Source: Published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/472-toward-the-united-front), pp. 479-501
Translation: Translation by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.
As you all know, we will not adopt any definitive programme at this congress, because many parties have not yet taken a position on this question. Even the Russian party has not yet discussed the draft that I am to present to you. For that reason, most of the delegations believe it to be more expedient not to adopt a definitive programme at this congress, but rather to only discuss the programme and then adopt it at the next congress. But the fact that we are daring to place a question as weighty as that of the programme on the agenda for discussion at a world congress is a sign of our rapid growth. The very fact that we are taking up this question today enables us to say confidently and with a clear conscience that the Communist International will resolve this problem. Meanwhile, in the camp of our opponents, the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals, complete theoretical impotence reigns.
Clara Zetkin: Very true!
Bukharin: The first of the many questions that I will address concerns the basic theoretical questions regarding programme in the prewar Second International. I will present the thesis that the collapse of the Second International during the war has very deep theoretical roots in its prewar programmatic foundations. Generally speaking, we can identify three main phases in Marxism, its ideology, and its ideological structure. The first was the Marxism of Marx and Engels themselves. Then came the second phase, the Marxism of the Second International, of the epigones.
And now we have Marxism’s third phase, Bolshevik or Communist Marxism, which to a significant extent goes back to the original Marxism of Marx and Engels.
This original Marxism was itself the child of the 1848 revolution, and this gave it a highly revolutionary spirit, resulting from its birth at a time when all Europe was shaking and the proletariat stepped on the stage of world history.
Then we entered a new period, in which there was an ideological turn. This entire historical evolution shows us again something that we find in the history of almost all ideologies. An ideology born under certain conditions takes on a new face and a new form when these conditions change. So it was with Marxism. After the revolutionary epoch in Europe in the middle of the last century, we had an entirely different period in the capitalist system’s development, marked by the enormous expansion of capitalist territories. Growth was based essentially on the bourgeoisie’s colonial policy, and the flowering of industry on the European continent was rooted mainly in the exploitation of colonial peoples.
This flowering, this prosperity of continental industry led to various social shifts among the European peoples. The economic position of the working class was strengthened. But during the same period capitalist development created a broad community of interests between the bourgeoisie and the continental working class. This fact, this community of interests between the bourgeoisie and proletariat in the continent of Europe provided the basis for a highly significant psychological and ideological shift inside the working class and, of course, among the socialist parties.
Then came the second phase in the development of Marxism, namely that of Social Democratic Marxism, often called the Marxism of the Marxist epigones. The battle between the so-called orthodox current and the reformist current, the famous quarrel between what was termed orthodox and revisionist Social Democracy, personified by Kautsky on one side and Eduard Bernstein on the other, was said to be an apparent victory of orthodox Marxism. But when we examine this whole story in retrospect, what we see is the total capitulation of ‘orthodox’ before revisionist Marxism.
I would say that in this controversy, this quarrel, which arose long before the World War, the so-called orthodox Marxism, that of Karl Kautsky, capitulated to revisionism in the most important theoretical questions. Earlier we did not see this. But now we see it very clearly, and we also understand very well why it is so.
Let us take, for example, the theory of immiseration. As you all know, Kautsky’s Marxism gave a milder expression to this concept than it received from Marx himself. It was claimed that in the epoch of capitalist development the position of the working class worsened relatively. The inherent law of capitalist development is said to consist of the fact that working class conditions improve, but that they worsen relative to those of the bourgeoisie. That is how Kautsky justified this supposed thesis of Marxism in face of Bernstein’s attack.
I believe Kautsky’s assertion is incorrect, and that his theoretical position was based on the actual empirical conditions of the European and American working class. In Marxist theory, however, Marx analysed capitalist society in the abstract and held that the inherent law of capitalist development leads to a worsening position of the working class. And what did Kautsky’s Marxism do? It understood ‘working class’ to refer exclusively to the continental working class. The position of these layers of the proletariat grew better and better, but Kautsky’s Marxism overlooked the fact that this improvement was achieved at a cost of the destruction and pillage of the colonial peoples. Marx considered capitalist society as a whole. If we wish to be more specific than Marx, we should consider not only the American-European realm but the world economy as a whole. Then we would get an entirely different theoretical picture than that of Kautsky and his friends. Kautsky’s thesis was therefore theoretically false. It was a capitulation to the attack of revisionism.
Take another question, that of the theory of collapse and the uprising of the proletariat. The theory of catastrophe, of collapse, was also greatly weakened by Kautsky in his controversy with the revisionists. As for the revolution, which results from collapse, in most of the revolutionary writings of Kautsky such as his Weg zur Macht [Road to Power], we find even in these writings many quite laughable passages – opportunism driven to the point of absurdity. Take for example various statements in Soziale Revolution regarding the general strike, where Kautsky holds that if we are capable of making the revolution, we will need no general strike, and if not – we still do not need one. What does that mean? It means utter opportunism, of which we had previously not taken sufficient note, but which we now see quite clearly.
Take the third theoretical question, the theory of the state. I must speak on this at greater length. At the beginning of the war, we too held that Kautskyism had suddenly abandoned its own theory. That’s what we thought and that’s what we wrote. But it is not true. Today we can quite confidently say that our statements were wrong. Quite the contrary: the so-called betrayal of the Social Democrats and Kautskyists was based on the theory that they had advanced even before the war. What did they say regarding the state and the conquest of political power by the proletariat? They presented things as if it was a matter of some object that could be handed over by one class to another. That was Kautsky’s conception.
Let us take the example of the imperialist war. If we view the state as a unified instrument, which is held by one agent and then, in a different epoch, by another agent – that is, as something almost neutral – than it is entirely understandable that when war breaks out, the proletariat, which has the perspective of taking over this state, must protect it. During the World War, defence of the state was brought to the forefront. This was consistently thought through, and for Kautsky to propose and approve national defence was merely a logical deduction from this theory.
The same is true regarding the dictatorship of the proletariat. Even in his debate with the revisionists, Kautsky never developed this concept. He devoted hardly a word during the controversy to this most important of problems. He said roughly: this question will be worked out by future generations. That is how he presented the matter.
Comrades, let us survey all these logical trains of thought and try to discover their sociological equivalent. We can only conclude that the supposed Marxist ideology we have here is rooted in the aristocratic position of the layers of the workers on the continent whose improved conditions were bought through the plunder of workers in the colonies. This thesis regarding the social roots of Kautskyism has in reality been admitted by the theorists of the Second International. These people have become so insolent that they now believe they can discard their masks. In his book on programme, Kautsky directly addresses this diagnosis and sees no reason to fault it:
The proletariat is not inherently homogenous. We have already noted that it is divided into two layers. One layer, favoured by special economic conditions or legislation, builds strong organisations and is thus able to safeguard its interests effectively. This is the ascending sector of the proletariat, its ‘aristocracy’, which is able to resist successfully capitalism’s tendency to press it down. This goes so far that its struggle against capitalism is directed not against poverty but rather toward achieving power.
So the struggle against poverty is counterposed to the struggle for power. That certainly is a prize ‘Marxist’ formulation! And he continues:
Next to these well-disciplined, educated, and battle-ready detachments (he means, ready to lick the generals’ boots) there is a large army of those who are subjected to unfavourable conditions (you see, he cannot deny their existence) who are not yet able to organise and counteract capitalism’s tendency to drive them downwards. They remain in poverty, often sinking deeper and deeper into the mire.
Kautsky then tries to identify the tactical differences between him and us – the Communist International, which is based not on the workers’ aristocracy but on the most oppressed layers. He comes up with the following analysis of the tactical courses:
Thanks to its ignorance and inexperience, this layer readily becomes the prey all demagogues (that is, the Communists!). Intentionally or thoughtlessly (that’s his ‘sociological analysis’) they induce this layer to swallow glittering promises. They lead them in struggle against the educated and long-organised forces, who are accustomed to follow a sure path and undertake at each moment only the tasks for which their abilities and strength are sufficient.
And so on.
There is a novel by Jack London called The Iron Heel. London may not have been a very good Marxist, but he did grasp very well the problem of the modern workers’ movement. He understood very well that the bourgeoisie has not only attempted but indeed succeeded in dividing the working class into two sectors. It corrupts one of these sectors, the educated, skilled workers, and then makes use of this worker aristocracy to crush any working-class uprising. But what Jack London portrays very well from the point of view of the workers, the Second International’s theoreticians do not understand. They utilise this tragedy of the working class, its inner division, to support bourgeois society. That is the function of Social Democracy. Now, after many years of war and revolution, we see how brazen these people are in themselves portraying this filth and giving it theoretical justification. The sociological foundations of Kautsky’s Marxism could not be clearer. If we now examine the questions of which I have spoken in the manner in which they find expression in the theories of the Second International, we receive an even clearer picture.
Reviewing Kautsky’s recent writings, particularly his most recent book, we find not a single word about the theory of immiseration. This is incredible. At a time when this tendency of capitalism stands there before our eyes in all its nakedness, when everything is so intensified, when all the masks have been torn off, Kautsky has not a word to say on this most important question. But if we review not just Kautsky’s book but a few other works, we will discover the key to understanding this silence.
There is a book in Germany written for young people by a certain Abraham. This book is very widely distributed among young people, and I understand it has been translated into various languages. This Mr. Abraham insolently and cynically proposes the thesis, ‘Revisionism has rescued Marxism’. We do not need any Marxist theory, because Bernstein’s revisionism has rescued for the working class ‘the valid elements of Marxism’. That is his main thesis.
Turning his attention to an analysis of the working class, this gentleman attempts to say something about our Communist tenets, putting forward two assertions. First, he says that earlier the situation was different, and conditions continually improved. (He pays no attention to the colonial people and the coolies.) Second, and this is the most striking, he says that the present situation, with the currencies in chaos, does indeed impoverish some layers, but it cannot be analysed as the result of any inherent laws of motion. So we are not in a position to analyse this at all.
If we take this for a serious assertion, we can only say they are giving us a mystical explanation, full of magic and manure. (Laughter) The tactical point here is that these people want to put off the working class with this stupid assertion that the situation is totally inexplicable and so complicated that we cannot make anything of it. The reason they cannot understand it is that we are in a period where the theory of capitalist collapse is becoming reality before our eyes.
They are not able to analyse the revolution and draw practical and revolutionary conclusions from it. They evade the question, saying that in this period nothing conforms to laws of motion.
Take for example the theory of crises. What Kautsky has to say about this is that in examining the development of the capitalist system we must frankly recognise that the theory of crises must assume ‘a more modest dimension’. What does this mean? It means that the capitalist world, in Kautsky’s view, has recently become more harmonious. This assertion is of course the very incarnation of stupidity. The opposite is true. We can now say that the theory of crises has been proven to be completely correct. We can now even say that the war itself was an economic crisis in a very specific form, which we must now analyse theoretically. And these people now pass judgment on the revolution, the proletarian revolution in flesh and blood, saying this is not a true revolution and so they intend to wait until the ‘real’ one comes along.
There are bourgeois scholars who deny the existence of leaps in nature and science, although this is an empirical fact. Thus Kautsky says that the revolution that has taken place in Russia is not a proletarian, genuine, or true revolution. A collapse has taken place and is all about us, the greatest crisis of world history, but Kautsky does not see the crisis and says that our theoretical analysis of the crisis theory should be more modest in scope. This is pure idiocy from opportunists gone insane, who have fully lost their feel for reality. They sit in their offices, and their rear ends are overdeveloped (Laughter) but their brains are completely atrophied.
One of these gentlemen even claims that capitalism has emerged strengthened from the war. So you see they have a sense for ‘theoretical proportion’. The general run of liberals, pacifists, preachers, and bourgeois economists almost all recognise to varying extents the economic weakness of the capitalist world. Not a single one denies it. And then a Social Democrat comes along, a supposed ‘Marxist’, and says that capitalism became stronger after the war. That almost sounds like a call for a new war. If capitalism is always stronger after a war, then why not try having another one! This ludicrous point of view is now advanced in all seriousness by the theorists of the Second International.
Consider the theory of the state. Every theorist of the Second International now converts this into an outright justification of the bourgeois republic. Nothing more, no attempt to understand, no thought at all – just an outright justification for the bourgeois republic. You can talk to these people a thousand times, but they are deaf and dumb. They know only one thing – their justification for the bourgeois republic. There is absolutely no distinction here between bourgeois scholars, liberals, and Social Democrats. Let us take for example the theoretical writings of Cunow. We will find that some of the bourgeois professors, like Franz Oppenheimer, for example, or others of this current, or scholars of the Gumplowicz school, are much closer to Marxism than Cunow. In his book, Cunow claims that the state has become, so to speak, a general social welfare agency, a good father who cares for all his children, regardless of whether they are part of the working class or bourgeoisie. That’s his story. I must say that is a theory that was advanced long ago by the Babylonian king Hammurabi. That’s the theoretical level of the representatives and scholars of the Second International.
But there are theoretical betrayals that are more striking and shameless. Consider Kautsky’s view on the proletarian revolution and the coalition government. To write such a thing truly means to abandon the last atom of any theoretical conscience. Take for example Kautsky’s theory of the revolution. Do you know what his latest discovery is? He says the following: First, the bourgeois revolution made use of force. Second, the proletarian revolution, precisely because it is proletarian, must necessarily avoid the use of force. Or, as others of these gentlemen say, the use of force is always reactionary.
We know what Engels wrote about revolution in his Italian article, ‘Dell'autorità’ [On Authority]. He wrote that the revolution is the most authoritarian thing in the world. Revolution is a historical event in which one part of the population imposes its will on another part of the population using bayonets, cannon, and rifles. That was revolutionary Marxism’s view. And then comes poor Kautsky to tell us that bayonets, cannon and other instruments of violence are purely bourgeois means. The proletariat did not think them up, but the bourgeoisie. The barricades are purely bourgeois institutions. (Laughter) With this method you can prove anything. Suppose Kautsky were to tell us that before the bourgeois revolution, the bourgeoisie utilised thoughts, and thinking is a purely bourgeois method. So we would have to conclude, by analogy, that we must not engage in thinking. (Laughter) It would be absolutely absurd to take such a method seriously.
Then we come to the question of the coalition. This is the summit of all Kautsky’s theoretical discoveries. Kautsky claims to speak for orthodox Marxism. Marx held that the heart of his doctrine concerned the dictatorship of the proletariat. There is a passage by Marx where he states, ‘Others before me understood something about the class struggle, but my teaching consists of the fact that capitalist development necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat’. That’s how Marx himself understood his doctrine. That is the distinctive feature that is specific to Marxist doctrine. And then Kautsky comes up with the following:
In his celebrated article criticising the Social Democratic programme, Marx writes, ‘Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.
That is what Marx says. And Kautsky? I quote his exact words:
This sentence can now be modified in the light of experiences (note how gracefully he expresses himself) of the last few years with respect to the question of government. We can say:
Between the period of democratic states with purely bourgeois and those with purely proletarian governments lies a period of transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this there is also a period of political transition, where the government will normally take the form of a coalition government. (Laughter)
What we have here is in fact no longer a transitional stage from Marxism to revisionism; it is worse than pure revisionism. There are different betrayals here, because in Marx there was also a transitional period to communism, and communism totally vanishes here. Where is it in Kautsky? There is no communism here. We have a transitional period from a pure capitalist government to a pure proletarian-democratic government. Where does communism fit in? Nowhere. As for the meaning of this substitution of the coalition for the dictatorship [of the proletariat], you can judge that for yourselves. That is why it is not surprising that some bourgeois theorists quite reasonably conclude that there is no longer a trace of Marxism left among the theorists of the Second International. For example, a professor in Germany who is very intelligent but also very cynical and insolent, Hans Delbrück, after reading various writings of the Second International, wrote the following in an issue of Preussischen Jahrbücher, and I quote:
The distinction between us, who are socially aware bourgeois, and them (he means Kautsky and company) is only one of degree. A few steps further along the path you have chosen, my friends, and the communist fog will disappear.
That is a very good quotation. A bourgeois professor from imperial times tells a theorist of so-called Marxism and so-called ‘internationalist’ and ‘revolutionary’ Social Democracy that there is no difference between us, the socially aware bourgeois imperial professors, and Kautsky and his comrades. This quotation is effective in throwing light on the whole situation.
As we see, tactics and strategy exist in theory as well, and they stand in complete accord to the real tactics and strategy of politics. Various shifts have taken place on the chessboard among classes, parties, groupings, and sub-groupings. The biggest shift was the split in the proletariat as a result of political betrayal by the Social Democratic parties and trade union leaders, and the alliance that these layers of the worker organisations formed with the bourgeoisie. And alongside this process there is another: the formation of a theoretical alliance of former so-called Marxists with bourgeois learning. Such a situation has now arisen in the Second International’s theory. Just as politically only the Communist International now defends a genuinely revolutionary point of view, so too under present conditions only the Communist International defends Marxism on a theoretical plane.
Let me pass on to another question. After dealing with the theorists of the Second International, I wish to say a few words about the new analysis of the present period. I will deal only with a few points that have by and large not been given sufficient attention. First of all, let me ask: What is the most appropriate point of view from which to examine capitalist development as a whole? In examining capitalist development as a whole, there must be some kind of theoretical axis. What is the proper axis for us to choose?
Of course there are various axes to choose from. We can focus on the axis of the working class as the decisive factor, or the concentration of capital, or we can shape our programme around the forging of elements for the new society, or consider as decisive any of various other features of capitalist development. But in my opinion, capitalist development as a whole must be examined in terms of the expanded reproduction of capitalist contradictions. It is from this angle that we must assess all aspects of capitalist development.
We are now in a period of development where capitalism is already falling apart. To some degree we already look back retrospectively at capitalist development. But that does not prevent us from examining all developments in the capitalist epoch, even the predictions that we must also attempt to make, from the viewpoint of this continual and permanent reproduction of capitalist contradictions.
The war is an expression of contradictions inherent in capitalist competition. We need view the war simply as the expanded reproduction of the anarchic structure of capitalist society. Given that this reproduction of contradictions has made capitalist society unworkable, we can take this as the basis for examining everything else – the sectors within the working class, the social structure of society, the conditions of the working class, the social structure.
The second question, in my view, is that of imperialism. I am not going to get into a full analysis of the imperialist epoch, because among us the theoretical treatment of this question is well understood. I will emphasise only one point that I consider important, which is this: How can we explain the specific forms of finance capitalism’s policy of violence? What is the ultimate basis for this violence? It has been explained in many ways – as resulting from the monopolistic character of capitalism and from other factors. That is very true, but in my opinion, in answering this question, we must give considerable weight to the following factor. In the past, when political economy, including that of Marxism, spoke of competition, they were actually examining only one form of competition, the specific form it takes in the epoch of so-called industrial capitalism.
That was an epoch of struggle between individual industrialists, competing with each other by lowering their prices. When Marx writes of competition, it is almost always of this type. But in the epoch of imperialist capitalism, this is not the only form of competition that has come to the fore. We also see forms of competitive struggle in which price competition is quite irrelevant. For example, if a coal trust is fighting against an iron trust for surplus value, obviously these trusts cannot contend through price competition. That would be absurd. Such formations can only wage their struggle through one or another expression of force, such as boycott, exclusion, and so on. The main groupings within the bourgeoisie now resemble trusts that are encompassed in the framework of the state. And these formations are in reality nothing other than combined enterprises.
It is obviously quite understandable that an enterprise of this type, a combination of competing groups, locates the centre of gravity of its methods of struggle in the use of force. The international division of labour, the existence of agrarian and industrialised countries, the diverse combinations of branches of production within these states, all dictate the fact that these states are quite unable to carry out any other kind of policy. Price competition is almost impossible. New forms of competition arise, which leads to military interventions by these states.
I will move on to the third point that deserves special mention in the programme, namely, emphasising the role of the state in general and in particular its role at the present time. We must say frankly that the question of the state was not dealt with very adequately in Marxist theory or even by the orthodox Marxists. We all know that the epigones raised this question and then resolved it in traitorous fashion. But who, we must ask, of the revolutionary Marxists examined this question successfully? What does that tell us? It means that Marxist theory arose in a period that was strongly influenced by Manchester thinking. Free competition ruled supreme. This fact is rooted in the particular and specific characteristics of this epoch. But we cannot be satisfied with that. The role of the state is now very important, whether considered from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie or that of the proletariat. It’s a matter, first, of destroying an organisation, and, second, of building something new and using our state power as the lever to alter economic relationships. All these considerations force us to give the question of the state much more emphasis in our programme than was the case formerly.
Further, I think that the programme should also touch on the monopoly of education exercised by the ruling class. Earlier this was almost never done in discussion of programmatic questions. But now, when the proletariat is striving to gain power and reorganise society, such questions as that of the training of our staffers and administrators, and the knowledge of our leadership before and after the conquest of power plays a crucial role. All these questions are immensely important, more so than they were in the past, because then they did not always have immediate practical significance. But now they have become immensely practical issues, and we must therefore allocate more space in our programme than was the case previously.
I also believe that we should take up the specific features in capitalist society that indicate its ripeness for socialism. There is a well-known passage in Marx’s teachings where he says that the new society is already present in the womb of the old. But so much mischief has been done in the Second International with this theory that we must be more specific on this question than we were previously. I cannot cover this subject here in full detail, but I would like to say this: We are all aware that the proletarian revolution makes many demands on us, and that it is tied during a certain period to the rise and decline of productive forces. That is an immanent law of proletarian revolution. Our opponents, however, seek to show that these tasks are so massive that capitalism as a whole is not yet ripe for socialism. Theoretically, that is their main thesis. They are mixing this up with the ripening of capitalism within feudal society. But we should emphasise the difference between these two developments. At least we must state the conditions for a socialist society in the programme.
The difference between the two ways in which new formations mature lies in the fact that capitalism matured fully under feudal rule. Not only did the working class appear, but the ruling layers, indeed the entire social structure, from workers to the bourgeois in command, all ripened within the womb of feudal society. Socialism can never ripen in this manner, even under the most favourable conditions, even if we could portray with mathematical precision the limit of capitalist maturity. It is impossible for the working class to take production in hand within the womb of capitalist society. That is nonsense, a contradictio in adjecto [contradiction in terms]. And therefore the nature of the special features that indicate a ripening of socialism within bourgeois society is quite different from the features that show a ripening of capitalism within feudal society.
Capitalism already possessed its administrative and ruling layers under feudal rule. However, the proletariat is oppressed not only economically but politically and culturally. It does not have its own engineers, technologists, and so on. It can learn all that only when it has already achieved the dictatorship of the proletariat. Only then can it break down the doors of the colleges and universities and force its way in. Culturally we must grant that the proletariat is underdeveloped, uneducated and backward in comparison to the bourgeoisie. That means that the proletariat cannot ripen as organiser of society within capitalism. It ripens as an organisational force, as leader of society as a whole, as the genuine creator of this society in a positive sense only after its dictatorship is in place. There is no alternative. We must stress this fundamental distinction between the way that capitalism and socialism ripen. Our opponents advance the nonsensical idea that we can ripen within capitalist society in the same way that the capitalists did in the feudal times. Unfortunately that is not so, and we must understand the specific discrepancies that exist here.
I must touch on another point that has received insufficient analysis, including in our writings, namely that of the transition to socialism. This was much discussed by the revisionists, whose viewpoint was that capitalism grows over into socialism. It is quite true that we cannot carry out our tasks simply through decrees and with pure acts of force. Rather it is a very extended, organic process, relatively speaking, one of a genuine growing over into socialism. But we and the revisionists differ as to the point in time when this transition begins. The revisionists, who do not want a revolution, claim that this transitional process begins already within the womb of capitalism. We hold that it begins with establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The proletariat must destroy the old bourgeois state, take power in is hands, and use this lever to change the economic relationships. Then we have a lengthy process of evolution, during which socialist forms of production and distribution become more and more predominant, until gradually all the relics of the capitalist economy are superseded, until a complete transformation of capitalism into a socialist society has taken place.
Now another point that relates to what I have just discussed: the question of the ‘national varieties’ of socialism, referring of course to the productive relations. Before the revolution, we all, without exception, thought in terms of a planned economy, a collective economy, without going into the matter more specifically. But now, especially given the experiences of the Russian revolution, we see that we will experience a lengthy period marked by different national types of socialist forms of production.
Let us take the case of capitalism, and compare its French with its American variants. French capitalism has its own peculiar characteristics, as does American. Compare the character of usury capitalism in France with that of pure financial capitalism in the United States, or the nature of syndicates and trusts in Germany and Britain. We see varying paths, varying characteristics. Over time, of course, the growth of the world economy evens out these differences.
But socialism can grow only on the basis of what is already in place, and we can therefore assert that different forms of socialism will in a certain sense be prolongations of the earlier capitalist forms in a new guise. In other words, the specific characteristics of capitalism in each country will find expression in specific forms of socialist productive economy. Later on all this will even out with the growth of proletarian world supremacy and socialist world production. The first stage of development, even after the proletariat has conquered political power in every country, will feature varying forms of socialist production.
We can say frankly that Russian socialism will appear Asiatic, when compared to the others. The proportions between what we can and cannot nationalise, between industry and the peasantry, and so on – all these backward features in our economic development will find expression in the backward forms of our socialism. Taking all this into account, if we understand this we can go on to talk of other things, such as the New Economic Policy.
That is the eighth point in my outline. I would like to say a few brief words.
The New Economic Policy can be considered from two quite different points of view, that of tactics, or better of revolutionary tactics and strategy, and also from that of economic rationality. These two points of view are not always identical. A number of comrades have discussed it from the standpoint of strategy and tactics, including comrades Lenin and Trotsky. But I would like to approach it not from that angle but from that of economic rationality.
In my opinion, the most important economic and organisational challenge facing the proletariat of every country in which it stands at the helm of political power is that of the relationship between the forms of production that it can rationally organise, plan, and manage, and those that it is not able to manage in a planned and rational way in the initial stages of its development. That is the greatest economic challenge the proletariat would face. If the proletariat does not estimate this relationship correctly, and if it takes on too much, it will then face a situation where the productive forces are not developed but restricted. The proletariat is not able to organise everything. It cannot forcibly impose its plans on the small producers, the small peasants, who operate individually. And in place of this layer, which genuinely provides society with something useful, the proletariat receives absolutely nothing. The process of circulation comes to a halt. That causes a further decline of productive forces and of economic life as a whole.
Under such circumstances the proletariat acquires something additional. When the proletariat tries to take on too much, it needs an immense administrative apparatus. It needs too many officials and too large a staff to replace all the economic functions of these small producers and small peasants. And this attempt to replace all these small producers with government officials – call them what you want; in reality they are government officials – produces a bureaucratic apparatus that is so colossal that its costs are much larger than the wastage caused by anarchic conditions inside the sphere of small-scale production.
This produces a pattern in which the entire form of administration, the entire economic apparatus of the proletarian state does not promote but shackles development of the productive forces. It signifies exactly the opposite of what it should, and must with iron necessity break down. This may take place through a counter-revolution, or through action by the petty bourgeoisie, or through initiatives by the party to restrict and reorganise this apparatus, as was the case with us. That changes nothing. If the proletariat does not take this action itself, it will be done by other forces. All comrades must understand this clearly.
I therefore hold that the New Economic Policy is not only a specifically Russian development but also something of general applicability. ('Very true!’) It represents not only a strategic retreat but is also the solution of a broad organisational and social problem, namely the relationship between the various branches of production that we should rationalise and those we are not in a position to rationalise. Comrades, frankly we tried to organise everything, even the peasants and the millions of small producers. That is why we had such an enormously large bureaucratic apparatus and such huge administrative costs. That is also why we encountered a political crisis. That is why we were forced, in order to save the cause of the proletariat as a whole, as Comrade Lenin has explained so frankly, to introduce the New Economic Policy. It is not some kind of secret illness that must be hidden. It is not merely a concession to the enemy that is fighting against us with all its strength. It is also the correct solution of an organisational and social problem.
Under the old economic policy we had conditions where our Red police in Moscow would drive away old women selling bread and things like that. To be frank, in terms of economic rationality that is sheer insanity. And when you perceive that rightly, you must then turn away from this insanity toward something better. Some comrades tell us that in terms of orthodox Marxism that was a sin. But it was not a sin. It was the necessary correction by our party of what we, in our inexperience and ignorance, had carried out in the first proletarian revolution. That is our assessment.
In my opinion the problems of the New Economic Policy are international in character. The specifically Russian aspect resides, of course, in the precise coefficients of the relationship between what we can and cannot rationalise.
We have very many peasants and petty bourgeois. But consider the most advanced industrial countries, such as Germany or even the United States. Do you think these problems will not immediately arise? They will, and immediately! For example, can we from the very outset organise American farmers? By no means! Such layers must continue to enjoy unrestricted economic freedom. The same is true in Germany, for example. Do you think that the victorious proletariat can immediately organise all the peasant holdings, especially those in Bavaria, along communist lines? When you ask the peasant for deliveries of bread, do you know what they will demand? The right to act freely and to sell their products. So you will always face this problem in Germany. You will always be forced to work out very carefully to what degree you wish to establish a controlled socialist economy and to what degree you must retain a free economy.
So much for the problem of the New Economic Policy. But it is linked to an entirely different problem. In a revolution, the principle of economic rationality stands in contradiction to another principle essential to the proletariat, namely that of pure political expediency in the struggle. I have already provided several examples of this. If you build barricades, for example, and for that purpose saw down the telephone poles, well, I think it’s obvious that this does not increase the productive forces. (Laughter)
So it is in revolution. When the capitalist bourgeoisie, for example, attacks you with all its forces, utilising its agents in petty-bourgeois milieus who act directly on orders of the big bourgeoisie, what must the proletariat do? The proletariat must at all costs destroy these petty-bourgeois agents of the big bourgeoisie. As the struggle grows in scope, it is also forced to remove the economic basis of this petty bourgeoisie. This is where irrationality enters the picture. What is inexpedient from a purely economic point of view can be quite expedient in terms of the political struggle and of the need to win the civil war. These two points of view – economic rationality and expediency in the political struggle – are not identical and are often in contradiction. But primacy goes to expediency in the political struggle, because socialism cannot be built without first having a proletarian state. But we must always be vigilant to avoid doing what is not essential, doing what is inexpedient for the political struggle and also economically irrational.
I cannot develop this line of thought further, of course, but you understand that we can examine this question from the standpoint of various classes, layers, and groupings. We must consider our relationship to the middle class, the so-called intelligentsia or new middle class, and also our relationship to the peasantry and to various layers of the peasantry. All this must enter the framework of our programme. And of course we want to make use of the experiences of the Russian revolution, for it would be stupid indeed not to understand and utilise the experiences of the greatest revolution that has taken place to this date.
I now pass on to my fourth section, which I term that of new general tactical challenges. So far I have examined various questions that are purely theoretical in nature. Now I will take up some issues that have a general tactical character and can therefore also in a certain sense be termed programmatic.
First, I will briefly touch on the question of colonies. This question must receive far more weight in our programme than was previously the case. ('Very true!’) We are now attempting to write an international programme. We must expunge with fire and sword the aristocratic aftertaste found in the books of Kautsky and his colleagues. We must understand that our reserves for the process of world revolution, which are immensely important, are located in the colonial countries. That is why we must deal with this question more exhaustively than was the case in the past.
The second tactical challenge is that of national defence. For us as Communists, when the war began, this question of national defence was absolutely clear: we simply rejected it almost without qualification. Now the question appears in a somewhat modified and more complicated form. That is because we now have a proletarian dictatorship in one country, and its existence changes the entire situation. In general, as Marxists and dialecticians we must be prepared for such large-scale shifts. I will provide only one example.
As a revolutionary party in opposition, we could of course not think for a single moment that we would accept money from any bourgeois state for our revolutionary activity. That would have been absolutely stupid. The moment we accepted money from any hostile force, we would have been totally discredited. The international bourgeoisie was therefore dealing with this problem quite correctly, from its point of view, in trying to show that we were agents of German imperialism or that Karl Liebknecht was an agent of the French bourgeoisie. We rightly recognised that we would never do anything of that sort, and we were always against such efforts. But now a proletarian state exists and is in a position to obtain a loan from some bourgeois state. It would be equally stupid to reject that in principle. That is a small example of the type of shift that occurs on principled issues when we possess a proletarian state.
The question of national defence is similar. We know precisely what a proletarian country is – it is the proletarian state. For in all these questions the word ‘country’ is a synonym of the word ‘state’, with or without its class characterisation. When the bourgeoisie talks of national defence, it is referring to defence of the bourgeois state apparatus, and when we speak of national defence, we mean defence of the proletarian state. We therefore want to establish clearly in the programme that the proletarian state should and must be defended by the proletariat not only of this country but of all countries. That is new, compared to the situation when the war began.
Here is a second question. If it is expedient from the strategic viewpoint of the proletariat as a whole, should the proletarian state conclude military alliances with bourgeois states? There is no principled distinction here between a loan and a military alliance. And I maintain that we are already sufficiently developed that we might conclude a military alliance with the bourgeoisie of one country in order to strike down the bourgeoisie of another country. It is not easy to foresee what might happen under a given relationship of forces. It is purely a question of strategic and tactical expediency. That is how it must be presented in the programme.
If national defence takes the form of a military alliance with bourgeois states, it is the duty of comrades of such a country to contribute to the victory of such an alliance. If, in another phase of development, the bourgeoisie of such a country is itself defeated, other problems arise (Laughter) that I am not obliged to describe here, but that you will readily comprehend.
We should mention another tactical point: the right to Red intervention. In my opinion that is the acid test for all Communist parties. There is a great outcry over Red militarism. We should establish in our programme that every proletarian state has the right to Red intervention.
Radek: You just say that because you are commander of a regiment! (Laughter)
Bukharin: The Communist Manifesto states that the proletariat must conquer the entire world. Well, that cannot be done with the flick of a finger; (Laughter) you need bayonets and rifles. And the extension of the system on which every Red Army is based is therefore an extension of socialism, of proletarian power, of revolution. That is the justification for the right to Red intervention, under particular circumstances that make this possible from a technical point of view.
That wraps up the specific issues, and I now pass on – and here I can be very brief – to the overall conception of the programme, particularly as regards its architecture. In my opinion the programme of national parties must consist of two parts:
#1. A general section valid for all parties. This general section should be in the membership book of every member in every country.
#2. A national section containing the specific demands of the workers’ movement of the country in question.
And then, perhaps, #3. Although this is not strictly speaking part of the programme, an action programme, which takes up purely tactical questions and can be changed as often as necessary – perhaps every two weeks. (Laughter) Some comrades believe that tactical issues like the seizure of material assets in Germany, the united front tactic, or the workers’ government question should also be taken up in the programme. Comrade Varga says it is intellectual cowardice to protest against this.
Radek: Very true!
Bukharin: But in my opinion, the urge to settle these questions is nothing but an expression of the comrades’ opportunist attitude. (Laughter) Questions and slogans like the united front or the workers’ government or the seizure of material assets are slogans founded on a very fluid basis, one of a certain decline in the workers’ movement. And these comrades want to set down in the programme this defensive stance in which the proletariat finds itself, thereby ruling out an offensive. I will fight against that in every possible way. We will never permit such concepts to be built into the programme.
Radek: ‘We'? Who is ‘we'?
Bukharin: ‘We’ refers to the best elements in the Communist International. (Laughter, applause)
In my opinion, comrades, this theoretical segment must include the following parts: First, a general analysis of capitalism, of particular importance for colonial peoples. Then we need an analysis of imperialism and the decay of capitalism, and also an analysis of the epoch of socialist revolution.
The second part of the programme should consist of a short sketch of communist society. I believe that we need to portray Communist society in the programme and say what communism really means, and what is the distinction between the different transitional phases.
Part three should deal with the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the proletarian struggle for power.
Part four should not take up questions like the relationship to Social Democracy and the trade unions but rather general strategic questions, which are not fluid. Such strategic tactical questions can be taken up in the programme.
As far the national segment is concerned, it is not my task to take that up. A special analysis is needed for each country.
Comrades, I would like to add a few critical remarks about the statements, including those in writing, and articles of a number of comrades.
The discussion on this question has produced the following documents and statements:
1. The report of the first discussion of the commission on programme, which has gone out to all parties.
2. The reply of the Italian Central Committee to this report.
3. Some articles by Comrade Varga.
4. An article by Comrade Rudas.
5. An article by Comrade Rappoport.
6. An article by Comrade Šmeral.
7. A draft by the German party.
8. A draft by the Bulgarian party.
9. My draft.
In the initial discussion in the commission on programme, two points of view were expressed. The differences related to the question of whether or not tactical issues like the workers’ government should be encompassed in the programme. I motivated one of these viewpoints.
The Italian Central Committee responded to the Programme Commission discussion with a letter expressing my point of view but with its own particular motivation. It stated that these matters could not be included in the programme because we must not impose a ‘credo’ on the national parties. The Italian Central Committee did not support my viewpoint because it is opportunist and impossible to include such matters in the programme – this would require us to change the programme every two weeks – but rather because it does not want the International to impose a credo on the national parties.
I give hearty thanks to the Italian comrades for agreeing with my point of view, but I give them no thanks at all, not even a bit, for this curious motivation.
Now we pass to the articles of Comrade Varga. Comrade Varga is a man of stout courage, and he therefore thinks that everyone who does not agree with his viewpoint in this question is cowardly. As I have said previously, his courage is an opportunist courage, and our cowardice consists of the fear of being opportunist. That’s the nature of our cowardice. We are afraid of turning into opportunists and Comrade Varga is not so cowardly as to fear this. And that is the difference between him and us.
Varga also demands that we provide a classification of all the countries during the period of capitalist decay. Instead of a programme, he wants an encyclopaedia of all branches of social science with many appendices. In my opinion, to classify countries and build that into the programme is very risky. Shifts can take place very quickly in different countries. For example, if there is a victorious revolution in Germany, the entire world situation will be immediately transformed. That is why I say it is inadvisable to provide a specific classification of countries, in terms of the possible rapid changes, and because our programme would grow to be so long that not a single worker would be able to read it through to the end.
As for Comrade Šmeral’s article, the wishes expressed there divide into two categories. First, his article demands that we utilise the lessons of the Russian Revolution fully, and quite rightly asks about the different branches, regions, forms of production, and the different social layers, and our relationship to them. He is quite right to pose these questions, but he is not right when together with Varga and Radek he asks that such issues, like that of the workers’ government and the Open Letter, be built into the programme.
I am by and large in agreement with the article by Comrade Rudas.
As for the article by Comrade Rappoport, despite my best efforts I have not been able to make any sense of it whatsoever.
As for the programme submitted by our German sister party, I would like to make a few general comments. In my opinion the programme has the following weaknesses:
1. It is written too academically.
2. It is too specific and descriptive.
For example there is a long passage about various specific developments, such as the consequences of the Versailles Peace, which in my view do not belong in a programme. The descriptive and specifically historical character of the German draft also makes it very long. This is not a programme but a very lengthy universal manifesto. That is my impression of the draft. Many portions are stylistically brilliant and theoretically very strong.
3. The draft is too European in conception – the German comrades themselves concede this – and also in my opinion a bit too German, written too much from a Central European standpoint.
4. The final error of the German programme, which encompasses all the others, is its length. It does not include the general analysis of capitalism that is required, or the general description of communism, which is also required, and still it is very, very long.
As for the Bulgarian programme, I have the following comments.
Some of its passages are similarly too specific and descriptive and do not fit the requirements of a programme. They could serve as a commentary. Also the programme’s structure does not succeed entirely, because there is a certain blending together of Balkan and general considerations. I have significant comments in particular on one passage, where the Bulgarian comrades discuss the role of the party. At the end of this passage, they go so far as to discuss the armed uprising. They say that we pass through mass actions combined with strikes to the armed uprising, and that has a very revolutionary ring. But where the role of the party is discussed at all, the programme in my opinion gives unnecessary emphasis to participation in parliament.
Indeed, the relationship between extraparliamentary and parliamentary action is not dealt with entirely successfully – not when we take into account the length of this document. I think it would be better to make a small correction here.
Finally a short comment. The demands of the party are presented very fully in the Bulgarian programme. If they are intended for all the parties that belong to the International, this is too much. If it is intended only for the Balkan countries, then it is lacking the demands necessary from the standpoint of the International. Here, too, I believe we need a small correction.
Of course I am not going to extol my own ‘merchandise’. (Laughter) That goes without saying. But I do ask that comrades give these questions some discussion and, particularly after the congress, work more intensively on many components of the programme.
I close my lengthy report with the hope that we will all go forth from the Fifth Congress with a outstanding, truly revolutionary, and truly orthodox Marxist programme. (Loud applause)
6. At the Fifth Comintern Congress in 1924 Bukharin presented a new draft programme, which was accepted as a basis for further discussion. A programme was ultimately adopted at the Sixth Congress, held in 1928, at a time when the Comintern leadership was profoundly divided. For the 1928 programme, see marxists.org/history/international/comintern/6th-congress/index.htm. For a critique by Leon Trotsky, reflecting the viewpoint of the Left Opposition, see Trotsky, The Third International after Lenin (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1996).
7. The term ‘epigone’ – unworthy successor – was frequently used in polemics by Russian Marxists, as in Trotsky’s characterisation of Stalinist theorists after Lenin’s death.
8. Bukharin’s remarks on Kautsky differ in tone and substance from those made by Lenin during that period. For example, Lenin devoted almost half of his remarks at his fiftieth birth celebration on April 23, 1920 to a quotation from an article written by Kautsky, introduced as follows: ‘This writer is Karl Kautsky, from whom at the present time we have had to break away and fight in exceptionally sharp form, but who earlier was one of the vozhdi [leaders] of the proletarian party in the fight against German opportunism, and with whom we once collaborated. There were no Bolsheviks then, but all future Bolsheviks, collaborating with him, valued him highly’. Translation from Lars Lih, ‘Lenin and Kautsky: the Final Chapter'; compare Lenin 1958 – 65, 40, pp. 325 – 6; Lenin 1960 – 71, 30, p. 526. Lenin wrote in a similar vein in ‘Left-Wing’ Communism; see Lenin Collected Works, vol. 31, pp. 22 – 23. For a fuller evaluation of Kautsky’s pre-1914 writings from 1917, see ibid., vol. 25, pp. 481 – 95. On this theme see also Lih, Lenin Rediscovered (Historical Materialism Book Series 2006).
9. Kautsky, Die proletarische Revolution und ihr Programm.
10. Bukharin’s German pun is ‘von Mystik und Mist zugleich’, that is, both mysticism and manure.
11. Bukharin is probably referring to Cunow’s Die Marxsche Geschichts-, Gesellschafts- und Staatstheorie.
12. See Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 23, pp. 422 – 5.
13. Compare Marx’s letter to Joseph Weydemeyer of 5 March 1852, Marx and Engels Collected Works, vol. 39, pp. 62 – 3.
14. ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’, in Marx and Engels Collected Works, vol. 24, p. 95.
15. The Manchester School of economic thought in nineteenth-century Britain upheld free trade, free competition, and laissez-faire policies.
16. See ‘Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’, Marx and Engels 1975 – 2004, 29, pp. 263 – 4. The 1975 edition renders the German word Schoss as ‘framework’, avoiding the literal and better-known translation as ‘womb’, as in Marx and Engels Collected Works, vol. 1, p. 504.
17. Bukharin’s comments may have been suggested by Soviet Russia’s relations at that time with Germany. The Treaty of Rapallo between the two governments, concluded on 16 April 1922, was not a military alliance. However, secret agreements concluded between Russia and the German military in 1922 enabled Germany to carry out military training and production in Soviet territory in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. These agreements did not lead to any modification of policy by the German CP. The Soviet alliances with Nazi Germany in 1939 and with the Allied powers in 1941, by contrast, resulted in abrupt policy reversals by all Comintern parties.
18. On 16 February 1921, Red Army contingents entered Georgia in support of a local insurrection by pro-Soviet forces, and by mid-March had completed their occupation of the country. Georgia became an independent Soviet republic linked by treaty with Russia.
19. A somewhat different set of programme discussion materials is found in Kommunistische Internationale, 23 (November 1922), pp. 114 – 55. Included are articles by Varga and Thalheimer, the German CP draft, the ECCI’s criticisms of the Italian CP draft, and theses by Kostrzewa on the agrarian question. For another collection, prepared for the Fifth Congress in 1924, see Materialien zur Frage des Programms der Kommunistichen Internationale, (Hamburg: Carl Hoym Nachf, 1924).