T. A. Jackson

Book Review

Trotsky and Terror

Source: The Communist, December 10, 1921.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

“The Defence of Terrorism: a Reply to Karl Kautsky”
L. Trotsky
Labour Publishing Co.
3s. 6d.

THAT which divides the Communist Party from the various Socialist or Social-Democratic parties is not so much a distinction of ultimate aim as their totally opposite conceptions of the thing which has to be overthrown before an ordered and classless commonwealth can be brought into being.

To the orthodox bourgeois critic, and with them the Socialist and Social Democratic pundits, the one essential and finally damnable thing about the Communist Party is its willingness, or even anxiety to use “force,” “terror” and dictatorship as means to this end.

Kautsky and his school, for instance, believing as they do that “society,” by some magic of its composition must evolve more and more in a “socialist” direction, are furious with the Bolsheviks for having, as they suppose, attempted to bring this Socialism prematurely to birth—at a big cost in the sacrifice of all those incidentals of the modern State—“democracy,” “universal suffrage,” “representative government,” “peaceful progression” and the like which to this school have been accomplishments to be revered and valued as in themselves foretastes of the ideal Commonwealth to come.

In the future—“on the morrow of the revolution”—we shall have a state of things in which the interest of each will be identical with that of all. In these circumstances common action will be matter of common agreement: a matter of choosing between alternative plans in the light of the recommendations of expert specialists. We have not, they acknowledged, in the modern Capitalist State any such fundamental identity of the interest of each with that of all but we have got in our parliamentary institutions something which looks like it: something that implies its existence. In parliament men go through the motions of coming to a “free agreement in the light,” etc.; therefore what we must do is to preserve the parliamentary form and alter the social reality to correspond. In “society”—or more properly, each State—there are conflicting interests. These it must be the business of parliament to remove. This, it is sad to say, will entail the invasion by Parliament of the interests of one or other class party to the conflict, and this in turn will entail a struggle for power between these classes, each of which must as the struggle heightens, develop to its maximum intensity the will to triumph.

None the less, say they (the Kautskians) the fight—being between people who all accept with unshakeable devotion the sacred supremacy of Holy Parliament, the struggle, although one for State power and between classes each of which is fighting for ends it regards as indispensable to its class existence—will never transcend the bounds of a hotly contested general election, in which the defeated party accepts “democratically” the verdict of “the majority” and after a few grumbles settles down to realise that after all things aren’t so bad!

It is true—sadly true!—that there may be ill-natured and mis-cultured sections of the population who (for reasons that we may gleam from Darwin, Hæckel; Weissmann, and Professor Lombroso), have natures so constituted, or skulls so malformed that they are unable to assimilate and reverence the rules of this Parliamentary Parade to Paradise. These, finding their interests invaded or neglected, may in their ignorant wickedness, “kick up a shine.” For them there are, of course, the police—all, equally of course, “under democratic control.”

In any case, and this is the last, final and deck-sweeping word of Kautsky, Longuet, Adler, Arthur Henderson, Philip Snowden, Sidney Webb, Mrs. Webb, James Ramsay Macdonald and all—Oh! God, Major Douglas and all!—you must have either “democracy or civil war!”

In this mis-named but terrible refutation Trotsky with the experience of two revolutions and half a life time of exile in “democratic” countries behind him, strips bare and naked the pitiful, soul-less, “bookish”-ness of this Dodderers Conception of History. On the ground that Kautsky himself has chosen (in “Terrorism and Communism”—a title which Trotsky also gave to the original of this excellent translation) the Great French Revolution, the Commune of ’71, and the Bolshevik Revolution of ’17, Trotsky meets him point by point and detail by detail.

To outline his thesis of refutation would be wicked. Three-and-sixpence is a fair sum, I admit, as things go; but as against that is the fact that Trotsky is Trotsky, and he who would seek to summarise the detailed argumentation of this book in a review article would be either braver than a legion of lions or sillier than a drove of she-asses.

Undoubtedly it is a great book—on a great subject: a book which needs not only to be read, but re-read and digested. There can be few Communists who have not been irritated into profanity by the fatuous accusation of having a wilful passion for blood and violence as against the peace and benevolence of a purely electoral battle, and few who have not in their way and degree echoed Trotsky’s bitter scorn of those who refuse to see—even with the corpses almost under their noses—that civil war is waged quite as ruthlessly (and more so, from the bourgeois side!) under “democratic” forms as under those of avowed proletarian dictatorship.

There is perhaps, no better exercise that we could set ardent Young Communists than that of drawing up a summary of the arguments of our British “Kautsky’s” and appending to each of them the appropriate refutation for which they will have to seek no further than in this invaluable book.