Karl Kautsky

The Moscow Trial
and the Bolsheviki

Preface to
The Twelve Who are to Die:
The Trial of the Social Revolutionists in Moscow


Source: The Twelve Who are to Die: The Trial of the Social Revolutionists in Moscow, Delegation of the Party of Social-Revolutionists, 1922.
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for marxists.org, July 2002.

The Russian Party of Socialists-Revolutionists differs radically from the Social-Democratic Party; nay, more, both parties disagree in their basic conceptions of policy and principle. Nevertheless, I gladly accepted the invitation to write a preface to the book on the Moscow trial, published by the Party of Socialists-Revolutionists. More than that: I feel that I not only have a right but am duty-bound to write this preface, in the name of my social-democratic principles. For these principles indicate clearly that the proletariat, as the most exploited and enslaved of all classes, cannot emancipate itself without emancipating at the same time all those who are enslaved. A proletarian, Socialist party cannot fulfill its great, historic mission without making itself the protector of all the enslaved and oppressed.

For this reason, Marx and Engels took up the cudgels in behalf of oppressed Poland and raised their voices in defense of Ireland. For this reason, Socialists always fought for the liberation of native peoples suffering under the colonial domination of imperialist governments. And in doing so, Socialists frequently cooperated with non-socialist, bourgeois elements. We are, therefore, all the more obliged to come to the defense of the persecuted and oppressed when they belong to a party which, like ours, although not always in the same way, seeks the emancipation of the toilers, a party which, like ours, had for many years waged bitter, holy war against the meanest enemy of the world proletariat, – Russian absolutism. The fight waged today by the Socialists-Revolutionists is but a continuation of the old fight. For there is no substantial difference between an absolutist government which holds its power by heritage or one which is of recent creation. There is no material difference between the rule of a “legal” Czar and a clique that accidentally established itself in power. There is no difference between a tyrant who lives in a palace and a despot who misused the revolution of workers and peasants to ascend into the Kremlin.

And the fact that the new Russian despotism is bonapartist rather than czarist in character makes it all the more essential for the Socialist parties of the world to come to the defense of the Russian Socialists persecuted by this bonapartist regime. For what this regime seeks is to make the Socialists of the entire world its associates in its policy of persecution, – something which Czarism, for obvious reasons, never aimed at. The Bolshevist rulers want the Socialists of the whole world to applaud their persecution of the Socialists-Revolutionists and Mensheviki, but the time has passed when they could expect their assertions to pass unchallenged.

The Bolsheviki maintain that their policy constitutes the only genuine application of Marxism, that it constitutes a strict application of the principles of the class struggle. But the oppression and persecution of workingmen, belonging to another current of Socialist thought, and for no other reason than that these workers prefer to interpret Socialism in a manner different from the Bolsheviki, is in sharp contradiction with these class-struggle principles. We, Marxian Social-Democrats, in common with nearly all other Socialists, stand for democracy and for the right of unrestricted political propaganda for all political parties. This right of unrestricted propaganda we must, above all, demand for all the Socialist parties in Russia. It is quite inevitable for the respective Socialist parties to find themselves frequently in disagreement with one another. But this must be expressed only in a struggle of argument, in a struggle for the soul of the proletariat. Socialists who resort in this struggle against the opinions of other Socialists to guns, bayonets, Che-Ka organizations and jails are committing an act of violence against the proletariat and the idea of the class struggle.

Even the Bolsheviki themselves feel this. For this reason they seek to excuse their regime of violence in the eyes of the Socialists of the entire world by asserting, like the wolf in the old fable, that the sheep are trying to pollute the water which they, the Bolsheviki, forsooth seek to maintain unpolluted. To convince the world of the truth of this claim was the chief purpose of the Moscow trial. By this trial the Bolsheviki sought to destroy not only physically but morally the foremost representatives of the Socialists-Revolutionists. But the trial produced quite the opposite effect. It resulted in the moral victory of the accused and the moral execution of the accusers.

The Bolsheviki were first to use violence against other Socialists. They dissolved the Constituent Assembly not by way of resistance against any violence on the part of the Socialists-Revolutionists and Mensheviki but because of their realization of their own inability to obtain the support of the majority of the peasants and workers by means of free propaganda. This was the fundamental cause of the Bolshevist coup d’etat against the representatives of the revolutionary workers and peasants. Hence, the abolition of all rights of all other Socialists who refused to submit to the crack of the Bolshevist whip. Hence, the establishment of a political regime which leaves but one form of open, political action for the opposition – civil war. The Social-Democracy was never averse to the use of violence in resistance against violent persecution. It simply made the advisability of the use of such violence conditional upon considerations of purpose and the possibility of success. If the Social-Democracy found itself in disagreement with the Socialists-Revolutionists in this regard, it was not from considerations of principle but of tactics. But, if I am correctly informed on this point, there are no substantial differences of opinion at the present moment between the Socialists-Revolutionists and the Mensheviki. Both recognize that an anti-Bolshevist uprising at the present moment could not be successful and would even, under certain circumstances, lead to a result diametrically opposed to that sought, by provoking foreign and reactionary intervention. Armed uprising against the Bolsheviki, at the present moment, would only delay the process now in progress in Russia and pregnant with great consequences, – the process of the desertion of Bolshevism by the proletarian and peasant masses and their return to the other Socialist parties. This process represents a deadly danger for the Bolshevist dictatorship. The real crime of which the Socialists-Revolutionists are guilty before the Bolsheviki at the present moment is not in the preparation of terroristic acts and armed uprisings, but in that, like the Mensheviki and perhaps even to a larger extent, the Socialists-Revolutionists, whose ranks are constantly growing in number, are acquiring in ever increasing measure the confidence of the toiling masses of Russia. This bids fair to bring about the complete isolation of the Bolsheviki in a short time, so that the only ones who will stand behind them will be a few capitalists and the Red Army. Nor is the army, too, likely to continue its support of the Bolsheviki very long, for military dictatorships must have military successes abroad and cannot thrive merely upon suppression of uprisings of hunger-driven peasants. In vain do the Bolsheviki seek to stem the tide against them. The only thing they still command in full is the art of destroying their opponents by means of falsehood and violence. They have shown a complete lack of understanding of the pre-requisites under which alone Socialist production is possible, as well as entire lack of perspicacity in determining the conditions essential for the development of capitalist production. In their aspiration for the realization of Socialism they have destroyed Russia’s entire machinery of production, while their present effort to patch it up with the assistance of capitalism carries the danger of aggravating this destruction. But even should they succeed in establishing a new capitalism in Russia and to resume production with its assistance, they would do so in the presence of a proletariat which they themselves have rendered unfit for struggle and resistance.

In both cases, misery and poverty will continue to reign in Russia for many years and will continue to fan apathy and despair, on one side, and uprisings, provoked by the despair of the masses – on the other. The Moscow trial was intended to distract the growing opposition of the masses against the Bolsheviki and direct popular wrath against the Socialists-Revolutionists. How vain the effort! The arrow, in falling, struck the ones who fired it.

The Bolsheviki hoped to represent the accused Socialists-Revolutionists and their entire party as allies and associates of the counter-revolution and foreign powers. To accomplish this aim, they did not hesitate to employ the most shameless and dishonest methods of the regime of the old police. They outdid the limitless shamelessness of that regime, whose prosecutors, as is well known, needed but a few lines penned by the accused to send him to the gallows. With all that, however, the Bolsheviki succeeded only in exposing the mean depths of their own soul.

When the counter-revolution suppressed Marx’s Neue Rheinische Zeitung, in 1849, Freiligrath branded this act in words of fire as contemptible violence. He said: “This is not an open blow in an open fight. Against me are barbarism and meanness. This blow has been struck against me by the forces of sneaky, dirty, despicable Asiatic barbarism”.

The defendants in the Moscow trial were likewise struck not by an open blow in an open fight. The blow struck against them was delivered by the hired, contemptible, low hirelings of Tartar or Kalmyk socialism.

But how innocent was the despicableness assailed by Freiligrath in comparison with the despicableness revealed by the Bolsheviki in the Moscow trial! The shameless falsehood, contemptible cowardice and devilish cruelty of the prosecutors, judges and secret service men revealed in the Moscow trial are unprecedented in the history of the world and will mark one of its most shameful pages.

How heroic do the figures of the accused men and women appear and how disgusting and pitiful are the pack of hounds who demanded their blood, who hurled insult and humiliation upon them in their eagerness to persecute them in order that they might revel in their suffering!

The moral loftiness of the accused and the moral degeneration of their accusers at the trial were so self evident and convincing, that the whole thing formed a picture of remarkable clarity and produced an indelible impression upon everybody, with the exception of the pack of bloodthirsty hounds hired by the Moscow executioners to defend their miserable case in the European press and who were low and mean enough to do it.

The accused Socialists-Revolutionists saved the honor of Socialism, trampled by the Bolsheviki. The names of Gotz, Timofeyeff and their comrades will be enshrined in the hearts of the workers of the entire world, regardless of party affiliations.

Never did the Bolsheviki descend to their present low level. Time was when we knew many of them as honest fighters and idealists. But the coup d’etat of 1917 placed them in a false position, which was bound to lead consistently to their inevitable and ever-growing perversion.

From the very beginning, they founded their power upon falsehood and violence directed against the proletariat, upon the principle that the end justifies the means. This principle always and inevitably leads to the degeneration of the party applying it, for it perverts the party and paralyzes those who do not oppose this perversion.

Parties who aspire to great aims cannot afford to use any other means than those these aims demand. A party who seeks the emancipation of the proletariat cannot, in its efforts to gain and hold power, use means which disorganize and demoralize the proletariat. But it was only by such means that the Bolsheviki could strengthen their hold upon Russia and, therefore, they preferred the destruction of the Russian and the weakening of the world proletariat to understanding with the other Socialist parties of Russia, which alone could secure the establishment of a revolutionary regime that would support itself upon the broad masses and give these masses that freedom without which it is impossible for them to promote their spiritual development and economic well-being.

By resorting for the sake of the strengthening and preservation of their power to measures leading to the weakening and dissolution of the proletariat, the Bolsheviki have shown that they are not concerned with the emancipation of the proletariat but are simply a clique concerning itself solely with the preservation of its own power.

This attribute of Bolshevism makes it akin to the heritage of the French Revolution: bonapartism. Like bonapartism, Bolshevism is founded upon falsehood and violence. But both the first and second Empires marked the opening of new eras of economic prosperity for France and could, therefore, support themselves not only upon the capitalists and peasantry but also upon the broad masses of the people. Bolshevism, on the other hand, has destroyed Russia and set all the people against it. Its falsehood and violence, therefore, exceed the falsehood and violence of French bonapartism. And for this reason, despite its falsehood, meanness and cruelty, Bolshevism will not be able to maintain itself as long as did the regime of Bonaparte in France.

The Moscow trial constituted a desperate effort on the part of the Bolsheviki to discredit their most dangerous opponents at the present moment in the eyes of the Russian and world proletariat. They sought to represent these opponents as associates of the counter-revolution and thus rehabilitate the prestige of Communism, which has lost the sympathies of the overwhelming majority of the proletariat.

But the Bolsheviki lost the trial. It is not the accused but the accusers and their hirelings who today stand condemned in Russia and throughout the world. This trial, which provoked the deepest, universal contempt, revealed even to those who hitherto still failed to see the truth, the utter decay and degeneration of the Bolshevist regime.

But the Moscow trial is merely one of the episodes incident to the world-wide, historic conflict conducted by Bolshevism. Out of this conflict it will emerge discredited and condemned. A regime like that of the Bolsheviki has already grown rotten-ripe for destruction. It is impossible to foresee yet when and how it will fall but one thing can be said now and with absolute certainty:


K. Kautsky

Last updated on 20 April 2021