Herman Gorter, Open Letter to Comrade Lenin, 1920
Next we have to take up the defence of the Left Wing on the question of Parliamentarism (1). The same universal theoretical grounds that we dealt with for the Trade Unions, determine the attitude of the Left Wing in this question also. The fact that the proletariat stands alone, the gigantic force of the enemy, and consequently the necessity for the mass to raise itself to a much higher level, and to rely entirely on its own support. I need not repeat these grounds here. Here, however, there are a few more grounds than on the Trade Union question.
In the first place, the workers of Western Europe and the working masses in general are completely subjected, as far as ideas are concerned, to the bourgeois system of representation, to parliamentarism, to bourgeois democracy. Much more so than the workers of Eastern Europe. Here bourgeois ideology has taken a strong hold on the whole of social and political life. It has penetrated far more into the heads and hearts of the workers. Here they have already been brought up in that ideology for hundreds of years. These ideas have altogether saturated the workers.
These relations have been very well depicted by Comrade Pannekoek in the Viennese periodical, Kommunismus:
“The experience of Germany places us face to face with the great problem of the revolution in Western Europe. In these countries the old bourgeois method of production, and the corresponding highly developed culture of many centuries, have made a thorough impression on the thoughts and feelings of the masses. Consequently the spiritual and mental character of the masses here is quite different from that of the Eastern countries, where they had not experienced this domination of bourgeois culture. And herein above all lies the difference in the progress of the revolution in the East and in the West. In England, France, Holland, Scandinavia, Italy and Germany, ever since the middle ages there has been a strong bourgeoisie, with petty-bourgeois and primitive capitalist production; whilst feudalism was being defeated, an equally strong, independent peasantry sprang up in the country, which was master in its own small sphere.
“On this soil bourgeois civic spiritual life developed into a firm national culture, especially in the coastlands of England and France, which were most advanced by capitalist development. In the nineteenth century capitalism, by bringing the whole of agriculture under its power, and pulling even the most isolated farms into the circle of the world economy, has raised this national culture to a higher level, has refined it, and by means of its spiritual methods of propaganda, the Press, the school, and the Church, has beaten it firmly into the brains of the masses it has proletarianised, both those who were sucked into the cities, and those who were left on the land. This applies not only to the original capitalist countries, but also, though in a somewhat modified form, to America and Australia, where the Europeans founded new States, and to the countries of Central Europe, that had until then stagnated: Germany, Austria, Italy, where new capitalist development could link up with old, obsolete, petty-bourgeois economy, agriculture and culture. In the Eastern countries of Europe capitalism found quite different material and other traditions. Here in Russia, Poland, Hungary, and the region to the east of the Elbe, there was no small, strong bourgeois class dominating spiritual life since time immemorial; primitive agrarian relations with large scale landed property, patriarchal feudalism and village communism determined spiritual life.
Here, on the ideological problem, Comrade Pannekoek has hit the nail on the head. Far better than it has ever been done from your side, he has demonstrated the difference between the east and the west of Europe, from the ideological angle, and has given the cue towards finding revolutionary tactics for Western Europe.
This only need be combined with the MATERIAL causes of the power of our opponents, that is to say with banking capital, and the tactics become perfectly clear.
However, there is yet more to be said on the ideological question: civil liberties, the power of parliament, has been won in Western Europe by means of wars for liberty, waged by former generations, by the ancestors. And though at the time these rights were only for citizens, for the possessing class, they were won by the people all the same. The thought of these struggles is to this day a deeply-rooted tradition in the blood of this people. Revolutions are always the deepest memories of a people. Unconsciously the thought that it meant a victory to achieve representation in parliament has a tremendous, silent force. This is especially the case in the oldest bourgeois countries, where long or repeated wars have been waged for freedom: in England, Holland and France. Also, though on a smaller scale, in Germany, Belgium, and the Scandinavian countries. An inhabitant of the East cannot realise, perhaps, how strong this influence can be.
Moreover the workers themselves have fought here, often for years, for universal suffrage, and have thus obtained it, directly or indirectly. This was also a victory, which bore fruit at the time. The thought and the feeling generally prevails, that it is progress, and a victory, to be represented, and to entrust one’s representative with the care of one’s affairs in Parliament. The influence of this ideology is enormous.
And finally, reformism has brought the working class of Western Europe altogether under the power of the parliamentary representatives, who have led it into war, and into alliances with capitalism. The influence of reformism is also colossal.
All these causes have made the worker the slave of Parliament, to which he leaves all action. He himself does not act any longer (2).
Then comes the revolution. Now he has to act for himself. Now the worker, alone with his class, must fight the gigantic enemy, must wage the most terrible fight that ever was. No tactics of the leaders can help him. Desperately the classes, all classes, oppose the workers, and not one class sides with them. On the contrary, if he should trust his leaders, or other classes in parliament, he runs a great risk of falling back into his old weakness of letting the leaders act for him, of trusting parliament, of persevering in the old notion that others can make the revolution for him, of pursuing illusions, of remaining in the old bourgeois ideology.
This relationship of the masses to the leaders has also been excellently characterised by Comrade Pannekoek:
“Parliamentarism is the typical form of the kind of fight carried out by means of leaders, in which the masses themselves play but a minor part. Its practice consists in this: that representatives, individual persons, carry on the actual fighting. With the masses it must therefore awaken the illusion that others can do the fighting for them. Formerly the belief was that the leaders could obtain important reforms for the workers through parliament; many had even had the illusion that the members of parliament, by means of laws and regulations, could carry out the transition to Socialism. Today, since parliamentarism acts in a more honest way, the argument is heard that the representatives may do great things in parliament for communist propaganda. Ever again the importance of the leaders is emphasised, and it is only natural that professionals should decide about politics, be it in the democratic guise of congress discussions and resolutions. The history of Social Democracy is a series of fruitless attempts to let the members determine their own politics. Wherever the proletariat goes in for parliamentary action, all this is inevitable, as long as the masses have not yet created organs for self-activity; as long, therefore, as the revolution has not broken out. As soon as the masses can act for themselves, and can consequently decide, the disadvantages of parliamentarism become paramount.
“The problem of tactics is how to eradicate the traditional bourgeois way of thinking that saps the strength of the mass of the proletariat; everything which reinforces the traditional view is wrong. The most firmly rooted, most tenacious part of this mental attitude is dependence on leaders, to whom it leaves the decisions in all general questions, and the control of all class matters. Inevitably, parliamentarism has a tendency to crush in the masses the activity necessary for the revolution. No matter what fine speeches are delivered to inspire the workers to revolutionary deeds, revolutionary action does not spring from such words, but from the keen and hard necessity that leaves no other choice whatsoever.
“Demands of the Revolution.
“The revolution also demands something more than the fighting action of the masses that overthrows the government, and which, as we know, is not under the control of leaders, but can only come from the deeply felt impulse of the masses. The revolution demands that the great questions of social construction be taken in hand, that difficult decisions shall be made, that the entire proletariat be roused to one creative impulse; and this is only possible if first the advance guard, and then an ever greater mass takes things in hand – a mass that is conscious of its responsibilities, that searches, propagates, fights, strives, reflects, considers, dares, and carries out. All this is, however, hard work: so as long as the proletariat thinks there is an easier way, letting others act for it by carrying out agitation from a high platform, by taking decisions, by giving signals for action, by making laws, it will hesitate, and the old ways of thinking and the old weaknesses will keep them pacified.
The workers of Western Europe, let it be repeated a thousand and, if need be, a hundred thousand or a million times – and whoever has not learned and seen it since November 1918 is blind – the West European workers must in the first place act for themselves – in the Trade Unions and also politically, and they must let their leaders act, because the workers stand alone, and because no clever tactics of leaders can help them. The greatest impetus must come from them. Here, for the first time, to a far greater degree than in Russia, THE LIBERATION OF THE WORKERS MUST BE THE WORK OF THE WORKERS THEMSELVES. That is why comrades of the Left Wing are right in saying to the German Comrades: don’t participate in the elections, and boycott parliament – politically you must do everything for yourselves – you cannot win unless you do so for two, five, or ten years; unless you train yourself to it man by man, group after group, from town to town, from province to province, and finally in the entire land, as a party, a union; as industrial councils, as a mass, and as a class. You cannot win unless finally, through incessant training and fighting, and through defeat, you advance to that stage, the great majority among you, where you can do all this, and where, at last, after all this schooling, you constitute one united mass.
And that is why the comrades of the KAPD were right, perfectly right – history demanded it of them – at once to proceed to a secession, to split the Trade Unions; as this covers the entire political question, there is an urgent need for the fight, the example, the lead.
But these comrades of the Left Wing, the KAPD, would have committed a grave mistake had they done nothing but preach and propagate this. Here even more perhaps, than in the case of the party, when the Spartakus League, or rather the Spartakus Zentrale, refused to stand this propaganda of theirs. For what the German slaves, what all workers of Western Europe needed in the first place, was an example. In this nation of political slaves, and in this subjected West European world, there had to be a group that gave the example of free fighters without leaders, that is to say, without leaders of the old type – without members of parliament.
And once again all this must be, not because it is so beautiful, or good, or heroic, but because the German and West-European proletariat stands alone in this terrible fight, without help from any other class, because the cleverness of the leaders is of no avail any longer, because there is but one thing that is needed, the will and firmness of the mass, man for man, woman for woman, and of the mass as a whole.
For this higher motive, and because the opposite tactics, parliamentary action, can but harm this higher cause, infinitely higher than the petty profit of parliamentary propaganda, for this higher motive the Left Wing rejects parliamentarism.
You say that Comrade Liebknecht, if he yet lived, might work wonders in the Reichstag. We deny it. Politically he could not manoeuvre there, because all the bourgeois parties oppose us in one united front. And he could win the workers no better in parliament than outside it. On the other hand, the masses, to a very great extent, would leave everything to be done through his speeches, so that his parliamentary action would have a harmful effect (3).
It is true that this work of the Left Wing would take years, and those people who for some reason or other, strive for immediate results, big numbers, large amounts of members and votes, big parties, and a powerful (seemingly powerful!) International, will have a rather long time to wait. Those, however, who realise that the victory of the German and West-European revolution can only come, if a very great number, if the mass of the workers believe in themselves, will be satisfied with these tactics.
For Germany and Western Europe they are the only tactics possible. This is particularly true for England.
Comrade, do you know the bourgeois individualism of England, its bourgeois liberty, its parliamentary democracy, as they have grown during some six or seven centuries? Do you really know them? Do you know how utterly they differ from conditions in your country? Do you know how deeply these ideas are rooted in everyone, also in the proletarian individuals of England and its colonies? Do you know into what an immense whole it has developed? Do you know how generally spread it is? In social and personal life? I do not think there is one Russian, one inhabitant of Eastern Europe, who knows them. If you knew them, you would rejoice at those among the English workers who totally break with this greatest political formation of world capitalism.
If this is done with full consciousness, it demands a revolutionary mind, quite as great as that which once broke with Czarism. This rupture with the entire English democracy constitutes the era of the English revolution.
And this is done, as it must inevitably be done in England, with its tremendous history, tradition, and strength; it is done with the utmost firmness of purpose. Because the English proletariat has the greatest power (potentially it is the most powerful on the earth), it makes a sudden stand against the mightiest bourgeoisie of the earth, and with one stroke rejects the whole of English democracy, although the revolution has not yet broken out there.
That is what their vanguard did, just like the German one, the KAPD. And why did they do it? Because they know that they also stand alone, and that no class in all England will help them, and that above all the proletariat itself, and not the leaders, must fight and win there (4).
It was an historic day, Comrade, when on this June day in London the first Communist Party was founded, and this Party rejected the entire structure and government apparatus of seven hundred years. I wish Marx and Engels could have been present there. I believe they would have felt a great, a supreme joy at seeing how these English workers rejected the English State, the example for all States of the earth, and which for centuries has been the centre and stronghold of world capitalism and rules over one third of humanity; how they reject it and its parliament, though only theoretically as yet.
These tactics are all the more necessary in England because English capitalism supports the capitalism of all other countries, and will decidedly not scruple to summon auxiliaries from all over the world, against every foreign, as well as against its own proletariat. The fight of the English proletariat, therefore, is a struggle against world capitalism. All the more reason for the English Communists to give the most elevated and brilliant example. To wage an exemplary fight on behalf of the world proletariat, and to strengthen it by example (5).
Thus there has to be everywhere one group that draws all the consequences; such groups are the salt of humanity.
Here, however, after this theoretical defence of anti-parliamentarism, I have to answer in detail your defence of parliamentarism. You defend it (from page 36 to 68), for England and Germany. The argumentation, however, holds good only for Russia (and at the very utmost for a few other East-European countries), not for Western Europe. That, as I have said before, IS Where your mistake lies. That turns you from a Marxist into an opportunist leader. That causes you, the Marxist, radical leader for Russia, and probably a few more East-European countries, to sink back into opportunism where Western Europe is concerned. And, if accepted here, your tactics would lead the entire West to perdition. This I will next prove in detail, in answer to your argumentation.
Comrade, on reading your argumentation from page 36 to 68, a recollection constantly occurred to me.
I saw myself once more at a congress of the old Social-Patriotic Party of Holland, listening to a speech of Troelstra’s – a speech in which he depicted to the workers the great advantages of the reformist policy, in which he spoke of the workers that were not social-democratic yet, and that were to be won by compromise; in which he spoke of the alliances that were to be made (only provisionally, of course!) with the parties of these workers, and of the “rifts” in and between the bourgeois parties, of which we were to make use. In just the same way, in almost, nay in absolutely the same words, you, Comrade Lenin, speak for us West Europeans!
And I remember how we sat there, far back in the hall; we the Marxist Comrades, very few in number – only four or five. Henriette Roland Holst, Pannekoek, and a few others. Troelstra spoke persuasively and convincingly, just as you do, Comrade. And I remember how, in the midst of the thundering applause, of the brilliant reformist expositions and the reviling of Marxism, the workers in the hall looked round at the “idiots” and “asses” and “childish fools,” names that Troelstra called us at that time – almost the same as you call us now. To all probability things have been practically the same at the Congress of the International in Moscow, when you spoke against the “Left” Marxists. And his words – just like yours, Comrade – were so convincing, so logical, within the compass of his method, that at times I myself thought, yes, he is right.
Usually I was the one to speak for the opposition (in the years up to 1909, when we were expelled). Shall I tell you what I did, when I began to doubt about myself? I had a means that never failed: it was a sentence from the Party Programme:
“You shall ever act or speak in such a way that the class consciousness of the workers shall be roused and strengthened.”
And I asked myself: is the class consciousness of the workers roused or not by what the man over there is saying? And then I always knew that at once this was not the case, and that therefore I was right.
It was just the same reading your brochure. I hear your opportunist arguments for cooperation with non-Communist parties, with bourgeois elements, for compromise. And I am carried away. It all seems so brilliant, clear and fine. And so logical as well. But then I consider, as I used to long ago, just one phrase which some time ago I made for myself, for the campaign against the Communist opportunists. It is as follows:
Is what yonder Comrade says the sort of thing that strengthens the will of the masses for action, for the revolution, for the real revolution in Western Europe – yes or no?
And with regard to your brochure, my head and heart answer at the same time: no. Then I know at once, as surely as one can possibly know anything, that you are wrong.
I can recommend this method to the comrades of the Left Wing. Whenever you want to know, Comrades, in the severe struggles ahead of us, against the opportunists of all countries (here in Holland they have been waging for the last three years) whether and why you are right, ask yourself this question!
In your opposition to us, Comrade, you use only three arguments, that constantly recur all through your brochure, either separately or combined.
They are the following:
1. The advantages of parliamentary propaganda for winning the workers and the petit bourgeois elements to our side.
2. The advantages of parliamentary action for making use of the “rifts” between the parties, and for compromises with some of them.
3. The example of Russia, where this propaganda and the compromise worked so wonderfully well.
Further arguments you have none; I will answer them in turn.
To begin with the first argument, propaganda in parliament. This argument is only of very slight importance, for the non-communist workers, that is to say the social-democrats the Christian and other bourgeois elements do not, as a rule, read one word in their papers about our parliamentary speeches.
Often these speeches are utterly mutilated. With those, therefore, we achieve nothing We only get at the workers through our meetings, brochures and newspapers.
We, however (I often speak in the name of the KAPD), get at them especially through action (in the time of the revolution of which we speak) In all bigger towns and villages they see us act. They see our strikes, our street fights our councils. They hear our watchwords. They see our lead. This is the best propaganda, the most convincing. This action, however, is not in parliament!
The non-communist workers, therefore, the small peasants and bourgeois, can be reached quite well also without parliamentary action
Here one part in particular from your brochure Infantile Disorder, must be refuted; it shows where opportunism is already leading you, Comrade.
On page 52 you say that the fact of the German workers coming in masses to join the ranks of the Independent Party, and not the Communist Party, is attributable to the parliamentary action of the Independents. The mass of the Berlin workers, therefore, had been as good as converted through the death of our Comrades Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, through the purposeful strikes and the street fights of the Communists. Only a speech of Comrade Levi in parliament was lacking as yet! Had he but delivered this speech, they would have come to us, instead of to the double-minded Independents! No, comrade, this is not true. They have gone to the double-minds first because they were afraid as yet of the single-minded: the revolution. Because the transition from slavery to freedom lies through hesitation.
Look out, Comrade, you see whither opportunism is already leading you.
Your first argument is of no importance.
And if we consider that parliamentary action (in the revolution, in Germany and England, and all Western Europe) reinforces the workers’ idea that their leaders will do things for them, and dissuades them from the idea that they must do everything for themselves, we see that this argument does not only bring no good at all, but that it is exceedingly harmful.
The second argument: the advantage of parliamentary action (in revolutionary periods) for taking advantage of the rifts between the parties, and for compromises with some of them.
To refute this argument (especially for England and Germany, but also for all Western Europe), I shall have to go somewhat more into detail than with the first. It is most uncongenial to me, Comrade, that I should have to do this against you. This entire question of revolutionary opportunism, for it is no longer reformist, but revolutionary opportunism, is a vital question, literally a matter of life and death for us West-Europeans. The matter itself, the refutation, is easy. We have refuted this argument a hundred times, when Troelstra, Henderson, Bernstein, Legien, Renaudel, Van der Velde, etc., all the Social-Patriots, used it. Why Kautsky, when he was still Kautsky, has refuted it. It was the greatest argument of the reformists. We did not think we would ever have to do it against you. Now we have to.
Well then: The advantage of profiting in parliament from the “rifts” is utterly insignificant, for the very reason that for several years, for a score of years, these “rifts” have been insignificant. Those between the big bourgeois and the petty-bourgeois parties. In Western Europe, in Germany and England. This does not date from the revolution. It was so long before, in the period of peaceful evolution. All parties, including the petty-bourgeoisie and the small peasants, had been AGAINST the workers for a long time already, and between themselves the difference in matters concerning the workers (and consequently on nearly all points), had become very slight, or had often quite disappeared.
This is an established fact, theoretically as well as practically, in Western Europe, in Germany and England.
Theoretically, because capital concentrates in banks, trusts, and monopolies to an enormous degree.
In Western Europe, and especially in England and Germany, these banks, trusts and cartels have assimilated nearly all capital in the industries, commerce, transport, and to a great extent even in agriculture. The whole of industry, including small scale industry, the whole of transport, including the small enterprises, the whole of commerce, big as well as small, and the greater part of agriculture, big and small, has consequently become absolutely dependent on big capital. They have fused with it.
Comrade Lenin says that small commerce, transport, industry and agriculture, waver between capital and workers. This is wrong. It was so in Russia, and it used to be so here. In Western Europe, in Germany and England, they are now so largely, so utterly dependent on big capital, that they no longer waver. The small shop owner, the small industrialist, the small trader, are absolutely in the power of the trusts, the monopolies, the banks. It is from these that they get their goods and credit. And even the small peasant, through his cooperative and his mortgages, is dependent on the trust, the monopoly, and the banks.
Comrade, this part of my argumentation, the argumentation of the “Left Wing,” is the most important of all. The entire tactics for Europe and America depend on it.
What elements do they consist of, Comrade, these lower layers that stand nearest to the proletariat? Of shop owners, artisans, lower officials and employees, and poor peasants.
Let us consider what these are in Western Europe! Follow me, Comrade. Not only in a big shop – there the dependence on capital is a matter of course – but in a small one in a poor, proletarian quarter. Look around you. What do you see? Everything: nearly all the goods, clothes, foodstuffs, implements, fuel etc., are products not only of big industry, but often of the trusts. And not only in the cities, but in the country likewise. The small shopkeepers are for the most part storekeepers of big capital. That is to say of banking capital, for this rules the large factories and the trusts.
Look about you in the workshop of a small artisan, no matter whether in the city or the country. His raw materials, the metals, the leather, the wood, etc., come to him from big capital, often even from the monopolies, that is to say from the banks as well. And in so far as the purveyors are small capitalists as yet, these in their turn depend on banking capital.
And the lower officials and employees? The great majority of them in Western Europe is in the employment of big capital, the State, of the municipality, finally therefore also of the banks. The percentage of employees and officials nearest to the proletariat that are directly or indirectly dependent on big capital is very great in Western Europe. In Germany and England, as well as in the United States and the British colonies, it is enormous.
And the interests of these layers are one therefore with those of big capital, that is to say the banks.
I have already dealt with the poor peasants, and we have seen, that for the time being they cannot be won for Communism, for the reasons already mentioned, and also because they are dependent on big capital for their implements, goods, and mortgages.
That modern West-European (and American) society and State have become ONE big, thoroughly organised whole, which is entirely controlled, moved and regulated by banking capital. That society here is a regulated body, capitalistically regulated, but regulated all the same. That banking capital is the blood, flowing through the entire body, and nourishing all its branches. That this body is one, and that capital renders this body enormously strong, and that therefore all the members will stand by it to the very end – all except the proletariat, which makes this blood: surplus value.
Through this dependence of all classes on banking capital and through the enormous strength of banking capital, all the classes are hostile to the revolution, so that the proletariat stands alone.
And as banking capital is the most pliable and elastic force in the world, and increases its power a thousand times through its credit, it upholds and maintains capitalism and the capitalist State, even after this terrible war, after the loss of thousands of billions, and in the midst of conditions that seem like bankruptcy to us.
And it is through this that, with all the more force, it collects all classes around it, combining them into one whole, against the proletariat. And the force and pliability, and the unison of all classes are so great, that they will last long after the revolution has broken out.
It is true that capital has been terribly weakened. The crisis is coming, and with it the revolution. And I believe that the revolution will win. But there are two things that still keep capitalism very strong: the spiritual slavery of the masses, and banking capital.
Our tactics, therefore, have to be based on the power of these two things.
And there is one other cause through which organised banking capital rallies all the classes against the revolution. It is the great number of proletarians. All the classes feel that if only they could induce the workers (in Germany alone almost twenty million) to work 10, 12, or 14 hours a day, then there would be a way out of the crisis. That is why they hold together.
These are the economic conditions in Western Europe.
In Russia banking capital did not have this power yet, so there the bourgeoisie and the lower classes did not unite. Consequently, there were real rifts between them. And there the proletariat did not stand alone.
These economic causes determine politics. It is through this that those classes in Western Europe (dependent slaves that they are) vote for their masters, for these big capitalist parties, and that they belong to them. In Germany and England, in Western Europe, these elements have hardly any parties of their own.
All this was very strong already before the revolution and before the war. Now through the war it has become intensified to an enormous extent – through nationalism and chauvinism, but especially through the massive trustification of all economic forces. Through the revolution, however, this tendency – unity of all bourgeois parties with all petty-bourgeois elements and all poor peasants – has again been immensely strengthened.
The Russian Revolution has not been in vain! Now we know everywhere what to expect.
Thus in Western Europe, and especially in England and Germany, the big bourgeoisie and the big peasants, the middle classes and middle peasants, the lower bourgeoisie and the small peasants, are all united against the workers, through monopoly, the banks, the trusts; through imperialism, the war and revolution (6). And, as the labour question encompasses all things, they are united on all questions.
Here, Comrade, I must make the same remark I have already made (in the first chapter) with regard to the peasant question. I know quite well that the little minds in our Party, that lack the strength to base tactics on great, general lines, and consequently base them on the small, particular ones, that these little minds will call the attention to those elements among these layers, that have not yet come under the banner of big capital.
I do not deny that there are such elements, but I maintain that the general truth, the general tendency in Western Europe, is that they are under the banner of big capital. And it is on this general truth that our tactics must be based!
Neither do I deny that there may be “rifts” yet. I only say that the general tendency is, and will be, for a long time after the revolution: unity of these classes. And I say that for the workers in Western Europe it is better to have their attention directed to that unity than to these rifts. For it is they themselves that must in the first place make the revolution, and not their leaders, their Members of Parliament.
Nor do I say that (which the little minds will make of my words) that the real interests of these classes are the same as those of big capital. I know that these classes are oppressed by it.
What I say is simply this:
These classes cling to big capital even more firmly than before, because now they also see the danger of the proletarian revolution ahead.
In Western Europe the domination of capital means to them a more or less sure existence, the possibility of, or at least the belief in, a betterment of their position. Now they are threatened by chaos and the revolution, which for some time to come means worse chaos. That is why they side with capital in the effort to sweep chaos away by every possible means, to save production, to drive the workers to work longer hours, and to endure privation patiently. For them the proletarian revolution in Western Europe is the fall and breakdown of all order, of all security of existence, be it ever so insufficient. Therefore they all support big capital, and will continue to do so for a long time, including during the revolution.
For finally I must yet point out that what I have said applies to the tactics at the beginning and in the course of the revolution. I know that quite at the end of the revolution, when victory draws near and capitalism has been shattered, these classes will come to us. But we must determine our tactics not for the end, but for the beginning and in the course of the revolution.
Theoretically, therefore, all this had to be so.
Theoretically these classes had to cooperate.
Theoretically this is an established fact. But practically as well.
This I will prove next:
For many years already the entire bourgeoisie, all bourgeois parties in Western Europe, also those that belong to the small peasants and middle bourgeoisie, have done nothing for the workers. And they were all of them hostile to the labour movement, and in favour of imperialism, in favour of the war.
For years already there had not been a single party in England, in Germany, in Western Europe, that supported the workers. All were opposed to them; in all matters (7).
There was no new labour legislation. Conditions grew worse instead. Laws were passed against going on strike. Even higher taxes were levied.
Imperialism, colonisation, marinism and militarism were supported by all bourgeois, including the petty-bourgeois parties. The difference between liberal and clerical, conservative and progressive, big and petty bourgeois, disappeared.
Everything which the social-patriots, the reformists said, about the difference between the parties, about the “rifts” between them, was a fraud. And all this has now been brought forward by you, Comrade Lenin! It was a fraud for all countries in Western Europe. This has been best proved in July-August 1914.
At that time they were all one. And the revolution has made them even far more united in practice. Against the revolution, and consequently against all workers, for the revolution alone can bring actual betterment to all workers, against the revolution they all stand together without a single “rift.”
And as through the war, the crisis and the revolution, all social and political questions have come to be connected in practice with the question of the revolution, these classes in Western Europe stand together in all questions, and in opposition to the proletariat.
In a word, the trust, the monopoly, the big banks, imperialism, the war, the revolution, have in practice riveted together into one class all the West-European big and petty bourgeois and peasant parties against the workers (8).
Theoretically and practically, therefore, this is an established fact. In the revolution in Western Europe and especially in England and Germany, there are no “rifts” of any considerable importance between these classes.
Here again I must add something personal. On pages 40 and 41 you criticise the Amsterdam Bureau. You cite a thesis of the bureau. Parenthetically, what you say with regard to this is wrong – all of it. But you also say that the Amsterdam Commission, before condemning parliamentarism, ought to have given an analysis of the class relations and the political parties, to justify this condemnation. Excuse me, Comrade, this was not the task of the Commission. For that on which their thesis is based, to wit that all bourgeois parties in Parliament as well as more outside, had been all along, and were even now, opposed to the workers, and did not show the slightest “rift,” all this had been ascertained long ago, and was an established fact for all Marxists. In Western Europe at any rate, there was no need for us to analyse that.
On the contrary, considering you strive for compromise and alliances in Parliament, which would lead us into opportunism, it was your duty to demonstrate that there are any rifts of importance between the bourgeois parties.
You wish to lead us, here in Western Europe, into compromising. What Troelstra, Henderson, Scheidemann, Turati, etc., could not accomplish in the time of evolution, you wish to do during the revolution. It is for you to prove that this can be done.
And this not by means of Russian examples; these are easy enough, to be sure, but with West-European examples. This duty you have fulfilled in the most miserable way. No wonder you took almost exclusively your Russian experience, that of a very backward country, not that of the Western Europe of these modern days.
In the entire booklet, in the parts which deal with these very questions of tactics, the Russian examples excepted, to which I will soon proceed, I find but two examples from Western Europe, the Kapp putsch in Germany, and the Lloyd George-Churchill government in England, with the opposition of Asquith.
Very few examples indeed, and of the poorest quality, that there are “rifts” between the bourgeois, and in this case also the social democratic parties!
If ever a proof was needed that between the bourgeois (and in this case also the social democratic parties), there are no important rifts as regards the workers, in the revolution, and here in Western Europe; the Kapp putsch furnishes that proof. The Kappites did not punish, kill and imprison the democrats, the Zentrum people, and the social democrats. And when these came into power again, they did not punish, kill and imprison the Kappites. But both parties killed the Communists!
Communism was too weak as yet. That is why they did not TOGETHER forge a dictatorship. Next time, when Communism will be stronger, they will organise a dictatorship BETWEEN THEM.
It was and is your duty, Comrade, to point out in what way the Communists could at that time have taken advantage in Parliament of that rift – in such a way, of course, as to benefit the workers. It was and is your duty to tell us what the Communist Members of Parliament ought to have said to make the workers see this rift, and take advantage of it – in such a way, of course, as not to strengthen the bourgeois parties. You cannot do this, because during the revolution there is no rift of any importance. And it is of the time of the revolution that we speak. And it was your duty to point out that if in special cases there should be such rifts, it would be more advantageous to direct the attention of the workers in that direction than to the general tendency towards unity.
And it was and is your duty, Comrade, before beginning to lead us in Western Europe, to show where those rifts are, in England, in Germany, in Western Europe.
This you cannot do either. You speak of a rift between Churchill, Lloyd George, and Asquith, of which the workers are to take advantage. This is altogether pitiful. I will not even discuss this with you. For everyone knows that since in England the industrial proletariat has some power, these rifts have been artificially made by the bourgeois parties and leaders and are yet being made, to mislead the workers, to entice them from the one side to the other, and back again ad infinitum, thus to keep them for ever powerless and dependent. To this end they even at times admit two opponents to the one government, Lloyd George and Churchill. And Comrade Lenin lets himself be caught in this trap, that is well nigh a century old! He strives to induce the British workers to base their politics on this fraud! At the time of the revolution, the Churchills, Lloyd George, and the Asquiths will unite against the revolution, and then you, Comrade, will have betrayed and weakened the English proletariat with an illusion. It was your duty to point out not by means of general, fine and brilliant figures of speech (as in the entire last chapter, on page 72 for instance), but accurately, concretely, by means of clear examples and facts, what those conflicts and differences are – not the Russian ones, nor those that are of no importance, or artificially made, but by means of the actual, important, West-European examples. This you do nowhere in your brochure. And as long as you do not give these, we do not believe you. When you give them we will answer you – until then we say: it is nothing but illusions that mislead the workers, and lead them into false tactics. The truth is, Comrade, that you wrongly assume the West-European and the Russian revolutions to be alike. And for what reason? Because you forget that in the modern, that is to say the West-European and North American States, there is a power that stands above the various kinds of capitalists – the landowners, industrial magnates, and merchants banking capital. This power, which is identical with imperialism, unites all capitalists, including the small peasants and bourgeois.
One thing, however, remains to you. You say there are rifts between Labour parties and the bourgeois parties, and that these can be made use of. That is right.
We might aver, to be sure, that these differences between the social democrats and bourgeois in the war and in the revolution have been very slight and have disappeared in most cases! But they might be there. And they may arise yet. Of those we must therefore speak. Especially as you put it, the “pure” English Labour government, Thomas, Henderson, Clynes, etc., in England, against Sylvia Pankhurst, and the possibly “pure” socialist government of Ebert, Scheidemann, Noske, Hilferding, Crispien, Cohn, against the KAPD (9).
You say that your tactics, which direct the workers’ attention towards these Labour governments, encouraged them to promote their formation, are clear and effective; whilst ours, which are opposed to their formation, are harmful.
No, Comrade, our attitude with regard to these cases of “pure” Labour government where the rift between these parties of workers and those of the bourgeoisie became a split, is again quite clear, and profitable, to the revolution.
It is possible that we shall allow such a government to exist. It can be necessary, it can mean progress for the movement. If this is so, we cannot proceed any further yet, we will let it exist, criticising them as keenly as possible, and replace them by a Communist government as soon as we can. But to promote its arrival in Parliament and in elections, this will not do in Western Europe.
And we will not do this, because in Western Europe and in the revolution the workers stand all alone. For that reason everything – do you understand this? – everything HERE depends on their will for action, on their clearness of brain. And because of these, your tactics of compromising with the Scheidemanns and Hendersons, with the Crispiens and their followers among the English Independents, of the opportunist Communists of the Spartacus League or the BSP – because these tactics inside and outside Parliament confuse heads, here in Western Europe and in the revolution – making the workers elect someone whom they know beforehand to be an impostor, and because our tactics on the other hand make them clear-sighted, by showing them the enemy as enemy, because of all this and, even at the risk of losing a representative in Parliament in periods of illegality, or of missing the benefit, of a “rift” (in Parliament!), we in Western Europe, and under the present conditions, choose our tactics and reject yours.
Here again your advice leads to confusion, and awakens illusions.
But what about the members of the social democratic parties, the German Independents, the Labour Party, and the Independent Party? Must not those be won?
These, the working class and petty-bourgeois elements among them, will be won by us, the Left Wing, in Western Europe, through our propaganda, our meetings and our press, and especially through our example, our slogans, our action on the shop floor. In the revolution, those who are not won thus, through our action, through the revolution, are lost anyway, and can go to the devil. These social-democratic, Independent Labour Parties in England and Germany consist of workers and petty-bourgeois elements. The first, the workers, can all be won in the long run. The petty-bourgeois elements only to a very slight extent, and are of little economic importance; these few will be won over by our propaganda, etc.. The majority of them – and it is on these that Noske and his conjurers rely above all – belong to capitalism, and, in proportion to the revolution’s advance, they rally all the closer around it.
But does the fact that we do not support them at the elections imply that we are cut off from the Labour Parties, the independents, the social democrats, the Labour Party, etc.? On the contrary, we seek alliance with them as much as we can. On every occasion we summon them for common action: for the strike, the boycott, for revolt, street fights, and especially for the workers’ councils, the industrial councils. We seek them everywhere. Only not in parliament, as we used to do. This, in Western Europe, belongs to a past epoch. But in the workshop, in the union and in the street – that is where we find them. That is where we win them. This is the new practice, succeeding social democratic practice. It is the Communist practice.
You, Comrade, wish to bring the social democrats, the Independents, etc., into Parliament in order to show that they are deceivers. You wish to use Parliament to show that it is of no use.
You seek to slyly deceive the workers. You put the rope round their neck and let them hang. We help them to avoid the rope. We do this because here we are able to do so. You follow the tactics of the peasant races; we those of the industrial races. This is no scorn, and no mockery. I believe that with you it was the right way. Only you should not – either in this small matter, or in the great question of parliamentarism – force on us what was good in Russia but leads to destruction here.
Finally I have only one remark to make: you say, and you have often upheld it, that in Western Europe the revolution can only begin AFTER these lower classes adjacent to the proletariat have been sufficiently shaken, neutralised or won over. As I have demonstrated that they cannot be shaken, neutralised or won at the beginning of the revolution, this latter, if your statement was correct, would be impossible. This has been told to me over and over again, from your side, and also by Comrade Zinoviev. Fortunately, however, here also your observation in the most important of questions which determine the revolution, is false. And it again proves that you see all things exclusively from the East-European point of view. I will make this clear in the last chapter.
I herewith believe to have proved that your second argument for parliamentarism is for the most part an opportunistic fraud, and that in this respect parliamentarism must now be replaced by another method of fighting, one that lacks its drawbacks and possesses greater advantages.
I recognise that in this one point your tactics can have some advantages. The Labour Government can produce some good, greater clarity. And in illegal times your tactics can be profitable. We recognise that. But just as once we needed to say to the revolutionists and reformists: we prize the development of self-consciousness in the workers above everything, even above small advantages. We now say to you, Lenin and your “Right” comrades: we prize above all the ripening of the masses towards will and deed. Hereto all things have to be made subservient in Western Europe. We will see who is right, the “Left” or Lenin. I do not doubt one moment. We will defeat you, as we did Troelstra, Henderson, Renaudel and Legien.
This here is the place to discuss the mutual relationship between party, class and mass in Western Europe.
This matter is also of the greatest importance: as important as the power of banking capital, and the UNITY of all great and small bourgeois classes it engenders. The relation between party, class and mass in Western Europe differs widely from that of Russia, and like the unity of the bourgeois classes it is due to the power of banking capital.
Our tactics must be directed toward and based on a true understanding of that relationship. Whoever does not understand this relationship, cannot understand the, tactics for Western Europe.
Let us again take Germany as an example. Not only because, with England, it is industrially the most highly developed country, but also because it offers the most developed statistics.
As we have often observed already, it has a proletariat of about twenty million actual workers: about fourteen million industrial and some six million agricultural. What does this mean? That, counting children, non-workers and the aged, this proletariat comprises at least half – and probably more – of the total population of Germany.
We have seen, however, that in the revolution the proletariat stands alone, and that the opponents of the proletariat, of the revolution, by virtue of their arms and their organisation, even to this day are so powerful that they can only be conquered by means of the unity of the entire proletariat. And because of banking capital their power is such that unity alone does not suffice: that a conscious, determined unity, a truly Communist unity is needed.
Two facts therefore are certain: the proletariat is very numerous, it comprises more than half the population; and the opposition, in spite of this, is so powerful that the unity of the proletariat, real Communist unity is necessary.
Only thus can Capitalism be overthrown, and can the revolution conquer.
What follows from these two facts?
Firstly, that the dictatorship of a Party, of a Communist Party, cannot exist here in Germany, as it did in Russia, where a few thousand dominated the proletariat. Here, in order to conquer capital, the dictatorship must be exercised by the class itself, the entire class (10).
It is not, we insistently repeat, for any radical romantic, aesthetic, heroic or intellectual reason, but for the most simple and concrete fact-one moreover that is only too much felt by the German proletariat: that highly organised German monopoly banking capital is so powerful, and unites the entire bourgeoisie.
The same cause that unites the entire bourgeoisie makes it necessary that the entire class should exercise its dictatorship.
From the above mentioned causes there follows secondly: that at the beginning and during the course of the revolution the masses are divide into two hostile camps. By masses we mean the proletariat and the other working class combined.
These latter (petty-bourgeois, peasants, intellectuals, etc.) in the beginning and during the course of the revolution are hostile to the greater part of the proletariat. Between the proletariat on the one side and the rest of the masses on the other, there is an antithesis. Class and mass in Western Europe are not one, nor can they become so at the start, and in the first stages of the revolution.
Finally from the numerical relations of the proletariat towards the other classes, and from the fact that the proletariat must be united in order to win, there follows, as I have shown above, that the relative importance of the class, as opposed to the power of leaders, must be very great; that the power of the leaders, with regard to that of the class, must be small, and likewise that in all likelihood in Germany power cannot come into the hands of some few leaders.
If we consider the character of German industry, its concentration in great numbers of centres, this goes without saying. How great, how numerous the leadership will be, cannot as yet be ascertained, it can only be stated that it will be extended over a great number of persons.
And thus, after Germany, it is in the first place in England – and, though to a lesser degree, all over Western Europe.
And this fact that the entire class must exercise its dictatorship, how does it affect the Communist Party?
From this fact follows that the task of the Communist Party in Western Europe consists almost exclusively of preparing the class and making it conscious for the revolution and the dictatorship.
In all its actions and all its tactics the Party must always bear in mind that the revolution must be made, and the dictatorship exercised not by the Party alone, but by the class.
The task can only be fulfilled if the Communist Party consists of politically truly conscious and convinced revolutionaries, who are ready for any deed, any sacrifice, and if all the half-baked and wavering elements are kept off by means of its programme, by action, and especially by the very tactics.
For only thus, only by preserving this purity, the Party will be able to make the class truly revolutionary and Communist, through its propaganda, its slogans, and by taking the lead in all actions. The Party can take the lead only by being always absolutely pure itself.
How large the Communist Party will become through this action cannot be predetermined. We desire, of course, that it may be as big as possible. But the entire tactics and the entire struggle must be dominated by this principle: better a thousand members that are good, than a hundred thousand that are bad. For these latter cannot accomplish the revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
It all depends on the purity and the firmness of the Communist Party, how far its power will reach; and how much it will influence the masses. Also the quality of the leaders depends to some degree on its tactics.
In other words, Comrade Lenin, we must never follow the tactics you followed in 1902 and 1903, when you formed the Party that has made the revolution.
All the social democrats of Russia at that time were of the opinion that a proletarian organisation ought to be created, and they agreed that this organisation was to be obtained by means of a blind imitation of German social democracy; all this has finally crystallised into the Menshevist Party. The later Menshevists dreamed of building a big Labour Party, in which the masses would be able to find the road to their action. Such a party would have to accept all those who adopted its programme, it would have to be democratically conducted, and would find its revolutionary way by means of free criticism, and free discussion. It was against this alluring image, Comrade Lenin, that you directed all the blows of your criticism, and not only because such a party was impossible under Czarism, and an illusion, but mainly because “behind this illusion, there lurked the immense danger of opportunism.”
The tactics of the Menshevists would mean that the most wavering and hesitating elements would obtain a decisive influence on the party of the proletariat. This you wished to prevent, and that is why you took care that the programme (in the well known first article), and the tactics also, should always be such that this was impossible (11).
As you did then, we of the Left Wing wish to do now in the Third International. Through our very programme and tactics we wish to chase away all vacillating and opportunist elements; we only wish to accept the truly Communist, truly revolutionary ones, we wish to carry out truly communist action. And all this exclusively with a view to inspiring the entire class with communist spirit, and of preparing it for the revolution and the dictatorship.
This latter, the preparation, is of course a process – a process of interaction. Every action, every partial revolution advances the class, brings it nearer to the party, and the stronger class means greater strength for each new struggle, and also for the party. Thus party, a class come into ever closer contact, and finally they grow into one whole.
This, therefore, is our purpose: the Party, small or large, does everything in its power to further the ripening of the class for revolution and dictatorship, as this class stands alone in the revolution, without the help of the peasants.
However, there is yet another means to obtain this. Besides the political party we have as our weapon the Arbeiter-Union, based on the industrial organisation. What the party is for political action, the Union is for economic action.
And just as the numerical and class relations for Germany and Western Europe, which I have quoted, clearly demonstrate that the party cannot exercise the dictatorship, so these figures, these class relations, this unity of all bourgeois classes against the revolution, this inevitable unity of the proletariat against them, and this necessity of the entire class exercising the dictatorship, and becoming for the most part communist, demonstrate the iron necessity that no Trade Union, nor Arbeiter-Union or Industrial League, nor IWU or Shop Stewards’ Movement can ever presume to exercise the dictatorship.
They, both of them, party as well as Arbeiter-Union, each in its own sphere, and with every possible mutual support, must do all they can to prepare the class. For the time being, Party and Union are separate as yet. For, like all Trade Unions, the Union also has to fight for small improvements, and is therefore constantly exposed to opportunist and reformist influences. Only a truly communist party can subordinate everything to the revolution.
From the necessity of this development in Western Europe (which has sprung up through the power of banking capital), it is also clearly evident that those who already now in the beginning and course of the revolution wish to place the Arbeiter-Union, the Industrial Union, the industrial organisation, above the Party, or who even wish to abolish the latter, are wrong.
Gradually, as the Party grows stronger, as the Union grows, as the class becomes more and more communist, as the revolution approaches its goal, class, party and Arbeiter-Union or Industrial Union closely approach one another. In the end the Party, the Union and the class are all equivalent, and are blended into one whole.
Finally, of course, the power and the unity of all bourgeois classes, and the necessary unity of the entire proletariat, make strong centralisation and strict discipline, in the Party as well as in the Union, absolutely necessary.
It is the task of the German and English, the West-European and American proletariat to combine centralisation and discipline with the strictest control of, with power over, the leadership.
For only thus can the West-European and American proletariat conquer, through the blending of centralisation in the leadership, and the control of the membership.
It need hardly be explained here that also after the revolution the dictatorship of the entire class, and the communist spirit of the whole proletariat in Western Europe and America are absolutely necessary. For here the counterrevolution is so powerful, that if these two conditions were not fulfilled – if, for instance, a new class of rulers sprung up, out of the intellectuals and the bureaucracy – the revolution would soon perish. Now already the tactics must be on the lookout to prevent this.
How different from Russia all this is!
How different from Russia where, as a result of the economic conditions, as a result of class relations – and rightly, therefore – a handful of people rule the Party, where an infinitesimally small party rules the class, and a minutely small class the entire nation; where no Arbeiter-Union is needed, where the class, and the great majority of the remaining working masses, the small peasants, were one with the revolution!
Whoever fails to understand from the productive and class relations of Western Europe what the relations between the leaders, the party, the class and the masses are, does not understand a thing of the revolution in Western Europe, nor of its necessary stipulations. Whoever wishes to conduct the west-European revolution according to the tactics and by the road of the Russian revolution, is not qualified to lead it.
From these West-European, and to some extent also from the American and Anglo-Colonial relations, it is therefore perfectly obvious that there is only one kind of tactics that in Western Europe (and North America) can lead to victory, and these are the tactics of the Left Wing, in the name of which I speak. For these claim that the leaders shall have relatively little power in relation to the class, and the class shall have relatively far greater power. They say that for the time being the class and the rest of the masses cannot be one. They claim that the entire class shall become truly communist, through truly communist propaganda, that therefore party and class shall become one. These, in order to obtain that end, wish to destroy the bourgeois Trade Unions, and replace them by communist industrial organisations, thus making those organisations, substitutes for the Trade Unions, the greatest of class organisations (in Germany they number ten million proletarians already), equal to the class. They are against parliamentarism, thus making every worker, and consequently the entire proletariat, independently revolutionary, which is to say communist.
They, the Left party, act in perfect accordance therefore with class relations as they really are in Western Europe, and are entirely in the right against the Executive Committee, the Congress of the Third International, and you, Comrade Lenin.
Only quite recently you said to a British delegation that in England a quite small Communist Party would be able to accomplish the revolution. Here, again, you speak as a Russian, and judge things be the Russian example. And it is on such mistaken notions that the tactics of the Executive and of the International are based! (12).
Those however who think, and say, and propagate these views, do not understand class relations in Western Europe and North America (13).
To these observations I need only add that where I speak of the unity of party and class, that is attained at last, and of the possibility of the entire proletariat in Western Europe and America becoming communist, I mean unity as big as possible, and a large part of the proletariat. I represent total unity and the entire proletariat as the Ideal, as the goal towards which we must tend, as the aim of our tactics. In all probability it will be impossible and unnecessary to completely achieve it. But the unity of party and class, and the portion of the proletariat that has to become communist, are so immeasurably greater here than in Russia, that this ideal in the tactics must be brought to the fore (14).
Next I come to your third argument: the Russian examples. You mention them repeatedly (on pp. 6-9 they occur several times). I have read them with the greatest attention, and, as I admired them before, I do now. I have been on your side ever since 1903. Also when I did not know your motives as yet – the connections being cut off – as at the time of the Brest-Litovsk peace, I defended you with your own motives. Your tactics were certainly brilliant for Russia, and it is owing to these tactics that the Russians have triumphed. But what does this prove for Western Europe? Nothing, according to my idea, or very little. The Soviets, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the methods for the revolution and for reconstruction, all this we accept. Also your international tactics have been – so far at least – exemplary. But for your tactics for the countries of Western Europe it is different. And this is only natural.
How could the tactics in the East and West of Europe possibly be the same? Russia, a chiefly agricultural country, but with an industrial capitalism that was only partially highly developed, and very small compared to the land. And, moreover, fed to a large extent by foreign capital! In Western Europe, and especially in England and Germany, it is just the opposite. With you: still all the old-fashioned forms of capital, from usury capital upwards. With us: almost exclusively a highly developed banking capital.
With you: immense remains of feudal and pre-feudal times, and even from the time of the tribe, of barbarism. With us, and especially in England and Germany: all things, agriculture, commerce, transport, industry, under the domination of the most developed capitalism. With you: immense remains of serfdom, the poor peasants, and in the country a declining middle class. With us: even the poor peasants in connection with modern production, transport, technique and exchange. And in the city as well as in the country the middle class, including the lower layers, in direct contact with the big capitalists.
You still have classes with which the rising proletariat can unite. The very existence of these classes helps. The same applies of course to the political parties. And with us, nothing of all this.
Of course, compromising in all directions, as you so captivatingly describe it, even making use of the rifts between the Liberals and the landowners, was alright for you. With us it is impossible. Consequently the difference in tactics between the East and the West. Our tactics fit our conditions. They are just as good as yours were under Russian conditions.
I find your Russian examples especially on pages 12, 13, 26, 27, 37, 40, 51 and 52. But no matter what these examples may mean for the Russian trade union question (p 27), for Western Europe they mean nothing at all, as here the proletariat needs far stronger weapons. As far as parliamentarism is concerned, your examples have been taken from a period when the revolution had not broken out (pp. 16, 26, 41 and 51 for instance), and these, therefore, either do not apply to the point in question, or, in so far as you could use the parties of the poor peasants and petty-bourgeoisie, they are so different from conditions here (pp. 12, 37, 40, 41 and 51), as to mean nothing to us (15).
It seems to me, Comrade, that your utterly wrong judgment, the utterly mistaken conception of your book, and no less the tactics of the Executive in Moscow, are to be attributed exclusively to the fact that you do not know enough about relations over here, or rather that you fail to draw the right conclusions from what you know, that you judge things too much from the Russian point of view.
This means, however – and it should be emphasised here once again, as the fate of the West-European proletariat, the world proletariat, the world revolution depends on this – that neither you, nor the Moscow Executive are able to direct the West-European and consequently the World Revolution, as long as you adhere to these tactics.
You ask: is it possible that you, who wish to reform the world, cannot even form a fraction in parliament?
We answer: this book of yours is a proof in itself that whoever tries to do the latter is bound to lead the Labour movement into false grooves, into ruin.
The book deludes the workers of Western Europe by means of illusions, of the impossible; compromise with the bourgeois parties in the revolution.
It makes them believe in something that does not exist: the possibility of the bourgeois parties being divided in Western Europe, in the revolution. It makes them believe that here a compromise with the social patriots and the wavering elements in parliament can lead to any good, whereas it brings hardly anything but calamity.
Your book leads the West-European proletariat back into the morass, from which at the cost of the greatest efforts it has not yet escaped, but is beginning to escape.
It leads us back into the morass, in which men like Scheidemann, Clynes, Renaudel, Kautsky, MacDonald, Longuet, Vandervelde, Branting and Troelstra have landed us. (It must inevitably fill all these with great joy, and bourgeois parties likewise, if they understand it). This book is to the communist revolutionary proletariat what Bernstein’s book has been for the pre-revolutionary proletariat. It is the first book of yours that is no good. For Western Europe, it is the worst book imaginable.
We, comrades of the Left Wing, must stand close together, must start everything from below upward, and must criticise as keenly as possible all those that in the Third International do not go the right way (16).
Thus the conclusion to be drawn from all these arguments about parliamentarism, is as follows: your three arguments for parliamentarism either mean very little, or are wrong. And, as in the Trade Union question, your tactics also on this point are disastrous for the proletariat. And with these mistaken or insignificant motives you hide the fact that you are bringing hundreds of thousands of opportunists into the Third International.
1. Originally I considered this a minor point. The attitude of the Spartakus League, however, at the time of the Kapp putsch, and your opportunist brochure, opportunist even on this question, have convinced me that it is of great importance.
2. This great influence, this entire ideology of the West of Europe, of the United States and the British colonies, is not understood in Eastern Europe, in Turkey, the Balkans, etc. (to say nothing of Asia, etc.).
3. The example of Comrade Liebknecht is in itself a proof that our tactics are right. BEFORE the revolution, when imperialism was as yet at the summit of power, and suppressed every movement by martial law, he could exercise an enormous influence through his protests in parliament; DURING the revolution this was so no longer. As soon, therefore, as the workers have taken their lot into their own hands, we must let go of parliamentarism.
4. It is true that England has no poor peasants to support capital. But the middle class is correspondingly greater, and is united with capitalism. By means of this advance guard the English proletariat shows how it wants to fight: alone, and against all classes of England and its colonies. And exactly like Germany again: by setting an example. By founding a Communist Party that rejects parliamentarism, and that calls out to the entire class in England: let go of parliament, the symbol of capitalist power. Form your own party and your own industrial organisations. Rely on your own strength exclusively.
This had to be so in England, Comrade; it had to come in the long run. This pride and courage, born out of the greatest capitalism. Now that it comes at last, it comes in full force at once.
5. In England, more even than anywhere else, there is always a great danger of opportunism. Thus also our Comrade Sylvia Pankhurst, who from temperament, instinct and experience, not so much perhaps from deep study, but by mere chance, was such an excellent champion of Left Wing Communism, seems to have changed here views. She gives up anti-parliamentarism, and consequently the cornerstone of her fight against opportunism, for the sake of the immediate advantage of unity! By so doing she follows the road thousands of English Labour leaders have taken before her: the road towards submission to opportunism and all it leads to, and finally to the bourgeoisie. This is not to be wondered at. But that you, Comrade Lenin, should have induced her to do so, should have persuaded her, the only fearless leader of consequence in England, this is a blow for the Russian, for the world revolution.
One might ask why I defend anti-parliamentarism for England, whereas above I have recommended it only for those countries where the revolution has broken out. The answer must be that in the struggle it may often prove necessary to go one step so much to the Left. If, in a country so diseased with opportunism as England, the danger should arise of a young Communist Party falling back into the course of opportunism, through parliamentarism, it is a tactical necessity to defend anti-parliamentarism. And thus in many countries of Western Europe it may continue to be!
6. It is true that through the war an infinitely greater number of various elements has come down to the ranks of the proletariat. All elements, though as good as any element that is not proletarian, cling desperately to capitalism, and if need be will defend it by armed force, being hostile to Communism.
7. I lack the space here to point this out in detail. I have done it so at length in a brochure entitled The Basis of Communism.
8. We Dutchmen know this only too well. We have seen the “rifts” disappear before our eyes, in our small, but, through our colonies, highly imperialist country. With us there are no longer democratic, Christian, or other parties. Even the Dutch can judge this better than a Russian, who, I regret to say, seems to judge Western Europe after Russia.
9. It is yet the question whether these “pure” Labour governments will come here. Maybe that here again you let yourself be misled by the Russian example – Kerensky. Later in this letter, I will point out why in this case, in the March days in Germany, this “pure” socialist government was not to be supported all the same.
10. The Russian Communist Party at the time of Yudenitch’s and Denikin’s attacks, numbered 13,287 men, not one ten thousandth part of the population of 150 million. Through special weeks of propaganda the number, by January 1920, increased to 220,000. Now it is no more than 600,000, 52% of which are workers.
11. The quotations are from Radek.
12. I point out here the contradiction between this opinion and the effort of winning millions of wavering elements to the Third International. This contradiction is another proof of the opportunism of your tactics.
13. A very strong proof of how the Board of the Third International judges all things from the Russian standpoint, is the following: after the German revolution had been beaten down, after the Bavarian and Hungarian revolutions had been crushed, Moscow said to the German and Hungarian proletariat:
“Be comforted, and bear up, for in March and July 1917, we were also defeated; but in November we won. As it went with us, it will go with you.”
And to be sure, this time again Moscow is saying the same to the Czecho-Slovakian workers. But the Russians won in November exclusively because the poor peasants no longer supported Kerensky! Where, Executive Committee, are the millions of poor peasants in Germany, Bavaria, Hungary, and in Czecho-Slovakia? There are none. Your words are just utter nonsense. The perniciousness of these Moscow tactics, however, does not lie solely in that they console the workers by means of a false image, but more especially in the fact that they fail to draw the right conclusion from the defeat in Germany, Bavaria, Hungary and Czecho-Slovakia. The lesson they teach is this:
“Destroy your Trade Unions, and form industrial unions, thus rendering your Party and your class strong internally.”
Instead of this lesson, however, we only hear: “It will go with you as it did with us!” Is it not high time that, against these Moscow tactics, there should arise, all over Western Europe, one firmly organised, iron opposition? It is a question of life and death for the world revolution itself. And also for the Russian revolution.
14. With regard to this we must bear in mind that here we are always speaking of a disarmed proletariat. If through some reason or other, through a new war, or later on, in the course of the revolution, the proletariat should once more obtain arms, the above-mentioned conditions do not count.
15. To deal with all these Russian examples would be too monotonous. I request the reader to read them all over. He will see that what I have said above is right.
16. Personally I believe that in countries where the revolution is far off as yet, and the workers are not yet strong enough to make it, parliamentarism can still be used. The sharpest criticism of the parliamentary delegates is necessary in that case. Other comrades, I believe, are of a different opinion.