overthrow Bolshevism. Subsequently, not merely
US foreign policy, but the wholesale reconstruction of US society, its
internal norms, cultural rhythms and the social policies its elites
implemented, were conditioned by the imperatives of this struggle. From the
first, hegemonic US imperialism and the Soviet power, were locked into a
deadly symbiosis.
This emergent political design was forcefully sketched out by Hoover in his
remarkable letter to Wilson:

"As the result of Bolshevik economic conceptions, the people of Russia are
dying of hunger and disease at the rate of some hundreds of thousands
monthly in a country that formerly supplied food to a large part of the
I feel it is my duty to lay before you in just as few words as possible my
views as to the American relation to Bolshevism and its manifestations.
These views at least have the merit of being an analysis of information and
thought gleaned from my own experience and the independent sources which I
now have over the whole of Europe, through our widespread relief
It simply cannot be denied that this swinging of the social pendulum from
the tyranny of the extreme right to the tyranny of the extreme left is based
on a foundation of real social grievance. The tyranny of the reactionaries
in Eastern and Central Europe for generations before the war, and the
suffering of their common people is but a commonplace to every social
student. This situation was thrown into bold relief by the war and the
breakdown of those reactionary tyrannies. After fighting actually stopped on
the various fronts the famine which followed has further emphasized the gulf
between the lower and upper classes. The poor were starved and driven mad in
the presence of extravagance and waste.
It is to be noticed that the Bolshevik ascendancy or even their strong
attempts so far are confined to areas of former reactionary tyranny Their
courses represent the not unnatural violence of a mass of ignorant humanity,
who themselves have learned in grief of tyranny and violence over
generations. Our people, who enjoy so great liberty and general comfort,
cannot fail to sympathize to some degree with these blind gropings for
better social condition. If former revolutions in ignorant masses are any
guide, the pendulum will yet swing hack to some moderate position when
bitter experience has taught the economic and social follies of present
obsessions. No greater fortune can come to the world than that these foolish
ideas should have an opportunity somewhere of bankrupting themselves.
It is not necessary for any American to debate the utter foolishness of
these economic tenets. We must all agree that our processes of production
and distribution, the outgrowth of a hundred generations, in the stimulation
to individual Initiative, the large equality of opportunity and infinite
development of mind and body, while not perfect, come about as near
perfection as is possible from the mixture of avarice, ambition, altruism,
intelligence, ignorance and education, of which the human animal is today
composed. The Bolshevik's land of illusion is that he can perfect these
human qualities by destroying the basic processes of production and
distribution instead of devoting himself to securing a better application of
the collective surplus.
Politically, the Bolsheviki most certainly represent a minority in every
country where they are in control, and as such they constitute a tyranny
that is the negation of democracy, for democracy as I see it must rest on
the execution of the will of the majority expressed by free and unterrified
suffrage. As a tyranny, the Bolshevik has resorted to terror, bloodshed and
murder to a degree long since abandoned even amongst reactionary tyrannies.
He has even to a greater degree relied upon criminal instinct to support his
doctrines than even autocracy did. By enveloping into his doctrines the cry
of the helpless and the downtrodden, he has embraced a large degree of
emotionalism and has thereby given an impulse to his propaganda comparable
only to the impulse of large spiritual movements. This propaganda, however,
in my view will stir other populations only in ratio to their proportions of
the suffering and ignorant and criminal. I feel myself, therefore, that the
political danger of spread of Bolshevism by propaganda is a direct factor of
the social and political development of the population which they attempt to
impregnate. Where the gulf between the middle classes and the lower classes
is large, and where the lower classes have been kept in ignorance and
distress, this propaganda will be fatal and do violence to normal democratic
development. For these reasons, I have no fear of it in the United States,
and my fears as to other countries would be gauged by the above criterion.
It is possible that the Soviet' type of government might take hold in some
other countries as a primitive form of democracy, but its virulence will be
tempered by their previous degree of political subversion.
There remains in my mind one more point to be examined, that is as to
whether the Bolshevik centers now stirred by great emotional hopes will not
undertake large military crusades in an attempt to impose their doctrines on
other defenseless people. This is a point on which my mind is divided with
the evidence at hand, and it seems to me that the whole treatment of the
problem must revolve on the determination of this one question. If this
spirit is inherent in their doctrine, it appears to me that we must
disregard all other questions and be prepared to fight, for exactly the same
reasons that we entered the European War against Germany. If this is not the
case, then it appears to me that from an American point of view we should
not involve ourselves in what may be a ten year military entanglement in
Europe. The American people cannot say that we are going to insist that any
given population must work out its internal social problems according to our
particular conception of democracy. In any event, I have the most serious
doubt that outside forces entering upon such an enterprise can do other than
infinite harm, for any great wave of emotion must ferment and spread under
repression. In the swing of the social pendulum from the extreme left back
toward the right, it will find the point of stabilization based on racial
instincts that could never be established by outside intervention.
I think we have also to contemplate what would actually happen if we
undertook military intervention in, say, a case like Hungary. We should
probably be involved in years of police duty, and our first act would
probably in the nature of things make us a party to reestablishing the
reactionary classes in their economic domination over the lower classes.
This is against our fundamental national spirit, and I doubt whether our
soldiers under these circumstances could resist infection with Bolshevik
ideas. It also requires consideration as to whether or not our people at
home, on gradual enlightenment as to the social wrongs of the lower classes
in these countries, would stand for our providing power by which such
reactionaries held their position, and we would perchance be thrown m. to an
attempt as governors to work out some social reorganization of these
countries. We thus become a mandatory with a vengeance. We become, in fact,
one of four mandatories, each with a different political and social outlook,
for it would necessarily be a joint Allied undertaking. Furthermore, in our
present engagements with France, England and Italy, we become a junior in
this partnership of four. It is therefore inevitable that in these matters
where our views and principles are at variance with the European Allies we
would find ourselves subordinated and even committed to policies against our
In all these lights, I have the following three suggestions:
First: We cannot even remotely recognize this murderous tyranny without
stimulating actionist radicalism in every country in Europe and without
transgressing on every National ideal of our own.
Second: That some Neutral of international reputation for probity and
ability should be allowed to create a second Belgian Relief Commission for
Russia. He should ask the Northern Neutrals who are especially interested
both politically and financially in the restoration of better conditions in
Russia, to give to him diplomatic, financial and transportation support;
that he should open negotiations with the Allied governments on the ground
of desire to enter upon the humane work of saving life, and ask the
conditions upon which ships carrying food and other necessaries will be
allowed to pass. He should be told that we will raise no obstructions and
would even help in his humanitarian task if he gets assurances that the
Bolsheviki will cease all militant action across certain defined boundaries
and cease their subsidizing of disturbances abroad; under these conditions
that he could raise money, ships and food, either from inside or outside
Russia; that he must secure an agreement covering equitable distribution,
and he might even demand that Germany help pay for this. This plan does not
involve any recognition or relationship by the Allies of the Bolshevik
murderers now in control any more than England recognized Germany in its
deals with the Belgian Relief. It would appear to me that such a proposal
would at least test out whether this is a militant force engrossed upon
world domination. If such an arrangement could be accomplished it might at
least give a period of rest along the frontiers of Europe and would give
some hope of stabilization. Time can thus be taken to determine whether or
not this whole system is a world danger, and whether the Russian people will
not themselves swing back to moderation and themselves bankrupt these ideas.
This plan, if successful, would save an immensity of helpless human life and
would save our country from further entanglements which today threaten to
pull us from our National ideals.
Third: I feel strongly the time has arrived for you again to reassert your
spiritual leadership of democracy in the world as opposed to tyrannies of
all kinds. Could you not take an early opportunity to analyze, as only you
can, Bolshevism from its political, economic, humane and its criminal points
of view, and, while yielding its aspirations, sympathetically to show its
utter foolishness as a basis of economic development; show its true social
ends; rap our own reactionaries for their destruction of social betterment
and thereby their stimulation of Bolshevism; point, however, to the steady
progress of real democracy in these roads of social betterment. I believe
you would again align the hearts of the suffering for orderly progress
against anarchy, not alone in Russia but in every Allied country.
If the militant features of Bolshevism were drawn in colors with their true
parallel with Prussianism as an attempt at world domination that we do not
stand for, it would check the fears that today haunt all men's minds."
3 The full text of this letter is in the House Papers, 10:37; excerpts are
cited in Herbert Hoover: The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson (New York:
McGraw-Hill; 1958),117-19.

[from Mark Jones]

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