Karl Kautsky

Communism and Socialism

5. Dictatorship in the International

We have seen how the idea of dictatorship affects the inner life of a socialist party and the influences wrought when the dictatorial party seizes power in the state. There remains now the question of how dictatorship affects the class struggle through its efforts to dominate the International.

Before the war Lenin did not find in the International the favorable conditions for the promotion of his party dictatorship which he found 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 agreed in their 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 Inter, national were to lx excluded. The Bolsheviks, commanded by Lenin, were to form the nucleus of the new International. 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. Contrary to the democratic structure of the First and Second Internationals, the third International 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 ass to be extended to a world dictatorship.

To emphasize the fact that they were no longer with the Socialists, as they had been for twenty years, they called themselves Communists after the coup d’etat of 1917. 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 the defeated military monarchies. But in these, too, the Communists failed to win. No highly developed proletariat will accept dictatorship, however proletarian its colors, as an 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 date. 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 truly 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 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, failed likewise 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 enough 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 proletarian, 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 look upon the bourgeois parties only as enemies with whom it is possible to negotiate under certain conditions and to conclude an armistice. On the other, hand, they regard the Socialists as cowardly deserters or rascally mutineers, fit to be hanged.

In this manner the Communists succeeded in weakening very materially the forces of the proletariat 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 proletariat throughout Europe had attained to a position of higher significance.

By considering their dictatorship more important than the unity of the proletariat the Communists split the Socialist parties outside of Russia after the war as they had split the socialist parties inside Russia before the war. They aggravated this division of the proletarian forces 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 center in Moscow. This center 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 defeats and which, in turn, were very detrimental in their prolonged repercussions upon the proletariat 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 bourgeois enemy, the Communists not only failed to support the Socialists but stabbed them in the back, thus giving aid and comfort to the reaction.

Weakening of the forces of the proletariat and strengthening of the enemy was the consequence of the policy of the Communist International. 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.

Not theoretical differences of opinion and hair splittings but the realties of dictatorship with its inescapable consequences constitute the obstacle which render impossible any cooperation between Communists and Socialists. Trotsky who now speaks of the necessity of such cooperation against Hitlerism would not urge it if he did not regard it, as he frankly does, as a convenient Communist maneuver to destroy the Socialists. He would not even mention the idea of such cooperation if he himself were still in power as the dictator.

The Communists expect to bring about a “united front« of the proletariat, so essential at this moment, in quite different manner. They point to the fact that the Communist vote in Germany has been growing steadily for some time. It cannot be denied that for the time being they have been increasing their vote at each succeeding election, partly at the expense of the Socialists. But a still greater increase in votes, including working class votes, has been gained by the Fascists. The gains of both Communists and Fascists are to be attributed to the same source, the growing misery of the proletariat. These gains are evidence not of the merits of Fascist and Communist theory and practice but of the growing spread of unemployment in Germany. They prove how widespread is the despair in the ranks of the workers, how the crisis has killed all self confidence in many proletarians, how it has atrophied their capacity to appraise calmly the realities of the situation and stimulated powerfully the cry for miracles and miracle men.

Were the entire German working class to succumb to the enervating and intellectually destructive influence of the crisis there would be no prospect for the Socialists except destruction. But the Communists are mistaken in their belief that this would make it possible for them to lead the proletariat to victory. Such a situation would leave the proletariat divided between the Communists and the Fascists, to be used by unscrupulous and ignorant dictators like Max Hoelz and Hitler as cannon fodder, stripped of all independence and deprived of any will of its own.

Fortunately for the German proletariat, the dream of the Communists will not come true. For decades the Socialists of Germany have been instilling so much knowledge, power, confidence, solidarity and devotion to their party in the German workers that not even the destructive and bewildering effects of the World War, the peace, and the world crisis have shaken the foundations of the Socialist Party and of the organizations supporting it, notably the trade unions.

For the moment the Socialist Party is at a standstill. But it is not retreating. It stands firm as a rock against which the waves of Fascism and Communism beat in vain. Nevertheless the Fascists will derive advantage from the crisis as long as it continues. This makes it all the more necessary for Socialists to exert all their energies to save the party Proletariat and the whole of mankind from the shameful destruction with which they are being threatened by the dictators of the right and on the left.

For a Socialist who understands the nature of his party there can be no compromise with dictatorship, because dictatorship demands the constant and complete submission of the human being to its commands without the slightest hesitation and questioning. The submission dictatorship demands is the submission of a corpse It is the most extreme form of militarization of the state.


Last updated on 27.1.2004