Dictatorship is not only going to furnish the best object lesson for Socialist propaganda, but will also hasten progress towards Socialism, by its actions, in the event of its not maintaining itself and collapsing before the goal has been reached. Its supporters expect that it will leave behind much that cannot be set on one side, and that it has cleared out of the way much that cannot be again established.
This conception, too, like so many others, is based on the observation of the great French Revolution, the bourgeois revolution, under the influence of which remain those who stigmatise as “bourgeois”, and reject, all that does not suit them, and for whom democracy is only a bourgeois prejudice.
The observation is correct, but the conclusions to be drawn are other than those of the supporters of dictatorship. The latter may be able to achieve more radical things than democracy, but what accompanies it is not always what the dictators want. However high the dictatorship may be raised above all other powers in the State, it is always dependent upon one of them: that is the material foundations of society. These conditions, and not the will of the dictators, decide what the final consequences of the dictatorship will be.
The strongest driving force of the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution was the proletariat and the semi-proletarian classes of Paris. What they desired was the equalisation of all property, the destruction of large properties. This they succeeded in doing in various ways. But they destroyed only more thoroughly than has happened in other parts of Europe the vestiges of feudalism, and thereby more effectively opened the way for the coming of the new capitalist large property, which shot up like a fungus immediately after the downfall of the Reign of Terror. That, and in nowise economic equality, was the legacy of that dictatorship of the equalitarians.
In order to understand what the economic legacy of the present dictatorship of the Soviets will be, we must not only take account of their intentions, desires and measures, but of the economic structure of the Empire. It is decisive.
This examination may appear to many as tedious pedantry, incompatible with the revolutionary fire which burned in a Marx. No one can say with certainty what Marx would have thought and done in the present situation. But it is certain that this tedious pedantry is the only procedure which is compatible with historical materialism, the foundation of which is one of the indisputable merits of Marx. A man who believed that in a question of knowledge mere enthusiasm was to be accounted higher than experience would have been pushed on one side by Marx as an empty phrasemonger.
The economic foundation of present-day Russia is still agriculture, and even small peasant agriculture. By it live four-fifths, perhaps even five- sixths of its inhabitants. In the year 1913 the town population of Russia (excluding Finland) was computed at 24 millions, and those living by the land were 147 millions. The overwhelming majority of the latter are peasants. The Revolution has altered nothing in these conditions. During the past year they have even been strengthened. Numerous workers have returned to the land. In the towns hunger has been more devastating than amongst the peasants.
Until the Revolution the peasants lived under a semi-feudal yoke. Serf age had indeed been abolished by the Reform of 1861, and the peasant formally made a free man. But this was not the work of a revolution, but the work of a patriarchal absolutism, which in a fatherly spirit provided that the big landowners should lose nothing by the Reform, but should rather gain. The peasant had to pay for his freedom with the loss of a part of the land which, prior to the Reform, he had used, and had to pay dear for the land which would be granted to him. The average size of a peasant’s holding was certainly larger than in Western Europe. Before the Revolution the peasants’ holdings of less than five hectares in Russia comprised only 10.6 per cent. of the total, whereas in France 71.4 per cent. of the holdings were five hectares and less, and in Germany 76.5 per cent. But Russian agriculture is so backward through the ignorance of the peasants, primitive appliances, lack of cattle and manure, that it produces far less than in Western Europe. In France 70.5 pud of wheat (1 pud = 16.38 kilogrammes) is raised from every hectare, in Germany 77 pud, but in Russia only 28.2 pud. (Massloff: The Russian Agrarian Question)
The peasant was therefore soon after his emancipation in a worse material position than before. He became impoverished, and his industry did not progress, but rather declined. To avoid starvation, he was obliged to rent plots of land from the large land-owners, or, where these were themselves engaged in large-scale agriculture, to work for wages. Mostly, he was obliged to obtain an advance for the work he was to do, which brought him into a state of indebtedness that was often more oppressive and hopeless than his former serfdom. This state of affairs was not improved by the peasant taking his produce to the markets, whether home or foreign. This put money in his pocket, and made it possible for him to save, which could, however, only be done at the cost of the peasant’s sustenance. Formerly, he had consumed the greater part of his produce himself, because he had no other outlet. Now that he found an outlet, he sold as much as possible, and kept as little as possible back. So every year of failure became a year of hunger. So far as the peasant could save money, he did not spend it to improve his methods, but to obtain more land.
In the period between 1863 and 1892, agricultural land in European Russia was
The land of the nobles decreased, and that of the peasants increased as compared with the bourgeoisie of the towns. But the land population increased more rapidly still, and so on the average there was a decrease in the area belonging to each peasant, although the total holdings of the peasants slightly increased. At the same time, under the influence of money transactions, aided by the legislature, the village communism, which from time to time had been instrumental in equalising the land holdings of individual peasants, disappeared more and more. Individuals were prosperous, but the others were the more impoverished. Both, however, prosperous and poor peasants, looked ever more greedily to the great land-owners, from whom they expected their salvation. They longed for the overthrow of landed property, and became a revolutionary class. Their longing found expression and form through the revolutionary intellectuals of the towns. The Socialists of Russia were agreed that a revolution in the ownership of land was as essential for Russia as the overthrow of the Czarist absolutism. But the Socialists were divided into two sections. The one believed that primitive village communism would enable the peasants, and with them all Russia, to attain to Socialism at one bound, although it may be a Socialism of their own. This shade of opinion found various expressions, the chief being the Social Revolutionaries. The Marxists opposed them on the ground that Russia, as little as other countries, “could clear by leaps or remove by legal enactments the obstacles offered by the successive phases of normal development”, that the coming Revolution could only clear away the vestiges of Feudalism, and accelerate the capitalist development, on the basis of which would grow up a proletariat trained by the newly-won democracy, which, then, being on the same level as the proletariat of Western Europe, would be able to achieve Socialism at the same time as the latter.
All Socialists without distinction were agreed in supporting the peasants in their endeavours to remove the vestiges of Feudalism. This was distinctly brought to the mind of the peasant in the Revolution of 1905. From then onwards the co-operation of peasants and Socialists, namely, through the means of the Social Revolutionaries, assumed a closer character. Thus after the Revolution of 1917 the organisation of the Soviets arose as not merely a proletarian, but also a peasant institution.
The Revolution made possession of large estates untenable. This became obvious at once. it was inevitable that they should be transferred to the peasant population, although there was by no means agreement as to the methods of carrying this out. Various solutions were conceivable. From the Socialist standpoint, the most rational would have been to transform the large estates into State property, and have them worked on a co-operative basis by the peasants, who had hitherto been engaged on them as wage-earners. However, this solution presupposed an agricultural class which Russia did not possess. Another solution would have been for the big landed estates to become State property, and to be divided into small parcels to be rented to the peasants who needed land. Even that would have been a partial realisation of Socialism. But the small peasant holders strove where they could to obtain full private property in their means of production. This character they have hitherto displayed everywhere, and the Russian peasant, in spite of the tradition of village communism, is no exception. The breaking up of landed estates and their partition- that was his programme, and he was strong enough to carry it out. No one could hinder him. In the interests of the peasants themselves, it would have been nevertheless very desirable that the partition should be systematically carried out, and the land given to those who needed it the most, and could also use it. There was only one authority which could have effected such a systematic partition, and that was the Constituent Assembly, as representing the collective will of the nation, of whom the great majority were peasants.
But this was too long to wait. The peasants began everywhere to help themselves, which caused many valuable productive implements to be destroyed. The Soviet Organisation then removed from the purview of the Constituent Assembly the settlement of the Agrarian question, and left it to the peasants of every commune to seize the big estates, and proceed with their partition according to their whim. One of the first resolutions of the Soviet Government ordered that
(1) Private property in land is forthwith abolished, without compensation.
(2) The property of the landlords, together with the appurtenances, cloisters, and church property, with all live-stock and chattels, and other belongings, pending the decision of the land question by the Constituent Assembly, shall be placed at the disposal of the Local Committees and the Councils of Peasants’ Deputies.
The reference to the Constituent Assembly remained a dead letter. In practice the peasants of the localities took what they wanted of the estates.
This necessarily excluded any equalisation between rich localities, containing many substantial peasants, and poor neighbourhoods containing none but small peasants. Within the individual communes no record was made of those who obtained the land. Where the rich peasants dominated, either by their numbers or their influence, they obtained the lion share of the big estates. No general statistics regarding the partition of the land were compiled, but it was frequently stated that, as a rule, the big peasants came away with most of the land that was partitioned.
It is certain that the Soviet Republic has not solved the Agrarian question on the lines of an equitable division of the land. At the beginning the peasant Soviets constituted an organisation of the peasants alone. To-day it is announced that the Soviets represent the organisation of the proletariat and the poor peasants. The well-to-do have lost their right of voting in the Soviets. The poor peasant is here recognised as the colossal and permanent product of the Socialist agrarian reform of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This peasant is very likely in the minority in many villages, otherwise there was no object in protecting him by disfranchising the prosperous and medium peasants. But in any case he still forms a very considerable fraction of the Russian peasantry.
By this partition of property the Soviet Republic sought to appease the peasants. It would have been dangerous for it to interfere even slightly with peasant private property.
To be sure it encroached on the relations between rich and poor peasants, but not by a fresh partition of the land. To remedy the lack of food in the towns detachments of armed workers were sent into the villages, to take away from the rich peasants their surplus food. Part of this was assigned to the population of the towns, and part to the poor peasants. These were indeed only temporary measures of urgency, confined to certain areas, the environs of the large towns. To carry them out thoroughly the armed force of the towns would have been quite inadequate. In no case could such measures have sufficed to effect an equalisation between the rich and poor on the land, even if regularly repeated year by year. And in the last resort they might prove an effective means completely to ruin agriculture.
If private production were carried on, and its produce calculated in such wise that the producer would have taken from him everything over what was necessary for his needs, he would produce only the indispensable minimum. This is one of the reasons for the decay of agriculture in many of the countries living under Oriental despotism, in which the tax collector takes from the peasant the surplus above that which is indispensable. A similar fate is likely to overtake Russia. Socialism will effect an adjustment between economic differences by the socialisation of the means and methods of production, thus making society the owner of the products. By this means it is able to increase production to the maximum, and distribute the produce in accordance with social requirements and justice.
On the other hand, to allow private property in the means of production, and private production itself to continue, and then regularly to confiscate the surplus, leads to the ruin of production, whether it be done in the interests of an Oriental despotism or of a proletarian dictatorship. Of course in cases where such proceedings may be thought desirable as a temporary measure of urgency, this may not happen, as it may sometimes be necessary to do this. It is the reverse with the present expropriation of the well-to-do peasants. This does not alter in the least the structure of Russian society, it only introduces a new cause of unrest, and carries civil war into the domain of production, the continuance of which is so pressing a need for the Government’s peace and security. Moreover, if the dictatorship of the Soviets had the will and the strength to undertake a fresh partition of the land, and to do this equitably, it would not help the peasants much, as under the present primitive methods the cultivated land in Russia would not suffice to give enough land w each peasant to raise him out of poverty.
As Massloff rightly says in the book already quoted from: “An attempt to put agriculture on the basis of equality would wily be realised as a state of general poverty. To try to make all rich, while maintaining private property in the means of production is a vulgar Utopia of the petty bourgeoisie. If this kind of equality is not realisable, there is, on the other band, in many countries, an equality of poverty already existing, and any extension of such a state of affairs can inspire no one. Whatever additions may be made to peasant property, there will always be too little land to permit all peasant be agriculture to prosperous. The endeavour to bring the life of the peasant into the orbit of the petty bourgeois ideal, economic equality of small property, is not only Utopian, but also reactionary.”
With the present numbers of the population, and the existing area of cultivation, a general raising of the social standard of the Russian peasant, cannot be accomplished by any method of partitioning the land. It can only be achieved when higher productive forms prevail, which require a general improvement in the education of the agricultural population, and a larger supply of cattle, implements, machinery, and artificial manure to be at their disposal, all of which conditions can only be introduced with difficulty and patience where small agriculture is the rule.
If the conditions necessary for intensive capitalist agriculture have only been slightly developed in Russia, and have even suffered a temporary set-back through the revolution, it is clear that the conditions for Socialist agriculture do not exist there, as they can only arise on the basis of large-scale agriculture with highly- developed technical appliances. Large-scale production can only be made to pay by technical appliances, the application of science, the most complete equipment of machinery, and the use of up-to-date methods, accompanied by a considerable division of labour. Therefore, new methods of production can only be introduced and become permanent in places where advantages can be derived, either in the form of an increased product or in that of the saving of labour. In view of the primitive appliances and the ignorance of the small Russian peasants, it is hopeless to introduce large-scale agriculture. To be sure, in Bolshevist circles, mention is made from time to time of the introduction of Socialist agriculture, after the big estates have been broken up and divided amongst the peasants. We have already referred to the theses respecting the Russian Revolution and the tasks of the proletariat during its dictatorship in Russia. No. 24 of these reads: “The complete expropriation of the land owners must be now mentioned. Land was decreed to exist for the general good. Additional tasks are the following: organisation of agriculture by the State, collective working of the former big estates, association of the small holdings into larger unities, with collective self-government (so-called agricultural communes).”
This which was said to be the task is, unfortunately, not yet fulfilled. Collective agriculture is, for the time being, in Russia condemned to remain on paper. Nowhere, and at no time, are small peasants persuaded, on the ground of theory, to go in for collective production. The Peasants’ Associations include all possible branches of economy, and not merely the fundamental one of cultivating the land. Small scale agriculture necessarily creates everywhere the endeavour b separate single plots of land from one another, and is favourable to private property in land. Thus it has happened in Europe and America, and the process repeats itself throughout the world. Is the Russian peasant such an exceptional phenomenon as to be exempt from the operation of this general law? Whoever considers him as an ordinary man and compares him with the peasants of the rest of the world will declare it to be an illusion that a Socialist economy can be built up on the basis of present Russian agriculture.
The Revolution has only achieved in Russia what it effected in France in 1789 and what its aftermath achieved ig Germany. By the removal of the remains of feudalism it has given stronger and more definite expression to private property than the latter had formerly. It has now made of the peasants, who were formerly interested in the overthrow of private property in land, that is, the big estates, the most energetic defenders of the newly-created private property in land. It has strengthened private property in the means of production and in the produce, which are conditions from which capitalist production will constantly arise, although it may be disturbed or even destroyed for a time.
Even the poor peasants are not thinking of giving up the principle of private property in land. Not by collective production do they seek to improve their lot, but by increasing their own share of land, that is, their own private property. That thirst for land, which always characterises the peasant, has now, after the destruction of the big estates, made of him the strongest defender of private property. The peasant has shown himself to be such in all countries where feudalism has been overcome, and therefore be is fostered and pampered by the ruling classes as their most trustworthy defender.
This will be the most certain and lasting result of the present dictatorship of the proletariat and the poorest peasants in Russia.
The interest of the peasant in the revolution therefore dwindles so soon as his new private property is secured. lie will rise against any power which would re-establish at his cost the old, large land-owners, but he has no interest in going beyond this. With his interest in the revolution will disappear his interest in his erstwhile allies, the town proletariat.
The less the peasant produces for his own need and the more he produces for the market, and is obliged to rely upon his money income, so much the greater becomes his interest in high prices for his produce. This becomes his dominating interest after feudalism has been abolished. This does not, however, bring him into antagonism to the large land-owners, whose interests are the same as his, and who become his allies, but it brings him into opposition to the non-agricultural and town population, above all, to the workers, who must spend a larger portion of their incomes upon food than the bourgeoisie, and consequently have the greatest interest in lowering the prices p1 the necessaries of life.
So long as feudalism exists, the peasant and the lower classes in the towns make the best allies. This was shown in their struggles from the time of the German Peasants’ War of 1525 to the time of the French Revolution of 1789. As soon as the bourgeois revolution was accomplished, the peasants commenced to go over to the camp which is opposed to the town proletariat. Not only the prosperous peasants are to be found there with the big land-owners, hut also the small peasants, even in democratic republics like Switzerland. The small peasants do not go over to this side all at once, but gradually, according as the traditions of feudalism become fainter, and production for the market replaces production for their own need. Even in our own ranks the idea has been cherished, which Marx also referred to in his writings on the Civil War in France, that the peasants in the coming proletarian revolution would march with the proletariat like they did in the bourgeois revolutions. Even yet the Governmental Socialists are looking for an Agrarian programme which will instil in the peasants an interest in the proletarian class struggle: but, in practice, growing opposition is everywhere revealed between the proletariat and the peasants. Only those dwellers in the country have the same interest as the town proletariat, who are themselves proletarians, that is, who do not live by the sale of their produce, but by the sale of their labour power, by wage labour.
The victory of the proletariat depends upon the extension of wage labour in the country, which is a protracted process, a process which is slowly accomplished by the increase of large-scale agriculture, but more quickly promoted by the removal of industries to the country. At the same time, the proletarian victory depends upon the town and industrial population increasing more rapidly than the country and agricultural population. The latter is a process that goes rapidly forward. In most industrial States the country population suffers not only a relative, but an absolute decrease. In the German Empire the country population comprised 26.2 millions out of 41 millions, in 1871, that is, 64.4 per cent. of the population. In 1910 it was 25.8 out of 65 millions, or 40 per cent. The agricultural population is smaller still than the country population. When the first occupation census was taken in 1882, the agricultural population was still 19.2 out of 45.2 millions, or 42.5 per cent. of the total population. In 1907 it was only 17.7 out of 61.7 millions, or 28.7 per cent. Of these 17.7 millions only 11.6 millions were independent producers, 5.6 millions being wage-earners and the rest officials. The peasant population, therefore, only amounts to one-sixth of the total population of the German Empire. On the other hand, already in 1907, the proletariat, with about 34 millions, comprised more than half of the population. Since then, it has certainly grown still more, and is not far off the point of becoming two-thirds of the population.
The conditions in Russia are of quite another character. We have already shown how overwhelming is the preponderance of the peasants. Their co-operation with the proletariat has made possible the victory of the revolution, but it also testifies to the bourgeois character of the revolution. The more it is completed and strengthened in this sense, that is, the more secure the newly-created peasant property is made, the more will the pound be prepared, on the one side for capitalist agriculture, and on the other for a growing opposition between the peasant and proletariat. The economic, tendencies working in this direction are all-powerful in present day Russia, and the most forcible dictatorship would not avail to counteract them. Rather will it strengthen them in the shape of a dictatorship of the peasants.
The industry of Russia is a different thing from its agriculture. Russian industry exhibits many primitive forms, but the capitalist portion of it, just because of its recent growth, shows its most modern and highly-developed form. And the Russian industrial working class, by the side of numerous illiterates, who come from the country and are still limited by the narrow conceptions of the village, contains not a few members who have absorbed all the modem culture that is now available to the proletariat, who are filled with the same interest in theory which Marx praised in the German workers half a century ago, and are distinguished by that thirst for knowledge which is so often stifled amongst the workers of Western Europe by the petty details inherent in democratic conditions.
Could not a Socialist system of production be constructed on this foundation?
This is only conceivable if Socialism means that the workers in single factories and mines should appropriate these themselves, in order to administer each one separately.
Even as I write (August 5), a speech of Lenin’s in Moscow, on August 2, is just to hand, which reports him as saying, “The workers retain possession of the factories and the peasants will not give back the land to the landlords.”
The saying “The factories to the workers and the land to the peasants” was recently not a social democratic, but an anarchist-syndicalist demand. Social democracy demanded that the factories and land should belong to society. The individual peasant can, in case of need, work his property without any connection with other producers. The modern factory, on the other hand, stands in a network of social connections, and its isolation is inconceivable. It is not enough for the workers to take over a factory, even if they are sufficiently intelligent and trained to direct it properly. A factory cannot run for a single day without supplies from other industries, raw material, coal, and auxiliary products of all kinds, and without the regular sale of its products. H raw material and the mines and transport services fail, then the factory fails as well. Its operation on Socialist lines presupposes the creation of a network of social production. Only when society can do this, is Socialist production possible.
Social democracy does not demand the transference of factories to their workers, but strives for social production, that is, production for the needs of society in place of commodity production, and this is only possible through the social ownership of the means of production. Even the Bolshevists have declared for the nationalisation of factories, not their transference to the hands of the workers. The latter would only mean a change to a new form of capitalism, as experience has shown in the numerous cases of co-operative production. The new owners would defend their property, as giving them a privileged position, against labourers seeking work, whose numbers must constantly be recruited through the insufficient share of land falling to the peasantry.
A permanent conquest of capitalism is not possible by giving over the factories to the workers engaged. in them, but only by transferring the means of production to the possession of society, that is, the whole body of consumers, for whose need production is carried on. Thus they become State property, or, in the case of local means of production, belong to the commune, and eventually also to associations of consumers.
This has even been attempted in Russia to-day. How far it has been carried out is not yet disclosed. This side of the Soviet Republic is, in any case, of the greatest interest for us, but, unfortunately, we are still completely in the dark. There is, indeed, no lack of decrees, but trustworthy information concerning the operation of the decrees is absent. Socialist production is impossible without comprehensive, detailed, reliable statistics, which give early information. Hitherto, the Soviet Republic has not been able to obtain these. What we learn about its economic effects is highly contradictory and is not susceptible of any verification. This is again one of the results of the dictatorship and the suppression of democracy. Where freedom of the Press and speech is lacking, there can be no central and representative body, in which all classes and parties are represented, and can express themselves, and the actua dictatorship is exposed to the temptation of only allowing to be published the information which suits it. Whether or not the dictators take advantage of this possibility, no reliance is placed on their information. This does not silence criticism, which merely seeks underground channels. It is spread by word of mouth almost as quickly as a public announcement, but without the restraint of publicity. Rumour knows no bounds. Thus, we are overwhelmed from left to right with information which is contradictory, and we are obliged to maintain an attitude of distrust towards it all.
What results have been forthcoming from the Socialist endeavours of the Soviet Government cannot, therefore, yet be estimated, not even approximately. Is it possible for it to accomplish something in this respect, which will not again be lost, but will become permanent, in the event of the Soviet Government not being able to retain its power?
That it has radically destroyed capitalism can be accepted by no one. It can certainly destroy much capitalist property, and transform many capitalists into proletarians, but this is not equivalent to the establishment of a Socialist system of production. So far as it does not succeed in doing this, capitalism will again arise, and must arise. Probably it will reappear very quickly and bring a change in the personnel of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In the place of the former capitalists, now become proletarians, will enter proletarians or intellectuals become capitalists. These people will always skim off the cream, and will remain on the side of the Government which is last on the field, and brings order out of chaos.
The Soviet Government has already been constrained to make various compromises with capital. On April 28, 1918, Lenin admitted in his before-quoted speech (reported in the News Service of the International Socialist Commission) that the expropriation of capital had proceeded too quickly: “If we are to expropriate at this pace, we shall be certain to suffer a defeat. The organisation of production under proletarian control is notoriously very much behind the expropriation of the big masses of capital.”
But everything depends upon this organisation. There is nothing easier for a dictator than to expropriate. But to create a huge organism of social labour, and set it in motion, a Decree and the Red Guard will not suffice.
Even more than Russian capital, German capital will cause the Soviet Republic to recoil and recognise its claims. How far the capital of the Entente will again penetrate into Russia is still questionable. To all appearance, the dictatorship of the proletariat has only destroyed Russian capital in order to make room for German and American capital.
However this may be, it is reasonable to anticipate that the nationalisation of many branches of industry, for which the Soviet Government has paved the way, will persist, even if the Soviet Republic should be destroyed, and, after the destruction of the big estates, this will constitute the most considerable permanent achievement of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
This is all the more probable, as it is part of a movement which is going on in all modern States, even if they are capitalist. The needs of the war were responsible for it – we remember the nationalisation of the American railways – and the needs of peace will ensure its continuance.
Everywhere we must be prepared for fiscal monopoly.
But this shows that nationalisation is shot yet Socialism. Whether it is so or not depends on the character of the State.
Now the Russian State is a peasant State. It is so to-day more than ever, for the peasant has now learned to make his own power felt. In Russia he i8 as little as elsewhere in a position to exercise his power directly in the State, as his conditions of life do not fit him for this. But he will no longer suffer the rule of any power which does not champion his interest, even if it be that of the town proletariat.
Like peasant commodity production, the State industries will also have to produce for the market, not for the State’s own needs. Their most considerable market – the home one – will comprise the peasants.
Even as much as he is interested in high prices for agricultural produce, which he sells, is the peasant interested in low prices for industrial products, which he buys. As against private enterprise, it is a matter of indifference to him how these low prices come to pass, whether at the expense of labour or of profit. He has no interest in high profits for private industrial capital.
It is, however, otherwise with State industry. The higher the profits of this, the lower is the amount of revenue to be provided by taxes, which, in a peasant State, must be chiefly borne by the peasants. The peasant is accordingly as much interested in high profits for State industry as he is in low prices for its products: this means lower wages for labour.
Thus we see here another source of antagonism between peasant and industrial worker, an antagonism which will become the more marked the greater the extension which State industry undergoes.
This antagonism, and not Socialism, will be the real legacy of the Russian Revolution.
It would, nevertheless, be false to ascribe the responsibility for this to Bolshevism. Much of what they are reproached with is the necessary consequence of the conditions which confronted them, and would have disclosed itself quite as certainly under any other regime. Yet it is of the essence of dictatorship that it intensifies all existing antagonisms and raises them to their highest point.
The famine has not been created by the dictatorship, but by the mismanagement of Czarism and the war. But the fact that agriculture and the transport services have so slightly recovered iii the half year following peace is the result of the civil war, which, under the dictatorship, is the only form of opposition, and is inevitable when the masses cherish lively political interest.
Again, the demobilisation of the army was a process which the Bolsheviks found going on. Yet they have prided themselves on accelerating it to the utmost, and thereby were obliged to conclude a peace which is no longer a source of satisfaction to them.
In the same way, the breaking up of the big estates among the peasants was a proceeding which had already started before the Bolsheviks seized the political power, and which, owing to the overwhelming numbers of the peasants, nobody could have hindered. Yet the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly has contributed to it, in that the last trace of social influence on the assignment of the expropriated big estates has been lost, and the partition has been left to the naked arbitrariness of the interests on the spot.
Finally, the appearance of the antagonism between peasant and industrial worker is also a phenomenon which could not be avoided, and which necessarily arises out of the prevailing economic conditions. Yet even here the Bolshevist rule has forced the growth of conditions which have sharpened and deepened the antagonism. With the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and the demobilisation of the Army the two factors disappeared which could have furnished Russia with the quickest protection against the breaking up and partition of the land. Precisely the richest agricultural tracts of former Russia are now detached from it. if they so remain, then Russia will cease, especially if Siberia also separates, to be altogether a corn or food exporting country. The prices of the agricultural produce of Russia will then be determined only by the home, and not by the foreign market.
Now this is the condition in winch, under commodity production, the opposition between peasant and industrial worker most quickly develops. In countries which largely export agricultural produce, the opposition between industry and agriculture takes the form of an antagonism of States rather than of classes, the form of an antagonism between an industrial State and an agricultural State. Russia, in particular, has now, through the peace of Brest-Litowsk, ceased to be an agricultural exporting State, and has shaped in such a way as to promote the most rapid and bitter economic struggle between peasants and industrial workers.
In any case, this struggle cannot be avoided. So much the more important is it for a far-seeing policy to give such a form to the conditions in which this struggle must be carried on as to make possible to the proletariat the best development of its strength. To lay these foundations, not only as against capital, but also as against agriculture – this was, during the Revolution, the most important task of the representatives of the Russian proletariat. Noting else than the secure establishment of democracy could have done this.
This task of the proletarian struggle for freedom, which is not less important than the institution of social production, is, in contrast to the latter, practicable in an agrarian State.
The peasants, like all sections of the working class, demand democracy. They may find themselves very well off in a democratic republic, as is shown .in Switzerland and the United States But the political interests of the peasant seldom extend beyond the confines of his village, in contrast with the industrial proletarian, whose emancipation requires him to dominate the whole machinery of the State, which can be no local act. The peasant can also become enthusiastic for an emperor, who protects his property and fosters his interest, as he did in the case of Napoleon the First. The Russian peasant would oppose any return of the Czarist regime, which in his eyes was connected with the return of the old, deadly-hated landlords. But a dictator, who secured him in his property, and allowed him to devote all his attention to the cultivation of his fields and the sale of their produce, such a dictator might under circumstances be as welcome to him as the Republic. For this Dictator the way has been prepared by the suspension of Democracy, and the proclamation of the dictatorship of a class, which is in reality the dictatorship of a party, and, as Lenin himself has stated, can become the dictatorship of a single person. In his speech of April 28 he said:
The closer we approach the complete suppression of the bourgeoisie, the more dangerous the factor of petty bourgeois anarchism will be for us. The struggle against it can only be carried on by force. If we are no anarchists, we must recognise the necessity of a State, that is a forcible transition from Capitalism to Socialism. The kind of force will be determined by the degree of the development of the revolutionary class concerned, as well as by special circumstances, such as reactionary war and the form taken by the opposition of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. Therefore no essential contradiction can exist between the Soviet, that is, the Socialist democracy, and the exercise of dictatorial power by a single person.
In the long run nothing can be more dangerous to the Russian Proletariat than to familiarise the peasant with the idea that dictatorship, the disfranchising of all opponents, the suspension of the suffrage, and of freedom of the Press and of organisation as regards every antagonistic class, is the form of government which beet corresponds to the interests of the working classes. What will then become of the town workers if they come into conflict with the enormous mass of the Russian peasants and a dictator who is recognised by them?
And what will become of the workers when their own dictatorship collapses? The alternative to the dictatorship of a party is its destruction. Dictatorship impels the party which is in possession of power to maintain it by all means, whether fair or foul, because its fall means its complete ruin.
With democracy it is quite otherwise. Democracy signifies rule of the majority, and also protection of the minority, because it means equal rights and an equal share in all political rights for everybody, to whatever class or party he may belong. The proletariat everywhere has the greatest interest in democracy. Where the proletariat represents the majority, democracy will be the machinery for its rule. Where it is in the minority, democracy constitutes its most suitable fighting arena in which to assert itself, win concessions, and develop. If a proletariat which is in a minority attains to power, in alliance with another class, through a momentary conjunction of forces, it is most shortsighted “real” politics, that is, politics of the passing moment, to endeavour to perpetuate this position by the suppression of democracy and the rights of minorities in opposition. It would destroy the ground on which alone a firm footing could be retained, after the passing of this phase, for further work and an extended struggle.
It is problematical whether the Russian proletariat has now gained more real and practical acquisitions through the decrees of the Soviet Republic than it would have gained through the Constituent Assembly, in which Socialists, even if of another colour than those in the Soviets, predominated. But it is certain that if the Soviet Republic collapse many of its achievements are likely to fall along with it.
Had the Constituent Assembly succeeded in strengthening democracy, then, at the same time, all the advantages which the industrial proletariat might have acquired by its agency would have been consolidated. To-day we rest our expectations that the Russian proletariat will not be cheated of all the fruit of the Revolution only on the supposition that the dictatorship will not succeed in stifling democratic consciousness in the Russian people, and that, after all the errors and confusions of the civil war, democracy will finally be triumphant.
Not in dictatorship, but in democracy, lies the future of the Russian proletariat.
Last updated on 16.6.2004