“Soâ€”you’ve turned reactionary,” he greeted me.
There was no malice in his greeting. Just sorrow. Another good man gone wrong, his tone conveyed another noble spirit lost to the cause. Indeed, whatever insult lurked in the salutation was more than offset by the implied compliment. To his mind, at least, my defection was a minor disaster for the cause.
A little probing and I got to the root of his sadness. It was a piece under my signature in this column which confirmed his suspicion that I had lost my social conscience and flopped into the catnip delusions of reaction. In that backsliding piece, it appears. I had shaken my aging head sadly over some six dozen executions without benefit of trial or defense in the new Russia. That, obviously, made me a black reactionary.
Of course, I had shaken that sinful head just as lugubriously over lawless official killings in the new Germany. But that, to my friendâ€”or ex-friendâ€”was political camouflage on my part. He had penetrated to the truth, namely, that I was much more distressed over brutalities in Russia than brutalities in Germany.
I plead guilty herewith to his last intuition. I am, in fact, a lot more disturbed by wholesale inhumanity in Russia than in Germany, China or central Africa. Brutality staged in these latter placesâ€”including those against strikers in American coal mine areas and the likeâ€”seem to me quite natural. It is what I expect. If a genuine demonstration of idealism and human decency were reported from Germany I should be surprisedâ€”perhaps a little disappointed. As long as Hitler and the coal mine gangsters and their kind persist in the path of error, their defeat may be envisioned.
But analogous evidences of official Schrecklichkeit in the new Russia offend me. It is decidedly not what I expect. I have too much personal investment of hope in that place. Evidence that the Kremlin leaders have lost all sense of proportion, that their feelings for human life have been dulled by the harsh years, is unpleasant.
This is what I tried to tell my disappointed acquaintance. The commission of a crime by a stranger over in Cicero, Illinois, might be cause for mild, routine deprecation on his part. But that same crime committed by his own brother for whom he feels deeply despite everything, would be a great tragedy. . . . That, in a rough way, explains why Iâ€”and millions like myselfâ€”are more incensed over injustice in Russia than injustice in Germany.
As to the term “reactionary,” it is only a matter of definition. Once upon a time, when I was still a middle-aged man and a flaming enthusiast of this, that and the other thing, anyone who favored executions without trial for political effects by any government was considered, without further ado, a hopeless reactionary.
Now, it seems, the definition has been reversed. Whoever objects to such useless panicky killing is a reactionary. Idealism has put on blinders and armed itself with a sword.
It was Bukharin, I think, who