Leon Trotsky

Terrorism and Communism

Chapter 6
Marx and Kautsky

Kautsky loftily sweeps aside Marx’s views on terror, expressed by him in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung – as at that time, do you see, Marx was still very “young,” and consequently his views bad not yet had time to arrive at that condition of complete enfeeblement which is so clearly to be observed in the case of certain theoreticians in the seventh decade of their life. As a contrast to the green Marx of 1848-49 (the author of the Communist Manifesto!) Kautsky quotes the mature Marx of the epoch of the Paris Commune – and the latter, under the pen of Kautsky, loses his great lion’s mane, and appears before us as an extremely respectable reasoner, bowing before the holy places of democracy, declaiming on the sacredness of human life, and filled with all due reverence for the political charms of Scheidemann, Vandervelde, and particularly of his own physical grandson, Jean Longuet. In a word, Marx, instructed by the experience of life, proves to be a well-behaved Kautskian.

From the deathless Civil War in France, the pages of which have been filled with a new and intense life in our own epoch, Kautsky has quoted only those lines in which the mighty theoretician of the social revolution contrasted the generosity of the Communards with the bourgeois ferocity of the Versaillese. Kautsky has devastated these lines and made them commonplace. Marx, as the preacher of detached humanity, as the apostle of general love of mankind! Just as if we were talking about Buddha or Leo Tolstoy ... It is more than natural that, against the international campaign which represented the Communards as souteneurs and the women of the Commune as prostitutes, against the vile slanders which attributed to the conquered fighters ferocious features drawn from the degenerate imagination of the victorious bourgeoisie, Marx should emphasize and underline those features of tenderness and nobility which not infrequently were merely the reverse side of indecision. Marx was Marx. He was neither an empty pedant, nor, all the more, the legal defender of the revolution: he combined a scientific analysis of the Commune with its revolutionary apology. He not only explained and criticised – he defended and struggled. But, emphasizing the mildness of the Commune which failed, Marx left no doubt possible concerning the measures which the Commune ought to have taken in order not to fail.

The author of the Civil War accuses the Central Committee – i.e., the then Council of National Guards’ Deputies, of having too soon given up its place to the elective Commune. Kautsky “does not understand” the reason for such a reproach. This conscientious non-understanding is one of the symptoms of Kautsky’s mental decline in connection with questions of the revolution generally. The first place, according to Marx, ought to have been filled by a purely fighting organ, a centre of the insurrection and of military operations against Versailles, and not the organized self-government of the labor democracy. For the latter the turn would come later.

Marx accuses the Commune of not having at once begun an attack against the Versailles, and of having entered upon the defensive, which always appears “more humane,” and gives more possibilities of appealing to moral law and the sacredness of human life, but in conditions of civil war never leads to victory. Marx, on the other hand, first and foremost wanted a revolutionary victory. Nowhere, by one word, does he put forward the principle of democracy as something standing above the class struggle. On the contrary, with the concentrated contempt of the revolutionary and the Communist, Marx – not the young editor of the Rhine Paper, but the mature author of Capital: our genuine Marx with the mighty leonine mane, not as yet fallen under the hands of the hairdressers of the Kautsky school – with what concentrated contempt he speaks about the “artificial atmosphere of parliamentarism” in which physical and spiritual dwarfs like Thiers seems giants! The Civil War, after the barren and pedantic pamphlet of Kautsky, acts like a storm that clears the air.

In spite of Kautsky’s slanders, Marx had nothing in common with the view of democracy as the last, absolute, supreme product of history. The development of bourgeois society itself, out of which contemporary democracy grew up, in no way represents that process of gradual democratization which figured before the war in the dreams of the greatest Socialist illusionist of democracy – Jean Jaurès – and now in those of the most learned of pedants, Karl Kautsky. In the empire of Napoleon III, Marx sees “the only possible form of government in the epoch in which the bourgeoisie has already lost the possibility of governing the people, while the working class has not yet acquired it.” In this way, not democracy, but Bonapartism, appears in Marx’s eyes as the final form of bourgeois power. Learned men may say that Marx was mistaken, as the Bonapartist empire gave way for half a century to the “Democratic Republic.” But Marx was not mistaken. In essence he was right. The Third Republic has been the period of the complete decay of democracy. Bonapartism has found in the Stock Exchange Republic of Poincaré. Clémenceau, a more finished expression than in the Second Empire. True, the Third Republic was not crowned by the imperial diadem; but in return there loomed over it the shadow of the Russian Tsar.

In his estimate of the Commune, Marx carefully avoids using the worn currency of democratic terminology. “The Commune was,” he writes, “not a parliament, but a working institution, and united in itself both executive and legislative power.” In the first place, Marx puts forward, not the particular democratic form of the Commune, but its class essence. The Commune, as is known, abolished the regular army and the police, and decreed the confiscation of Church property. It did this in the right of the revolutionary dictatorship of Paris, without the permission of the general democracy of the State, which at that moment formally had found a much more “lawful” expression in the National Assembly of Thiers. But a revolution is not decided by votes. “The National Assembly,” says Marx, “was nothing more nor less than one of the episodes of that revolution, the true embodiment of which was, nevertheless, armed Paris.” How far this is from formal democracy!

“It only required that the Communal order of things,” says Marx, “should be set up in Paris and in the secondary centres, and the old central government would in the provinces also have yielded to the self-government of the producers.” Marx, consequently, sees the problem of revolutionary Paris, not in appealing from its victory to the frail will of the Constituent Assembly, but in covering the whole of France with a centralized organization of Communes, built up not on the external principles of democracy but on the genuine self-government of the producers.

Kautsky has cited as an argument against the Soviet Constitution the indirectness of elections, which contradicts the fixed laws of bourgeois democracy. Marx characterizes the proposed structure of labor France in the following words:– ”The management of the general affairs of the village communes of every district was to devolve on the Assembly of plenipotentiary delegates meeting in the chief town of the district; while the district assemblies were in turn to send delegates to the National Assembly sitting in Paris.”

Marx, as we can see, was not in the least degree disturbed by the many degrees of indirect election, in so far as it was a question of the State organization of the proletariat itself. In the framework of bourgeois democracy, indirectness of election confuses the demarcation line of parties and classes but in the “self-government of the producers” – i.e., in the class proletarian State, indirectness of election is a question not of politics, but of the technical requirements of self-government, and within certain limits may present the same advantages as in the realm of trade union organization.

The Philistines of democracy are indignant at the in-equality in representation of the workers and peasants which, in the Soviet Constitution, reflects the difference in the revolutionary roles of the town and the country. Marx writes: “The Commune desired to bring the rural producers under the intellectual leadership of the central towns of their districts, and there to secure to them, in the workmen of the towns, the natural guardians of their interests.” The question was not one of making the peasant equal to the worker on paper, but of spiritually raising the peasant to the level of the worker. All questions of the proletarian State Marx decides according to the revolutionary dynamics of living forces, and not according to the play of shadows upon the marketplace screen of parliamentarism.

In order to reach the last confines of mental collapse, Kautsky denies the universal authority of the Workers’ Councils on the ground that there is no legal boundary between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. In the indeterminate nature of the social divisions Kautsky sees the source of the arbitrary authority of the Soviet dictatorship. Marx sees directly the contrary. “The Commune was an extremely elastic form of the State, while all former forms of government had suffered from narrowness. Its secret consists in this, that in its very essence it was the government of the working class, the result of the struggle between the class of producers and the class of appropriators, the political form, long sought, under which there could be accomplished the economic emancipation of labor.” The secret of the Commune consisted in the fact that by its very essence it was a government of the working class. This secret, explained by Marx, has remained, for Kautsky, even to this day, a mystery sealed with seven seals.

The Pharisees of democracy speak with indignation of the repressive measures of the Soviet Government, of the closing of newspapers, of arrests and shooting. Marx replies to “the vile abuse of the lackeys of the Press” and to the reproaches of the “well-intentioned bourgeois doctrinaires,” in connection with the repressive measures of the Commune in the following words:– ”Not satisfied with their open waging of a most bloodthirsty war against Paris, the Versaillese strove secretly to gain an entry by corruption and conspiracy. Could the Commune at such a time without shamefully betraying its trust, have observed the customary forms of liberalism, just as if profound peace reigned around it? Had the government of the Commune been akin in spirit to that of Thiers, there would have been no more occasion to suppress newspapers of the party of order in Paris than there was to suppress newspapers of the Commune at Versailles.” In this way, what Kautsky demands in the name of the sacred foundations of democracy Marx brands as a shameful betrayal of trust.

Concerning the destruction of which the Commune is accused, and of which now the Soviet Government is accused, Marx speaks as of “an inevitable and comparatively insignificant episode in the titanic struggle of the newborn order with the old in its collapse.” Destruction and cruelty are inevitable in any war. Only sycophants can consider them a crime “in the war of the slaves against their oppressors, the only just war in history” (Marx.) Yet our dread accuser Kautsky, in his whole book, does not breathe a word of the fact that we are in a condition of perpetual revolutionary self-defence, that we are waging an intensive war against the oppressors of the world, the “only just war in history. ”

Kautsky yet again tears his hair because the Soviet Government, during the Civil War, has made use of the severe method of taking hostages. He once again brings forward pointless and dishonest comparisons between the fierce Soviet Government and the humane Commune. Clear and definite in this connection sounds the opinion of Marx. “When Thiers, from the very beginning of the conflict, had enforced the humane practice of shooting down captured Communards, the Commune, to protect the lives of those prisoners, had nothing left for it but to resort to the Prussian custom of taking hostages. The lives of the hostages had been forfeited over and over again by the continued shooting of the prisoners on the part of the Versaillese. How could their lives be spared any longer after the bloodbath with which MacMahon’s Pretorians celebrated their entry into Paris?” How otherwise, we shall ask together with Marx, can one act in conditions of civil war, when the counter-revolution, occupying a considerable portion of the national territory, seizes wherever it can the unarmed workers, their wives, their mothers, and shoots or hangs them: how otherwise can one act than to seize as hostages the beloved or the trusted of the bourgeoisie, thus placing the whole bourgeois class under the Damocles’ sword of mutual responsibility?

It would not be difficult to show, day by day through the history of the civil war, that all the severe measures of the Soviet Government were forced upon it as measures of revolutionary self-defense. We shall not here enter into details. But, to give though it be but a partial criterion for valuing the conditions of the struggle, let us remind the reader that, at the moment when the White Guards, in company with their Anglo-French allies, shoot every Communist without exception who falls into their hands, the Red Army spares all prisoners without exception, including even officers of high rank.

“Fully grasping its historical task, filled with the heroic decision to remain equal to that task,” Marx wrote, “the working class may reply with a smile of calm contempt to the vile abuse of the lackeys of the Press and to the learned patronage of well-intentioned bourgeois doctrinaires, who utter their ignorant stereotyped commonplaces, their characteristic nonsense, with the profound tone of oracles of scientific immaculateness.”

If the well-intentioned bourgeois doctrinaires sometimes appear in the guise of retired theoreticians of the Second International, this in no way deprives their characteristic nonsense of the right of remaining nonsense.

Terrorism and Communism Index

return return return return return

Last updated on: 27.12.2006