N. Bukharin


The Political Prisoners

(5 May 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 32/33, 5 May 1922, pp. 246–247.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The capitalists have an excellent method of confusing the workers and keeping them under spiritual imprisonment. This method consists tn putting up slogans that are absolutely empty of content, and for this very reason they permit their makers to misuse them tn any way they choose.

The greatest lie of our times, the most despicable shame that is used to confuse the working-class is so-called “Democracy”. This “Democracy” is based upon “Freedom”. But the conception of freedom is an empty one if it does not expressly say which class this freedom is meant for. The same is true of all other ideological “fundamental conceptions” of the prostituted capitalist press, like “Civilization”, “Community”, etc. in its content, this civilization is the civilization of the ruling bourgeoisie; “Community” really means the association of profiteers and bankers, of landlords and speculators, of priests and courtesans of lieutenants and ministers. Ah, but these words sound “nice”. The bourgeoisie therefore takes full advantage of this. The united forces of the imperialist pirates are labelled “League of Nations” and the slaves’ brains are completely dazzled. The freedom of exploitation which is a capitalistic liberty is called “Freedom” in general, and the exploited are thus deceived. Unfortunately there exists under the capitalist system a fetishism of words. Words dominate the blind, who are incapable of seeing their backstair meaning. That is the reason why some of the simplest and clearest facts are as yet not understood by many.

In the mud-throwing campaign against Communism and Soviet Russia the question of the “political prisoners” plays a conspicuous part. We are asked, “Wherein lies your liberty You are keeping hundreds of prisoners under lock! You are murderers and hangmen! You are hypocrites when you demand of the other governments that they grant an amnesty to political prisoners, at the same time acting like these governments yourselves!”

But calm yourselves, gentlemen!

It not true that we demand a “ general amnesty ” for political prisoners. To put an example. In Germany, we do not ask that the murderers of Erzberger be freed. On the contrary, our German comrades demand the arrest of these “political criminals”. These murderers are freed not by Communists, but by the government of M. Horthy.

This small example is typical, and it is sufficient to open our eyes as to the real issue in question. The proletariat should effect the liberation of those who fight for its causes. On the other hand, the proletariat has the right to imprison those who are a menace to the proletarian movement.

Not one of the gentlemen from the 2 and 2½ Internationals dares to demand of us that we free the notorious arch-reactionaries, in spite of the fact that the imprisonment of these gentlemen also constitutes “an injury of their personal liberty. Why? Simply because such a demand would be a proof that the “humane” prosecutors are on the side of the bourgeoisie, body and soul.

But should these gentlemen not dare to defend their dear lady “Freedom for All without Exception”, they would then lose their position.

For it is clear that it is actual class-moments and not general platitudinous and empty phrases that are of value to us.

Now we come to the “second stage” of the method of argument and proof used by our enemies. They tell us: “We do not grudge you your counter-revolutionary generals. But in your prisons you also have Socialists! You have imprisoned men who had fought against Czarism for decades!”, etc.

Well, we shall answer your question, gentlemen. And it is very easy to prove that in this argument there is a fallacy and behind this fallacy there is treason.

Just a word or two.

Should the word “Socialist” be decisive for us or not? We know that in France, for instance, the leading imperialistic party calls itself not only Socialist, but even “Radical Socialist”. In Austria there are “Christian Socialists”. Count Keyserling also claims to be a Socialist. Not to mention Lensch who is a constant collaborator of the Stinnes Press and at the same time a Social Democrat, or Vandervelde, who is one of the signers of the Versailles “Peace” Treaty, or of Noske, Alexinsky and their like.

And as to the past merits and deserts? Ah, Gentlemen! Do you recall those who are now leading the bourgeoisie?

In France, Briand! Briand, the gendarme, who was once one of the first apostles of the revolutionary general-strike!

In Italy, Bonomi, was a member of the Socialist Party. Mussolini, the leader of the Fascisti, the professional murderer of the proletariat, is a former editor of Avanti, the central organ of the Socialist Party (!)!

In Russia, Bourtzeff and Savinkoff, former anti-Czarist terrorist, Alexinsky, the present Wrangelian, was a radical Social Democrat.

That suffices perhaps, to show that “ past deeds ” arc no argument for present respect. Every Marxist will understand that in a phase of development in which the question was one of fighting against Czarism, many people fought sincerely, for in place of Czarism they wanted a bourgeois democracy. But this does not at all meau, that they greet the liberation of the proletariat from the bourgeois republic. For the bourgeoisie is no particular devotee of the prleetarian dictatorship.

And now, speaking to the points:

With us in Russia, the Socialist Revolutionaries are germs of the “Radical Socialist ” Party à la France. They are in favor of the armed struggle against the Soviet Power; they had a hand in almost all attempts against the Soviet power (including those of Yudenitch, Koltchak, Denikin, Wrangel and other generals); they have murdered our best comrades (Volodarsky, Uritzky); they have wounded Lenin; they have organized attempts against the lives of Trotzky and Zinoviev. They attempted to murder Lenin in the name of “Civilization”, of course! They entered into pacts with the French, the Germans, the Czechoslovaks and Americans; they received gold from all sides. Their present propaganda is chiefly an agitation for the rebellion of the Vendée against the revolutionary proletariat.

And then we are asked: Why don’t you set the anti-Czarist fighters at liberty? ...

And the Mensheviki? Firstly, they are in league with the Social Revolutionaries. They had also fought with arms against us not only in the October days, but even much later. It suffices to say that the Georgian Mensheviki furnished General Wrangel with 30,000 officers. Their method is just as cowardly and despicable as that of the S.R. They always have a “division of labor”. The gentle Martoff is radical and “not responsible” for the counter-revolution. This fact was effectively demonstrated at the Berlin International Conference, where Martoff and Dan sat with the 2½, and ex-minister Tseretelli with the Second International. But these “fine nuances” concern us very little.

The International Conference had for its goal the united front, which it was to organize up against capital, and in no way to aid capital to break up Soviet Russia. And it is not only the right but also the duty of the first proletarian state to beat back every attempt at its life with all the force at its disposal. That is not particularly priestly-humane, English-hypocritical, or democratically-free But it is practical and necessary from the point of view of the struggling proletarian revolution.

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