Karl Kautsky

Social Democracy versus Communism

5. The Communist International

Wherein do the Russian people differ from other peoples of our capitalist civilization? First of all, of course, in their economic and political backwardness. As a result of this backwardness any Socialist party in present-day Russia would be unavoidably driven to the methods of utopianism and dictatorship if it were placed in power by the force of extraordinary circumstances, without support of the majority of the population, and if its own illusions impelled it to undertake the immediate task of building Socialism. Therein lies the explanation of the Bolshevik methods in Russia. The experiments of the utopian Socialists in Western Europe a hundred years ago were likewise impelled by the insufficient development of the working class in their countries. The methods of both the old utopians and the Bolsheviks are not mere accidents, but derive their logic from immature conditions. But this explanation offers just as little proof now as it did in the time of the utopians that these methods can lead to the desired aim. To prove the wisdom of the Bolshevik methods one would have to prove first that the Russian workers possess some peculiar inherent socialist powers which the workers of Western Europe lack. So far the existence of such powers has not been established.

This in fact was the view held by Lenin himself as late as 1918. He believed that the revolution in Russia would be the signal for a social revolution in Western capitalist countries, and that only the establishment of a Socialist order in these countries could furnish the direction and the means for Socialist construction in Russia. Lenin undertook this construction in the hope of a world revolution which, according to his belief, was to break out immediately.

In this he was deceived. Instead of the world revolution came civil war in Russia. This war helped to some extent in the establishment of a militarized state economy. This, indeed, is the result of every war, even in capitalist countries, if the war is of long duration and demands great sacrifices. But this compulsory economy can by no means be regarded as a higher, socialist economy. It is only a temporary measure necessitated by an extreme emergency.

When the civil war in Russia subsided and all the hopes for a world revolution vanished, doubts began to arise in the minds of the Bolshevist rulers as to whether “military communism” would last long. Lacking a basis in the initiative and discipline of the working class, this new regime could be maintained only with the aid of a bureaucratic apparatus, as unwieldy as it was inefficient, and by means of military discipline in the factories and brutal terrorism practiced by an all-powerful political police throughout the state. “Military communism” resulted in a constant fall of production and brought the country to an ever-growing economic decline.

This was soon recognized by the majority of the Bolsheviks themselves. Lenin created a breach in this Communism by making some concession to private economy (NEP, 1921), and that gave the country a short breathing spell. Lenin himself called it a respite. And, in fact, Russia under “military Communism” was gasping for breath.

Before the war Lenin did not find in the Socialist International the favorable conditions for the promotion of his party dictatorship in Russia. To avoid being isolated he was compelled to accept democracy in the International, not only platonically but in fact. However distasteful he found some decisions of the congresses of the International, he confined himself to criticism, which was his right, but did not venture to defy them.

This situation changed after the World War had temporarily halted the functioning of the International. In 1915, a group representing some elements of the International met in Zimmerwald, Switzerland. These were not entirely of the same opinions however. Some wanted to revive the old International, while others proposed the creation of a new, Third International, from which all Socialist parties which did not accept the demands of the founders of the new International were to be excluded. The Bolsheviks, commanded by Lenin, were to form the nucleus of the new body. From the outset, therefore, their object was not to rebuild but to split the International.

The war had hardly come to an end when they undertook to form the new, Third International, in opposition to the old one, which in the meanwhile (1919 had again begun to function. The grandiose experiment undertaken by the Bolsheviks could not help influencing the Socialist parties of the Western countries. These parties, until then united, now split. A part of them enthusiastically joined the Bolsheviks and began to apply their methods in Western Europe and America. This led to the rise of the Communist parties. The majority remained faithful to the old Socialist principles and rejected the Communist methods under all circumstances. As between these two currents there soon appeared a third one. The latter rejects the Bolshevik methods for its own country but believes that these methods axe justified in Russia. Contrary to the democratic structure of the First and Second Internationals, the Third or Communist International, also known as the Comintern, was rigidly dictatorial. It established its permanent seat in Moscow and became merely the tool of the Russian government, which thus obtained a large number of agents abroad, some of them sincere and enthusiastic supporters and others well paid agents, but all of them blind instruments of the Moscow centre without any will of their own.

The times seemed to favor the Soviet rulers. They expected a world revolution which they, the world’s most successful revolutionists, would lead. The dictatorship over Russia was to be extended to a world dictatorship.

But the calculations upon which they based their plans for world domination proved erroneous. Their dictatorship fitted the peculiar conditions then prevailing in Russia but was abhorrent to the peoples of Western civilization. Moreover, even in Russia the Communist dictatorship could assert itself only because of the abnormal conditions which ensued upon the military collapse of 1917.

Only those who never understood the nature of the modern state could have expected a revolution in every belligerent country at the end of the war. Revolutions occurred only in defeated military monarchies. But in these, too, the Communists failed to win. No highly developed working class will accept dictatorship, however proletarian its colors, as instrument of emancipation.

The idea of a Communist world revolution met with a quite different fate than the Communist dictatorship in Russia. The latter was victorious and has been able to maintain itself unbroken to this day. The former suffered complete failure. But the efforts to put the idea of a Communist world revolution into effect did not pass without trace.

The Socialist observer outside who failed to look beneath the surface was impressed by the spectacle of the Soviet Republic. Such an observer did not understand that everything that was purely progressive in the new state was merely the execution of that which the other Socialist parties of Russia had already pioneered and prepared. All this they would have carried out through the Constituent Assembly with its overwhelming Socialist majority, under much more favorable conditions, with the enthusiastic participation of the population, and in a manner much more rational than the Bolsheviks have been able to do in the midst of civil war, which they themselves had provoked, with its consequent enormous destruction of productive forces and extensive paralysis of the activity of the people.

The superficial Socialist observer, his wish being father to his thought, likewise failed to understand that under democratic forms the revolution would have led to a speedy rise of the intellectual and economic powers of the people, whereas under the dictatorship even the hopeful beginnings for the development of the masses laid down in decades of struggle under Czarism were shattered. What impressed the superficial observer was the fact that for the first time in history a socialist party had come into power in a state, the largest in Europe.

For this reason there was at first wide sympathy for Communist Russia in the circles of Western European Socialism. Bolshevism had become strong through dictatorship in the party. It had succeeded in achieving dictatorship in the state. Now it would be satisfied with nothing less than dictatorship over the world proletariat. All those outside of Russia who would not bow to such dictatorship were denounced as enemies, even though they may have looked upon the Communist police dictatorship as quite all right for the Russian proletariat. This failed to satisfy the Moscow dictators. They called upon all Socialists to recognize the wisdom and desirability of this dictatorship for the entire world.

Many refused to go along with Bolshevism to any such point. The Bolsheviks insisted, however, that it was the duty of every worker, and particularly of every Marxist, to submit to their dictatorship. Those who declined to do so were branded as “class enemies, counter-revolutionists, miserable traitors, more dangerous and corrupting than direct class enemies.”

The Bolsheviks looked upon the bourgeois parties only as enemies with whom it was possible to negotiate under certain conditions and to conclude an armistice. On the other hand, they regarded the Socialists as cowardly deserters or rascally mutineers, fit to be hung.

In this manner the Communists succeeded in weakening very materially the forces of labor in all countries, at a time when the old regimes had collapsed in many states, although no world revolution was to be expected, and when the working class throughout Europe had attained a position of higher significance. By considering their dictatorship more important than the unity of the working class, the Communists split the Socialists parties outside of Russia after the war as they had split the Socialists parties inside Russia before the war. They aggravated this division of the forces of labor by extending the schism into the ranks of the trade unions.

The Communist parties which arose outside of Russia as a result of this policy were forbidden to have any views of their own but were obliged to follow blindly the orders of the centre in Moscow. This centre was always very badly informed as to conditions abroad, its mercenary tools and informers reporting the situation not as it really was but as the dictator in Russia wished it to be. Every despot in history was always thus misled by his servile tools. As a consequence, the Communists abroad were frequently drawn into senseless adventures, which brought them severe and often annihilating defeat and which, in turn, were very detrimental in their prolonged repercussions upon the workers of the countries in question.

The ultimate expression of this criminal policy was the fact that whenever a Socialist party found itself engaged in a bitter struggle with the reactionary bourgeois enemy, the Communists not only failed to support the Socialists but stabbed them in the back, thus giving aid and comfort to reaction. Weakening of the forces of labor and strengthening of the enemy was the consequence of the policy of the Communist International. The Communists devoted all their energies to the destruction of the Social Democratic parties, the free trade unions and the cooperatives. This had led, in turn, to the weakening of the revolution and of the labor movement as a whole, and to the triumph of the counter-revolution in all countries where circumstances have favored the rise of dictators operating on the principles governing the dictator in the Kremlin, the principles under which we are asked to reject “all moral and intellectual restraint.” This was neither mere accident nor occasional mistake but the inevitable result of the policy of dictatorship in the party, in the state, in the International begun by Lenin three decades ago, and which had become the foundation stone of his sect.


Last updated on 27.1.2004