"Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder.
By Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.
First Published in 1920.
IN WHAT SENSE CAN WE SPEAK
Of course, it would be a very great mistake to exaggerate this truth and to apply it not only to certain fundamental features of our revolution. It would also be a mistake to lose sight of the fact that after the victory of the proletarian revolution in at least one of the advanced countries things will in all probability take a sharp turn, viz., Russia will soon after cease to be the model country and once again become a backward country (in the "Soviet" and the socialist sense).
But at the present moment of history the situation is precisely such that the Russian model reveals to all countries something, and something very essential, of their near and inevitable future. Advanced workers in every land have long understood this; and more often they have not so much understood it as grasped it, sensed it, by revolutionary class instinct. Herein lies the international "significance" (in the narrow sense of the term) of Soviet power, and of the fundamentals of Bolshevik theory and tactics. This the "revolutionary" leaders of the Second International, such as Kautsky in Germany and Otto Bauer and Friedrich Adler in Austria, failed to understand, and therefore proved to be reactionaries and advocates of the worst kind of opportunism and social treachery. Incidentally, the anonymous pamphlet entitled The World Revolution ("Weltrevolution ") which appeared in 1919 in Vienna (Sozialistische Bucherei, Heft 11; Ignaz Brand) very clearly reveals their whole process of thought and their whole circle of ideas, or, rather, the full depth of their stupidity, pedantry, baseness and betrayal of working-class interests -- and, moreover, under the guise of "defending" the idea of "world revolution."
But we shall have to discuss this pamphlet in greater detail some other time. Here we shall note only one more point: long, long ago, Kautsky, when he was still a Marxist and not a renegade, approaching the question as a historian, foresaw the possibility of a situation arising in which the revolutionary spirit of the Russian proletariat would serve as a model for Western Europe. This was in 1902, when Kautsky wrote an article for the revolutionary Iskra entitled "The Slavs and Revolution." This is what he wrote in the article:
"At the present time" (in contrast to 1848) "it would seem that not only have the Slavs entered the ranks of the revolutionary nations, but that the centre of revolutionary thought and revolutionary action is shifting more and more to the Slavs. The revolutionary centre is shifting from the West to the East. In the first half of the nineteenth century it was in France, at times in England. In 1848 Germany joined the ranks of the revolutionary nations. . . . The new century opens with events which suggest the thought that we are approaching a further shift of the revolutionary centre, namely, to Russia. . . . Russia, which has borrowed so much revolutionary initiative from the West, is now perhaps herself ready to serve as a source of revolutionary energy for the West. The Russian revolutionary movement that is now flaring up will perhaps prove to be the most potent means of exorcising that spirit of flabby philistinism and temperate politics which is beginning to spread in our midst, and it may cause the thirst for battle and the passionate devotion to our great ideals to flare up in bright flames again. Russia has long ceased to be merely a bulwark of reaction and absolutism for Western Europe. It might be said that today the very opposite is the case. Western Europe is becoming a bulwark of reaction and absolutism in Russia. . . . The Russian revolutionaries might perhaps have coped with the tsar long ago had they not been compelled at the same time to fight his ally, European capital. Let us hope that this time they will succeed in coping with both
enemies, and that the new 'Holy Alliance' will collapse more quickly than its predecessors. But however the present struggle in Russia may end, the blood and felicity of the martyrs, whom, unfortunately, it will produce in too great numbers, will not have been sacrificed in vain. They will nourish the shoots of social revolution throughout the civilized world and make them grow more luxuriantly and rapidly. In 1848 the Slavs were a black frost which blighted the flowers of the people's spring. Perhaps they are now destined to be the storm that will break the ice of reaction and irresistibly bring with it a new and happy spring for the nations." (Karl Kautsky, "The Slavs and Revolution," Iskra, Russian Social-Democratic revolutionary newspaper, No. 18, March 10, 1902.)
Karl Kautsky wrote well eighteen years ago!
Certainly, almost everyone now realizes that the Bolsheviks could not have maintained themselves in power for two and a half months, let alone two and a half years, unless the strictest, truly iron discipline had prevailed in our Party, and unless the latter had been rendered the fullest and unreserved support of the whole mass of the working class, that is, of all its thinking, honest, self-sacrificing and influential elements who are capable of leading or of carrying with them the backward strata.
ONE OF THE FUNDAMENTAL CONDITIONS
FOR THE BOLSHEVIKS' SUCCESS
The dictatorship of the proletariat is a most determined and most ruthless war waged by the new class against a more powerful enemy, the bourgeoisie, whose resistance is increased tenfold by its overthrow (even if only in one country), and whose power lies not only in the strength of international capital, in the strength and durability of the international connections of the bourgeoisie, but also in the force of habit, in the strength of small production. For, unfortunately, small production is still very, very widespread in the world, and small production engenders capitalism and the bourgeoisie continuously, daily, hourly, spontaneously, and on a mass scale. For all these reasons the dictatorship of the proletariat is essential, and victory over the bourgeoisie is impossible without a long, stubborn and desperate war of life and death, a war demanding perseverance, discipline, firmness, indomitableness and unity of will.
I repeat, the experience of the victorious dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia has clearly shown even to those who are unable to think, or who have not had occasion to ponder over this question, that absolute centralization and the strictest discipline of the proletariat constitute one of the fundamental conditions for victory over the bourgeoisie.
This is often discussed. But not nearly enough thought is given to what it means, and under what conditions it is possible. Would it not be better if greetings in honour of Soviet power and the Bolsheviks were more frequently attended by a profound analysis of the reasons why the Bolsheviks were able to build up the discipline the revolutionary proletariat needs?
As a trend of political thought and as a political party, Bolshevism exists since 1903. Only the history of Bolshevism during the whole period of its existence can satisfactorily explain why it was able to build up and to maintain under most difficult conditions the iron discipline needed for the victory of the proletariat.
And first of all the question arises: how is the discipline of the revolutionary party of the proletariat maintained? How is it tested? How is it reinforced? First, by the class consciousness of the proletarian vanguard and by its devotion to the revolution, by its perseverance, self-sacrifice and heroism. Secondly, by its ability to link itself with, to keep in close touch with, and to a certain extent, if you like, to merge with the broadest masses of the toilers -- primarily with the proletariat, but also with the non-proletarian toiling masses. Thirdly, by the correctness of the political leadership exercised by this vanguard, by the correctness of its political strategy and tactics, provided that the broadest masses have been convinced by their own experience that they are correct. Without these conditions, discipline in a revolutionary party that is really capable of being the party of the advanced class, whose mission it is to overthrow the bourgeoisie and transform the whole of society, cannot be achieved. Without these conditions, all attempts to establish discipline inevitably fall flat and end in phrase-mongering and grimacing. On the other hand, these conditions cannot arise all at once. They are created only by prolonged effort and hard-won experience. Their creation is facilitated by correct revolutionary theory, which, in its turn, is not a dogma, but assumes final shape only in close connection with the practical activity of a truly mass and truly revolutionary movement.
That Bolshevism was able, in 1917-20, under unprecedentedly difficult conditions, to build up and successfully maintain the strictest centralization and iron discipline was simply due to a number of historical peculiarities of Russia.
On the one hand, Bolshevism arose in 1903 on the very firm foundation of the theory of Marxism. And the correctness of this -- and only this -- revolutionary theory has been proved not only by world experience throughout the nineteenth century, but particularly by the experience of the wanderings and vacillations, the mistakes and disappointments of revolutionary thought in Russia. For nearly half a century -- approximately from the forties to the nineties -- advanced thought in Russia, oppressed by an unparalleled, savage and reactionary tsardom, eagerly sought for a correct revolutionary theory and followed with astonishing diligence and thoroughness each and every "last word" in this realm in Europe and America. Russia achieved Marxism, the only correct revolutionary theory, through veritable suffering, through half a century of unprecedented torment and sacrifice, of unprecedented revolutionary heroism, incredible energy, devoted searching, study, practical trial, disappointment, verification and comparison with European experience. Thanks to the enforced emigration caused by tsardom, revolutionary Russia in the second half of the nineteenth century possessed such a wealth of international connections and such excellent information on world forms and theories of the revolutionary movement as no other country in the world.
On the other hand, having arisen on this granite theoretical foundation, Bolshevism passed through fifteen years (1903-17) of practical history which in wealth of experience has no equal anywhere else in the world. For no other country during these fifteen years had anything even approximating to this revolutionary experience, this rapid and varied succession of different forms of the movement -- legal and illegal, peaceful and stormy, underground and open, circles and mass movements, parliamentary and terrorist. In no other country was there concentrated during so short a time such a wealth of forms, shades, and methods of struggle of all classes of modern society, and moreover, a struggle which, owing to the backwardness of the country and the severity of the tsarist yoke, matured with exceptional rapidity and as similated most eagerly and successfully the appropriate "last word" of American and European political experience.
THE PRINCIPAL STAGES IN THE HISTORY
The years of preparation of the revolution (1903-05). The approach of a great storm is felt everywhere. All classes are in a state of ferment and preparation. Abroad, the press of the political exiles discusses the theoretical aspects of all the fundamental problems of the revolution. The representatives of the three main classes, of the three principal political trends, the liberal-bourgeois, the petty bourgeois-democratic (concealed under the labels "social-democratic" and "social-revolutionary"), and the proletarian-revolutionary trends, anticipate and prepare the approaching open class struggle by a most bitter battle on programmatical and tactical views. All the issues on which the masses waged an armed struggle in 1905-07 and 1917-20 can (and should) be studied in their embryonic form in the press of that time. Between these three main trends, there were, of course, a host of intermediate, transitional, halfway forms. Or, more correctly, in the struggle of the press, parties, factions and groups, there were crystallizing those political and ideological trends which are actually class trends; the classes were forging the requisite political and ideological weapons for the impending battles.The years of revolution (1905-07). All classes come out into the open. All programmatical and tactical views are tested by the action of the masses. The strike struggle is unparalleled anywhere in the world for its extent and acuteness. The economic strike grows into a political strike, and the latter into insurrection. The relations between the proletariat, as the leader, and the vacillating, unstable peasantry, as the led, are tested in practice. The Soviet form of organization is born in the spontaneous development of the struggle. The controversies of that time over the significance of the Soviets anticipate the great struggle of 1917-20. The alternation of parliamentary and non-parliamentary forms of struggle, of tactics of boycotting parliament and tactics of participating in parliament, of legal and illegal forms of struggle, and likewise their interrelations and connections -- all of this is distinguished by an astonishing richness of content. As far as teaching the fundamentals of political science -- to masses and leaders, to classes and parties -- was concerned, one month of this period was equivalent to a whole year of "peaceful," "constitutional" development. Without the "dress rehearsal" of 1905, the victory of the October Revolution in 1917 would have been impossible.
The years of reaction (1907-10). Tsardom scored victory. All the revolutionary and opposition parties have been defeated. Depression, demoralization, splits, discord, renegacy, pornography take the place of politics. There is an increased drift toward philosophical idealism; mysticism becomes the shell of counter-revolutionary sentiments. But at the same time, it is precisely this great defeat that gives the revolutionary parties and the revolutionary class a real and very valuable lesson, a lesson in historical dialectics, a lesson in the understanding of the political struggle and in the skill and art of waging it. One gets to know one's friends in times of misfortune. Defeated armies learn well.
Victorious tsardom is compelled to accelerate the destruction of the remnants of the prebourgeois, patriarchal mode of life in Russia. The country's development along bourgeois lines proceeds with remarkable speed. Extra-class and above-class illusions, illusions concerning the possibility of avoiding capitalism, are scattered to the winds. The class struggle manifests itself in quite a new and more distinct form.
The revolutionary parties must complete their education. They have learned to attack. Now they have to realize that this knowledge must be supplemented with the knowledge how to retreat properly. They have to realize -- and the revolutionary class is taught to realize it by its own bitter experience -- that victory is impossible unless they have learned both how to attack and how to retreat properly. Of all the defeated opposition and revolutionary parties, the Bolsheviks effected the most orderly retreat, with the least loss to their "army," with its core best preserved, with the least (in respect to profundity and irremediability) splits, with the least demoralization, and in the best condition to resume the work on the broadest scale and in the most correct and energetic manner. The Bolsheviks achieved this only because they ruthlessly exposed and expelled the revolutionary phrase-mongers, who refused to understand that one had to retreat, that one had to know how to retreat, and that one had absolutely to learn how to work legally in the most reactionary parliaments, in the most reactionary trade unions, cooperative societies, insurance societies and similar organizations.
The years of rise (1910-14). At first the rise was incredibly slow; then, following the Lena events of 1912, it became somewhat more rapid. Overcoming unprecedented difficulties, the Bolsheviks pushed aside the Mensheviks, whose role as agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement was perfectly understood by the whole bourgeoisie after 1905, and who were therefore supported in a thousand ways by the whole bourgeoisie against the Bolsheviks. But the Bolsheviks would never have succeeded in doing this had they not carried out a correct tactic of combining illegal work with the obligatory utilization of "legal possibilities." The Bolsheviks won all the labour seats in the arch-reactionary Duma.
The first imperialist world war (1914-17). Legal parliamentarism, with an extremely reactionary "parliament," is of very useful service to the party of the revolutionary proletariat, the Bolsheviks. The Bolshevik deputies are exiled to Siberia. In the exile press abroad all shades of social-imperialism, social-chauvinism, social-patriotism, inconsistent and consistent internationalism, pacifism, and the revolutionary repudiation of pacifist illusions find full expression. The learned fools and old women of the Second International, who had arrogantly and contemptuously turned up their noses at the abundance of "factions" in the Russian socialist movement and at the bitter struggle they waged among themselves, were unable -- when the war deprived them of their vaunted "legality" in all the advanced countries -- to organize anything even approximating such a free (illegal) interchange of views and such a free (illegal) working out of correct views as the Russian revolutionaries did in Switzerland and in a number of other countries. It was precisely because of this
that both the avowed social-patriots and the "Kautskyites" of all countries proved to be the worst traitors to the proletariat. And one of the principal reasons why Bolshevism was able to score victory in 1917-20 was that ever since the end of 1914 it had been ruthlessly exposing the baseness, loathsomeness and vileness of social-chauvinism and "Kautskyism" (to which Longuetism in France, the views of the leaders of the Independent Labour Party  and the Fabians  in England, of Turati in Italy, etc., correspond), and the masses later became more and more convinced by their own experience of the correctness of the Bolshevik views.
The second revolution in Russia (February to October 1917). The incredible senility and obsoleteness of tsardom had created (with the aid of the blows and hardships of a most agonizing war) an incredibly destructive power directed against tsardom. Within a few days Russia was transformed into a democratic bourgeois republic, more free -- under war conditions -- than any other country in the world. The leaders of the opposition and revolutionary parties began to set up a government, just as is done in the most "strictly parliamentary" republics, and the fact that a man had been a leader of an opposition party in parliament, even in a most reactionary parliament, assisted him in his subsequent role in the revolution.
In a few weeks the Mensheviks and "Socialist-Revolution aries" thoroughly imbibed all the methods and manners, arguments and sophistries of the European heroes of the Second International, of the ministerialists and other opportunist scum. All that we now read about the Scheidemanns and Noskes, about Kautsky and Hilferding, Renner and Austerlitz, Otto Bauer and Fritz Adler, Turati and Longuet, about the Fabians and the leaders of the Independent Labour Party of England -- all this seems to us (and really is) a dreary repetition, a reiteration of an old and familiar refrain. We have already seen all this in the case of the Mensheviks. History played a joke and made the opportunists of a backward country anticipate the opportunists of a number of advanced countries.
If the heroes of the Second International have all suffered bankruptcy and have disgraced themselves over the question of the significance and role of the Soviets and Soviet power; if the leaders of the three very important parties which have now left the Second International (namely, the German Independent Social-Democratic Party, the French Longuetites and the British Independent Labour Party) have disgraced and entangled themselves over this question in a most "striking" way; if they have all turned out to be slaves to the prejudices of petty-bourgeois democracy (quite in the spirit of the petty bourgeois of 1848 who called themselves "Social-Democrats") -- we have already seen all this in the case of the Mensheviks. History played a joke: in Russia, in 1905, the Soviets were born, from February to October 1917 they were turned to a false use by the Mensheviks, who went bankrupt because of their inability to understand the role and significance of the Soviets; and now the idea of Soviet power has arisen all over the world and is spreading among the proletariat of all countries with extraordinary speed. And the old heroes of the Second International are also going bankrupt everywhere, like our Mensheviks, because they are not capable of understanding the role and significance of the Soviets. Experience has proved that on certain very essential questions of the proletarian revolution, all countries will in evitably have to perform what Russia has performed.
Contrary to the views that are today not infrequently met with in Europe and America, the Bolsheviks began their victorious struggle against the parliamentary (factually) bourgeois republic and against the Mensheviks very cautiously, and the preparations they made for it were by no means simple. We did not call for the overthrow of the government at the beginning of the period mentioned, but explained that it was impossible to overthrow it without first changing the composition and the sentiments of the Soviets. We did not proclaim a boycott of the bourgeois parliament, the Constituent Assembly, but said -- and from the April (1917) Conference of our Party onwards began to say officially in the name of the Party -- that a bourgeois republic with a Constituent Assembly is better than a bourgeois republic without a Constituent Assembly, but that a "workers' and peasants'" republic, a Soviet republic, is better than any bourgeois-democratic, parliamentary, republic. Without such careful, thorough, circumspect and prolonged preparations we could not have obtained victory in October 1917, nor have maintained that victory.
Firstly and principally, in the struggle against opportunism, which in 1914 had definitely grown into social-chauvinism, had definitely sided with the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. Naturally, this was the principal enemy of Bolshevism within the working-class movement. It remains the principal enemy internationally too. The Bolsheviks devoted, and continue to devote, most attention to this enemy. This aspect of Bolshevik activities is now fairly well known abroad too.
Something different, however, must be said of the other enemy of Bolshevism within the working-class movement. It is far from sufficiently known as yet abroad that Bolshevism grew up, took shape, and became steeled in long years of struggle against petty-bourgeois revolutionism, which smacks of, or borrows something from, anarchism, and which falls short, in anything essential, of the conditions and requirements of a consistently proletarian class struggle. For Marxists, it is well established theoretically -- and the ex
perience of all European revolutions and revolutionary movements has fully confirmed it -- that the small owner, the small master (a social type that is represented in many European countries on a very wide, a mass scale), who under capitalism always suffers oppression and, very often, an incredibly acute and rapid deterioration in his conditions, and ruin, easily goes to revolutionary extremes, but is incapable of perseverance, organization, discipline and steadfastness. The petty bourgeois "driven to frenzy" by the horrors of capitalism is a social phenomenon which, like anarchism, is characteristic of all capitalist countries. The instability of such revolutionism, its barrenness, its liability to become swiftly transformed into submission, apathy, fantasy, and even a "frenzied" infatuation with one or another bourgeois "fad" -- all this is a matter of common knowledge. But a theoretical, abstract recognition of these truths does not at all free revolutionary parties from old mistakes, which always crop up at unexpected moments, in a somewhat new form, in hitherto unknown vestments or surroundings, in a peculiar -- more or less peculiar -- situation.
Anarchism was not infrequently a sort of punishment for the opportunist sins of the working-class movement. The two monstrosities were mutually complementary. And the fact that in Russia, although her population is more petty bourgeois than that of the European countries, anarchism exercised a relatively negligible influence in the preparations for and during both revolutions (1905 and 1917), must un doubtedly be partly placed to the credit of Bolshevism, which has always combated opportunism ruthlessly and uncompromisingly. I say "partly," for a still more important role in weakening the influence of anarchism in Russia was played by the fact that in the past (in the seventies of the nineteenth century) it had had the opportunity to develop with exceptional luxuriance and to display its utter fallaciousness and unfitness as a guiding theory for the revolutionary class.
At its inception in 1903, Bolshevism took over the tradition of ruthless struggle against petty-bourgeois, semianarchist (or dilettante-anarchist) revolutionism, the tradition which has always existed in revolutionary Social-Democracy, and be came particularly strong in 1900-03, when the foundations for a mass party of the revolutionary proletariat were being laid in Russia. Bolshevism took over and continued the struggle against the party which more than any other expressed the tendencies of petty-bourgeois revolutionism, namely, the "Socialist-Revolutionary" Party, and waged this struggle on three main points. First, this party, rejecting Marxism, stubbornly refused (or, it would be more correct to say: was unable) to understand the need for a strictly objective appraisal of the class forces and their interrelations before undertaking any political action. Secondly, this party considered itself to be particularly "revolutionary," or "Left," because of its recognition of individual terror, assassination -- a thing which we Marxists emphatically rejected. Of course, we rejected individual terror only on grounds of expediency, whereas people who were capable of condemning "on principle" the terror of the Great French Revolution, or in general, the terror employed by a victorious revolutionary party which is besieged by the bourgeoisie of the whole world, were ridiculed and laughed to scorn already by Plekhanov, in 1900-03, when he was a Marxist and a revolutionary. Thirdly, the "Socialist-Revolutionaries" thought it very "Left" to sneer at comparatively insignificant opportunist sins of the German Social-Democratic Party, while they themselves imi
tated the extreme opportunists of that party, for example, on the agrarian question, or on the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
History, by the way, has now confirmed on a large, world-wide historic scale the opinion we have always advocated, namely, that revolutionary German Social-Democracy (note that as far back as 1900-03 Plekhanov demanded the expulsion of Bernstein from the party, and the Bolsheviks, always continuing this tradition, in 1913 exposed the utter baseness, vileness and treachery of Legien) came closest to being the party which the revolutionary proletariat required in order to attain victory. Now, in 1920, after all the ignominious failures and crises of the war period and the early postwar years, it can be plainly seen that, of all the Western parties, German revolutionary Social-Democracy produced the best leaders, and recovered, recuperated, and gained new strength more rapidly than the others. This may be seen in the case both of the Spartacist party and the Left, proletarian wing of the "Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany," which is waging an incessant struggle against the opportunism and spinelessness of the Kautskys, Hilferdings, Ledebours and Crispiens. If we now cast a general glance over a fully completed historical period, namely, from the Paris Commune to the first Socialist Soviet Republic, we shall find that the attitude of Marxism to anarchism in general stands out most definitely and unmistakably. In the final analysis, Marxism proved to be correct, and although the anarchists rightly pointed to the opportunist views on the state that prevailed among the majority of the socialist parties, it must be stated, firstly, that this opportunism was connected with the distortion, and even deliberate suppression, of Marx's views on the state (in my book, The State and Revolution, I pointed out that for thirty-six years, from 1875 to 1911, Bebel kept secret a letter by Engels which very vividly, sharply, bluntly and clearly exposed the opportunism of the stock Social-Democratic conceptions of the state); and, secondly, that the rectification of these opportunist views, the recognition of Soviet power and its superiority over bourgeois parliamentary democracy, proceeded most rapidly and extensively precisely among the most Marxian trends in the socialist parties of Europe and America.
On two occasions the struggle that Bolshevism waged against "Left" deviations within its own party assumed particularly large proportions: in 1908, on the question of whether or not to participate in a most reactionary "parliament" and in the legal workers' societies, which were being re stricted by most reactionary laws; and again in 1918 (the Brest-Litovsk Peace), on the question whether one or another "compromise" was admissible.
In 1908 the "Left" Bolsheviks were expelled from our Party for stubbornly refusing to understand the necessity of participating in a most reactionary "parliament." The "Lefts" -- among whom there were many splendid revolutionaries who subsequently bore (and still bear) the title of member of the Communist Party with ctedit -- based themselves particularly on the successful experience of the boycott in 1905. When, in August 1905, the tsar announced the convocation of an advisory "parliament," the Bolsheviks -- in the teeth of all the opposition parties and the Mensheviks -- called for a boycott, and it was actually swept away by the revolution of October 1905. At that time the boycott proved correct, not because non-participation in reactionary parliaments is correct in general, but because we correctly gauged the objective situation which was leading to the rapid trans
formation of the mass strikes into a political strike, then into a revolutionary strike, and then into uprising. Moreover, the struggle at that time centred around the question whether to leave the convocation of the first representative assembly to the tsar, or to attempt to wrest its convocation from the hands of the old regime. When there was no certainty, nor could there be, that the objective situation was analogous, and likewise no certainty of a similar trend and rate of development, the boycott ceased to be correct.
The Bolshevik boycott of "parliament" in 1905 enriched the revolutionary proletariat with highly valuable political experience and showed that in combining legal with illegal, parliamentary with extra-parliamentary forms of struggle, it is sometimes useful and even essential to reject parliamentary forms. But it is a very great mistake indeed to apply this experience blindly, imitatively and uncritically to other conditions and to other situations. The boycott of the "Duma" by the Bolsheviks in 1906 was, however, a mistake, although a small and easily remediable one.* A boycott of the Duma in 1907, 1908 and subsequent years would have been a serious mistake and one difficult to remedy, because, on the one hand, a very rapid rise of the revolutionary tide and its conversion into an uprising could not be expected, and, on the other hand, the whole historical situation attending the renovation of the bourgeois monarchy called for combining legal and illegal activities. Today, when we turn back at this completed historical period, the connection of which with
* What applies to individuals applies -- with necessary modifications -- to politics and parties. Not he is wise who makes no mistakes. There are no such men nor can there be. He is wise who makes not very serious mistakes and who knows how to correct them easily and quickly.
subsequent periods is fully revealed, it becomes particularly clear that the Bolsheviks could not have in 1908-14 preserved (let alone strengthened, developed and reinforced) the firm core of the revolutionary party of the proletariat had they not upheld in strenuous struggle the viewpoint that it is obligatory to combine legal and illegal forms of struggle, that it is obligatory to participate even in a most reactionary parliament and in a number of other institutions restricted by reactionary laws (sick benefit societies, etc.).
In 1918 things did not reach a split. The "Left" Communists at that time only formed a separate group or "faction" within our Party, and that not for long. In the same year, 1918, the most prominent representatives of "Left Communism," for example, Comrades Radek and Bukharin, openly admitted their mistake. It had seemed to them that the Brest-Litovsk Peace was a compromise with the imperialists that was inadmissible on principle and harmful to the party of the revolutionary proletariat. It was indeed a compromise with the imperialists, but it was a compromise which, under the circumstances, was obligatory.
Today, when I hear our tactics during the conclusion of the Brest-Litovsk Peace assailed by the "Socialist-Revolutionaries," for instance, or when I hear the remark made by Comrade Lansbury in conversation with me -- "Our British trade union leaders say that if it was permissible for the Bolsheviks to compromise, it is permissible for them to com promise too," I usually reply by first of all giving a simple and "popular" example:
Imagine that your automobile is held up by armed bandits. You hand them over your money, passport, revolver and automobile. In return you are relieved of the pleasant company of the bandits. That is unquestionably a compromise.
"Do ut des" ("I give" you money, firearms, automobile, "so that you give" me the opportunity to depart in peace). But it would be difficult to find a sane man who would declare such a compromise to be "inadmissible on principle," or who would proclaim the compromiser an accomplice of the bandits (even though the bandits might use the automobile and the firearms for further robberies). Our compromise with the bandits of German imperialism was a compromise of such a kind. But when the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries in Russia, the Scheidemannites (and to a large extent the Kautskyites) in Germany, Otto Bauer and Friedrich Adler (not to speak of Messrs. Renner and Co.) in Austria, the Renaudels and Longuet and Co. in France, the Fabians, the "In dependents" and the "Labourites" in England, in 1914-18 and in 1918-20 entered into compromises with the bandits of their own, and sometimes of the "Allied," bourgeoisie against the revolutionary proletariat of their own country, all these gentlemen did act as accomplices in banditry.
The conclusion is clear: to reject compromises "on principle," to reject the admissibility of compromises in general, no matter of what kind, is childishness, which it is difficult even to take seriously. A political leader who desires to be useful to the revolutionary proletariat must know how to single out concrete cases when such compromises are inadmissible, when they are an expression of opportunism and treachery, and direct all the force of criticism, the full edge of merciless exposure and relentless war, against those concrete compromises, and not allow the past masters at "practical" Socialism and the parliamentary Jesuits to dodge and wriggle out of responsibility by disquisitions on "compromises in general." It is precisely in this way that Messrs. the "leaders" of the British trade unions, as well as the Fabian society and the "Independent" Labour Party, dodge responsibility for the treachery they have perpetrated, for having made such a compromise that is really tantamount to the worst kind of opportunism, treachery and betrayal.
There are compromises and compromises. One must be able to analyze the situation and the concrete conditions of each compromise, or of each variety of compromise. One must learn to distinguish between a man who gave the bandits money and firearms in order to lessen the damage they can do and facilitate their capture and execution, and a man who gives bandits money and firearms in order to share in the loot. In politics this is by no means always as easy as in this childishly simple example. But anyone who set out to invent a recipe for the workers that would provide in advance ready made solutions for all cases in life, or who promised that the policy of the revolutionary proletariat would never encounter difficult or intricate situations, would simply be a charlatan.
So as to leave no room for misinterpretation, I shall attempt to outline, if only very briefly, a few fundamental rules for analyzing concrete compromises.
The party which concluded a compromise with the German imperialists by signing the Brest-Litovsk Peace had been working out its internationalism in action ever since the end of 1914. It was not afraid to call for the defeat of the tsarist monarchy and to condemn "defence of the fatherland" in a war between two imperialist robbers. The parliamentary representatives of this party took the road to Siberia rather than the road leading to ministerial portfolios in a bourgeois government. The revolution that overthrew tsardom and established a democratic republic put this party to a new and
tremendous test: the party entered into no agreements with its "own" imperialists, but prepared and carried out their overthrow. Having taken over political power, this party did not leave a vestige either of landlord or capitalist property. Having made public and repudiated the secret treaties of the imperialists, this party proposed peace to all nations, and yielded to the violence of the Brest-Litovsk robbers only after the Anglo-French imperialists had frustrated the conclusion of a peace, and after the Bolsheviks had done everything humanly possible to hasten the revolution in Germany and other countries. That such a compromise, entered into by such a party in such a situation, was absolutely correct, becomes clearer and more evident to everyone every day.
The Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries in Russia (like all the leaders of the Second International all over the world in 1914-20) began with treachery by directly or indirect ly justifying the "defence of the fatherland," that is, the defence of their own predatory bourgeoisie. They continued their treachery by entering into a coalition with the bourgeoisie of their own country and fighting together with their own bourgeoisie against the revolutionary proletariat of their own country. Their bloc, first with Kerensky and the Cadets, and then with Kolchak and Denikin in Russia, like the bloc of their confreres abroad with the bourgeoisie of their respective countries, was a desertion to the side of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. From beginning to end, their compromise with the bandits of imperialism lay in the fact that they made themselves accomplices in imperialist banditry.
"LEFT-WING" COMMUNISM IN GERMANY:
LEADERS -- PARTY -- CLASS -- MASSES
A pamphlet written from the standpoint of this opposition, and entitled The Split in the Communist Party of Germany (The Spartacus League ), published by "the local group in Frankfurt-am-Main," sets forth the substance of the views of this opposition most saliently, precisely, clearly and briefly. A few quotations will suffice to acquaint the reader with the substance of their views:
"The Communist Party is the party of the most determined class struggle. . . ."
". . . Politically, the transition period (between capitalism and Socialism) is the period of the proletarian dictatorship. . . ."
C o m m u n i s t P a r t y o r t h e p r o l e t a r i a n c l a s s ? . . . Should we on principle strive for the dictatorship of the Communist Party, or for the dictatorship of the proletarian class?" . . .(All italics in the original.)
Further, the author of the pamphlet accuses the "C.C." of the Communist Party of Germany of seeking to reach a coalition with the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany, of raising "the question of recognizing in principle all political means " of struggle, including parliamentarism, only in order to conceal its real and main efforts to form a coalition with the Independents. And the pamphlet goes on to say:
"The opposition has chosen another road. It is of the opinion that the question of the rule of the Communist Party and of the dictatorship of the Party is only a question of tactics. In any case, the rule of the Communist Party is the final form of all party rule. On principle, we must strive for the dictatorship of the proletarian class. And all the measures of the Party, its organization, its methods of struggle, its strategy and tactics should be directed to this end. Accordingly, one must emphatically reject all compromise with other parties, all reversion to parliamentary forms of struggle, which have become historically and politically obsolete, all policy of manoeuvring and agreement...
Specifically proletarian methods of revolutionary struggle must be strongly emphasized. New forms of organization must be created upon the widest basis and with the widest scope in order to enlist the broadest proletarian circles and strata, which are to take part in the revolutionary struggle under the leadership of the Communist Party. The rallying point for all revolutionary elements should be the Workers' Union, based on factory organizations. It should embrace all the workers who follow the slogan: 'Leave the trade unions!' and will organize the fighting proletariat in the broadest battle ranks. Recognition of the class struggle, the Soviet system and the dictatorship should be sufficient for admittance. All subsequent political training of the fighting masses and their political orientation in the struggle is the task of the Communist Party, which stands outside the Workers' Union. . . .
"O n e i s a p a r t y o f l e a d e r s, which strives to organize the revolutionary struggle and to direct it from above, resorting to compromises and parliamentarism in order to create a situation which would enable it to enter a coalition government in whose hands the dictatorship would rest.
"T h e o t h e r i s a m a s s p a r t y, which expects an upsurge of the revolutionary struggle from below, knowing and applying only one method in the struggle, a method which clearly leads to the goal, and rejecting all parliamentary and opportunist methods; this one method is the unconditional overthrow ot the bourgeoisie with the object of then establishing the proletarian class dictatorship for the accomplishment of Socialism. . . .
". . . There, the dictatorship of leaders; here, the dictatorship of the masses! That is our slogan."
Such are the most essential points characterizing the views of the opposition in the German Communist Party.
Any Bolshevik who has consciously participated in, or has closely observed, the development of Bolshevism since 1903 will at once say after reading these arguments, "What old and familiar rubbish! What 'Left' childishness!"
But let us examine these arguments a little more closely.
The mere presentation of the question -- "dictatorship of the Party o r dictatorship of the class, dictatorship (Party) of the leaders, o r dictatorship (Party) of the masses?" -- testifies to the most incredible and hopeless confusion of mind. These people are straining to invent something quite out of the ordinary, and, in their effort to be clever, make themselves ridiculous. Everyone knows that the masses are divided into classes; that the masses can be contrasted to classes only by contrasting the vast majority in general, regardless of division according to status in the social system of production, to categories holding a definite status in the social system of production; that usually, and in the majority of cases, at least in modern civilized countries, classes are led by political parties; that political parties, as a general rule, are directed by more or less stable groups composed of the most authoritative, influential and experienced members, who are elected to the most responsible positions and are called leaders. All this is elementary. All this is simple and clear. Why replace this by some rigmarole, by some new Volapük ? On the one hand, these people apparently got confused when they found themselves in difficult straits, when the Party's abrupt change-over from legality to illegality disturbed the customary, normal and simple relations between leaders, parties and classes. In Germany, as in other European countries, people had become too accustomed to legality, to the free and proper election of "leaders" at regular party congresses, to the convenient method of testing the class composition of parties through parliamentary elections, mass meetings, the press, the sentiments of the trade unions and other organizations, etc. When, instead of this customary procedure, it became necessary, due to the stormy development of the revolution and the development of the civil war, to pass quickly from legality to illegality, to combine the two, and to adopt the "inconvenient" and "undemocratic" methods of singling out, or forming, or preserving "groups of leaders" -- people lost their heads and began to think up some supernatural nonsense. Probably, the Dutch Tribunists who had the misfortune to be born in a small country where traditions and conditions of legality were particularly privileged and particularly stable, and who had never witnessed the change-over from legality to illegality, became confused, lost their heads, and helped to create these absurd inventions.
On the other hand, we see a simply thoughtless and in coherent use of the now "fashionable" terms "masses" and "leaders." These people have heard and committed to memory a great many attacks on "leaders," in which they are contrasted to "the masses": but they were unable to think matters out and gain a clear understanding of what it was all about.
The divergence between "leaders" and "masses" was brought out with particular clarity and sharpness in all countries at the end of and after the imperialist war. The principal reason for this phenomenon was explained many times by Marx and Engels between the years 1852 and 1892 by the example of England. That country's monopoly position led to the separation from the "masses" of a semi-petty bourgeois, opportunist "labour aristocracy." The leaders of this labour aristocracy constantly deserted to the bourgeoisie, and were directly or indirectly in its pay. Marx earned the honour of incurring the hatred of these scoundrels by openly branding them as traitors. Modern (twentieth century) imperialism created a privileged, monopoly position for a few advanced countries, and this gave rise everywhere in the Second International to a certain type of traitor, opportunist, social-chauvinist leaders, who champion the interests of their own craft, their own section of the labour aristocracy. This divorced the opportunist parties from the "masses," that is, from the broadest strata of the working people, from their majority, from the lowest-paid workers. The victory of the revolutionary proletariat is impossible unless this evil is combated, unless the opportunist, social-traitor leaders are exposed, discredited and expelled. And that is the policy on which the Third International embarked.
To go so far in this connection as to contrast, i n g e n e r a l, dictatorship of the masses to dictatorship of the leaders is ridiculously absurd and stupid. What is particularly curious is that actually, in place of the old leaders, who hold the common human views on ordinary matters, new leaders are put forth (under cover of the slogan: "Down with the leaders!") who talk unnatural stuff and nonsense. Such are Lauffenberg, Wolfheim, Horner, Karl Schröder, Friedrich Wendel and Karl Erler[*] in Germany. Erler's attempts to render the question "more profound" and to proclaim that political parties are generally unnecessary and "bourgeois," represent such Herculean pillars of absurdity that one can only shrug one's shoulders. It goes to confirm the truth that a little mistake can always be turned into a monstrous one if it is persisted in, if profound justifications are sought for it, and if it is carried to its "logical conclusion."
Repudiation of the party principle and of party discipline -- such is the opposition's net result. And this is tantamount to completely disarming the proletariat in the interest of the bourgeoisie. It is tantamount to that petty-bourgeois diffuseness, instability, incapacity for sustained effort, unity and organized action, which, if indulged in, must inevitably destroy every proletarian revolutionary movement. From the standpoint of Communism, the repudiation of the party principle means trying to leap from the eve of the collapse of capitalism (in Germany), not to the lower, or the intermediate,
* ~ Karl Erler, "The Dissolution of the Party," Kommunistische Arbeiterzeitung, Hamburg, February 7, 1920, No. 32: "The working class can not destroy the bourgeois state without destroying bourgeois democracy, and it cannot destroy bourgeois democracy without destroying parties."
The more muddleheaded of the syndicalists and anarchists of the Latin countries may derive "satisfaction" from the fact that solid Germans, who evidently consider themselves Marxists (K. Erler and K. Horner show very solidly by their articles in the above-mentioned paper that they consider themselves solid Marxists, but talk incredible nonsense in a most ridiculous manner and reveal their failure to understand the ABC of Marxism), go to the length of making utterly inept statements. The mere acceptance of Marxism does not save one from mistakes. We Russians know this particularly well, because in our country Marxism has been very often the "fashion."
but to the higher phase of Communism. We in Russia (in the third year since the overthrow of the bourgeoisie) are going through the first steps in the transition from capitalism to Socialism, or the lower stage of Communism. Classes have remained, and will remain everywhere for years after the conquest of power by the proletariat. Perhaps in England, where there is no peasantry (but where there are small owners!), this period may be shorter. The abolition of classes means not only driving out the landlords and capitalists -- that we accomplished with comparative ease -- it also means abolishing the small commodity producers, and they c a n n o t b e d r i v e n o u t, or crushed; we must live in harmony with them; they can (and must) be remoulded and re-educated only by very prolonged, slow, cautious organizational work. They encircle the proletariat on every side with a petty-bourgeois atmosphere, which permeates and corrupts the proletariat and causes constant relapses among the proletariat into petty-bourgeois spinelessness, disunity, individualism, and alternate moods of exaltation and dejection. The strictest centralization and discipline are required within the political party of the proletariat in order to counteract this, in order that the organizational role of the proletariat (and that is its principal role) may be exercised correctly, successfully, victoriously. The dictatorship of the proletariat is a persistent struggle -- bloody and bloodless, violent and peaceful, military and economic, educational and administrative -- against the forces and traditions of the old society. The force of habit of millions and tens of millions is a most terrible force. Without an iron party tempered in the struggle, without a party enjoying the confidence of all that is honest in the given class, without a party capable of watching and influencing the mood of the masses, it is im
possible to conduct such a struggle successfully. It is a thousand times easier to vanquish the centralized big bourgeoisie than to "vanquish" the millions and millions of small owners; yet they, by their ordinary, everyday, imperceptible, elusive, demoralizing activity, achieve the very results which the bourgeoisie need and which tend to restore the bourgeoisie. Whoever weakens ever so little the iron discipline of the party of the proletariat (especially during the time of its dictatorship), actually aids the bourgeoisie against the proletariat.
Side by side with the question of leaders -- party -- class -- masses, we must discuss the question of the "reactionary" trade unions. But first I shall take the liberty of making a few concluding remarks based on the experience of our Party. There have always been attacks on the "dictatorship of leaders" in our Party. The first time I heard such attacks, I recall, was in 1895, when, officially, no party yet existed, but when a central group began to be formed in St. Petersburg which was to undertake the leadership of the district groups. At the Ninth Congress of our Party (April 1920) there was a small opposition which also spoke against the "dictatorship of leaders," against the "oligarchy," and so on.
There is therefore nothing surprising, nothing new, nothing terrible in the "infantile disorder" of "Left-wing Communism" among the Germans. The illness does not involve any danger, and after it the constitution becomes even stronger. On the other hand, in our case, the rapid alternation of legal and illegal work, which made it particular ly necessary to "conceal," to cloak in particular secrecy pre cisely the general staff, precisely the leaders, sometimes gave rise to extremely dangerous phenomena. The worst was that in 1912 the agent-provocateur Malinovsky got on the Bolshevik Central Committee. He betrayed scores and scores of the best and most loyal comrades, caused them to be sent to penal servitude and hastened the death of many of them. That he did not cause still greater harm was due to the fact that we had a proper relationship between legal and illegal work. As a member of the Central Committee of the Party and a deputy to the Duma, Malinovsky was forced, in order to gain our confidence, to aid us in establishing legal daily papers, which even under tsardom were able to wage a struggle against the opportunism of the Mensheviks and to propagate the fundamentals of Bolshevism in a suitably disguised form. While Malinovsky with one hand sent scores and scores of the best Bolsheviks to penal servitude and to death, he was obliged with the other to assist in the education of scores and scores of thousands of new Bolsheviks through the medium of the legal press. Those German (as well as British, American, French and Italian) comrades who are confronted with the task of learning how to conduct revolutionary work inside the reactionary trade unions, would do well to give serious thought to this fact.*
In many countries, including the most advanced, the bourgeoisie is undoubtedly now sending agents-provocateurs into the Communist parties and will continue to do so. One method of combating this peril is by skilfully combining illegal and legal work.
* Malinovsky was a prisoner-of-war in Germany. When he returned to Russia under the rule of the Bolsheviks, he was instantly put on trial and shot by our workers. The Mensheviks attacked us most bitterly for our mistake -- the fact that an agent-provocateur had become a member of the Central Committee of our Party. But when, under Kerensky, we demanded the arrest and trial of Rodzyanko, the Speaker of the Duma, because he had known even before the war that Malinovsky was an agent-provocateur and had not informed the Trudoviki and the workers in the Duma, neither the Mensheviks nor the Socialist-Revolutionaries in the Kerensky government supported our demand. and Rodzyanko remained at large and went off unhindered to join Denikin.
SHOULD REVOLUTIONARIES WORK
IN REACTIONARY TRADE UNIONS ?
But however strongly the German "Lefts" may be convinced of the revolutionism of such tactics, these tactics are in fact fundamentally wrong, and amount to no more than empty phrase-mongering.
To make thls clear, I shall begin with our own experience -- in keeping with the general plan of the present pamphlet, the object of which is to apply to Western Europe whatever is of general application, general validity and generally binding force in the history and the present tactics of Bolshevism.
In its work, the Party relies directly on the trade unions, which, at present, according to the data of the last congress (April 1920), have over 4,000,000 members, and which are formally non-party. Actually, all the directing bodies of the vast majority of the trade unions, and primarily, of course, of the all-Russian general trade union centre or bureau (the All Russian Central Council of Trade Unions), consist of Communists and carry out all the directives of the Party. Thus, on the whole, we have a formally non-Communist, flexible and relatively wide and very powerful proletarian apparatus, by means of which the Party is closely linked up with the class and with the masses, and by means of which, under the leadership of the Party, the dictatorship of the class is exercised. Without close contact with the trade unions, without their hearty support and self-sacrificing work, not only in economic, but also in military affairs, it would, of course, have been impossible for us to govern the country and to maintain the dictatorship for two-and-a-half months, let alone two-and-a-half years. Naturally, in practice, this close contact calls for very complicated and diversified work in the form of propaganda, agitation, timely and frequent conferences, not only with the leading trade union workers, but with influential trade union workers generally; it calls for a determined struggle against the Mensheviks, who still have a certain, though very small, number of adherents, whom they teach all possible counter-revolutionary tricks, from ideologically defending democracy (bourgeois ) and preaching "independence" of the trade unions (independent of the proletarian state power!) to sabotaging proletarian discipline, etc., etc.
We consider that contact with the "masses" through trade unions is not enough. In the course of the revolution prac tical activities have given rise to non-party workers' and peasants' conferences, and we strive by every means to support, develop and extend this institution in order to be able to follow the sentiments of the masses, to come closer to them, to respond to their requirements, to promote the best among them to state posts, etc. Under a recent decree on the transformation of the People's Commissariat of State Control into the "Workers' and Peasants' Inspection," non-party conferences of this kind are given the right to elect members of the State Control for various kinds of investigations, etc.
Then, of course, all the work of the Party is carried on through the Soviets, which embrace the working masses irrespective of occupation. The district congresses of Soviets are democratic institutions the like of which even the best of the democratic republics of the bourgeois world has never known; and through these congresses (whose proceedings the Party endeavours to follow with the closest attention), as well as by continually appointing class-conscious workers to various posts in the rural districts, the role of the proletariat as leader of the peasantry is exercised, the dictatorship of the urban proletariat is realized, a systematic struggle against the rich, bourgeois, exploiting and profiteering peasantry is waged, etc.
Such is the general mechanism of the proletarian state power viewed "from above," from the standpoint of the practical realization of the dictatorship. It can be hoped that the reader will understand why the Russian Bolshevik who is a quainted with this mechanism and who for twenty-five years has watched it growing out of small, illegal, underground circles, cannot help regarding all this talk about "from above" or "from below," about the dictatorship of leaders or the dictatorship of the masses, etc., as ridiculous and childish nonsense, something like discussing whether a man's left leg or right arm is more useful to him.
And we cannot but regard as equally ridiculous and childish nonsense the pompous, very learned, and frightfully revolutionary disquisitions of the German Lefts to the effect that Commumsts cannot and should not work in reactionary trade umons, that it is permissible to turn down such work, that it is necessary to leave the trade unions and to create an absolutely brand-new, immaculate "Workers' Union' invented by very nice (and, probably, for the most part very youthful) Communists, etc., etc.
Capitalism inevitably leaves Socialism the legacy, on the one hand, of old trade and craft distinctions among tne workers, distinctions evolved in the course of centuries; and, on the other hand, trade unions which only very slowly, in the course of years and years, can and will develop into broader, industrial unions with less of the craft union about them (embracing whole industries, and not only crafts, trades and occupations), and later proceed, through these industrial unions, to eliminate the divislon of labour among people, to educate, school and train people with an all-round development and an all-round training, people who know how to do everything. Communism is advancing and must advance towards this goal, and will reach it, but only after very many years. To atternpt in practice today to anticipate this future result of a fully developed, fully stabilized and formed, fully expanded and mature Communism would be like trying to teach higher mathematics to a four-year-old child.
We can (and must) begin to build Socialism, not with imaginary human material, nor with human material specially
prepared by us, but with the human material bequeathed to us by capitalism. True, that is very "difficult," but no other approach to this task is serious enough to warrant discussion.
The trade unions were a tremendous progressive step for the working class in the early days of capitalist development, inasmuch as they represented a transition from the disunity and helplessness of the workers to the rudaments of class organization. When the highest form of proletarian class organizatlon began to arise, viz., the revolutionary party of the proletariat (which will not deserve the name until it learns to bind the leaders with the class and the masses into one single indissoluble whole), the trade unions inevitably began to reveal certain reactionary features, a certain craft narrowness, a certain tendency to be nonpolitical, a certain inertness, etc. But the development of the proletariat did not, and could not, proceed anywhere in the world otherwise than through reciprocal action between them and the party of the working class. The conquest of political power by the proletariat is a gigantic forward step for the proletariat as a class, and the Party must more than ever and in a new way, not only in the old way, educate and guide the trade unions, at the same time bearing in mind that they are and will long remain an indispensable "school of Communism" and a preparatory school that trains the proletarians to exercise their dictatorship, an indispensable organization of the workers for the gradual transfer of the management of the whole economic life of the country to the working class (and not to the separate trades), and later to all the working people.
A certain amount of "reactionariness" in the trade unions, in the sense mentioned, is inevitable under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Failure to understand this signifies complete failure to understand the fundamental conditions of the transition from capitalism to Socialism. To fear this "reactionariness," to, try to avoid it, to leap over it, would be the greatest folly, for it would be fearing that function of the proletarian vanguard which consists in training, educating, enlightening and drawing into the new life the most backward strata and masses of the working class and the peasantry. On the other hand, to postpone the achievement of the dictatorship of the proletariat until a time comes when not a single worker is left with a narrow craft outlook, or with craft and craft-union prerdices, would be a greater mistake. The art of politics (and the Communist's correct understanding of his tasks) lies in correctly gauging the conditions and the moment when the vanguard of the proletariat can successfully seize power, when it is able, during and after the seizure of power, to obtain adequate support from adequately broad strata of the working class and of the non-proletarian working masses, and when it is able thereafter to maintain, consolidate and extend its rule by educating, training and attracting ever broader masses of the working people.
Further. In countries more advanced than Russia, a certain reactionariness in the trade unions has been and was bound to be manifested to a much stronger degree than in our country. Our Mensheviks found support in the trade unions (and to some extent still find in a very few unions), precisely because of the craft narrowness, craft egotism and opportunism. The Mensheviks of the West have acquired a much firmer "footing" in the trade unions; there the craft-union, narrow-minded, selfish, casehardened, covetous, petty-bourgeois "labour aristocracy," imperialist-minded, imperialist bribed and imperialist-corrupted, emerged as a much stronger
stratum than in our country. That is incontestable. The struggle against the Gomperses, against Messrs. Jouhaux, Henderson, Merrheim, Legien and Co. in Western Europe is much more difficult than the struggle against our Mensheviks, who represent an absolutely homogeneous social and political type. This struggle must be waged ruthlessly, and it must unfailingly be brought -- as we brought it -- to a point when all the incorrigible leaders opportunism and social-chauvism are completely discredited and driven out of the trade unions. Political power cannot be captured (and the attempt to capture it should not be made) until the struggle has reached a certain stage. This "certain stage" will be different in different countries and in different circumstances; it can be correctly gauged only by thoughtful, experienced and knowledgeable political leaders of the proletariat in each particular country. (In Russia, one among other criteria of the success of this struggle was the elections to the Constituent Assembly in November 1917, a few days after the proletarian revolution of October 25, 1917. In these elections the Mensheviks were utterly defeated; they obtained 700,000 votes -- 1,400,000 if the vote of Transcaucasia be added -- as against 9,000,000 votes polled by the Bolsheviks. See my article, "The Elections to the Constituent Assembly and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,'' in the Communist International, No. 7-8.)
But we wage the stuggle against the "labour aristocracy" in the name of the masses of the workers and in order to win them to our side; we wage the struggle against the opportunist and social-chauvinist leaders in order to win the working class to our side. To forget this most elementary and most self-evident truth would be stupid. And it is precisely this stupidity the German "Left" Communists are guilty of when, because of the reactionary and counter-revolutionary character of the trade union top leadership, they jump to the conclusion that . . . we must leave the trade unions!! that we must refuse to work in them!! that we must create new and a r t i f i c i a I forms of labour organization!! This is such an unpardonable blunder that it is equal to the greatest service the Communists could render the bourgeoisie. For our Mensheviks, like all the opportunist, social-chauvinist, Kautskyite trade union leaders, are nothing but "agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement" (as we have always said the Mensheviks were), or "labour lieutenants of the capitalist class," to use the splendid and profoundly true expression of the followers of Daniel DeLeon in America. To refuse to work in the reactionary trade unions means leaving the insufficiently developed or backward masses of workers under the influence of the reactionary leaders, the agents of the bourgeoisie, the labour aristocrats, or the "workers who have become completely bourgeois" (cf. Engels' letter to Marx in 1858 about the British workers).
It is precisely this absurd "theory" that Communists must not work in reactionary trade unions that brings out with the greatest clarity how frivolous is the attitude of the "Left" Communists towards the question of influencing "the masses," and to what abuses they go in their vociferations about "the masses." If you want to help "the masses" and to win the sympathy and support of "the masses," you must not fear difficulties, you must not fear the pinpricks, chicanery, insults and persecution on the part of the "leaders" (who, being opportunists and social-chauvinists, are in most cases directly or indirectly connected with the bourgeoisie and the police), but must imperatively work wherever the masses are to be found. You must be capable of every sacrifice, of over
coming the greatest obstacles in order to carry on agitation and propaganda systematically, perseveringly, persistently and patiently, precisely in those institutions, societies and associations -- even the most ultra-reactionary -- in which proletarian or semiproletarian masses are to be found. And the trade unions and workers' cooperatives (the latter sometimes, at least) are precisely organizations where the masses are to be found. According to figures quoted in the Swedish paper Folkets Dagblad Politiken on March 10, 1920, trade union membership in Great Britain increased from 5,500,000 at the end of 1917 to 6,600,000 at the end of 1918, an increase of 19 per cent. Towards the close of 1919 the membership was estimated at 7,500,000. I have not at hand the corresponding figures for France and Germany, but absolutely incontestable and generally known facts testify to a rapid growth of trade union membership in these countries too.
These facts rmake crystal clear what is confirmed by thou sands of other symptoms, namely, that class consciousness and the desire for organization are growing precisely among the proletarian masses, among the "rank and file," among the backward elements. Millions of workers in Great Britain, France and Germany are for the first time passing from a complete lack of organization to the elementary, lowest, most simple, and (for those still thoroughly imbued with bourgeois-democratic prejudices) most easily comprehensible form of organization, namely, the trade unions, yet the revolutionary, but imprudent, Left Communists stand by, shouting "the masses, the masses!" -- and refuse to work within the t r a d e u n i o n s !! refuse on the pretext that they are "reactionary"!! and invent a brand-new, immaculate little "Workers' Union," which is guiltless of bourgeois-democratic prejudices and innocent of craft or narrow craft-union sins, which, they claim, will be (will be!) a broad organization, and the only (only!) condition of membership of which will be "recognition of the Soviet system and the dictatorship"!! (See passage quoted above.)
Greater foolishness and greater damage to the revolution than that caused by the "Left" revolutionaries cannot be imagined! Why, if we in Russia today, after two and a half years of unprecedented victories over the bourgeoisie of Russia and the Entente, were to make "recognition of the dictatorship" a condition of trade union membership, we should be committing a folly, we should be damaging our influence over the masses, we should be helping the Mensheviks. For the whole task of the Communists is to be able to convince the backward elements, to work among them, and not to fence themselves off from them by artificial and childishly "Left" slogans.
There need be no doubt that Messrs. Gompers, Henderson, Jouhaux, and Legien are very grateful to "Left" revolutionaries who, like the German opposition "on principle" (heaven preserve us from such "principles"!), or like some of the revolutionaries in the American Industrial Workers of the World, advocate leaving the reactionary trade unions and refusal to work in them. There need be no doubt that those gentlemen, the "leaders" of opportunism, will resort to every trick of bourgeois diplomacy, to the aid of bourgeois governments, the priests, the police and the courts, to prevent Communists joining the trade unions, to force them out by every means, to make their work in the trade unions as unpleasant as possible, to insult, bait and persecute them. We must be able to withstand all this, to agree to all and every sacrifice, and even -- if need be -- to resort to various stratagems, artifices, illegal methods, to evasions and subterfuges, only
so as to get into the trade unions, to remain in them, and to carry on Communist work within them at all costs. Under tsardom we had no "legal possibilities" whatever until 1905; but when Zubatov, a secret police agent, organized Black Hundred workers' assemblies and workingmen's societies for the purpose of trapping revolutionaries and combating them, we sent members of our Party to these assemblies and into these societies (I personally remember one of them, Comrade Babushkin, a prominent St. Petersburg worker, who was shot by the tsar's generals in 1906). They established contact with the masses, managed to carry on their agitation, and succeeded in wresting workers from the influence of Zubatov's agents.[*] Of course, in Western Europe, where legalistic, constitutionalist, bourgeois-democratic prejudices have a particular tenacity and are very deeply ingrained, this is a more difficult job. But it can and should be carried out, and carried out systematically.
The Executive Committee of the Third International must, in my opinion, positively condemn, and call upon the next congress of the Communist International to condemn, both the policy of refusing to join reactionary trade unions in general (explaining in detail why such refusal is unwise, and what extreme harm it does to the cause of the proletarian revolution) and, in particular, the line of conduct of some members of the Communist Party of Holland, who -- whether directly or indirectly, openly or covertly, wholly or partly does not matter -- supported this erroneous policy. The Third Inter-
* The Gomperses, Hendersons, Jouhaux and Legiens are nothing but Zubatovs, differing from our Zubatov only in their European dress, polish, civilized, refined, democratically sleek manner of conducting their despicable policy.
national must break with the tactics of the Second International; it must not evade or gloss over sore points, but must put them bluntly. The whole truth has been put squarely to the "Independents" (the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany); the whole truth must likewise be put squarely to the "Left" Communists.