The world-war made the working class take a backward step both morally and intellectually. It brutalised almost every strata of the population; it set the most undeveloped elements of the proletariat in the forefront of the movement, and finally increased the necessitous state of the proletariat to such an extent, that it brought despair in the place of quiet thought and reflection. The war also encouraged primitive ideas in the working-classes, by developing the military way of thinking, that form of thinking which, as it is, lies very near the surface in the thoughts of the average unintelligent man, who imagines that mere power is the determining factor in the world history – as if one needed only the necessary force and recklessness to accomplish everything that one undertakes. Marx and Engels have always attacked and opposed this conception. In Engels’ classical book (Anti-Dühring) there are three chapters dealing exclusively with “theory of power” (3rd edition, pp.162-192). This theory, from beginning to end, is anti-Marxist. Engels did not hesitate to oppose it wherever it appeared in a revolutionary form. He was not of the view, so much upheld to-day, that one should never show up the mistakes of a movement, if it is a revolutionary proletarian movement, because one might, by so doing, weaken the force of the revolution. Obviously enough, one should not be too strict in judgment on the faults and follies in a revolution. The most difficult historical situation is that of a revolution, in which one stands face to face with a completely new situation, which it is impossible to survey. It would be the very cheapest form of Pharisaism for an observer, himself in a secure position, or regarding from afar, to blame too heavily the mistakes that are made by men who are in the centre of the fight, and who have to bear all its burdens and dangers. But on the other hand, it is absolutely necessary to blame mistakes that do not arise from conceivably false or insufficient information, but which proceed from an inherently false fundamental conception of things. They can be avoided only by overcoming such a conception; and they threaten every future revolutionary movement, if one allows them to pass uncriticised, or even defends them, and glorifies them in the supposed interests of the revolution.
Marx and Engels did not allow themselves to be hindered in such necessary criticism of the revolution, through, their “volcanic temperament”. This is proved by the criticism that Engels published in the Leipzig Volkstaat, in the autumn of 1873. The insurrection, which broke out after the proclamation of the Republic in Spain on the 5th July of that year, was, as early as the 26th January, practically defeated, with some few exceptions, the Cartaghenians prolonging the insurrection up to January 8, 1874. Thus, even before the rising was completely quelled, Engels published a very sharp criticism against “this absolutely shameful insurrection, which should be a warning to the rest of the world.”
This criticism appeared, in the series of articles on The Bakunists at Work (Volkstaat, 31st October, 2nd and 5th November), newly printed, 1894, in the magazine Internationales aus dem Volkstaat, by Friederich Engels (Berlin Vorwärts edition).
We recommend this work to the study of all who are busying themselves with Bolshevism. For Bolshevism is, in many respects, foreshadowed in that work, since the situation of the Spanish Revolution bears many analogies to that of the Commune of the present day. Engels began with a reference to the fact that, in Spain, the Internationalists in their majority belonged to the Bakunist Alliance, and he continues:
When, in February 1873, the Republic was proclaimed, the Spanish Alliancists wore in a very difficult position. Spain is a land so very backward in industry that, in that country, it is quite impossible to speak of an immediate and complete emancipation of the working classes. Before this is possible, again must pass through several preliminary stages on the road to development, and clear out of the way a vast number of obstacles. The Republic gave opportunity for the country to pass through these preliminary stages in the shortest possible period, and to remove the hindrances as soon as possible. But this occasion could only be put to any use through actual political participation on the part of the Spanish working-classes. (pp.17 and 18).
That would, however, have meant to participate in the voting for the Cortès and the National Assembly, and to have taken active part in the same. But the Bakunists wanted the immediate and complete emancipation of the working classes. As a means to this purpose, the parliamentary democracy, considering the then state of affairs in Spain, was absolutely incapable, however necessary it was as a means towards the development and the maturing of the proletariat. Participation in “any kind of vote appeared to them to be crime worthy of death.”
Now what did they want to put in the place of an election campaign? The working-men’s council, as a means for the “immediate and complete emancipation of the working-classes,” had not yet been discovered. The Bakunists proclaimed a general strike, and the dividing up of Spain into numberless small Cantons; along with, from the very start, the splitting up of the whole movement into a series of local movements, and the declaration of the revolution. The end of the story was not merely the collapse of the movement, the ruin of the Spanish Internationale, but also “the abnegation of the principles hitherto preached by the Bakunists” (p.32), which they had to give up, one after the other, as a result of the force of circumstances.
Is it any different in Russia to-day? It is true that, at the outbreak of the present revolution among the working classes of Russia, it was Marxism and not anarchy that was reigning. As a Socialistic theory, Marxism has never, received such general recognition as in Russia.
For decades the Russian Socialists had made a virtue out of necessity, and espied in the backward character of their agrarian problems a certain advantage. They thought that what there was of the village communism, in regard to land, made it particularly easy for them to establish and build up modern Socialism. It was the great service of the Marxists in Russia, led by Axelrod and Plechanoff, to fight for recognition of this conception, and by a long and weary struggle to succeed, in view of the undeveloped state of the Russian proletariat and of Russian society in general, in making the inevitable revolution from the outset take on only a bourgeois character, even if the proletariat was called upon to play a prominent part in it. This view was triumphant in the Russian Socialist movement, so long as the Revolution did not bring the proletariat into power, which had for its programme the problem of immediate emancipation; and also so long as Socialism was professed by the intellectuals and a certain high level of the working-classes. Consistent Marxism was thrown into a very difficult position when the Revolution set in motion the really great mass of the Russian people, who were conscious only of their needs and desires, and who did not care at all whether what they desired was, under the then circumstances, possible and socially advantageous. In the case of the Bolsheviks, Marxism had no power on the situation. The mass psychology overruled them, and they allowed themselves to be carried away by it. Doubtless in consequence of this they have become the rulers of Russia. It is quite another question what will and must be the end of it all. By making the blind will of the masses the motive force of the Revolution, they threw overboard the Marxist system, to the victorious ascendancy of which they had, in a large measure, contributed. With their scientific knowledge, and as the result of the popularity of Marx’s name, they thought they had settled everything by taking a Marxist motto, the motto of “the dictatorship of the proletariat.” With these words they hoped to gain absolution from all sins against the spirit of Marxism.
The Revolution came as a result of the war. The soldiers were tired of it and would no longer fight. The Bolsheviks made themselves the most formidable representatives of the disinclination to continue the war. They insisted on the dissolution of the army by every means in their power, caring not a bit whether this should be favourable to the German military autocracy or not. If this military autocracy did not win, and it came to a German Revolution, the Bolsheviks were certainly not responsible for that.
The complete collapse of the army gave complete freedom to the lower classes. The peasants immediately insisted on confiscating the landed property, and dividing it up into private property. It was impossible to avoid these large estates being given over to the peasantry, but the problem should have been tackled in such a way, that the technical advantages obtained from these estates should not be lost. But that would have required time, and besides, the peasants would not wait.
The Bolsheviks won the peasants over to their side, by introducing anarchy in the country, and by allowing every community to have a free hand; so that the destruction of these estates went on in the most primitive fashion, with technical loss and the destruction of many means of production. In return, however, the peasants allowed the Bolsheviks a completely free hand in the towns in which they had already likewise won over the working classes; so that these latter were obedient merely to the Bolsheviks’ will, and took no regard for the actual conditions of things.
The proletariat was starving. It felt itself repressed and exploited, so it demanded with increasing energy the immediate throwing off of the capitalist yoke. To satisfy its will there was no time for study or reflection. With a few heavy blows the whole edifice of Russian capitalism lay in ruins. The substitution of Socialism for capitalism embraces two questions – one of property, and the other of organisation. It claims the abolition of private property in regard to means of production, and the transformation of social property in the form of a State and communistic property. It also claims the substitution of a socialistic in place of a capitalistic organisation of the management and of all such functions in one complete economic whole. Of these two transformations, that concerned with property is more simple. Nothing is easier than to expropriate a capitalist. That is a mere question of force, and not necessarily to be connected with any social theory. Long before there was such a thing as industrial capitalism, at the time, namely, of mere commercial and monied capital, we find similar expropriation of merchants, bankers and money-lenders, through the feudal lords and princes, and indeed through the people themselves. In the Middle Ages, not only were the Jews often expropriated; but despite the piety of the time, from time to time also the treasury of a church, or of a particular order would be confiscated. For instance, Philip IV of France, at the beginning of the fourteenth century, expropriated the enormously wealthy order of the Knights of the Temple. Long before there was such a thing as modern Socialism, many good, naive people often regarded the noble robbers, who despoiled the rich in order to give to the poor, as benefactors of the human race. To carry out this form of Socialism was easy enough. It was in keeping with the undeveloped state of the Russian proletariat that Bakunin in 1864, immediately before the war and the Commune, in his manifesto to the Russian youth of the time, pointed to the way taken by the Russian robber-captain, Stenka Razin, who in 1667 formed a band of robbers, with whom he lived four whole years in South Russia, until the Government overpowered and killed him.
It is not so easy to organise as it is to expropriate. The capitalist concern is a complex organisation, which finds its intelligence in the capitalist himself, or in his representative. If it is desired to abolish capitalism, same form of organisation must be created, which should be possible of functioning as well, if not better, without the capitalist head. This is not so simple as was the procedure of Philip IV or of Stenka Razin; for it demands a certain set of conditions of a material as well as o£ a psychical order, a high development of capitalistic organisation, not only of production but also of the export and import of raw materials. Moreover, it also demands a proletariat, which is conscious of its duties, not only towards its own neighbours and comrades, but also towards society as a whole – a proletariat, moreover, which has become accustomed to voluntary discipline and self-administration through long years of mass organisation; and which, finally, is intelligent enough to distinguish the possible from the impossible, and the scientifically educated leader with character from an ignorant demi-god without a conscience. Wherever these conditions are not present, capitalism cannot with any success be permanently dissolved by Socialism. And even in those districts, and in those branches of industry in which these conditions are already sufficiently highly developed, the Socialistic organisation must be carefully prepared by a profound examination of the actual conditions. For the forms which the new organisations have, for the time being, taken on are not necessarily the best for all branches of industry, for all lands and all times. They are not “ready-made Utopias” or eternal “ideals.” Under certain circumstances they can differ a good deal, and must be adapted according to the prevailing conditions in the most business-like manner possible, if they are to have any success.
But both factors in socialisation, that is, expropriation and reorganisation, must remain in closest connection, if chaos and an absolute standstill are not to follow on the state of production that has hitherto existed. Philip IV or Stenka Razin could confine their activities to mere expropriation, for they had no intention of creating some new method of production. The transition to Socialism is not possible by this simple means. The masses were impatient. They would not wait. In order to appease them the Bolsheviks, when they came into power, cut the socialising process into two parts. They separated its factors one from the other, although the one without the other cannot live. They proceeded at first after Stenka Razin’s approved method, afterwards endeavouring to proceed with organisation as well as it would go. The two things that were intimately connected with one another, and could only work in conjunction, were separated and torn asunder. Lenin himself acknowledged this in April, 1918, in his book, The immediate problems of the Soviet Power.
Up to the present, the first consideration was to find measures for an immediate expropriation of the expropriators. Now the first thing to be done is to organise the finance and control of all business concerns, in which the capitalists have already been expropriated, as well as in all other concerns. (p.14)
Our work, which we have to accomplish with the aid of the proletariat, which consists in the organisation of the general financing, and control over the production and the distribution of material products, has been behind our efforts to secure the immediate expropriation of profiteers. In regard to the socialistic transformation in these departments (and they are very important and essential departments), we have been very backward; and we have remained backward for the very good reason that the financing and control have been far too little organised. (p.23)
Business concerns and branches of industry were expropriated without any attempt being made to discover whether their organisation on Socialist lines was possible. Even in such departments, where such organisation would have been possible, they were quite content, in the first place, with expropriation; because this alone was possible to carryout without preparation, and also because the working classes would not wait. But the consequences very soon showed themselves. Economic life in Russia is backward owing to the fact that its industry, in comparison with its agricultural life, employs but a very small section of the population; but inside this industry the most modern and up-to-date forms of large manufacture predominate. They had far surpassed the state of Parisian industry of 1871. For in this latter, in so far as anything can be said about socialisation at all, the form of productive associations alone came into question.
The Russian factories were for the most part large concerns, and therefore the first thing that appeared necessary to be done, after the abolition of capital, seemed to be their nationalisation. In productive associations the wages of the labourer depend on his work and on his associates. The scale of these wages is determined by the number of products that are brought to market. They themselves must look after the buying and selling of raw materials. In the nationalised factories the workmen drew their money no more from the capitalists, as they had done before, but from the State. The maximum of their wages depended much less on their measure of productive activity than on the strength of their pressure on the power of the State. This latter power also had to look after the selling, as well as after the buying of raw materials. A well-disciplined and highly-intelligent working-class was necessary, a working-class which would recognise to what large extent the social prosperity, and therefore their own, depended on the productivity of their labour, in order, under these conditions, to make production successful and to keep it so. Moreover, from such a working class real production could be expected only if the necessary organising measures were taken which, apart from the workmen, as also apart from the State control and the consumers, would preserve the necessary influence on the single business concerns and the whole industrial branches; and also, if encouragement to work was created, which should supersede the dominating existence of capital.
From this time onwards, however, there was failing, not only organisation, but also the requisite intelligence and discipline of the working-classes. The more so, since the war and its results had put the most ignorant and most undeveloped sections of the proletariat in the wildest excitement. Certainly the Russian workman had derived a high sense of solidarity from his village commune; but the sphere of his influence was as limited as the village community itself, for it is really confined to a very small circle of his own personal comrades The larger social unity is for him a matter of indifference. The unfortunate results arising from these circumstances the Bolsheviks themselves regretted. Trotsky says in his book, Work, Discipline and Order will save the Socialist Soviet Republic, p.17: “The Revolution, which awakened a sense of human personality in the most oppressed and downtrodden, naturally took on at the beginning of its awakening an apparently anarchist character. This awakening of the elementary instincts of personality often shows a grossly egoistic or, to use a philosophical expression, an ego-centric character. It endeavours to acquire for itself all that it possibly can. It thinks only of itself, and is not at all inclined to have regard for the standpoint of the class in general. Hence the flood of all kinds of disorganising voices, and of individualistic, anarchistic, and grasping tendencies, which we observe especially in the broader spheres of the lower elements in the country, as well as in the midst of the earlier army, and also among certain elements of the working-classes.”
These were quite other elements than those which appeared in the Paris Commune, where men contented themselves with a modest wage in order to further Socialism. Under such circumstances, the form taken by production in the expropriated concerns is clear. The wages were raised as high as was possible, and hence there was only an economy of labour. In order to facilitate this, work by agreement was abolished. Then there were occasions, such as in the case of the Putilov works in Petersburg, which, in the period when they drew 96,000,000 roubles as a subsidy from the State, produced a total value of 50,000,000. It was only the unlimited employment of paper money that made it possible to avoid bankruptcy, which then seemed inevitable. If there was little work done in the factories, obviously the workmen withdrew, especially from the unpleasant, the dirty, and the heavy labour. How this kind of labour is to be established and assured in a Socialist community, in so far as it is indispensable, was a problem which has engaged the attention of Socialists of all times. Fourier thought to solve it by engaging “gutter snipes” for dirty work, youths who in preference wallow in mud. But this humorous solution was clearly not satisfactory. The only solution, in fact, which is in accordance with Socialist principles, and which could promise any success, is that it demands of technical science the elimination of all injurious and disagreeable elements in work, which is by its nature wearisome and prejudicial to health. So long as this is not possible there remains no other course than to make this section of labour attractive by means of particular privileges, either extraordinarily high wages or extraordinarily short working hours.
The Bolsheviks discovered a new solution. It did not at all correspond with Socialist principles, but with the mass psychology of excited working masses. In other words, they introduced compulsory labour, not, however, compulsory labour for those who had hitherto been paid labourers. Why impose on them compulsory labour? Under the influence of new conditions one factory after the other, whether on account of lack of raw material or of transport difficulties, had to close down, so that the number of workers who could find no work increased. Oh, no! Compulsory labour was imposed only on those who had been deprived of all privileges under the excuse that they did not work, namely, the bourgeois. Instead of the universal formal democracy, the Soviet Republic established the proletarian democracy. Only those who worked should have, political rights; only they should be sufficiently fed and protected by the State. The drones were to be deprived of all rights.
This was apparently a great Socialist idea, which had only one small error. For nearly two years already the Republic of the working men’s councils had given the vote to the workers alone. And yet up to this very day no solution to the riddle “What constitutes a worker?” has been given. From different communists we get different answers. At the outset, these working men’s councils were none other than representative bodies of the paid labourers of the large factories. As such, they formed definite though limited organisations, which were very important for the Revolution. The “council idea” then proceeded to substitute a Central Council of the working-men’s councils for the National Assembly, which had arisen from the general elections. Nevertheless, the foundation of this Central Council would have been very shaky, if its establishment had been confined to the Workingmen’s Councils of the large factories. But as soon as they went outside this circle, and at the same time excluded the bourgeoisie from having a vote, they became utterly lost. The demarcation of the middle class from the working-class can never be accurately drawn. There will always be something arbitrary in such endeavour, which fact makes the council idea peculiarly liable to become a foundation for a purely dictatorial and arbitrary rule, but very little calculated to establish and build up a clear and systematic State constitution.
For instance, in the case of the educated class (intelligentsia) it rests entirely with the Soviet authorities whether they are to be reckoned as belonging to the middle class or not. The same applies to their right of voting, and also in respect to their being liable to compulsory labour.
In the Soviet Republic the bourgeois not only had to suffer the confiscation of all means of production and consumption, without any compensation whatever, and were not only deprived of all political rights; they were, at the same time, the victims of oppression, and they alone were liable to compulsory labour! They are the only people in Russia who are compelled to work, and at the same time the very people who are deprived of the vote, because they do not work! Moreover, in Soviet Russia, a man is not put into the class of workers or bourgeoisie according to the occupation that he for the moment has, but according to the occupation that he had before the Revolution. The bourgeoisie in this respect appears in the Soviet Republic as a special human species, whose characteristics are ineradicable. Just as a Black remains a Black, a Mongolian a Mongolian, whatever his appearance and however he may dress; so a bourgeois remains a bourgeois, even if he becomes a beggar, or lives by his work. And how he lives indeed!
The bourgeoisie are compelled to work, but they have not the right to choose the work that they understand, and which best corresponds to their abilities. On the contrary, they are forced to carry on the most filthy and most objectionable kind of labour. In return they receive not increased rations, but the very lowest, which scarce suffice to appease their hunger. Their food rations equal only a quarter of those of the soldiers, and of the working-men who are employed in the factories run by the Soviet Republic. Where these latter receive one pound of bread, the former get only a quarter of a pound; and where again the latter get sixteen pounds of potatoes, the others have only four. From all this we perceive not a sign of any attempt to place the proletariat on a higher level, to work out a “new and higher form of life,” but merely the thirst for vengeance on the part of the proletariat in its most primitive form. It thinks to gain happiness by being able to trample down those men who, by their destiny, have been in more favourable circumstances, who are better clothed, better housed and better educated than they themselves.
In setting free this “will” as the motive force of the Revolution, the Bolshevists have let things go much further, in certain cases than even they themselves have wished. Thus, for instance, the idea that the bourgeois of bygone days have now become merely beasts of burden, deprived of all rights, caused the workers who formerly were in the employ of such bourgeoisie to issue the following manifesto of the Working Men’s Councils of Murzilovka: “The Soviet gives herewith full power to Comrade Gregory Sareieff, according to his choice and orders, and for use in the artillery division, which is quartered in Murzilovka, in the district of Briantz, to requisition sixty women and girls of the bourgeois and financier class, and to hand them over to the barracks.” 16th September, 1918 (published by Dr. Nath Wintsch-Malejeff, What are the Bolsheviks Doing?, Lausanne 1919, p.10).
We should be doing an injustice to place the responsibility for this manifesto on the Bolsheviks, for it was certainly just as contrary to their wishes, as were the September massacres to the men of the Convention. But the thought that, in one single local Soviet organisation, hatred and contempt towards the bourgeois could reach such a stage is horrible in the extreme; for these men are deprived not only of all political rights, but even of the most elementary considerations of human dignity.
It is only natural that not even the Bolsheviks could entirely yield to a mass psychology that took on such forms. After they had expropriated the bourgeois class, and declared them “free as the air,” and had made the proletariat into a “sacred entity,” they attempted to inculcate some necessary improvements in this “sacred entity,” which really should have been the pre-conditions of all socialisation and expropriation.
We have known for some time past,” said Trotsky, “that we lack the necessary organisation, the necessary discipline, and the necessary historical education. We knew all this, but it did not prevent us in any way from endeavouring, with open eyes, to acquire power for ourselves. We were convinced that we could in time learn and arrange everything.” (Work, Discipline, etc., p.16.)
But would Trotsky undertake to get on a locomotive and set it going, in the conviction that he would, during the journey, “learn and arrange everything”? There is no doubt that he would be quite capable of doing this, but would he have the necessary time? Would not the train be very likely soon to become derailed or explode? One must have acquired something of the qualities necessary to drive an engine, before one attempts to set it going. In like manner the proletariat should have acquired those qualities, which are indispensable for organisation and production, if it wishes to undertake this task. For such organisation endures no vacuum, no condition of void, no standing still; and least of all a condition such as that created by the war, which has deprived us of all means of equipment, so that we have to live from hand to mouth, and are threatened with death from starvation, as a result of the cessation of production. Lenin himself already regards it as necessary to put a check on the process of expropriation.
“If we should now endeavour to continue any further expropriation of capital at the rate we did formerly, we should certainly suffer defeat. It is perfectly clear and obvious to every thinking man, that the task of organising the proletarian finance has remained subordinate to our work of the immediate expropriation of the expropriators.” (The Internal and External Tasks of the Soviet Power, April, 1918, p.14)
But Lenin is in no spirit of renunciation. On the contrary, he still declares that, despite all, the Soviets would win in “the campaign against capital “; for the process of the development of the Russian proletariat is proceeding in giant strides. He says: “As a condition of the increase of the productivity of labour, there appears an increase in the culture and education of the masses of the population. This increase is proceeding at a remarkable rate, thanks to the `impetus’ to life and initiative, which has begun to show itself deep in the souls of the people.” (p.33)
The rise in higher education of the masses of the people can take a double form. It may proceed in an orderly and systematic way through the schools. In this respect there is an enormous amount still to accomplish in Russia. An adequate system of popular education demands enormous means and a flourishing state of production, which provides a great surplus for such services. But the state of production in Russia brings such wretched results that the school system has had to suffer most grievously. Certainly the Bolsheviks have been striving all they can to spread knowledge of art and science among the masses; but all their endeavours have been frightfully hampered by the changed economic conditions in which they find themselves. From this it is clear that a speedy rise in education, which would make possible a rapid and satisfactory increase in production, cannot be expected. On the contrary, this increase in production, cannot be expected. On the contrary, this increase in production is a pre-condition of the rise in education. Grown men, however, for the most part, do not learn any more in the schools that the State or the community sets up, but much more in the school of life. The best means of education are provided for them in a democracy, in which absolute freedom of discussion and publicity are essential. But this imposes on every party the obligation to strive for the emancipation of the souls of the people; and to put every member of the community in a position to examine the arguments of all sides, so that, by such means, each may arrive at some independent judgment.
Finally, class struggle takes over from democracy its best features; for in democracy each party addresses itself to the whole social community. Each party certainly defends definite class interests; but it is compelled to show every side of these interests, which are intimately connected with the general interest of the whole social community. In this way modern State democracy is superior to the narrowness of village church policy, as also to the cliquish nature of professional politics. In democracy the horizon of the masses becomes enormously extended by participation in politics. All these possibilities of education of the people become simply shattered if, as the Soviet Republic has done, democracy is set aside in favour of an autocracy of the working-men’s council, which deprives every “bourgeois” of his rights, and abolishes the freedom of the press. The particular interests of the wage-earners in this way become detached from general social interests, and the working man himself is, at the same time, denied an independent examination of the arguments that arise in the struggle of the various classes and parties. For this examination is already settled for him by a patronising authority, which anxiously tries to keep from him every thought and every feeling, which might cause doubts to arise in his heart as to the divine nature of the Soviet system. Naturally enough, this is exactly what should happen in the interests of truth. The poor ignorant people should be prevented from being deceived and poisoned by a bourgeois Press, with all its enormous and powerful machinery. But where in present-day Russia is this powerful machinery to be found, which grants to the bourgeois newspapers a superiority over the Bolshevik papers? Apart from all this, the bitterness of the Bolshevik enslaving of the press is employed not merely against the bourgeois papers alone, but against the whole of the press that does not swear allegiance to the existing system of government.
The justification of this system simply proceeds on the naive assumption that there really exists an absolute truth, and that the Communists alone are in possession of that truth. It also proceeds on another assumption, namely, that all journalists are, by their very nature, liars; whereas only the Communists are the fanatics of truth. Everywhere there are to be found liars as well as fanatics, who accept as true everything that they see. But the lie flourishes best in those places where it has no control to fear, and where, moreover, the press of a certain tendency alone has the right to speak. In this way it simply has carte blanche to lie, and this encourages those elements that tend to deception. Therefore it is turned to account the more desperate the position of those in power, and the more they fear the truth. The truth in regard to information is in no way strengthened by the abolition of the freedom of the press. On the contrary, it is most adversely affected thereby. As to the truth of conceptions and ideas, we must say with Pilate: “What is truth?” There is no such thing as absolute truth. There is merely a, process of knowledge, and this process is in every way impaired, and with it also men’s possibilities of acquiring knowledge, if one party uses its power to monopolise its own conceptions as the one blessed truth, and seeks to suppress every other opinion. It is not to he doubted that the idealists among the Bolsheviks have acted in perfect good faith, in believing that they were in complete possession of the truth, and that only sheer perverseness could make others think differently from them. But we must equally attribute good faith to the men of the Holy Inquisition of Spain. The rise in culture and education among the masses of the people certainly received and impetus under its regime.
There is certainly a difference between the Inquisitors and the leaders of the Soviet Republic. The former did not in any way desire the material and spiritual improvement of the masses on this earthly sphere. They wished merely to ensure their souls for the future life. The Soviet people believed they could, by means of the methods of the Inquisition, raise the masses of the people in every way. They do not at all see how very much they are degrading them. Besides, a high standard of popular education, a high “morality” among the masses is a pre-condition of Socialism, a morality which shows itself not merely in strong social instincts and feelings of solidarity, of sympathy and of self-sacrifice, but also in the extension of these feelings beyond the narrow circles of one’s comrades to the generality of mankind. We found such a morality strongly developed among the proletarians of the Paris Commune. It is utterly failing in the masses of the people who mostly constitute the Bolshevik proletariat.
But this “morality” must be created at all costs, so says Trotsky. “This communist morality, my comrades, we are in duty bound to preach, to support, to develop and to establish. That is the finest and highest task of our party, in all departments of its activity.” (Work, Discipline, etc., p.21).
Yes, but does Trotsky really believe that you can create morality overnight? That can develop but slowly. On the other hand, the encouragement to production suffers no delay. If the morality of the communists has not formed itself before the beginning of socialisation, it will be too late to develop it after expropriation has taken place. And how is it to be developed? It shall be preached. As if ever in this world anything had come from moral sermons. Whenever Marxists base their hopes on moral sermons, they merely show into how deep a blind alley they have fallen. But indeed this new morality is not to be merely preached, but supported. But again, how? “Morality” is the product of our lives and activities. From these it derives its nourishment and its form. The higher morality which the struggling proletariat develops depends on two factors. Being the poorest and weakest members of society, the proletariat can only assert itself by the most intimate co-operation. Sympathy and self-sacrifice of the individual are regarded in its ranks as the highest quality, in opposition to the capitalist class, in which the individual makes his wealth at the expense of the masses, without any consideration as to how he gains it. But even the strong feelings of solidarity can have a directly anti-social effect, if they are confined to a narrow circle, which seeks to gain its advantage at the cost of the rest of society, like the nobility, or the bureaucracy, or an officers’ corps. What, however, does raise the solidarity of the modern proletariat to the height of social morality is its extension to the whole of humanity. The extension of such solidarity springs from the consciousness that the proletariat cannot emancipate itself without emancipating the whole of the human race. Long ago the youthful Engels hoped to derive from a knowledge of this fact the greatest ands to an improvement of the proletarian morality. He declares in his Condition of the Working Classes in England (2nd edition, p.299):–
In proportion as the proletariat assimilates socialist and communist elements, the revolution abates in bloodshed and rage. In its very principles Communism stands over and above the division of the bourgeois and the proletariat. It recognises this division in its historical significance for the present day, but does not regard it as justified for the future. Communism wishes to remove this division. So long as this division is maintained, it recognises the bitterness of the proletarian against his oppressor as a necessary evil, as the most forceful lever to be employed in the labour agitation that is just taking place; but it seeks to rise above this bitterness, because it represents the cause of humanity, and not merely the cause of the working-class alone. Nevertheless, no communist ever wishes to wreak vengeance on the individual, nor does he really believe that the individual bourgeois can act differently in the existing circumstances than he actually does. The more, therefore, the English working man adopts Socialist ideas, the more will his present bitterness, which if it remains as it does can achieve nothing, become superfluous; and the more will all action against the bourgeois lose in brutality and cruelty. If it were in any way possible to make the whole proletariat communist before the struggle began, the struggle itself would proceed on most peaceful lines. But that is no longer possible. It is already too late. (Engels expected in 1845, the imminent outbreak of the Revolution which, however, came in 1848, but on the Continent and not in England, and the Revolution itself was not proletarian – Editor) I believe meanwhile that until the outbreak of the quite open and direct war of the poor against the rich, which has become inevitable in England, takes place, at least sufficient clearness over the social question will have spread among the proletariat; and that, with the help of coming events, the communist party will be in a position to overcome in time the brutal elements of the Revolution, and to yield to a Ninth Thermidor. (9th Thermidor was the day on which Robespierre was overthrown, and the Paris Regiment of Terror collapsed.)
Such a similar collapse Engels wished to prevent; and for this purpose he urged that all the communists should set to work, by eliminating from the proletarian class-struggle its coarseness and brutality against the bourgeois, and by placing in the forefront the general interests of humanity. It is obvious that Engels understood communism in an utterly different sense from the Bolsheviks of the present day. What Engels wanted, those Russian Socialists who are in opposition to the Bolsheviks are now fighting for. Bolshevism triumphed over its social opponents, by making the ferocity and brutality of the coming labour agitation “the motive force of the Revolution.” This Bolshevism did, by degrading the social movement, by turning the cause of humanity into a mere cause of the working-men, and by announcing that to the wage earners alone belonged power (alongside of the poorest peasants in the country); further, by condemning all men to be deprived of their rights, if they did not blow the same trumpet as they did, and reducing them to the deepest misery; and further, by abolishing the different classes and virtually creating a new class of helots out of the existing bourgeois. Hence, by transforming what should have been the social struggle for liberty, and for the raising of the whole of humanity on a higher plane, into an outbreak of bitterness and revenge, which led to the worst abuses and tortures, Bolshevism has demoralised the proletariat, instead of raising it to a higher level of morality. It has further increased the demoralisation, by separating the “expropriating of the expropriators” from the intimate connection with the creation of a new social organisation, with which alone it can form a social element. This procedure soon extended in application from the means of production to the means of consumption. From this it was an easy step to brigandage, such as has been idealised in Stenka Razin.
The masses had without any difficulty understood the negative programme of Bolshevism, which was that one need not fight. It did not recognise any more obligations. One had only to take, to seize, and “to appropriate what one could get; or as Lenin so wonderfully puts it, one should steal what has been stolen.” (D. Gavronski, The Balance of Russian Bolshevism, Berlin 1919, p.39.
It is in keeping with this conception that the robber captain has already received, his memorial in the Soviet Republic. In this manner Bolshevism “supported” and preached the new communist morality, without which socialistic construction is impossible. It meant nothing other than the increasing demoralisation of further sections of the Russian proletariat. This was a feature over which the idealists among the Bolsheviks themselves were horrified; but they could only see the appearance without recognising its cause, for that would have meant upsetting their whole system of government. In desperation they looked round for a means that should give the communist morality to the masses. They could discover nothing, these Marxists, these bold revolutionaries and innovators, except the miserable expedient with which the old society endeavoured to absolve itself from the results of its own sins, namely, the tribunal, prison and execution, in other words, Terrorism. Lenin writes in his book (already several times quoted) on the The Internal and External Tasks of the Soviet Power, April, 1918 (p.47): “The tribunal is the instrument in education to discipline. There is not enough recognition of the very simple and obvious fact that, if all the misery that has befallen Russia, hunger, and unemployment have made their appearance, this misfortune cannot be overcome by mere force and energy, but by a general all-embracing organisation and discipline; that everyone, therefore, is responsible for misery, hunger, and unemployment who overrides the discipline determined by labour in any particular business concerned or in any particular affair; and that it is one’s duty to find the culprits, bring them before the tribunal, and punish them mercilessly.”
Thus, with merciless punishment, the Russian proletariat is to have pummelled into it the communist morality it lacks, in order to make it ripe for Socialism. But never was morality raised by merciless punishment. On the contrary, all that remained of it has always gone under. Merciless punishment was a necessary evil of the old order of things, when people did not know how to act differently, since the way towards better morality and a better condition of life was barred to them. A Socialist regime, which could find no other way to awaken the proletariat to a higher morality than by means of merciless court proceedings proves its own state of bankruptcy.
It seems as if Lenin himself does not expect any particular incentive to morality from his own tribunals; for immediately after his demand for such tribunals he makes another claim for “dictatorial and unlimited powers for the individual leaders of all concerns” (p.49). “Every great industry, which represents the origin and foundation of Socialism, demands the unconditional and the strictest unity of purpose. How can the strictest unity of will and purpose be assured? By the subordination of the will of thousands to the will of an individual. This subordination, which embodies an ideal understanding and sense of discipline on the part of those occupied in combined labour, bears some resemblance to the subtle direction of an orchestra conductor. It can claim dictatorial powers in their severest form, if no ideal sense of discipline and understanding exists” (p.51).
Hitherto we have always assumed that understanding and discipline on the part of the working-classes were to be the necessary conditions for the development and growth of the proletariat, without which real Socialism could not be possible. Lenin himself says at the beginning of this book from which we have just quoted:
“Such revolution can only be realised with success, if it has the co-operation of the majority of the population, especially of the majority of the working-classes.” After he has shown that Socialism cannot be the work of a minority, nor even of the majority of the population, but only “especially” and not exclusively of the working-classes; and after he has, by these admissions, justified democracy against his own will, he continues:–
Only when the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasantry have acquired for themselves sufficient self-consciousness, strength of ideas, self-sacrifice and determination, can the triumph of the Socialist Revolution be assured.” Nevertheless, its triumph is to be assured, it would seem, through the dictatorship of the tribunals and of the heads of factories.
The Revolution has just destroyed the oldest, the strongest, and the heaviest chains, by which the masses were held in bondage under threat of the knout. Such was true of yesterday. To-day, however, this same revolution indeed in the interests of Socialism (p.52), demands the absolute subordination of the masses to the single will of the leaders of labour.
The freedom which they gained yesterday for themselves is to-day to be taken from them, since the masses apparently have not acquired sufficient “self-consciousness, strength of ideas, self-sacrifice and determination.” But on page 7 the impracticability of Socialism as the result of the lack of these qualities has been shown, whereas on page 52, in the interests of Socialism, “the absolute subordination” of the immature masses to dictatorial leaders is demanded. By this means their position will sink below the level of that which they had on the old capitalist system. For in that system they were subordinated to capital, but, nevertheless, not absolutely subordinate. Lenin certainly comforts himself and the public by asserting that, in distinction from the old capitalist system of management, this dictatorship will become possible as the result of the co-operation of the masses of the workers, and of those who were formerly exploited; and, further, through the organisations, which will be so constructed that through them the masses will be roused, and will, by their active efforts, ultimately achieve something of historical importance. The Soviet organisations belong to this kind of organisation (p.51). In what way the exclusion and suppression of any kind of criticism is to help forward the awakening of the masses and their encouragement to creative activity has already been shown. The Soviet organisation alters nothing in this respect. How can this iron form of dictatorship of individuals, “with the absolute subordination of the masses,” be realised through the organisation of the masses into individual activity? Whoever is to be elected by the masses or deposed by them, or whoever is to be re-elected will always remain dependent on them, for he cannot carry anything through which does not meet with their approval. He can certainly attempt to break the obstinacy of individual members of the organisation which elects him, if they should be in opposition to the majority; but he would very soon be at the end of his tether if he should wish to impose on the majority, against their will, his own ideas and orders. For this reason a personal dictatorship and democracy are incompatible. Such is also true for the Soviet democracy. Lenin does indeed declare that these remarks are liable to criticism, but vehemence is substituted for strength in his argument, for he can give no other answer than:–
If we are not anarchists we accept the fact that the State as such is necessary, that is, we accept the need far compulsion in the period of transition from Capitalism to Socialism. (p.50)
With this we are in complete agreement. Even democracy itself does not exclude a certain kind of compulsion; but the only kind of compulsion it concedes is that of the majority over the minority. The compulsion necessary for the transition from Capitalism to Socialism is the compulsion of the majority of the workers over the minority of the capitalists; but this is not the case in the second stage of the Revolution, of which Lenin himself speaks, and in which the proletariat has already broken its chains. Here it is a question of the compulsion exercised by single individuals over the masses of the workers. That this form of compulsion is incompatible with democracy Lenin does not attempt to show. He seeks rather to make it compatible, by a sort of conjuror’s trick, by attempting to show that, since compulsion must be exercised by the great masses upon individual capitalists in order to bring about Socialism, and since such Socialism is perfectly well compatible with democracy, every form of compulsion which might be applied with a view to introducing Socialism is compatible with democracy, even if it should represent the absolute power of single individuals over the masses. He says:–
Hence there is no fundamental opposition between the Soviet (i.e., Socialist) democracy and the delegation of the dictatorial powers to certain individuals.
That may be; but it would only show that the Soviet democracy is a very peculiar structure, which one could employ to uphold any form of arbitrary domination, provided one merely gave it the name of Socialism. It an absolute subordination of the workers in a business concern to their chief is to be brought about, he ought not to be elected by them, but should be put in command by some power superior to them. In such a case the business council in the concern should have nothing to say. Moreover, the Central Executive Committee, which appoints these dictators, would itself have acquired dictatorial power; and so the Soviets would be reduced to mere shadows, and the masses represented by them would lose all real power. A working-class which lacked self-consciousness, strength of ideas, self-sacrifice and determination “ is incapable itself of choosing its own dictator, through whom it is to be raised to a higher level, and to whom it must bend its will, if he should demand of them deeds which required “self-consciousness, strength of ideas, self-sacrifice and determination.” It is as far from doing this as was Münchausen of extricating himself from the bag by means of his own hair. And where are these dictators with the necessary moral force, as well as the intellectual qualities and superiority, to be found? Every form of arbitrary rule carries with it the seed of corruption of the authority itself, be this a single individual or a small coterie. Only exceptional characters can remain exempt from pernicious consequences. Are we to assume that the Russian dictators are through and through all characters like this? Lenin promises that they are to be very carefully sifted.
We wish to pursue our path by seeking, with all caution and patience, to examine the right organisations, and to take account of the men with clear intelligence and practical sense – men who combine enthusiasm for Socialism with the gift of being able, without undue bluster (and uninfluenced by the noise and bewilderment) to hold together a large number of men, and make them combine in determined, unified, and concerted labour within the framework of the Soviet organisations. Only such men, after the ten-fold examination through which they go by passing from the most simple to the most difficult tasks, are to be placed in responsible positions as heads of administration. We have not yet learned to do this. We shall learn. (pp.41, 42).
He does not say who is to be understood under this “we.” Obviously not the ignorant, undisciplined, bewildered masses; more likely the higher authority, the Central Executive Committee. But even this body has not yet learnt the art of selecting aright leaders of massed labour. It promises to learn this difficult art. No time limit is given. Only this is certain, that at the present moment the selection of these leaders is proceeding in a highly unsatisfactory manner. The necessary capacity of the men at the head is lacking, just as much as the necessary maturity of the masses.
After they have been expropriating and are now proceeding to organisation, they find that they have first to set about learning – even learning how to choose aright the higher administrators of State economy.
And what elements are insinuating themselves into the new regime! “No single profound and powerful mass movement has ever taken place in history without dubious means, without adventurers and swindlers who bleed inexperienced novices, without boasters and mob orators, without senseless vacillation and stupidity, without needless fuss, without attempts on the part of the individual leaders to attempt twenty different things without pursuing one to its end.” (Lenin, The immediate work, etc., p.40)
There is no doubt that every great mass movement has to suffer from such pernicious influences. We in Germany have also been made to feel this; but the Russian Soviet regime has given proof besides of certain characteristics peculiar to it. In the first place, the novices were never so “inexperienced” as they are in Russia. That was inevitable. Under the absolutist regime all the elements who were striving upwards were denied all chance of insight, and still more all chance of participation in the administration of the State and of the community, as well as in all forms of higher organisation and administrative activity.
The interest of the revolutionaries, particularly of the most impatient and most violent elements among them, was concentrated on the struggle against the police and secret conspiracy. One has no right to reproach them for their inexperience, when they suddenly came to power. But this inexperience represents an important feature, which proves how unripe Russia was for Socialism at the time of the outbreak of the Revolution. Socialism can still less be carried out by ignorant and undisciplined masses, the more inexperienced the novices are who have to show the way. It is a further proof that the schooling and education of the masses, as well as of their leaders, in democracy is a necessary condition of Socialism. It is impossible in one bound to leap from Absolutism into a Socialist society. Again, the difference between the Soviet regime and the earlier great mass movements is shown in the fact that the Soviet has abolished the best means for exposing the adventurers, the swindlers, the boasters and the brawlers, namely, the freedom of the Press. These undesirable elements were thus exempt from all criticism by people who had expert knowledge. They had to do only with ignorant workmen and soldiers, as well as with inexperienced innovators, and they flourished exceedingly. Certainly the leaders of the Bolsheviks have undertaken to learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to distinguish the true Socialists from the swindlers and the rogues. But long before this has been “learnt” production has failed, as the result of the backward state of the Russian working-classes, and even threatens to come to a complete standstill. Their only hope of arresting this catastrophe lies in a dictatorship of the leaders, but they must give these leaders dictatorship, without being in the position to make adequate choice. Hence this kind of dictatorship, which from the outset is open to much criticism, can only work to disadvantage. Just as they first of all indulged in expropriation, and only then began to organise; so now they appoint dictators, and only afterwards attempt to learn the method of choosing them rightly. Such absurdities were inevitable as soon as they began to introduce Socialism arbitrarily, and without any relation to actual conditions. But the Soviet regime is not only endangered through the incursion of “adventurers and swindlers,” whom it cannot judge and examine accurately. It suffers from a danger, which is no less serious, from the fact that it alienates those members who have the highest character and who, intellectually, are among the most prominent. Without the collaboration of the educated and intellectual elements, Socialism at the present stage of production is impossible. So long as Socialism was in the stage of propaganda, so long as it was merely a question of bringing the proletariat to a consciousness of its place in society and of its tasks and obligations for the future arising therefrom. Socialism had need of the educated elements – whether these were men of universal education, drawn from among the middle classes, or self-educated men, who had sprung from the proletariat. But it needed them only for the carrying out and popularising of its theories. Here it was not a question of quantity, but solely of quality.
But it is quite different at the present time, when we are in the period in which Socialism in a practical form is to be introduced. Just as a capitalist system of production and the capitalist state could not exist without the help of numerous reliable and scientific men, social production and the State system, which is dominates by the working classes, requires such help equally urgently. Without such assistance, or in opposition to it, no Socialism is possible. For practical participation in the establishment of Socialism, as well as in the development and propagation of Socialist theories, a passionate devotion to the great cause of the emancipation of the human race is not essential. What is most necessary is, that a large section of them at least should be convinced of the possibility and advantage of Socialist production, so that no sacrifice of intelligence is necessary if one wishes to co-operate. If in the matter of manual labour an improved production is impossible with any kind of compulsory labour, this is all the more the case in the sphere of intellectual work.
The removal of doubt on the part of the educated as to the practical introduction of Socialism, and the willingness of such elements to co-operate in its construction and development, as soon as the necessary power arises, belong to the necessary conditions of Socialist production, to the conditions to which society will have progressed, if it is to be ripe for Socialism. The importance of these conditions will be all the more obvious the more other necessary conditions of Socialism are to hand ; so that a recognition of the practicability of Socialism will lead the unbiased educated classes to a conviction of its sound reasonableness.
This importance of the educated classes the Bolsheviks did not recognise at first. For since at the beginning they merely served to increase the blind passion of the soldiers, the peasants and the town labourers, the masses of the educated were from the very beginning hostile to the Bolsheviks, and even the Socialists among them, because they recognised that Russia was not yet ripe for the kind of immediate socialisation which the Bolsheviks had undertaken. They did not trouble to think about the treatment which was meted out to the “intelligentsia.” A man of this class, for instance, would be expelled from the factory which the workers alone wished to manage. He was deprived of all political rights, since the authority of the Workmen’s Council granted to manual labourers alone the right to vote. He was expropriated, so far as he had any possessions, and was deprived of every means of living his refined form of life. He was even condemned later on to compulsory labour and to death by starvation.
The Bolsheviks thought at first to get along without the “intelligentsia,” without the experts. Tsarism was of the opinion that a general was capable of filling any and every position in the State without any special qualification or education. The Soviet Republic took over from Tsarism, along, with many other ideas, this one also; only in the place of the general they put the proletariat. The theoreticians among the Bolsheviks called this procedure “the development of Socialism from science to action.” One could better describe it as “the development of Socialism from science to dilettantism.”
As is generally the case with the Soviet Republic, it allows itself to be guided by mere instinct, and not by real insight into the actual circumstances. Thus it happened that they discovered, after the child had fallen into the well, what was necessary, and so they tried to cover up the well. They sought to attract the educated to work apart from any compulsory labour, as had been the case some time before, and, indeed, to do work for which they were suited, and which they understood. Whereupon the educated classes who entered the service of the Government ceased to count as bourgeois, to be treated and ill-treated as such. They rose in the circle of the “active and working” population by performing “productive” and “useful” labour. They were protected from expropriation and received adequate salary. Since it was not conviction but only fear of ill-treatment that drove most of these educated into the service of the Government naturally enough their work was in reality neither very productive nor very useful. Trotsky complains about this, for instance, in his essay on Work, Discipline, etc., quoted above; he says:–
The first epoch of the fight against the sabotage (of the intellectuals) consisted in mercilessly destroying the organisations of the saboteurs. That was necessary, and therefore right. Now in the period where the power of the Soviets has become assured, this struggle against the saboteurs must take the form of transforming the saboteurs of yesterday into servants, into administrators, and technical managers, wherever the new regime demands it.
Trotsky, therefore, implies that the “necessary and therefore right” way to make these intellectuals servants and leaders of socialisation is, first of all, mercilessly to trample them under foot. The result of this he himself gives us:
We have destroyed the old forms of sabotage, and swept away the old officials with an iron broom. The substitutes for these old officials proved themselves to be by no means first-class material in any branch whatsoever of administration. On the one hand, the posts that have become vacant were filled by comrades of each party, who had done all the “spade work,” and who had boon schooled in the revolution. They formed the best elements, the fighters, the honourable men, the men who were not self-seekers. On the other hand, there appeared on the scene fortune-seekers, social failures who under the old regime had been, so to speak, without occupation. When, therefore, it was necessary to get tens of thousands of new qualified labour at one stroke, it is not to be wondered at if many intruders succeeded in penetrating into the new regime. We must also admit that many of the Socialist comrades, who are now at work in different offices and institutions, have by no means shown themselves to be always capable of organising creative and energetic labour. We can follow the movements of such comrades in the ministerial offices, especially of those in the ranks of the October Bolsheviks, who work four or five hours a day, and not very intensively at that; whereas our whole position now demands the most strenuous labour, not out of fear, but from a sense of duty.
That was the necessary, though by no means the right consequence of a policy which sought to win the educated classes, not through conviction, but merely through kicks from behind as well as from the front.
Another means was devised to increase the supply of active labour. The Paris Commune of 1871 reduced the pay of State officials, and decided on the sum of 6,000 franca as a maximum salary. The Soviet Republic endeavoured to do likewise ; but this would not work, so they had to revert to the old system. Lenin remarks in this connection:-
We must needs return to the old bourgeois methods, and establish very high payment for all ‘service rendered’ by the best of the bourgeois experts. It is clear that such a measure is a compromise, and somewhat of a departure tom the principles of the Paris Commune and of every proletarian power ... It is clear that such a measure means not only the standstill – in certain departments and to a certain degree – of the offensive against capital, but also a retrograde step in our socialising power as a Soviet. (The Immediate Work of the Soviet Power, p.19.)
But Lenin implies that it cannot be otherwise, and he is perfectly right. The necessity for high salaries can arise from two causes. The bigger the concern, the greater the number of its workers. So much more important under equal circumstances, therefore, is the a mass of the gross value which it delivers. If the workman produces value equivalent to five shillings a day, the concern with a hundred workmen will produce to the value of 500 shillings a day, and one with a thousand workmen will produce 5,000 shillings a day. The bigger the concern, the more difficult it is to organise and guide it, and all the rarer is the necessary efficiency for its organisation. But all the greater will be the means which the owner or owners of the concern will have at their disposal, in order to engage the services of such select equipment. In proportion, therefore, as these large industries increase, the salaries of their heads increase also, and finally reach vast dimensions. With this circumstance the State administration has to reckon. If it does not raise proportionately the salaries of its higher officials, it must be prepared to find that private industry will attract them away – so far as they are at all capable, and not mere holders of sinecures. In this way the State administration becomes impoverished, and that is one of the reasons why State economy is unable to cope with competition of private enterprise.
It is questionable, whether the Commune, once it had become established, and whether industry on a large scale, once it had been developed on capitalistic lines under the Commune, instead of becoming socialised, which was possible, could have maintained this system of fixed salaries at 6,000 frs. The decree issued on April 2nd shows the petty bourgeois character of the Paris industry at that time. Moreover it proves the disinterestedness of the members of the Commune. We have already referred to the well-known example of the Financial Minister, Jourde. Competition, however, arising from a flourishing and powerful private industry in Soviet Russia makes it impossible to force up the wages of the most skilled “specialists”; for either such an industry is expropriated and ruined, or it soon deprives the private owner of all value. High wages can have only one abject. They are calculated to overcome the objection to serve the Soviet Republic, which objection the most capable among the educated secretly cherish in their hearts, and also to awaken their interest for the new regime.
Since the way of conviction does not work, and since the lash of hunger does not obtain any startling results, there remains but one way open to buy the people, and that is, to provide for them at least such conditions as they had under the capitalist system. We now see what are the elements which are to become leaders of Socialist production in the Soviet Republic. On the one side a few old conspirators, honourable fighters of blameless intentions, yet in matters of business merely inexperienced novices; and on the other side, numerous educated men who, against their own convictions, either as mere seekers try to adapt themselves to the new power, as they would adapt themselves to any other power, if occasion arose; or who are driven through fear and hunger and punishment; or, finally, such men, as allowed themselves to be bought by high wages. They are, as Trotsky admits, by no means first-class elements. Moreover, in so far as they know anything at all, they do not belong to the best, the worthiest of their kind. People among them, who at the same time possessed strong character as well as business knowledge, were as rare as white crows. In the hands of such elements dictatorial power has now been placed in order to save Socialism; a power which the workers have to accept without opposition. Such power tends to corrupt even the best. In this respect it is often entrusted to people who are corrupt from the very start.
In the midst of the general misery and the general expropriation they gather together in their hands the beginnings of a new capitalism. Of course the production of commodities proceeds, and must proceed; since agricultural activity, regarded as private enterprise, as a matter of fact represents the production of commodities, and influences life as a whole. For this reason the peasant community has less and less of surplus stocks to sell. The Soviet Republic grants full power in a village to the poor peasants, who possess so little land that they can produce no surplus in foodstuffs. From the well-to-do peasants all surplus commodities are to be taken without any compensation, and placed at the service of the State granaries. This practice, in so far as it is ever carried out, can take place only once, for, in the following year, the well-to-do peasant will take very good care that he does not produce more than he himself needs. In this way the returns of agriculture will be limited. Whatever of surplus stock the peasant produces, in spite of this, he conceals, and merely sells it secretly to the profiteers.
At the same time industry comes to a standstill. As a consequence, the State expenditure can only be covered by a new paper money. Hence, as at the time of the French Revolution, and as again at the present day, although in a less degree in Germany, there flourish speculators, profiteers, and smugglers. Formerly they were guillotined. Nowadays it is the fashion to shoot them. But the failure is the same. The only result is that, at the present day, just as much as in 1793, the uncertain nature of the capital thus acquired by swindlers increases, as well as the amount of the bribes that the new dictators demand, and which they get if, by chance, an incautious person should fall into their net. Even that in its turn becomes a fresh basis for the collecting together of new property.
Whoever is anxious for further information over this bribery system of the new Russian bureaucracy should turn to Gavronsky’s Balance of the Russian Revolution, which, from page 58 and several pages onwards, is full of accounts of bribery and corruption.
How shall one get the better of these new “dictators,” before whom the working masses are to bow without opposition? As in its attempts to “moralise” the masses, the Soviet Government knows no better means of “moralising” its leaders than by the threat of tribunals. If the dictatorship of the proletariat is to be over-ridden by the dictatorship of its organisers, these in their turn will be over-ruled by the dictatorship of the tribunals.
A network of revolutionary tribunals and extraordinary commissions has been formed “to oppose the counter-revolution, speculation, and abuse.” They have the arbitrary power to condemn anyone who shall be denounced to them, and at their discrimination to shoot those of whom they do not approve; that is to say, all those speculators and profiteers whom they catch, as well as their accomplices among the Soviet officials. They do not stop merely at that, but involve every honourable man who dares to criticise their fearful misrule. Under the collective name of “counter-revolution” every form of opposition is included, in whatever circles it arises and from whatever motives it springs, whatever the means employed and whatever the ends aimed for. But unfortunately this summary procedure has no result.
As often as not the sincere fighters among the Bolsheviks become indignant, when they realise that these extraordinary commissions, which are the last hope for the cleansing of the Revolution, are themselves likewise corrupt. Gawronsky quotes (p.61) the following heart-cry of the weekly journal of the special commission:–
From all sides there reach us news that not only worthless elements, but plain criminals, are endeavouring to slip into the commissions, and especially into commissions in the various local districts.
Gawronsky also mentions people (p.62) who have shown that this attempt at intrusion is not only made, but very often made with success. So runs an article out of The Will to Labour, the central organ of Revolutionary Communism, October 10th, 1918.
Fresh in our memory there are still cases in which the local Soviets have been literally terrorised by the special and extraordinary Soviets. Naturally a local selection was made. In the Soviets the better elements remained, whereas in the extraordinary commissions were to be found bands of men who were ready for any kind of brigandage. Hence there is nothing left of the programme for the renovation of humanity by means of Socialism on Bolshevik methods, except two or three sincere strugglers in the midst of an ever growing morass of ignorance, corruption, and desperation, which extends further and further, and finally threatens to engulf and drown them.
Last updated on 19.1.2004