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The Great Soviet Experiment – On Children

I found the original 1929 edition of Dewey’s Impressions of Soviet Russia in the Rare Book room of a local university.  In spite of its age, the folios of the pages were uncut, the leaves joined at the top and/or side.  Many pages were unreadable until I had the staff cut them for me.

I thought I’d discovered something pretty rare, though not unknown to Dewey scholars as snippets are quoted in Prof. Westbrook’s admiring book.

It turns out the university has a later edition in the regular stacks, published by the Teacher’s College of Columbia University in 1964, same call number.

From the Series Preface of the later edition:  “This volume of John Dewey’s Impressions of Soviet Russia presents little-remembered comments by the distinguished philosopher on his visits abroad as educational advisor. ...  Many of Dewey’s observations on Russia and other countries hold good today.  Others ... would have been better had they never been made.”  Witty fellow.

In my opinion the entire book is a disgrace.  For once Dewey’s writing is fairly clear and forthright, and we see his philosophy in action.  In two earlier posts I quoted from chapters 3 and 4.  Here’s some from chapter 6 (pagination from the 1929 edition as before):

Chapter VI   “The Great Experiment and the Future”

Page 115

Soviet Russia “is an experiment to discover whether the familiar democratic ideals  familiar in words, at least  of liberty, equality and brotherhood will not be most completely realized in a social regime based on voluntary [yeah right] cooperation, 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 [ditto]. ...  But the further 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. ...

“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. ...  I was, therefore, almost totally unprepared for what I actually found:  namely, that, at least in the circles with which I came in contact ... the development of ‘cultivation’ and realization of the possibility of everyone’s 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 regime 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 regime are off the track. ...

“... 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 it at all.  And for this failure, there were two causes as far as I can make out ... .  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 ... 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. ... 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 simplication [spelling as in original] and integration of life.”

(Last two paragraphs are one in original, split here for clarity.)

According to the second edition’s introduction, by William Brickman, Joseph Stalin had made an announcement three years before Dewey’s visit:  “According to Stalin, universal human culture, which was the goal of communism, was to be national in form and Socialist in content.”

I won’t quote Dewey’s praises of the Soviet propaganda system, experimental breakup of the family, etc.  In the entire book there is but one place where he uses a strong word of condemnation:  “obnoxious.”

Pick a page at random.  It’s almost certain to be unstinting praise for some sort of socializing/homogenizing influence.