Leon Trotsky

Terrorism and Communism

Chapter 7
The Working Class and
Its Soviet Policy

The Russian Proletariat

The initiative in the social revolution proved, by the force of events, to be imposed, not upon the old proletariat of Western Europe, with its mighty economic and political organization, with its ponderous traditions of parliamentarism and trade unionism, but upon the young working class of a backward country. History, as always, moved along the line of least resistance. The revolutionary epoch burst upon us through the least barricaded door. Those extraordinary, truly superhuman, difficulties which were thus flung upon the Russian proletariat have prepared, hastened, and to a considerable extent assisted the revolutionary work of the West European proletariat which still lies before us.

Instead of examining the Russian Revolution in the light of the revolutionary epoch that has arrived throughout the world, Kautsky discusses the theme of whether or not the Russian proletariat has taken power into its hands too soon.

“For Socialism,” he explains, “there is necessary a high development of the people, a high morale amongst the masses, strongly-developed social instincts, sentiments of solidarity, etc. Such a form of morale,” Kautsky further informs us, “was very highly developed amongst the proletariat of the Paris Commune. It is absent amongst the masses which at the present time set the tone amongst the Bolshevik proletariat.” (Page 177)

For Kautsky’s purpose, it is not sufficient to fling mud at the Bolsheviks as a political party before the eyes of his readers. Knowing that Bolshevism has become amalgamated with the Russian proletariat, Kautsky makes an attempt to fling mud at the Russian proletariat as a whole, representing it as an ignorant, greedy mass, without any ideals, which is guided only by the instincts and impulses of the moment.

Throughout his booklet Kautsky returns many times to the question of the intellectual and moral level of the Russian workers, and every time only to deepen his characterization of them as ignorant, stupid and barbarous. To bring about the most striking contrasts, Kautsky adduces the example of how a workshop committee in one of the war industries during the Commune decided upon compulsory night duty in the works for one worker so that it might be possible to distribute repaired arms by night. “As under present circumstances it is absolutely necessary to be extremely economical with the resources of the Commune,” the regulation read, “the night duty will be rendered without payment ...” “Truly,” Kautsky concludes, “these working men did not regard the period of their dictatorship as an opportune moment for the satisfaction of their personal interests.” (Page 90) Quite otherwise is the case with the Russian working class. That class has no intelligence, no stability, no ideals, no steadfastness, no readiness for self-sacrifice, and so on. “It is just as little capable of choosing suitable plenipotentiary leaders for itself,” Kautsky jeers, “as Münchausen was able to drag himself from the swamp by means of his own hair.” This comparison of the Russian proletariat with the impostor Münchausen dragging himself from the swamp is a striking example of the brazen tone in which Kautsky speaks of the Russian working class.

He brings extracts from various speeches and articles of ours in which undesirable phenomena amongst the working class are shown up, and attempts to represent matters in such a way as if the life of the Russian proletariat between 1917-20 – in the greatest of revolutionary epochs – is fully described by passivity, ignorance, and egotism.

Kautsky, forsooth, does not know, has never heard, cannot guess, may not imagine, that during the civil war the Russian proletariat had more than one occasion of freely giving its labor, and even of establishing “unpaid” guard duties – not of one worker for the space of one night, but of tens of thousands of workers for the space of a long series of disturbed nights. In the days and weeks of Yudenich’s advance on Petrograd, one telephonogram of the Soviet was sufficient to ensure that many thousands of workers should spring to their posts in all the factories, in all the wards of the city. And this not in the first days of the Petrograd Commune, but after a two years’ struggle in cold and hunger.

Two or three times a year our party mobilizes a high proportion of its numbers for the front. Scattered over a distance of 8,000 versts, they die and teach others to die. And when, in hungry and cold Moscow, which has given the flower of its workers to the front, a Party Week is proclaimed, there pour into our ranks from the proletarian masses, in the space of seven days, 15,000 persons. And at what moment? At the moment when the danger of the destruction of the Soviet Government had reached its most acute point. At the moment when Orel had been taken, and Denikin was approaching Tula and Moscow, when Yudenich was threatening Petrograd. At that most painful moment, the Moscow proletariat, in the course of a week, gave to the ranks of our party 15,000 men, who only waited a new mobilization for the front. And it can be said with certainty that never yet, with the exception of the week of the November rising in 1917, was the Moscow proletariat so single-minded in its revolutionary enthusiasm, and in its readiness for devoted struggle, as in those most difficult days of peril and self-sacrifice.

When our party proclaimed the watchword of Subbotniks and Voskresniks (Communist Saturdays and Sundays), the revolutionary idealism of the proletariat found for itself a striking expression in the shape of voluntary labor. At first tens and hundreds, later thousands, and now tens and hundreds of thousands of workers every week give up several hours of their labor without reward, for the sake of the economic reconstruction of the country. And this is done by half-starved people, in torn boots, in dirty linen – because the country has neither boots nor soap. Such, in reality, is that Bolshevik proletariat to whom Kautsky recommends a course of self-sacrifice. The facts of the situation, and their relative importance, will appear still more vividly before us if we recall that all the egoist, bourgeois, coarsely selfish elements of the proletariat – all those who avoid service at the front and in the Subbotniks, who engage in speculation and in weeks of starvation incite the workers to strikes – all of them vote at the Soviet elections for the Mensheviks; that is, for the Russian Kautskies.

Kautsky quotes our words to the effect that even before the November Revolution, we clearly realized the defects in education of the Russian proletariat, but, recognizing the inevitability of the transference of power to the working class, we considered ourselves justified in hoping that during the struggle itself, during its experience, and with the ever increasing support of the proletariat of other countries, we should deal adequately with our difficulties, and be able to guarantee the transition of Russia to the Socialist order. In this connection, Kautsky asks: “Would Trotsky undertake to get on a locomotive and set it going, in the conviction that he would during the journey have time to learn and to arrange everything? One must preliminarily have acquired the qualities necessary to drive a locomotive before deciding to set it going. Similarly the proletariat ought beforehand to have acquired those necessary qualities which make it capable of administering industry, once it had to take it over.” (Page 173)

This instructive comparison would have done honor to any village clergyman. None the less, it is stupid. With infinitely more foundation one could say “Will Kautsky dare to mount a horse before he has learned to sit firmly in the saddle, and to guide the animal in all its steps?” We have foundations for believing that Kautsky would not make up his mind to such a dangerous purely Bolshevik experiment. On the other hand, we fear that, through not risking to mount the horse, Kautsky would have considerable difficulty in learning the secrets of riding on horseback. For the fundamental Bolshevik prejudice is precisely this: that one learns to ride on horseback only when sitting on the horse.

Concerning the driving of the locomotive, this principle is at first sight not so evident; but none the less it is there. No one yet has learned to drive a locomotive sitting in his study. One has to get up on to the engine, to take one’s stand in the tender, to take into one’s hands the regulator, and to turn it. True, the engine allows training maneuvers only under the guidance of an old driver. The horse allows of instructions in the riding school only under the guidance of experienced trainers. But in the sphere of State administration such artificial conditions cannot be created. The bourgeoisie does not build for the proletariat academies of State administration, and does not place at its disposal, for preliminary practice, the helm of the State. And besides, the workers and peasants learn even to ride on horse-back not in the riding school, and without the assistance of trainers.

To this we must add another consideration, perhaps the most important. No one gives the proletariat the opportunity of choosing whether it will or will not mount the horse, whether it will take power immediately or postpone the moment. Under certain conditions the working class is bound to take power, under the threat of political self-annihilation for a whole historical period.

Once having taken power, it is impossible to accept one set of consequences at will and refuse to accept others. If the capitalist bourgeoisie consciously and malignantly transforms the disorganization of production into a method of political struggle, with the object of restoring power to itself, the proletariat is obliged to resort to Socialization, independent of whether this is beneficial or otherwise at the given moment.

And, once having taken over production, the proletariat is obliged, under the pressure of iron necessity, to learn by its own experience a most difficult art-that of organizing Socialist economy. Having mounted the saddle, the rider is obliged to guide the horse-on the peril of breaking his neck.

* * *

To give his high-souled supporters, male and female, a complete picture of the moral level of the Russian proletariat, Kautsky adduces, on page 172 of his book, the following mandate, issued, it is alleged, by the Murzilovka Soviet: “The Soviet hereby empowers Comrade Gregory Sareiev, in accordance with his choice and instructions, to requisition and lead to the barracks, for the use of the Artillery Division stationed in Murzilovka, Briansk County, sixty women and girls from the bourgeois and speculating class, September 16, 1918.” (What are the Bolshevists doing? Published by Dr. Nath. Wintch-Malejeff. Lausanne 1919. Page 10.)

Without having the least doubt of the forged character of this document and the lying nature of the whole communication, I gave instructions, however, that careful inquiry should be made, in order to discover what facts and episodes lay at the root of this invention. A carefully carried out investigation showed the following:–

  1. In the Briansk County there is absolutely no village by the name of Murzilovka. There is no such village in the neighboring counties either. The most similar in name is the village of Muraviovka, Briansk County; but no artillery division has ever been stationed there, and altogether nothing ever took place which might be in any way connected with the above “document.”
  2. The investigation was also carried on along the line of the artillery units. Absolutely nowhere were we able to discover even an indirect allusion to a fact similar to that adduced by Kautsky from the words of his inspirer.
  3. Finally the investigation dealt with the question of whether there had been any rumors of this kind on the spot. Here, too, absolutely nothing was discovered; and no wonder. The very contents of the forgery are in too brutal a contrast with the morals and public opinion of the foremost workers and peasants who direct the work of the Soviets, even in the most backward regions.

In this way, the document must be described as a pitiful forgery, which might be circulated only by the most malignant sycophants in the most yellow of the gutter press.

While the investigation described above was going on, Comrade Zinoviev showed me a number of a Swedish paper (Svenska Dagbladet) of November 9, 1919, in which was printed the facsimile of a mandate running as follows:– “Mandate. The bearer of this, Comrade Raraseiev, has the right of socializing in the town of Ekaterinodar (obliterated) girls aged from 16 to 36 at his pleasure. – Glavkom Ivashcheff.”

This document is even more stupid and impudent that that quoted by Kautsky. The town of Ekaterinodar – the centre of the Kuban – was, as is well known, for only a very short time in the hands of the Soviet Government. Apparently the author of the forgery, not very well up in his revolutionary chronology, rubbed out the date on this document, lest by some chance it should appear that “Glavkom Ivashcheff” socialized the Ekaterinodar women during the reign of Denikin’s militarism there. That the document might lead into error the thick-witted Swedish bourgeois is not at all amazing. But for the Russian reader it is only too clear that the document is not merely a forgery, but drawn up by a foreigner, dictionary in hand. It is extremely curious that the names of both the socializers of women, “Gregory Sareiev” and “Karaseiev” sound absolutely non-Russia. The ending “eiev” in Russian names is found rarely, and only in definite combinations. But the accuser of the Bolsheviks himself, the author of the English pamphlet on whom Kautsky bases his evidence, has a name that does actually end in “eiev.” It seems obvious that this Anglo-Bulgarian police agent, sitting in Lausanne, creates socializers of women, in the fullest sense of the word, after his own likeness and image.

Kautsky, at any rate, has original inspirers and assistants!

Soviets, Trade Unions, and the Party

The Soviets, as a form of the organization of the working class, represents for Kautsky, “in relation to the party and professional organizations of more developed countries, not a higher form of organization, but first and foremost a substitute (Notbehelf), arising out of the absence of political organizations.” (Page 68)

Let us grant that this is true in connection with Russia. But then, why have Soviets sprung up in Germany? Ought one not absolutely to repudiate them in the Ebert Republic? We note, however, that Hilferding, the nearest sympathizer of Kautsky, proposes to include the Soviets in the Constitution. Kautsky is silent.

The estimate of Soviets as a “primitive” organization is true to the extent that the open revolutionary struggle is more “primitive” than parliamentarism. But the artificial complexity of the latter embraces only the upper strata, insignificant in their size. On the other hand, revolution is only possible where the masses have their vital interests at stake. The November Revolution raised on to their feet such deep layers as the pre-revolutionary social democracy could not even dream of. However wide were the organizations of the party and the trade unions in Germany, the revolution immediately proved incomparably wider than they. The revolutionary masses found their direct representation in the most simple and generally comprehensive delegate organization – in the Soviet. One may admit that the Council of Deputies falls behind both the party and the trade union in the sense of the clearness of its Programme, or the exactness of its organization. But it is far and away in front of the party and the trade unions in the size of the masses drawn by it into the organized struggle; and this superiority in quality gives the Soviet undeniable revolutionary preponderance.

The Soviet embraces workers of all undertakings, of all professions, of all stages of cultural development, all stages of political consciousness – and thereby objectively is forced to formulate the general interests of the proletariat.

The Communist Manifesto viewed the problem of the Communist just in this sense – namely, the formulating of the general historical interests of the working class as a whole.

“The Communists are only distinguished from other proletarian parties,” in the words of the Manifesto, “by this: that in the different national struggles of the proletariat they point out, and bring to the fore, the common interests of the proletariat, independently of nationality; and again that, in the different stages of evolution through which the struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie passes, they constantly represent the interests of the movement taken as a whole.”

In the form of the all-embracing class organization of the Soviets, the movement takes itself “as a whole.” Hence it is clear why the Communists could and had to become the guiding party in the Soviets. But hence also is seen all the narrowness of the estimate of Soviets as “substitutes for the party” (Kautsky), and all the stupidity of the attempt to include the Soviets, in the form of an auxiliary lever, in the mechanism of bourgeois democracy. (Hilferding)

The Soviets are the organization of the proletarian revolution, and have purpose either as an organ of the struggle for power or as the apparatus of power of the working class.

Unable to grasp the revolutionary role of the Soviets, Kautsky sees their root defects in that which constitutes their greatest merit. “The demarcation of the bourgeois from the worker,” he writes, “can never be actually drawn. There will always be something arbitrary in such demarcation, which fact transforms the Soviet idea into a particularly suitable foundation for dictatorial and arbitrary rule, but renders it unfitted for the creation of a clear, systematically built-up constitution.” (Page 170)

Class dictatorship, according to Kautsky, cannot create for itself institutions answering to its nature, because there do not exist lines of demarcation between the classes. But in that case, what happens to the class struggle altogether? Surely it was just, in the existence of numerous transitional stages between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, that the lower middle-class theoreticians always found their principal argument against the “principle” of the class struggle? For Kautsky, however, doubts as to principle begin just at the point where the proletariat, having overcome the shapelessness and unsteadiness of the intermediate class, having brought one part of them over to its side and thrown the remainder into the camp of the bourgeoisie, has actually organized its dictatorship in the Soviet Constitution.

The very reason why the Soviets are absolutely irreplaceable apparatus in the proletarian State is that their framework is elastic and yielding, with the result that not only social but political changes in the relationship of classes and sections can immediately find their expression in the Soviet apparatus. Beginning with the largest factories and works, the Soviets then draw into their organization the workers of private workshops and shop-assistants, proceed to enter the village, organize the peasants against the landowners, and finally the lower and middle-class sections of the peasantry against the richest.

The Labor State collects numerous staffs of employees, to a considerable extent from the ranks of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois educated classes. To the extent that they become disciplined under the Soviet regime, they find representation in the Soviet system. Expanding – and at certain moments contracting – in harmony with the expansion and contraction of the social positions conquered by the proletariat, the Soviet system remains the State apparatus of the social revolution, in its internal dynamics, its ebbs and flows, its mistakes and successes. With the final triumph of the social revolution, the Soviet system will expand and include the whole population, in order thereby to lose the characteristics of a form of State, and melt away into a mighty system of producing and consuming co-operation.

If the party and the trade unions were organizations of preparation for the revolution, the Soviets are the weapon of the revolution itself. After its victory, the Soviets become the organs of power. The role of the party and the unions, without decreasing is nevertheless essentially altered.

In the hands of the party is concentrated the general control. It does not immediately administer, since its apparatus is not adapted for this purpose. But it has the final word in all fundamental questions. Further, our practice has led to the result that, in all moot questions, generally – conflicts between departments and personal conflicts within departments – the last word belongs to the Central Committee of the party. This affords extreme economy of time and energy. and in the most difficult and complicated circumstances gives a guarantee for the necessary unity of action. Such a regime is possible only in the presence of the unquestioned authority of the party, and the faultlessness of its discipline. Happily for the revolution, our party does possess in an equal measure both of these qualities. Whether in other countries which have not received from their past a strong revolutionary organization, with a great hardening in conflict, there will be created just as authoritative a Communist Party by the time of the proletarian revolution, it is difficult to foretell; but it is quite obvious that on this question, to a very large extent, depends the progress of the Socialist revolution in each country.

The exclusive role of the Communist Party under the conditions of a victorious proletarian revolution is quite comprehensible. The question is of the dictatorship of a class. In the composition of that class there enter various elements, heterogeneous moods, different levels of development. Yet the dictatorship pre-supposes unity of will, unity of direction, unity of action. By what other path then can it be attained? The revolutionary supremacy of the proletariat pre-supposes within the proletariat itself the political supremacy of a party, with a clear programme of action and a faultless internal discipline.

The policy of coalitions contradicts internally the regime of the revolutionary dictatorship. We have in view, not coalitions with bourgeois parties, of which of course there can be no talk, but a coalition of Communists with other “Socialist” organizations, representing different stages of backwardness and prejudice-of the laboring masses.

The revolution swiftly reveals all that is unstable, wears out all that is artificial; the contradictions glozed over in a coalition are swiftly revealed under the pressure of revolutionary events. We have had an example of this in Hungary, where the dictatorship of the proletariat assumed the political form of the coalition of the Communists with disguised Opportunists. The coalition soon broke up. The Communist Party paid heavily for the revolutionary instability and the political treachery of its companions. it is quite obvious that for the Hungarian Communists it would have been more profitable to have come to power later, after having afforded to the Left Opportunists the possibility of compromising themselves once and for all. It is quite another question as to how far this was possible. In any case, a coalition with the Opportunists, only temporarily hiding the relative weakness of the Hungarian Communists, at the same time prevented them from growing stronger at the expense of the Opportunists; and brought them to disaster.

The same idea is sufficiently illustrated by the example of the Russian revolution. The coalition of the Bolsheviks with the Left Socialist Revolutionists, which lasted for several months, ended with a bloody conflict. True, the reckoning for the coalition had to be paid, not so much by us Communists as by our disloyal companions. Apparently, such a coalition, in which we were the stronger side and, therefore, were not taking too many risks in the attempt, at one definite stage in history, to make use of the extreme Left-wing of the bourgeois democracy, tactically must be completely justified. But, none the less, the Left SR episode quite clearly shows that the regime of compromises, agreements, mutual concessions – for that is the meaning of the regime of coalition – cannot last long in an epoch in which situations alter with extreme rapidity, and in which supreme unity in point of view is necessary in order to render possible unity of action.

We have more than once been accused of having substituted for the dictatorship of the Soviets the dictatorship of our party. Yet it can be said with complete justice that the dictatorship of the Soviets became possible only by means of the dictatorship of the party. It is thanks to the clarity of its theoretical vision and its strong revolutionary organization that the party has afforded to the Soviets the possibility of becoming transformed from shapeless parliaments of labor into the apparatus of the supremacy of labor. In this “substitution” of the power of the party for the power of the working class there is nothing accidental, and in reality there is no substitution at all. The Communists express the fundamental interests of the working class. It is quite natural that, in the period in which history brings up those interests, in all their magnitude, on to the order of the day, the Communists have become the recognized representatives of the working class as a whole.

But where is your guarantee, certain wise men ask us, that it is just your party that expresses the interests of historical development? Destroying or driving underground the other parties, you have thereby prevented their political competition with you, and consequently you have deprived yourselves of the possibility of testing your line of action.

This idea is dictated by a purely liberal conception of the course of the revolution. In a period in which all antagonisms assume an open character, and the political struggle swiftly passes into a civil war, the ruling party has sufficient material standard by which to test its line of action, without the possible circulation of Menshevik papers. Noske crushes the Communists, but they grow. We have suppressed the Mensheviks and the SRs – and they have disappeared. This criterion is sufficient for us. At all events, our problem is not at every given moment statistically to measure the grouping of tendencies; but to render victory for our tendency secure. For that tendency is the tendency of the revolutionary dictatorship; and in the course of the latter, in its internal friction, we must find a sufficient criterion for self-examination.

The continuous “independence” of the trade union movement, in the period of the proletarian revolution, is just as much an impossibility as the policy of coalition. The trade unions become the most important economic organs of the proletariat in power. Thereby they fall under the leadership of the Communist Party. Not only questions of principle in the trade union movement, but serious conflicts of organization within it, are decided by the Central Committee of our party.

The Kautskians attack the Soviet Government as the dictatorship of a “section” of the working class. “If only,” they say, “the dictatorship was carried out by the whole class!” It is not easy to understand what actually they imagine when they say this. The dictatorship of the proletariat, in its very essence, signifies the immediate supremacy of the revolutionary vanguard, which relies upon the heavy masses, and, where necessary, obliges the backward tail to dress by the head. This refers also to the trade unions. After the conquest of power by the proletariat, they acquire a compulsory character. They must include all industrial workers. The party, on the other hand, as before, includes in its ranks only the most class-conscious and devoted; and only in a process of careful selection does it widen its ranks. Hence follows the guiding role of the Communist minority in the trade unions, which answers to the supremacy of the Communist Party in the Soviets, and represents the political expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The trade unions become the direct organizers of social production. They express not only the interests of the industrial workers, but the interests of industry itself. During the first period, the old currents in trade unionism more than once raised their head, urging the unions to haggle with the Soviet State, lay down conditions for it, and demand from it guarantees. The further we go, however, the more do the unions recognize that they are organs of production of the Soviet State, and assume responsibility for its fortunes – not opposing themselves to it, but identifying themselves with it. The unions become the organizers of labor discipline. They demand from the workers intensive labor under the most difficult conditions, to the extent that the Labor State is not yet able to alter those conditions.

The unions become the apparatus of revolutionary repression against undisciplined, anarchical, parasitic elements in the working class. From the old policy of trade unionism, which at a certain stage is inseparable from the industrial movement within the framework of capitalist society, the unions pass along the whole line on to the new path of the policy of revolutionary Communism.

The Peasant Policy

The Bolsheviks “hoped,” Kautsky thunders, “to overcome the substantial peasants in the villages by granting political rights exclusively to the poorest peasants. They then again granted representation to the substantial peasantry.” (Page 216)

Kautsky enumerates the external “contradictions” of our peasant policy, not dreaming to inquire into its general direction, and into the internal contradictions visible in the economic and political situation of the country.

In the Russian peasantry as it entered the Soviet order there were three elements: the poor, living to a considerable extent by the sale of their labor-power, and forced to buy additional food for their requirements; the middle peasants, whose requirements were covered by the products of their farms, and who were able to a limited extent to sell their surplus; and the upper layer – i.e., the rich peasants, the vulture (kulak) class, which systematically bought labor-power and sold their agricultural produce on a large scale. It is quite unnecessary to point out that these groups are not distinguished by definite symptoms or by homogeneousness throughout the country.

Still, on the whole, and generally speaking, the peasant poor represented the natural and undeniable allies of the town proletariat, whilst the vulture class represented its just as undeniable and irreconcilable enemies. The most hesitation was principally to be observed amongst the widest, the middle section of the peasantry.

Had not the country been so exhausted, and if the proletariat had had the possibility of offering to the peasant masses the necessary quantity of commodities and cultural requirements, the adaptation of the toiling majority of the peasantry to the new regime would have taken place much less painfully. But the economic disorder of the country, which was not the result of our land or food policy, but was generated by the causes which preceded the appearance of that policy, robbed the town for a prolonged period of any possibility of giving the village the products of the textile and metal-working industries, imported goods, and so on. At the same time, industry could not entirely cease drawing from the village all, albeit the smallest quantity, of its food resources. The proletariat demanded of the peasantry the granting of food credits, economic subsidies in respect of values which it is only now about to create. The symbol of those future values was the credit symbol, now finally deprived of all value. But the peasant mass is not very capable of historical detachment. Bound up with the Soviet Government by the abolition of landlordism, and seeing in it a guarantee against the restoration of Tsarism, the peasantry at the same time not infrequently opposes the collection of corn, considering it a bad bargain so long as it does not itself receive printed calico, nails, and kerosene.

The Soviet Government naturally strove to impose the chief weight of the food tax upon the upper strata of the village. But, in the unformed social conditions of the village, the influential peasantry, accustomed to lead the middle peasants in its train, found scores of methods of passing on the food tax from itself to the wide masses of the peasantry, thereby placing them in a position of hostility and opposition to the Soviet power. It was necessary to awaken in the lower ranks of the peasantry suspicion and hostility towards the speculating upper strata. This purpose was served by the Committees of Poverty. They were built up of the rank and file, of elements who in the last epoch were oppressed, driven into a dark corner, deprived of their rights. Of course, in their midst there turned out to be a certain number of semi-parasitic elements. This served as the chief text for the demagogues amongst the populist “Socialists,” whose speeches found a grateful echo in the hearts of the village vultures. But the mere fact of the transference of power to the village poor had an immeasurable revolutionary significance. For the guidance of the village, semi-proletarians there were dispatched from the towns’ parties from amongst the foremost workers, who accomplished invaluable work in the villages. The Committees of Poverty became shock battalions against the vulture class. Enjoying the support of the State, they thereby obliged the middle section of the peasantry to choose, not only between the Soviet power and the power of the landlords, but between the dictatorship of the proletariat and the semi-proletarian elements of the village on the one hand, and the yoke of the rich speculators on the other. By a series of lessons, some of which were very severe, the middle peasantry was obliged to become convinced that the Soviet regime, which had driven away the landlords and bailiffs, in its turn imposes new duties upon the peasantry, and demands sacrifices from them. The political education of tens of millions of the middle peasantry did not take place as easily and smoothly as in the school-room, and it did not give immediate and unquestionable results. There were risings of the middle peasants, uniting with the speculators, and always in such cases falling under the leadership of White Guard landlords; there were abuses committed by local agents of the Soviet Government, particularly by those of the Committees of Poverty. But the fundamental political end was attained. The powerful class of rich peasantry, if it was not finally annihilated, proved to be shaken to its foundations, with its self-reliance undermined. The middle peasantry, remaining politically shapeless, just as it is economically shapeless, began to learn to find its representative in the foremost worker, as before it found it in the noisy village speculator. Once this fundamental result was achieved, the Committees of Poverty, as temporary institutions, as a sharp wedge driven into the village masses, had to yield their place to the Soviets, in which the village poor are represented side by side with the middle peasantry.

The Committees of Poverty existed about six months, from June to December, 1918. In their institution, as in their abolition, Kautsky sees nothing but the “waverings” of Soviet policy. Yet at the same time he himself has not even a suspicion of any practical lessons to be drawn. And after all, how should he think of them? Experience such as we are acquiring in this respect knows no precedent; and questions and problems such as the Soviet Government is now solving in practice have no solution in books. What Kautsky calls contradictions in policy are, in reality, the active maneuvering of the proletariat in the spongy, undivided, peasant mass. The sailing ship has to maneuver before the wind; yet no one will see contradictions in the maneuvers which finally bring the ship to harbor.

In questions as to agricultural communes and Soviet farms, there could also be found not a few “contradictions,” in which, side by side with individual mistakes, there are expressed various stages of the revolution. What quantity of land shall the Soviet State leave for itself in the Ukraine, and what quantity shall it hand over to the peasants; what policy shall it lay down for the agricultural communes; in what form shall it give them support, so as not to make them the nursery for parasitism; in what form is control to be organized over them – all these are absolutely new problems of Socialist economic construction, which have been settled beforehand neither theoretically nor practically, and in the settling of which the general principles of our programme have even yet to find their actual application and their testing in practice, by means of inevitable temporary deviations to right or left.

But even the very fact that the Russian proletariat has found support in the peasantry Kautsky turns against us. “This has introduced into the Soviet regime an economically reactionary element which was spared (!) the Paris Commune, as its dictatorship did not rely on peasant Soviets.”

As if in reality we could accept the heritage of the feudal and bourgeois order with the possibility of excluding from it at will “an economically reactionary element”! Nor is this all. Having poisoned the Soviet regime by its “reactionary element,” the peasantry has deprived us of its support. Today it “hates” the Bolsheviks. All this Kautsky knows very certainly from the radios of Clémenceau and the squibs of the Mensheviks.

In reality, what is true is that wide masses of the peasantry are suffering from the absence of the essential products of industry. But it is just as true that every other regime – and there were not a few of them, in various parts of Russia, during the last three years – proved infinitely more oppressive for the shoulders of the peasantry. Neither monarchical nor democratic governments were able to increase their stores of manufactured goods. Both of them found themselves in need of the peasant’s corn and the peasant’s horses. To carry out their policy, the bourgeois governments – including the Kautskian-Menshevik variety – made use of a purely bureaucratic apparatus, which reckons with the requirements of the peasant’s farm to an infinitely less degree than the Soviet apparatus, which consists of workers and peasants. As a result, the middle peasant, in spite of his waverings, his dissatisfaction, and even his risings, ultimately always comes to the conclusion that, however difficult it is for him at present under the Bolsheviks, under every other regime it would be infinitely more difficult for him. It is quite true that the Commune was “spared” peasant support. But in return the Commune was not spared annihilation by the peasant armies of Thiers, whereas our army, four-fifths of whom are peasants, is fighting with enthusiasm and with success for the Soviet Republic. And this one fact, controverting Kautsky and those inspiring him, gives the best possible verdict on the peasant policy of the Soviet Government.

The Soviet Government and the Experts

“The Bolsheviks at first thought they could manage without the intelligentsia, without the experts,” Kautsky narrates to us. (Page 191) But then, becoming convinced of the necessity of the intelligentsia, they abandoned their severe repressions, and attempted to attract them to work by all sorts of measures, incidentally by giving them extremely high salaries. “In this way,” Kautsky says ironically, “the true path, the true method of attracting experts consists in first of all giving them a thorough good hiding.” ( Page 192) Quite so. With all due respect to all philistines, the dictatorship of the proletariat does just consist in “giving a hiding” to the classes that were previously supreme, before forcing them to recognize the new order and to submit to it.

The professional intelligentsia, brought up with a prejudice about the omnipotence of the bourgeoisie, long would not, could not, and did not believe that the working class is really capable of governing the country; that it seized power not by accident; and that the dictatorship of the proletariat is an insurmountable fact. Consequently, the bourgeois intelligentsia treated its duties to the Labor State extremely lightly, even when it entered its service; and it considered that to receive money from Wilson, Clémenceau or Mirbach for anti-Soviet agitation, or to hand over military secrets and technical resources to White Guards and foreign imperialists, is a quite natural and obvious course under the regime of the proletariat. It became necessary to show it in practice, and to show it severely, that the proletariat had not seized power in order to allow such jokes to be played off at its expense.

In the severe penalties adopted in the case of the intelligentsia, our bourgeois idealist sees the “consequence of a policy which strove to attract the educated classes, not by means of persuasion, but by means of kicks from before and behind.” (Page 193) In this way, Kautsky seriously imagines that it is possible to attract the bourgeois intelligentsia to the work of Socialist construction by means of mere persuasion – and this in conditions when, in all other countries, there is still supreme the bourgeoisie which hesitates at no methods of terrifying, flattering, or buying over the Russian intelligentsia and making it a weapon for the transformation of Russia into a colony of slaves.

Instead of analyzing the course of the struggle, Kautsky, when dealing with the intelligentsia, gives once again merely academic recipes. It is absolutely false that our party had the idea of managing without the intelligentsia, not realizing to the full its importance for the economic and cultural work that lay before us. On the contrary. When the struggle for the conquest and consolidation of power was in full blast, and the majority of the intelligentsia was playing the part of a shock battalion of the bourgeoisie, fighting against us openly or sabotaging our institutions, the Soviet power fought mercilessly with the experts, precisely because it knew their enormous importance from the point of view of organization so long as they do not attempt to carry on an independent “democratic” policy and execute the orders of one of the fundamental classes of society. Only after the opposition of the intelligentsia had been broken by a severe struggle did the possibility open before us of enlisting the assistance of the experts. We immediately entered that path. It proved not as simple as it might have seemed at first. The relations which existed under capitalist conditions between the working man and the director, the clerk and the manager, the soldier and the officer, left behind a very deep class distrust of the experts; and that distrust had become still more acute during the first period of the civil war, when the intelligentsia did its utmost to break the labor revolution by hunger and cold. It was not easy to outlive this frame of mind, and to pass from the first violent antagonism to peaceful collaboration. The laboring masses had gradually to become accustomed to see in the engineer, the agricultural expert, the officer, not the oppressor of yesterday but the useful worker of today – a necessary expert, entirely under the orders of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government.

We have already said that Kautsky is wrong when he attributes to the Soviet Government the desire to replace experts by proletarians. But that such a desire was bound to spring up in wide circles of the proletariat cannot be denied. A young class which had proved to its own satisfaction that it was capable of overcoming the greatest obstacles in its path, which had torn to pieces the veil of mystery which had hitherto surrounded the power of the propertied classes, which had realized that all good things on the earth were not the direct gift of heaven – that a revolutionary class was naturally inclined, in the person of the less mature of its elements, at first to over-estimate its capacity for solving each and every problem, without having recourse to the aid of experts educated by the bourgeoisie.

It was not merely yesterday that we began the struggle with such tendencies, in so far as they assumed a definite character.

“Today, when the power of the Soviets has been set on a firm footing,” we said at the Moscow City Conference on March 28, 1918, “the struggle with sabotage must express itself in the form of transforming the saboteurs of yesterday into the servants, executive officials, technical guides, of the new regime, wherever it requires them. If we do not grapple with this, if we do not attract all the forces necessary to us and enlist them in the Soviet service, our struggle of yesterday with sabotage would thereby be condemned as an absolutely vain and fruitless struggle.

“Just as in dead machines, so into those technical experts. engineers, doctors, teachers, former officers, there is sunk a certain portion of our national capital, which we are obliged to exploit and utilize if we want to solve the root problems standing before us.

“Democratization does not at all consist – as every Marxist learns in his ABC – in abolishing the meaning of skilled forces, the meaning of persons possessing special knowledge, and in replacing them everywhere and anywhere by elective boards.

“Elective boards, consisting of the best representatives of the working class, but not equipped with the necessary technical knowledge, cannot replace one expert who has passed through the technical school, and who knows how to carry out the given technical work. That flood-tide of the collegiate principle which is at present to be observed in all spheres is the quite natural reaction of a young, revolutionary, only yesterday oppressed class, which is throwing out the one-man principle of its rulers of yesterday – the landlords and the generals – and everywhere is appointing its elected representatives. This, I say, is quite a natural and, in its origin, quite a healthy revolutionary reaction; but it is not the last word in the economic constructive work of the proletarian class.

“The next step must consist in the self-limitation of the collegiate principle, in a healthy and necessary act of self-limitation by the working class, which knows where the decisive word can be spoken by the elected representatives of the workers themselves, and where it is necessary to give way to a technical specialist, who is equipped with certain knowledge, on whom a great measure of responsibility must be laid, and who must be kept under careful political control. But it is necessary to allow the expert freedom to act, freedom to create; because no expert, be he ever so little gifted or capable, can work in his department when subordinate in his own technical work to a board of men who do not know that department. Political, collegiate and Soviet control everywhere and anywhere; but for the executive functions, we must appoint technical experts, put them in responsible positions, and impose responsibility upon them.

“Those who fear this are quite unconsciously adopting an attitude of profound internal distrust towards the Soviet regime. Those who think that the enlisting of the saboteurs of yesterday in the administration of technically expert posts threatens the very foundations of the Soviet regime, do not realize that it is not through the work of some engineer or of some general of yesterday that the Soviet regime may stumble – In the political, in the revolutionary, in the military sense, the Soviet regime is unconquerable. But it may stumble through its own incapacity to grapple with the problems of creative organization. The Soviet regime is bound to draw from the old institutions all that was vital and valuable in them, and harness it on to the new work. If, comrades, we do not accomplish this, we shall not deal successfully with our principal problems; for it would be absolutely impossible for us to bring forth from our masses, in the shortest possible time, all the necessary experts, and throw aside all that was accumulated in the past.

“As a matter of fact, it would be just the same as if we said that all the machines which hitherto had served to exploit the workers were now to be thrown aside. It would be madness. The enlisting of scientific experts is for us just as essential as the administration of the resources of production and transport, and all the wealth of the country generally. We must, and in addition we must immediately, bring under our control all the technical experts we possess, and introduce in practice for them the principle of compulsory labor; at the same time leaving them a wide margin of activity, and maintaining over them careful political control.” [Labor, Discipline, and Order Will Save the Socialist Soviet Republic (Moscow 1918). Kaustky knows this pamphlet, as he quotes from it several times. This, however, does not prevent him passing over the passage quoted above, which makes clear the attitude of the Soviet Government to the ntelligentsia.]

The question of experts was particularly acute, from the very beginning, in the War Department. Here, under the pressure of iron necessity, it was solved first.

In the sphere of administration of industry and transport, the necessary forms of organization are very far from being attained, even to this day. We must seek the reason in the fact that during the first two years we were obliged to sacrifice the interests of industry and transport to the requirements of military defence. The extremely changeable course of the civil war, in its turn, threw obstacles in the way of the establishment of regular relations with the experts. Qualified technicians of industry and transport, doctors, teachers, professors, either went away with the retreating armies of Kolchak and Denikin, or were compulsorily evacuated by them.

Only now, when the civil war is approaching its conclusion, is the intelligentsia in its mass making its peace with the Soviet Government, or bowing before it. Economic problems have acquired first-class importance. One of the most important amongst them is the problem of the scientific organization of production. Before the experts there opens a boundless field of activity. They are being accorded the independence necessary for creative work. The general control of industry on a national scale is concentrated in the hands of the Party of the proletariat.

The Internal Policy of the Soviet Government

“The Bolsheviks,” Kautsky mediates, “acquired the force necessary for the seizure of political power through the fact that, amongst the political parties in Russia, they were the most energetic in their demands for peace – peace at any price, a separate peace – without interesting themselves as to the influence this would have on the general international situation, as to whether this would assist the victory and world domination of the German military monarchy, under the protection of which they remained for a long time, just like Indian or Irish rebels or Italian anarchists.” (Page 53)

Of the reasons for our victory, Kautsky knows only the one that we stood for peace. He does not explain the Soviet Government has continued to exist now that it has again mobilized a most important proportion of the soldiers of the imperial army, in order for two years successfully to combat its political enemies.

The watchword of peace undoubtedly played an enormous part in our struggle; but precisely because it was directed against the imperialist war. The idea of peace was supported most strongly of all, not by the tired soldiers, but by the foremost workers, for whom it had the import, not for a rest, but of a pitiless struggle against the exploiters. It was those same workers who, under the watchword of peace, later laid down their lives on the Soviet fronts.

The affirmation that we demanded peace without reckoning on the effect it would have on the international situation is a belated echo of Cadet and Menshevik slanders. The comparison of us with the Germanophile nationalists of India and Ireland seeks its justification in the fact that German imperialism did actually attempt to make use of us as it did the Indians and the Irish. But the chauvinists of France spared no efforts to make use of Liebknecht and Luxemburg – even of Kautsky and Bernstein – in their own interests. The whole question is, did we allow ourselves to be utilized? Did we, by our conduct, give the European workers even the shadow of a ground to place us in the same category as German imperialism? It is sufficient to remember the course of the Brest negotiations [1], their breakdown, and the German advance of February, 1918, to reveal all the cynicism of Kautsky’s accusation. In reality, there was no peace for a single day between ourselves and German imperialism. On the Ukrainian and Caucasian fronts, we, in the measure of our then extremely feeble energies, continued to wage war without openly calling it such. We were too weak to organize war along the whole Russo-German front. We maintained persistently the fiction of peace, utilizing the fact that the chief German forces were drawn away to the west. If German imperialism did prove sufficiently powerful, in 1917-18, to impose upon us the Brest Peace, after all our efforts to tear that noose from our necks, one of the principal reasons was the disgraceful behavior of the German Social-Democratic Party, of which Kautsky remained an integral and essential part. The Brest Peace was pre-determined on August 4, 1914. At that moment, Kautsky not only did not declare war against German militarism, as he later demanded from the Soviet Government, which was in 1918 still powerless from a military point of view; Kautsky actually proposed voting for the War Credits, “under certain conditions”; and generally behaved in such a way that for months it was impossible to discover whether he stood for the War or against it. And this political coward, who at the decisive moment gave up the principal positions of Socialism, dares to accuse us of having found ourselves obliged, at a certain moment, to retreat – not in principle, but materially. And why? Because we were betrayed by the German Social Democracy, corrupted by Kautskianism – i.e., by political prostitution disguised by theories.

We did concern ourselves with the international situation! In reality, we had a much more profound criterion by which to judge the international situation; and it did not deceive us. Already before the February Revolution the Russian Army no longer existed as a fighting force. Its final collapse was pre-determined. If the February Revolution had not taken place, Tsarism would have come to an agreement with the German monarchy. But the February Revolution which prevented that finally destroyed the army built on a monarchist basis, precisely because it was a revolution. A month sooner or later the army was bound to fall to pieces. The military policy of Kerensky was the policy of an ostrich. He closed his eyes to the decomposition of the army, talked sounding phrases, and uttered verbal threats against German imperialism.

In such conditions, we had only one way out: to take our stand on the platform of peace, as the inevitable conclusion from the military powerlessness of the revolution, and to transform that watchword into the weapon of revolutionary influence on all the peoples of Europe. That is, instead of, together with Kerensky, peacefully awaiting the final military catastrophe – which might bury the revolution in its ruins – we proposed to take possession of the watchword of peace and to lead after it the proletariat of Europe – and first and foremost the workers of Austro-Germany. It was in the light of this view that we carried on our peace negotiations with the Central Empires, and it was in the light of this that we drew up our Notes to the governments of the Entente. We drew out the negotiations as long as we could, in order to give the European working masses the possibility of realizing the meaning of the Soviet Government and its policy. The January strike of 1918 in Germany and Austria showed that out efforts had not been in vain. That strike was the first serious premonition of the German Revolution. The German imperialists understood then that it was just we who represented for them a deadly danger. This is very strikingly shown in Ludendorff’s book. True, they could not risk any longer coming out against us in an open crusade. But wherever they could fight against us secretly deceiving the German workers with the help of the German Social-Democracy, they did so; in the Ukraine, on the Don, in the Caucasus. In Central Russia, in Moscow, Count Mirbach from the very first day of his arrival stood as the centre of counter-revolutionary plots against the Soviet Government – just as Comrade Yoffe in Berlin was in the closest possible touch with the revolution. The Extreme Left group of the German revolutionary movement, the party of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, all the time went hand in hand with us. The German revolution at once took on the form of Soviets, and the German proletariat, in spite of the Brest Peace, did not for a moment entertain any doubts as to whether we were with Liebknecht or Ludendorif. In his evidence before the Reichstag Commission in November, 1919, Ludendorff explained how “the High Command demanded the creation of an institution with the object of disclosing the connection of revolutionary tendencies in Germany with Russia. Yoffe arrived in Berlin, and in various towns there were set up Russian consulates. This had the most painful consequences in the army and navy.” Kautsky, however, has the audacity to write that “if matters did come to a German revolution, truly it is not the Bolsheviks who are responsible for it.” (Page 162)

Even if we had had the possibility in 1917-18, by means of revolutionary abstention, of supporting the old Imperial Army instead of hastening its destruction, we should have merely been assisting the Entente, and would have covered up by our aid its brigands’ peace with Germany, Austria, and all the countries of the world generally. With such a policy we should at the decisive moment have proved absolutely disarmed in the face of the Entente – still more disarmed than Germany is today. Whereas, thanks to the November Revolution and the Brest Peace we are today the only country which opposes the Entente rifle in hand. By our international policy, we not only did not assist the Hohenzollern to assume a position of world domination; on the contrary, by our November Revolution we did more than anyone else to prepare his overthrow. At the same time, we gained a military breathing-space, in the course of which we created a large and strong army, the first army of the proletariat in history, with which today not all the unleashed hounds of the Entente can cope.

The most critical moment in our international situation arose in the autumn of 1918, after the destruction of the German armies. In the place of two mighty camps, more or less neutralizing each other, there stood before us the victorious Entente, at the summit of its world power, and there lay broken Germany, whose Junker blackguards would have considered it a happiness and an honor to spring at the throat of the Russian proletariat for a bone from the kitchen of Clemenceau. We proposed peace to the Entente, and were again ready – for we were obliged – to sign the most painful conditions. But Clemenceau, in whose imperialist rapacity there have remained in their full force all the characteristics of lower-middle-class thick-headedness, refused the Junkers their bone, and at the same time decided at all costs to decorate the Invalides with the scalps of the leaders of the Soviet Republic. By this policy Clemenceau did us not a small service. We defended ourselves successfully, and held out.

What, then, was the guiding principle of our external policy, once the first months of existence of the Soviet Government had made clear the considerable vitality as yet of the capitalist governments of Europe? Just that which Kautsky accepts today uncomprehendingly as an accidental result – to hold out!

We realized too clearly that the very fact of the existence of the Soviet Government is an event of the greatest revolutionary importance; and this realization dictated to us our concessions and our temporary retirements – not in principle but in practical conclusions from a sober estimate of our own forces. We retreated like an army which gives up to the enemy a town, and even a fortress, in order, having retreated, to concentrate its forces not only for defence but for an advance. We retreated like strikers amongst whom today energies and resources have been exhausted, but who, clenching their teeth, are preparing for a new struggle. If we were not filled with an unconquerable belief in the world significance of the Soviet dictatorship, we should not have accepted the most painful sacrifices at Brest-Litovsk. If our faith had proved to be contradicted by the actual course of events, the Brest Peace would have gone down to history as the futile capitulation of a doomed regime. That is how the situation was judged then, not only by the Kiihlmanns but also by the Kautskies of all countries. But we proved right in our estimate, as of our weakness then, so of our strength in the future. The existence of the Ebert Republic, with its universal suffrage, its parliamentary swindling, its “freedom” of the Press, and its murder of labor leaders, is merely a necessary link in the historical chain of slavery and scoundrelism. The existence of the Soviet Government is a fact of immeasurable revolutionary significance. It was necessary to retain it, utilizing the conflict of the capitalist nations, the as yet unfinished imperialist war, the self-confident effrontery of the Hohenzollern bands, the thick-wittedness of the world-bourgeoisie as far as the fundamental questions of the revolution were concerned, the antagonism of America and Europe, the complication of relations within the Entente. We had to lead our yet unfinished Soviet ship over the stormy waves, amid rocks and reefs, completing its building and armament en route.

Kautsky has the audacity to repeat the accusation that we did not, at the beginning of 1918, hurl ourselves unarmed against our mighty foe. Had we done this we would have been crushed. The first great attempt of the proletariat to seize power would have suffered defeat. The revolutionary wing of the European proletariat would have been dealt the severest possible blow. The Entente would have made peace with the Hohenzollern over the corpse of the Russian Revolution, and the world capitalist reaction would have received a respite for a number of years. When Kautsky says that, concluding the Brest Peace, we did not think of its influence on the fate of the German Revolution, he is uttering a disgraceful slander. We considered the question from all sides, and our sole criterion was the interests of the international revolution.

We came to the conclusion that those interests demanded that the only Soviet Government in the world should be preserved. And we proved right. Whereas Kautsky awaited our fall, if not with impatience, at least with certainty; and on this expected fall built up his whole international policy.

The minutes of the session of the Coalition Government of November 19, 1918, published by the Bauer Ministry, run: – “First, a continuation of the discussion as to the relations of Germany and the Soviet Republic. Haase advises a policy of procrastination. Kautsky agrees with Haase: decision must be postponed. The Soviet Government will not last long. It will inevitably fail in the course of a few weeks.”

In this way, at the time when the situation of the Soviet Government was really extremely difficult – for the destruction of German militarism had given the Entente, it seemed, the full possibility of finishing with us “in the course of a few weeks” – at that moment Kautsky not only does not hasten to our aid, and even does not merely wash his hands of the whole affair; he participates in active treachery against revolutionary Russia. To aid Scheidemann in his role of watchdog of the bourgeoisie, instead of the “programme” role assigned to him of its “grave-digger,” Kautsky himself hastens to become the grave-digger of the Soviet Government. But the Soviet Government is alive. It will outlive all its grave-diggers.


1. The Vienna Abreiterzeitung opposes, as is fitting, the wise Russian Communist to the foolish Austrians. “Did not Trotsky,” the paper writes, “with a clear view and understanding of possibilities, sign the Brest-Litovsk peace of violence, notwithstanding that it served for the consolidation of German imperialism? The Brest Peace was just as harsh and shameful as is the Versailles Peace. But does this mean that Trotsky had to be rash enough to continue the war against Germany? Would not the fate of the Russian Revolution long ago have been sealed? Trotsky bowed before the unalterable necessity of signing the shameful treaty in anticipation of the German revolution.” The honor of having foreseen all the consequences of the Brest Peace belongs to Lenin. But this, of course, alters nothing in the argument of the organ of the Viennese Kautskians.

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Last updated on: 24.12.2006