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Had Dewey a Right to Denounce Stalin?

A respondent wrote that my:

« intention is to demonstrate that Dewey approved of some of the developments in the Russian Revolution and this places him outside the Pale. »

No.  Ask yourself what Dewey approved of about Soviet Russia.  Go over the quotes and make a list.

Another respondent wrote of yours truly:

« there is one issue [he] has raised which I think needs more attention.  This is the charge that in 1928, after his visit to Russia, Dewey knew, or was in a position to know, about “the murder, torture, looting,” and chose to ignore or belittle it;  instead praising a regime and culture that he knew (or should have known) to have been founded on and perpetuating a violent oppression of the individual. »

Yes.  Not only ought Dewey to have known  there were many first hand accounts from survivors by the time he wrote  he says right in the quotes I provided that he had read these accounts.  And right in those quotes he belittled them.

« I distinguish two key propositions in [his] general attack on Dewey.  The first is roughly that Dewey’s socialist views are unacceptable since socialism is an intrinsically evil idea.  The second is that Dewey was prepared to endorse a brutal regime because it fitted in with his views. »

There are more than two, but let’s consider these two here.

« [He] evidently sees these propositions as necessarily linked. »

Although Czarist Russia was not a free country, it was gradually becoming Westernized and people possessed some substantial freedoms before 1917.  The peasants were no longer serfs.  Anyone could own land and shops and factories.  To go from that state to the abolition of private property (including private homes) requires brute force against the owners.  The Bolsheviks’ brutality was not something tacked on to their goal, not something the Bolsheviks could have dispensed with.

« ... in quoting from the 1929 Impressions of Soviet Russia he appears to make no distinction between those passages which endorse the “evil” of  “creat[ing] habits so that persons will act cooperatively and collectively” and those which he claims condone state murder and torture. »

Habits?  What I object to is browbeating independent thought out of small children the better to make the New Man.

The respondent considers Dewey’s actions of 1928 (and for the next nine years I might add):

« This is a charge against Dewey’s judgement and/or integrity, and is therefore relevant to his credentials as a sponsor of the Technique.  For this reason I have come to think that it cannot be left unexamined ...
 ... In the meantime, if anyone has information, or can point me to any useful sources, about this period of Dewey’s life, or more generally about the attitudes of Western Intellectuals to the Russian revolution ... »

Amen to the first point.  As to the second, practically all Western intellectuals at this time were “fellow travelers.”  In the U.S. the period of the 1930’s was known as the “Red Decade.”  Dewey seems to have outshone his fellows in his praise and in his willingness to ignore the slaughter.

He started early.  In an interview with the New York World, July 29, 1917  (“War’s Social Results” Later Works, vol. 17 page 23), Dewey said:

“... industrial democracy is on the way.  The rule of the Workmen and the Soldiers will not be confined to Russia, it will spread through Europe;  and this means that the domination [read: wealth] of all upper classes, even of what we have been knowing as ‘respectable society,’ is at an end.”

It took Dewey 20 years, until 1937, before he began denouncing the Soviets, and what he denounced was not their original goals, nor the ideas on which those goals depended, but their later methods.  (He never publicly retracted his earlier praise.)

Did Dewey have a right to denounce the Soviets?  Consider this Dewey bon mot:

“There is no antecedent universal proposition which can be laid down because of which the function of a state should be limited or should be expanded. ...  Their scope is something to be critically and experimentally determined.” (The Public and Its Problems, 1927, Later Works, volume 2, page 281)

Dewey here applies the Pragmatist idea that action must precede thought.  You cannot know the truth of an idea in advance of action.  You act, what’s true feels comfortable, what’s false feels uncomfortable.