Leon Trotsky

Terrorism and Communism

Chapter 5
The Paris Commune and Soviet Russia

“The short episode of the first revolution carried out by the proletariat for the proletariat ended in the triumph of its enemy. This episode – from March 18 to May 28 – lasted seventy-two days.” – “The Paris Commune” of March 18, 1871, P.L. Lavrov, Petrograd. ’Kolos’ Publishing House, 1919, pp.160.

The Immaturity of the Socialist Parties in the Commune

The Paris Commune of 1871 was the first, as yet weak, historic attempt of the working class to impose its supremacy. We cherished the memory of the Commune in spite of the extremely limited character of its experience, the immaturity of its participants, the confusion of its programme, the lack of unity amongst its leaders, the indecision of their plans, the hopeless panic of its executive organs, and the terrifying defeat fatally precipitated by all these. We cherish in the Commune, in the words of Lavrov, “the first, though still pale, dawn of the proletarian republic.” Quite otherwise with Kautsky. Devoting a considerable part of his book to a crudely tendentious contrast between the Commune and the Soviet power, he sees the main advantages of the Commune in features that we find are its misfortune and its fault.

Kautsky laboriously proves that the Paris Commune of 1871 was not “artificially” prepared, but emerged unexpectedly, taking the revolutionaries by surprise – in contrast to the November revolution, which was carefully prepared by our party. This is incontestable. Not daring clearly to formulate his profoundly reactionary ideas, Kautsky does not say outright whether the Paris revolutionaries of 1871 deserve praise for not having foreseen the proletarian insurrection, and for not having foreseen the inevitable and consciously gone to meet it. However, all Kautsky’s picture was built up in such a way as to produce in the reader just this idea: the Communards were simply overtaken by misfortune (the Bavarian philistine, Vollmar, once expressed his regret that the Communards had not gone to bed instead of taking power into their hands), and, therefore, deserve pity. The Bolsheviks consciously went to meet misfortune (the conquest of power), and, therefore, there is no forgiveness for them either in this or the future world. Such a formulation of the question may seem incredible in its internal inconsistency. None the less, it follows quite inevitably from the position of the Kautskian “Independents,” who draw their heads into their shoulders in order to see and foresee nothing; and, if they do move forward, it is only after having received a preliminary stout blow in the rear.

“To humiliate Paris,’ writes Kautsky, “not to give it self-government, to deprive it of its position as capital, to disarm it in order afterwards to attempt with greater confidence a monarchist coup d’état – such was the most important task of the National Assembly and the chief of the executive power it elected, Thiers. Out of this situation arose the conflict which led to the Paris insurrection.

“It is clear how different from this was the character of the coup d’état carried out by the Bolsheviks, which drew its strength from the yearning for peace; which had the peasantry behind it; which had in the National Assembly against it, not monarchists, but SRs and Menshevik Social Democrats.

“The Bolsheviks came to power by means of a well-prepared coup d’état, which at one blow handed over to them the whole machinery of the State – immediately utilized in the most energetic and merciless manner for the purpose of suppressing their opponents, amongst them their proletarian opponents.

“No one, on the other hand, was more surprised by the insurrection of the Commune than the revolutionaries themselves, and for a considerable number amongst them the conflict was in the highest degree undesirable.” (Page 56.)

In order more clearly to realize the actual sense of what Kautsky has written here of the Communards, let us bring forward the following evidence.

“On March 1, 1871,” writes Lavrov, in his very instructive book on the Commune, “six months after the fall of the Empire, and a few days before the explosion of the Commune, the guiding personalities in the Paris International still had no definite political programme.” (Pages 64-65)

“After March 18,” writes the same author, “Paris was in the hands of the proletariat, but its leaders, overwhelmed by their unexpected power, did not take the most elementary measures.” (Page 71)

“‘Your part is too big for you to play, and your sole aim is to get rid of responsibility,’ said one member of the Central Committee of the National Guard. In this was a great deal of truth,” Writes the Communard and historian of the Commune, Lissagaray. “But at the moment of action itself the absence of preliminary organization and preparation is very often a reason why parts are assigned to men which are too big for them to play.” (Brussels, 1876; page 106)

From this one can already see (later on it will become still more obvious) that the absence of a direct struggle for power on the part of the Paris Socialists was explained by their theoretical shapelessness and political helplessness, and not at all by higher considerations of tactics.

We have no doubt that Kautsky’s own loyalty to the traditions of the Commune will be expressed mainly in that extraordinary surprise with which he will greet the proletarian revolution in Germany as “a conflict in the highest degree undesirable.” We doubt, however, whether this will be ascribed by posterity to his credit. In reality, one must describe his historical analogy as a combination of confusion, omission, and fraudulent suggestion.

The intentions which were entertained by Thiers towards Paris were entertained by Miliukov, who was openly supported by Tseretelli and Chernov, towards Petrograd. All of them, from Kornilov to Potressoy, affirmed day after day that Petrograd had alienated itself from the country, had nothing in common with it, was completely corrupted, and was attempting to impose its will upon the community. To overthrow and humiliate Petrograd was the first task of Miliukov and his assistants. And this took place at a period when Petrograd was the true centre of the revolution, which had not yet been able to consolidate its position in the rest of the country. The former president of the Duma, Rodzianko, openly talked about handing over Petrograd to the Germans for educative purposes, as Riga had been handed over. Rodzianko only called by its name what Miliukov was trying to carry out, and what Kerensky assisted by his whole policy.

Miliukov, like Thiers, wished to disarm the proletariat. More than that, thanks to Kerensky, Chernov, and Tseretelli, the Petrograd proletariat was to a considerable extent disarmed in July, 1917. It was partially re-armed during Kornilov’s march on Petrograd in August. And this new arming was a serious element in the preparation of the November insurrection. In this way, it is just the points in which Kautsky contrasts our November revolution to the March revolt of the Paris workers that, to a very large extent, coincide.

In what, however, lies the difference between them? First of all, in the fact that Thiers’ criminal plans succeeded: Paris was throttled by him, and tens of thousands of workers were destroyed. Miliukov, on the other hand, had a complete fiasco: Petrograd remained an impregnable fortress of the proletariat, and the leader of the bourgeoisie went to the Ukraine to petition that the Kaiser’s troops should occupy Russia. For this difference we were to a considerable extent responsible – and we are ready to bear the responsibility. There is a capital difference also in the fact – that this told more than once in the further course of events – that, while the Communards began mainly with considerations of patriotism, we were invariably guided by the point of view of the international revolution. The defeat of the Commune led to the practical collapse of the First International. The victory of the Soviet power has led to the creation of the Third International.

But Marx – on the eve of the insurrection – advised the Communards not to revolt, but to create an organization! One might understand Kautsky if he adduced this evidence in order to show that Marx had insufficiently gauged the acuteness of the situation in Paris. But Kautsky attempts to exploit Marx’s advice as a proof of his condemnation of insurrection in general. Like all the mandarins of German Social Democracy, Kautsky sees in organization first and foremost a method of hindering revolutionary action.

But limiting ourselves to the question of organization as such, we must not forget that the November revolution was preceded by nine months of Kerensky’s Government, during which our party, not without success, devoted itself not only to agitation, but also to organization. The November revolution took place after we had achieved a crushing majority in the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils of Petrograd, Moscow, and all the industrial centres in the country, and had transformed the Soviets into powerful organizations directed by our party. The Communards did nothing of the kind. Finally, we had behind us the heroic Commune of Paris, from the defeat of which we had drawn the deduction that revolutionaries must foresee events and prepare for them. For this also we are to blame.

Kautsky requires his extensive comparison of the Commune and Soviet Russia only in order to slander and humiliate a living and victorious dictatorship of the proletariat in the interests of an attempted dictatorship, in the already fairly distant past.

Kautsky quotes with extreme satisfaction the statement of the Central Committee of the National Guard on March 19 in connection with the murder of the two generals by the soldiery. “We say indignantly: the bloody filth with the help of which it is hoped to Stain our honor is a pitiful slander. We never organized murder, and never did the National Guard take part in the execution of crime.”

Naturally, the Central Committee had no cause to assume responsibility for murders with which it had no concern. But the sentimental, pathetic tone of the statement very clearly characterizes the political timorousness of these men in the face of bourgeois public opinion. Nor is this surprising. The representatives of the National Guard were men in most cases with a very modest revolutionary past. “Not one well-known name,” writes Lissagaray. “They were petty bourgeois shopkeepers, strangers to all but limited circles, and, in most cases, strangers hitherto to politics.” (Page 70.)

“The modest and, to some extent, fearful sense of terrible historical responsibility, and the desire to get rid of it as soon as possible,” writes Lavrov of them, “is evident in all the proclamations of this Central Committee, into the hands of which the destiny of Paris had fallen.” (Page 77.)

After bringing forward, to our confusion, the declamation concerning bloodshed, Kautsky later on follows Marx and Engels in criticizing the indecision of the Commune. “If the Parisians (i.e., the Communards) had persistently followed up the tracts of Thiers, they would, perhaps, have managed to seize the government. “The troops falling back from Paris would not have shown the least resistance ..., but they let Thiers go without hindrance. They allowed him to lead away his troops and reorganize them at Versailles, to inspire a new spirit in, and strengthen, them.” (Page 49.)

Kautsky cannot understand that it was the same men, and for the very same reasons, who published the statement of March 19 quoted above, who allowed Thiers to leave Paris with impunity and gather his forces. If the Communards had conquered with the help of resources of a purely moral character, their statement would have acquired great weight. But this did not take place. In reality, their sentimental humaneness was simply the obverse of their revolutionary passivity. The men who, by the will of fate, had received power in Paris, could not understand the necessity of immediately utilizing that power to the end, of hurling themselves after Thiers, and, before he recovered his grasp of the situation, of crushing him, of concentrating the troops in their hands, of carrying out the necessary weeding-out of the officer class, of seizing the provinces. Such men, of course, were not inclined to severe measures with counter-revolutionary elements. The one was closely hound up with the other. Thiers could not be followed up without arresting Thiers’ agents in Paris and shooting conspirators and spies. When one considered the execution of counter-revolutionary generals as an indelible “crime,” one could not develop energy in following up troops who were under the direction of counter-revolutionary generals.

In the revolution in the highest degree of energy is the highest degree of humanity. “Just the men,” Lavrov justly remarks, “who hold human life and human blood dear must strive to organize the possibility for a swift and decisive victory, and then to act with the greatest swiftness and energy, in order to crush the enemy. For only in this way can we achieve the minimum of inevitable sacrifice and the minimum of bloodshed.” (Page 225)

The statement of March 19 will, however, be considered with more justice if we examine it, not as an unconditional confession of faith, but as the expression of transient moods the day after an unexpected and bloodless victory. Being an absolute stranger to the understanding of the dynamics of revolution, and the internal limitations of its swiftly-developing moods, Kautsky thinks in lifeless schemes, and distorts the perspective of events by arbitrarily selected analogies. He does not understand that soft-hearted indecision is generally characteristic of the masses in the first period of the revolution. The workers pursue the offensive only under the pressure of iron necessity, just as they have recourse to the Red Terror only under the threat of destruction by the White Guards. That which Kautsky represents as the result of the peculiarly elevated moral feeling of the Parisian proletariat in 1871 is, in reality, merely a characteristic of the first stage of the civil war. A similar phenomenon could have been witnessed in our case.

In Petrograd we conquered power in November, 1917, almost without bloodshed, and even without arrests. The ministers of Kerensky’s Government were set free very soon after the revolution. More, the Cossack General, Krasnov, who had advanced on Petrograd together with Kerensky after the power had passed to the Soviet, and who had been made prisoner by us at Gatchina, was set free on his word of honor the next day. This was “generosity” quite in the spirit of the first measures of the Commune. But it was a mistake. Afterwards, General Krasnov, after fighting against us for about a year in the South, and destroying many thousands of Communists, again advanced on Petrograd, this time in the ranks of Yudenich’s army. The proletarian revolution assumed a more severe character only after the rising of the junkers in Petrograd, and particularly after the rising of the Czechoslovaks on the Volga organized by the Cadets, the SRs, and the Mensheviks, after their mass executions of Communists, the attempt on Lenin’s life, the murder of Uritsky, etc., etc.

The same tendencies, only in an embryonic form, we see in the history of the Commune.

Driven by the logic of the struggle, it took its stand in principle on the path of intimidation. The creation of the Committee of Public Safety was dictated, in the case of many of its supporters, by the idea of the Red Terror. The Committee was appointed “to cut off the heads of traitors” (Journal Official, No.123), “to avenge treachery” (No.124). Under the head of “intimidatory” decrees we must class the order to seize the property of Thiers and of his ministers to destroy Thiers’ house, to destroy the Vendôme column, and especially the decree on hostages. For every captured Communard or sympathizer with the Commune shot by the Versaillese, three hostages were to be shot. The activity of the Prefecture of Paris controlled by Raoul Rigault had a purely terroristic, though not always a useful, purpose.

The effect of all these measures of intimidation was paralyzed by the helpless opportunism of the guiding elements in the Commune, by their striving to reconcile the bourgeoisie with the fait accompli by the help of pitiful phrases, by their vacillations between the fiction of democracy and the reality of dictatorship. The late Lavrov expresses the latter idea splendidly in his book on the Commune.

“The Paris of the rich bourgeois and the poor proletarians, as a political community of different classes, demanded, in the name of liberal principles, complete freedom of speech, of assembly, of criticism of the government, etc. The Paris which had accomplished the revolution in the interests of the proletariat, and had before it the task of realizing this revolution in the shape of institutions, Paris, as the community of the emancipated working-class proletariat, demanded revolutionary – i.e., dictatorial, measures against the enemies of the new order.” (Pages 143-144)

If the Paris Commune had not fallen, but had continued to exist in the midst of a ceaseless struggle, there can be no doubt that it would have been obliged to have recourse to more and more severe measures for the suppression of the counter-revolution. True, Kautsky would not then have had the possibility of contrasting the humane Communards with the inhumane Bolsheviks. But in return, probably, Thiers, would not have had the possibility of inflicting his monstrous bloodletting upon the proletariat of Paris. History, possibly, would not have been the loser.

The Irresponsible Central Committee and “Democratic” Commune

“On March 19,” Kautsky informs us, “in the Central Committee of the National Guard, some demanded a march on Versailles, others an appeal to the electors, and a third party the adoption first of all of revolutionary measures; as if every one of these steps,” he proceeds very learnedly to inform us, “were not equally necessary, and as if one excluded the other.” (Page 72) Further on, Kautsky, in connection with these disputes in the Commune, presents us with various warmed-up platitudes as to the mutual relations of reform and revolution. In reality, the following was the situation. If it were decided to march on Versailles, and to do this without losing an hour it was necessary immediately to reorganize the National Guard, to place at its head the best fighting elements of the Paris proletariat, and thereby temporarily to weaken Paris from the revolutionary point of view. But to organize elections in Paris, while at the same time sending out of its walls the flower of the working class, would have been senseless from the point of view of the revolutionary party. Theoretically, a march on Versailles and elections to the Commune, of course, did not exclude each other in the slightest degree, but in practice they did exclude each other: for the success of the elections, it was necessary to postpone the attack; for the attack to succeed, the elections must be put off. Finally, leading the proletariat out to the field and thereby temporarily weakening Paris, it was essential to obtain some guarantee against the possibility of counter-revolutionary attempts in the capital; for Thiers would not have hesitated at any measures to raise a white revolt in the rear of the Communards. It was essential to establish a more military – i.e., a more stringent regime in the capital. “They had to fight,” writes Lavrov, “against many internal foes with whom Paris was full, who only yesterday had been rioting around the Exchange and the Vendome Square, who had their representatives in the administration and in the National Guard, who possessed their press, and their meetings, who almost openly maintained contact with the Versaillese, and who became more determined and more audacious at every piece of carelessness, at every check of the Commune.” (Page 87)

It was necessary, side by side with this, to carry out revolutionary measures of a financial and generally of an economic character: first and foremost, for the equipment of the revolutionary army. All these most necessary measures of revolutionary dictatorship could with difficulty be reconciled with an extensive electoral campaign. But Kautsky has not the least idea of what a revolution is in practice. He thinks that theoretically to reconcile is the same as practically to accomplish.

The Central Committee appointed March 22 as the day of elections for the Commune; but, not sure of itself, frightened at its own illegality, striving to act in unison with more “legal” institutions, entered into ridiculous and endless negotiations with a quite helpless assembly of mayors and deputies of Paris, showing its readiness to divide power with them if only an agreement could be arrived at. Meanwhile precious time was slipping by.

Marx, on whom Kautsky, through old habit, tries to rely, did not under any circumstances propose that, at one and the same time, the Commune should be elected and the workers should be led out into the field for the war. In his letter to Kugelmann, Marx wrote, on April 12, 1871, that the Central Committee of the National Guard had too soon given up its power in favor of the Commune. Kautsky, in his own words, “does not understand” this opinion of Marx. It is quite simple. Marx at any rate understood that the problem was not one of chasing legality, but of inflicting a fatal blow upon the enemy. “If the Central Committee had consisted of real revolutionaries,” says Lavrov, and rightly, “it ought to have acted differently. It would have been quite unforgivable for it to have given the enemy ten days’ respite before the election and assembly of the Commune, while the leaders of the proletariat refused to carry out their duty and did not recognize that they had the right immediately to lead the proletariat. As it was, the feeble immaturity of the popular parties created a Committee which considered those ten days of inaction incumbent upon it.” (Page 78)

The yearning of the Central Committee to hand over power as soon as possible to a “legal” Government was dictated, not so much by the superstitions of former democracy, of which, by the way, there was no lack, as by fear of responsibility. Under the plea that it was a temporary institution, the Central Committee avoided the taking of the most necessary and absolutely pressing measures, in spite of the fact that all the material apparatus of power was centered in its hands. But the Commune itself did not take over political power in full from the Central Committee, and the latter continued to interfere in all business quite unceremoniously. This created a dual Government, which was extremely dangerous, particularly under military conditions.

On May 3 the Central Committee sent deputies to the Commune demanding that the Ministry for War should be placed under its control. Again there arose, as Lissagaray writes, the question as to whether “the Central Committee should be dissolved, or arrested, or entrusted with the administration of the Ministry for War.”

Here was a question, not of the principles of democracy. but of the absence, in the case of both parties, of a clear programme of action, and of the readiness, both of the irresponsible revolutionary organizations in the shape of the Central Committee and of the “democratic” organization of the Commune, to shift the responsibility on to the other’s shoulders, while at the same time not entirely renouncing power.

These were political relations which it might seem no one could call worthy of imitation.

“But the Central Committee,” Kautsky consoles himself, “never attempted to infringe the principle in virtue of which the supreme power must belong to the delegates elected by universal suffrage. In this respect the “Paris Commune was the direct antithesis of the Soviet Republic.” (Page 74) There was no unity of government, there was no revolutionary decision, there existed a division of power, and, as a result, there came swift and terrible destruction. But to counter-balance this – is it not comforting? – there was no infringement of the “principle” of democracy.

The Democratic Commune and
the Revolutionary Dictatorship

Comrade Lenin has already pointed out to Kautsky that attempts to depict the Commune as the expression of formal democracy constitute a piece of absolute theoretical swindling. The Commune, in its tradition and in the conception of its leading political party – the Blanquists – was the expression of the dictatorship of the revolutionary city over the country. So it was in the great French Revolution; so it would have been in the revolution of 1871 if the Commune had not fallen in the first days. The fact that in Paris itself a Government was elected on the basis of universal suffrage does not exclude a much more significant fact – namely, that of the military operations carried on by the Commune, one city, against peasant France, that is the whole country. To satisfy the great democrat, Kautsky, the revolutionaries of the Commune ought, as a preliminary, to have consulted, by means of universal suffrage, the whole population of France as to whether it permitted them to carry on a war with Thiers bands.

Finally, in Paris itself the elections took place after the bourgeoisie, or at least its most active elements, had fled, and after Thiers’ troops had been evacuated. The bourgeoisie that remained in Paris, in spite of all its impudence, was still afraid of the revolutionary battalions, and the elections took place under the auspices of that fear, which was the forerunner of what in the future would have been inevitable – namely, of the Red Terror. But to console oneself with the thought that the Central Committee of the National Guard, under the dictatorship of which – unfortunately a very feeble and formalist dictatorship – the elections to the Commune were held, did not infringe the principle of universal suffrage, is truly to brush with the shadow of a broom.

Amusing himself by barren analogies, Kautsky benefits by the circumstance that his reader is not acquainted with the facts. In Petrograd, in November, 1917, we also elected a Commune (Town Council) on the basis of the most “democratic” voting, without limitations for the bourgeoisie. These elections, being boycotted by the bourgeoisie parties, gave us a crushing majority. The “democratically” elected Council voluntarily submitted to the Petrograd Soviet – i.e., placed the fact of the dictatorship of the proletariat higher than the “principle” of universal suffrage, and, after a short time, dissolved itself altogether by its own act, in favor of one of the sections of the Petrograd Soviet. Thus the Petrograd Soviet – that true father of the Soviet regime – has upon itself the seal of a formal “democratic” benediction in no way less than the Paris Commune. [It is not without interest to observe that in the Communal elections of 1871 in Paris there participated 230,000 electors. At the Town elections of November, 1917. in Petrograd, in spite of the boycott of the election on the part of all parties except ourselves and the Left Social Revolutionaries who had no influence in the capital, there participated 300,000 electors. In Paris, in 1871, the population numbered two millions. In Petrograd, in November, 1917, there were not more than two millions. It must be noticed that our electoral system was infinitely more democratic. The Central Committee of the National Guard carried out the elections on the basis of the electoral law of the empire.]

“At the elections of March 26, eighty members were elected to the Commune. Of these, fifteen were members of the government party (Thiers), and six were bourgeois radicals who were in opposition to the Government, but condemned the rising (of the Paris workers).

“The Soviet Republic,” Kautsky teaches us, “would never have allowed such counter-revolutionary elements to stand as candidates, let alone be elected. The Commune, on the other hand, out of respect for democracy, did not place the least obstacle in the way of the election of its bourgeois opponents.” (Page 74.)

We have already seen above that here Kautsky completely misses the mark. First of all, at a similar stage of development of the Russian Revolution, there did take place democratic elections to the Petrograd Commune, in which the Soviet Government placed no obstacle in the way of the bourgeois parties; and if the Cadets, the SRs and the Mensheviks, who had their press which was openly calling for the overthrow of the Soviet Government, boycotted the elections, it was only because at that time they still hoped soon to make an end of us with the help of armed force. Secondly, no democracy expressing all classes was actually to be found in the Paris Commune. The bourgeois deputies – Conservatives, Liberals, Gambettists – found no place in it.

“Nearly all these individuals,” says Lavrov, “either immediately or very soon, left the Council of the Commune. They might have been representatives of Paris as a free city under the rule of the bourgeoisie, but were quite out of place in the Council of the Commune, which, willy-nilly, consistently or inconsistently, completely or incompletely, did represent the revolution of the proletariat, and an attempt, feeble though it might be, of building up forms of society corresponding to that revolution.” (Pages 111-112) If the Petrograd bourgeoisie had not boycotted the municipal elections, its representatives would have entered the Petrograd Council. They would have remained there up to the first Social Revolutionary and Cadet rising, after which – with the permission or without the permission of Kautsky – they would probably have been arrested if they did not leave the Council in good time, as at a certain moment did the bourgeois members of the Paris Commune. The course of events would have remained the same: only on their surface would certain episodes have worked out differently.

In supporting the democracy of the Commune, and at the same time accusing it of an insufficiently decisive note in its attitude to Versailles, Kautsky does not understand that the Communal elections, carried out with the ambiguous help of the “lawful” mayors and deputies, reflected the hope of a peaceful agreement with Versailles. This is the whole point. The leaders were anxious for a compromise, not for a struggle. The masses had not yet outlived their illusions. Undeserved revolutionary reputations had not yet had time to be exposed. Everything taken together was called democracy.

“We must rise above our enemies by moral force” preached Vermorel. “We must not infringe liberty and individual life ...” Striving to avoid fratricidal war, Vermorel called upon the liberal bourgeoisie, whom hitherto he had so mercilessly exposed, to set up “a lawful Government, recognized and respected by the whole population of Paris.” The Journal Officiel, published under the editorship of the Internationalist Longuet, wrote: “The sad misunderstanding, which in the June days (1848) armed two classes of society against each other, cannot be renewed ... Class antagonism has ceased to exist.” (March 30) And, further: “Now all conflicts will be appeased, because all are inspired with a feeling of solidarity, because never yet was there so little social hatred and social antagonism.” (April 3)

At the session of the Commune of April 25, Jourdé, and not without foundation, congratulated himself on the fact that the Commune had “never yet infringed the principle of private property.” By this means they hoped to win over bourgeois public opinion and find the path to compromise.

“Such a doctrine,” says Lavrov, and rightly, “did not in the least disarm the enemies of the proletariat, who understood excellently with what its success threatened them, and only sapped the proletarian energy and, as it were, deliberately blinded it in the face of its irreconcilable enemies.” (Page 137) But this enfeebling doctrine was inextricably bound up with the fiction of democracy. The form of mock legality it was that allowed them to think that the problem would be solved without a struggle. “As far as the mass of the population is concerned,” writes Arthur Arnould, a member of the Commune, “it was to a certain extent justified in the belief in the existence of, at the very least, a hidden agreement with the Government.” Unable to attract the bourgeoisie, the compromisers, as always, deceived the proletariat.

The clearest evidence of all that, in the conditions of the inevitable and already beginning civil war, democratic parliamentarism expressed only the compromising helplessness of the leading groups, was the senseless procedure of the supplementary elections to the Commune of April 6. At this moment, “it was no longer a question of voting,” writes Arthur Arnould. “The situation had become so tragic that there was not either the time or the calmness necessary for the correct functioning of the elections ... All persons devoted to the Commune were on the fortifications, in the forts, in the foremost detachments ... The people attributed no importance whatever to these supplementary elections. The elections were in reality merely parliamentarism. What was required was not to count voters, but to have soldiers: not to discover whether we had lost or gained in the Commune of Paris, but to defend Paris from the Versaillese.” From these words Kautsky might have observed why in practice it is not so simple to combine class war with interclass democracy.

“The Commune is not a Constituent Assembly,” wrote in his book, Milliard, one of the best brains of the Commune. “It is a military Council. It must have one aim, victory; one weapon, force; one law, the law of social salvation.”

“They could never understand,” Lissagaray accuses the leaders, “that the Commune was a barricade, and not an administration.”

They began to understand it in the end, when it was too late. Kautsky has not understood it to this day. There is no reason to believe that he will ever understand it.

* * *

The Commune was the living negation of formal democracy, for in its development it signified the dictatorship of working class Paris over the peasant country. It is this fact that dominates all the rest. However much the political doctrinaires, in the midst of the Commune itself, clung to the appearances of democractic legality, every action of the Commune, though insufficient for victory, was sufficient to reveal its illegal nature. The Commune – that is to say, the Paris City Council – repealed the national law concerning conscription. It called its official organ The Official Journal of the French Republic. Though cautiously, it still laid hands on the State Bank. It proclaimed the separation of Church and State, and abolished the Church Budgets. It entered into relations with various embassies. And so on, and so on. It did all this in virtue of the revolutionary dictatorship. But Clemenceau, young democrat as he was then, would not recognize that virtue.

At a conference with the Central Committee, Clemenceau said: “The rising had an unlawful beginning. Soon the Committee will become ridiculous, and its decrees will be despised. Besides, Paris has not the right to rise against France, and must unconditionally accept the authority of the Assembly.”

The problem of the Commune was to dissolve the National Assembly. Unfortunately it did not succeed in doing so. Today Kautsky seeks to discover for its criminal intentions some mitigating circumstances.

He points out that the Communards had as their opponents in the National Assembly the monarchists, while we in the Constituent Assembly had against us Socialists, in the persons of the SRs, and the Mensheviks. A complete mental eclipse! Kautsky talks about the Mensheviks and the SRs, but forgets our sole serious foe – the Cadets. It was they who represented our Russian Thiers party – i.e., a bloc of property owners in the name of property: and Professor Miliukov did his utmost to imitate the “little great man.” Very soon indeed – long before the October Revolution – Miliukov began to seek his Galifet in the generals Kornilov, Alexeiev, then Kaledin, Krasnov, in turn. And after Kolchak had thrown aside all political parties, and had dissolved the Constituent Assembly, the Cadet Party, the sole serious bourgeois party, in its essence monarchist through and through, not only did not refuse to support him, but on the contrary devoted more sympathy to him than before.

The Mensheviks and the SRs played no independent role amongst us – just like Kautsky’s party during the revolutionary events in Germany. They based their whole policy upon a coalition with the Cadets, and thereby put the Cadets in a position to dictate quite irrespective of the balance of political forces. The Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik Parties were only an intermediary apparatus for the purpose of collecting, at meetings and elections, the political confidence of the masses awakened by the revolution, and for handing it over for disposal by the counter-revolutionary imperialist party of the Cadets – independently of the issue of the elections.

The purely vassal-like dependence of the SRs and Menshevik majority on the Cadet minority itself represented a very thinly-veiled insult to the idea of “democracy.” But this is not all.

In all districts of the country where the regime of “democracy” lived too long, it inevitably ended in an open coup d’état of the counter-revolution. So it was in the Ukraine, where the democratic Rada, having sold the Soviet Government to German imperialism, found itself overthrown by the monarchist Skoropadsky. So it was in the Kuban, where the democratic Rada found itself under the heel of Denikin. So it was – and this was the most important experiment of our “democracy” – in Siberia, where the Constituent Assembly, with the formal supremacy of the S.R.s and the Mensheviks, in the absence of the Bolsheviks, and the de facto guidance of the Cadets, led in the end to the dictatorship of the Tsarist Admiral Kolchak. So it was, finally, in the north, where the Constituent Assembly government of the Socialist-Revolutionary Chaikovsky became merely a tinsel decoration for the rule of counter-revolutionary generals, Russian and British. So it was, or is, in all the small Border States – in Finland, Esthonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Georgia, Armenia – where, under the formal banner of “democracy,” there is being consolidated the supremacy of the landlords, the capitalists, and the foreign militarists.

The Paris Worker of 1871 and
the Petrograd Proletarian of 1917

One of the most coarse, unfounded, and politically disgraceful comparisons which Kautsky makes between the Commune and Soviet Russia is touching the character of the Paris worker in 1871 and the Russian proletarian of 1917-19. The first Kautsky depicts as a revolutionary enthusiast capable of a high measure of self-sacrifice; the second, as an egoist and a coward, an irresponsible anarchist.

The Parisian worker has behind him too definite a past to need revolutionary recommendations – or protection from the praises of the present Kautsky. None the less, the Petrograd proletarian has not, and cannot have, any reason for avoiding a comparison with his heroic elder brother. The continuous three years’ struggle of the Petrograd workers – first for the conquest of power, and then for its maintenance and consolidation – represents an exceptional story of collective heroism and self-sacrifice, amidst unprecedented tortures in the shape of hunger, cold, and constant perils.

Kautsky, as we can discover in another connection, takes for contrast with the flower of the Communards the most sinister elements of the Russian proletariat. In this respect also he is in no way different from the bourgeois sycophants, to whom dead Communards always appear infinitely more attractive than the living.

The Petrograd proletariat seized power four and a half decades after the Parisian. This period has told enormously in our favor. The petty-bourgeois craft character of old and partly of new Paris is quite foreign to Petrograd, the centre of the most concentrated industry in the world. The latter circumstances has extremely facilitated our tasks of agitation and organization, as well as the setting up of the Soviet system.

Our proletariat did not have even a faint measure of the rich revolutionary traditions of the French proletariat. But, instead, there was still very fresh in the memory of the older generation of our workers, at the beginning of the present revolution, the great experiment of 1905, its failure, and the duty of vengeance it had handed down.

The Russian workers had not, like the French, passed through a long school of democracy and parliamentarism which at a certain epoch represented an important factor in the political education of the proletariat. But, on the other band, the Russian working class had not had seared into its soul the bitterness of dissolution and the poison of skepticism, which up to a certain, and – let us hope – not very distant moment, still restrain the revolutionary will of the French proletariat.

The Paris Commune suffered a military defeat before economic problems had arisen before it in their full magnitude. In spite of the splendid fighting qualities of the Paris workers, the military fate of the Commune was at once determined as hopeless. Indecision and compromise-mongering above brought about collapse below.

The pay of the National Guard was issued on the basis of the existence of 162,000 rank and file and 6,000 officers; the number of those who actually went into battle, especially after the unsuccessful sortie of April 3, varied between twenty and thirty thousand.

These facts do not in the least compromise the Paris workers, and do not give us the right to consider them cowards and deserters – although, of course, there was no lack of desertion. For a fighting army there must be, first of all, a centralized and accurate apparatus of administration. Of this the Commune had not even a trace.

The War Department of the Commune, was, in the expression of one writer, as it were a dark room, in which all collided. The office of the Ministry was filled with officers and ordinary Guards, who demanded military supplies and food, and complained that they were not relieved. They were sent to the garrison.

“One battalion remained in the trenches for 20 and 30 days, while others were constantly in reserve ... This carelessness soon killed any discipline. Courageous men soon determined to rely only on themselves; others avoided service. In the same way did officers behave. One would leave his post to go to the help of a neighbor who was under fire; others went away to the city. (Lavrov, page 100)

Such a regime could not remain unpunished; the Commune was drowned in blood. But in this connection Kautsky has a marvelous solution.

“The waging of war,” he says, sagely shaking his head, “is, after all, not a strong side of the proletariat.” (Page 76)

This aphorism, worthy of Pangloss, is fully on a level with the other great remark of Kautsky, namely, that the International is not a suitable weapon to use in wartime, being in its essence an “instrument of peace.”

In these two aphorisms, in reality, may be found the present Kautsky, complete, in his entirety – i.e., just a little over a round zero.

The waging of war, do you see, is on the whole, not a strong side of the proletariat, the more that the International itself was not created for wartime. Kautsky’s ship was built for lakes and quiet harbors, not at all for the open sea, and not for a period of storms. If that ship has sprung a leak, and has begun to fill, and is now comfortably going to the bottom, we must throw all the blame upon the storm, the Unnecessary mass of water, the extraordinary size of the waves, and a series of other unforeseen circumstances for which Kautsky did not build his marvelous instrument.

The international proletariat put before itself as its problem the conquest of power. Independently of whether civil war, “generally,” belongs to the inevitable attributes of revolution, “generally,” this fact remains unquestioned – that the advance of the proletariat, at any rate in Russia, Germany, and parts of former Austro-Hungary, took the form of an intense civil war not only on internal but also on external fronts. If the waging of war is not the strong side of the proletariat, while the workers’ International is suited only for peaceful epochs, then we may as well erect a cross over the revolution and over Socialism; for the waging of war is a fairly strong side of the capitalist State, which without a war will not admit the workers to supremacy. In that case there remains only to proclaim the so-called “Socialist” democracy to be merely the accompanying feature of capitalist society and bourgeois parliamentarism – i.e., openly to sanction what the Eberts, Scheidemanns, Renaudels, carry out in practice and what Kautsky still, it seems, protests against in words.

The waging of war was not a strong side of the Commune. Quite so; that was why it was crushed. And how mercilessly crushed!

“We have to recall the proscriptions of Sulla, Antony, and Octavius,” wrote in his time the very moderate liberal, Fiaux, “to meet such massacres in the history of civilized nations. The religious wars under the last Valois, the night of St. Bartholomew, the Reign of Terror were, in comparison with it, child’s play. In the last week of May alone, in Paris, 17,000 corpses of the insurgent Federals were picked up ... the killing was still going on about June 15.”

“The waging of war, after all, is not the strong side of the proletariat.”

It is not true! The Russian workers have shown that they are capable of wielding the “instrument of war” as well. We see here a gigantic step forward in comparison with the Commune. It is not a renunciation of the Commune – for the traditions of the Commune consist not at all in its helplessness – but the continuation of its work. The Commune was weak. To complete its work we have become strong. The Commune was crushed. We are inflicting blow after blow upon the executioners of the Commune. We are taking vengeance for the Commune, and we shall avenge it.

* * *

Out of 167,000 National Guards who received pay, only twenty or thirty thousand went into battle. These figures serve as interesting material for conclusions as to the role of formal democracy in a revolutionary epoch. The vote of the Paris Commune was decided, not at the elections, but in the battles with the troops of Thiers. One hundred and sixty-seven thousand National Guards represented the great mass of the electorate. But in reality, in the battles, the fate of the Commune was decided by twenty or thirty thousand persons; the most devoted fighting minority. This minority did not stand alone: it simply expressed, in a more courageous and self-sacrificing manner, the will of the majority. But none the less it was a minority. The others who hid at the critical moment were not hostile to the Commune; on the contrary, they actively or passively supported it, but they were less politically conscious, less decisive. On the arena of political democracy, their lower level of political consciousness afforded the possibility of their being deceived by adventurers, swindlers, middle-class cheats, and honest dullards who really deceived themselves. But, at the moment of open class war, they, to a greater or lesser degree, followed the self-sacrificing minority. It was this that found its expression in the organization of the National Guard. If the existence of the Commune had been prolonged, this relationship between the advance guard and the mass of the proletariat would have grown more and more firm.

The organization which would have been formed and consolidated in the process of the open struggle, as the organization of the laboring masses, would have become the organization of their dictatorship – the Council of Deputies of the armed proletariat.

Terrorism and Communism Index

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Last updated on: 24.12.2006