Karl Kautsky

Marxism and Bolshevism:
Democracy and Dictatorship

IV. Democracy and Dictatorship

The recrudescence of militarist thought brought about by the war and its social and economic perturbations pushed to the fore the question of dictatorship and democracy. This was the central feature of the discussions at the last congress of the Austrian Social-Democracy in Vienna in 1932. The outstanding event of the proceedings was Otto Bauer’s address. In the discussion that followed one speaker said:

Democracy may be a means (toward an end) but we must not forget that democracy can never be an end in itself. The goal must be Socialism, to which we may come by following the road of democracy.

This point of view is widely held and therefore merits attention. If it were correct it might become very dangerous, seriously weakening our zeal in fighting for democracy. Fortunately this point of view is utterly false.

Democracy is not merely a pathway to the Socialist goal. It is an integral part of that goal, which is not only economic welfare but also freedom and equality for all. At any rate, this integral part can be achieved much earlier than can the economic aspect of Socialist construction, i.e. its social economy.

In sharp contradiction to the belief that democracy is only a way to Socialism is another viewpoint which is also quite popular in Socialist ranks, namely, that true democracy is possible only in a Socialist society and that what we have now as democracy is an illusion and has only a formal character.

I maintain quite to the contrary that not only is Socialism impossible without democracy but that there is no other way to Socialism except through democracy, which must be attained, in some degree at least, before Socialism can be attempted. He who thinks that there are various ways of achieving Socialism and that democracy is merely one of them, and the most ineffective at that, regards democracy exclusively from the viewpoint of the conquest of state power. No one contends that different methods of achieving this conquest are conceivable and possible. State power may be captured through an insurrection. It may fall into our hands by itself, as it were, as a result of the collapse of the government apparatus due, for example, to a military defeat. But that is only one side of the question. In this particular form it arises before us only when we begin the decisive struggle with the dominant classes and parties.

But long before that time and quite indispensable under all conditions, even in an imperfect form, democracy becomes of great importance as a means of educating the proletariat to that state of political and social maturity which shall enable it to keep the power after it has been won and use that power efficiently for its own and the common good.

The class struggle is the primary school of the working class. I mean the struggle itself and the resultant changes in organization and legislation.

The results of class conflicts will be all the greater the more democracy there is in the state, the greater the benefits derived from it by the working class, and the more numerous the gains in democratic rights which ordinarily the working class achieves by allying itself with other laboring elements, the lower middle class, the farmers and intellectuals. Sometimes the working class is aided in this even by capitalists.

The masses of the workers can not be organized in secret, conspiratory organizations. They can be organized only in free and open associations. To explain their situation to them it is not enough to have circulars printed illegally. For this is needed a daily press of wide circulation and literature easily accessible to the masses. Freedom of association, the right to vote on the basis of universal, secret and direct balloting are the necessary means of educating and developing the proletariat and hastening its maturity. Every extension of freedom for the laboring classes in the state has not only a formal but a real value of the highest degree. It is of tremendous educational importance to the working class. Without the preliminary attainment of democracy the working class can not acquire those qualities which it needs for its own liberation and the building of a new and higher social order.

Democracy is indissolubly bound up with Socialism both a means to an end and as integral part of the final goal. The Socialist who underestimates democracy, however provisionally, cuts the very branch on which he sits and whence he aims to climb higher.

The ruling classes know very well what democracy means to the laboring classes and above all to the wage-earning proletariat. They oppose democracy as long as they can. Where its establishment has been compelled they readily avail themselves of every opportunity to limit it by arbitrary acts or abolish it altogether.

We must always reckon with this possibility. It has become stronger in our own time. Is there anything we can oppose to force? Only force, of course, and not indignant protests. But we must also realize that “force of arms” is not the only form of force that is at the disposal of the working class. Moreover, of all possible means of coercion that the working class may use, arms are not the most effective. On the contrary they are most ineffective where the opponent has a well disciplined and well organized army and police. In the last few decades the general strike has been considered by many our most effective weapon.

Where democracy is being destroyed by violence we have the moral right, despite our democratic principles, to fight violence with violence. But we are not bound to do so by immediately resorting to arms. The reactionaries who are backed by the power of organized armies always try, whenever they are seized by fear of democracy, to arouse the anger of the laboring masses by some acts of violence, in order to provoke them to come out openly against the armed forces of the State and thus create an opportunity for bloody suppression. We must not yield to such provocations.

Hence we do not in any way regard ourselves as driven to the necessity of answering the destruction of democracy by an armed insurrection. One might object that we should not openly expound this view because it might encourage the reaction. But we are not at all refusing to oppose force with force. We reserve to ourselves the right to do so at such time and in such form as will insure our success. We reserve to ourselves the fullest freedom of tactics.

The expectation that we shall be compelled to meet every act of violence by an immediate call to arms may encourage the lovers of violence, thirsting for Marxist blood, to attempt to destroy the constitution, if they should think the moment favorable to themselves and unfavorable to us. And this very same expectation, should it be shared by many of our comrades, may be responsible for the profound disappointment of the masses in the event that our leaders, realizing the unfavorable situation, will refuse to embark upon a policy of opposing force with violence, as in Austria.

There is yet another circumstance that must be taken into consideration while appealing to force. The only weapon that gives the laboring masses an advantage over their exploiters is their numerical superiority. When it comes to decisive social clashes we have a chance to win only where that numerical superiority is on our side. This is true not only in cases where the fight is conducted by methods of democracy but also in a larger measure in conflicts where violence is employed. We should not think that the use of force will exempt us from the difficult duty of attracting to our side the majority of the population. On the contrary, we shall perish if we are going to be opposed not only by the machine guns and cannons of the army and the police but also by the majority of the people. In that case even a general strike will not help us. In the general strikes which resulted in victory for the revolutionists the majority of the population was invariably with the latter. It was so in 1905 in Russia, and it was so in 1920 at the time of the Kapp putsch in Germany.

We must not forget that it is not only the working class that is interested in the existence of democracy. Where it is organized and maintains its unity and where there are other groups vigorously opposed to dictatorship we have every chance to overcome eventually the forces of dictatorship.

Our tactics in opposing violence must be adapted to conditions in each individual case. It would be a mistake to arouse expectations which in case of serious developments might force us to use wrong methods or bring keen disappointment to our followers among the various classes of the population.

Whatever be the methods which we choose in defending ourselves against force, our aim must be always the same: the restoration of democracy, and not the substitution of a new regime of force for the one demolished by us. We shall attract the broad masses more easily for the purpose of reestablishing democracy than for the purpose of replacing one form of dictatorship with another. Besides, dictatorship can never be our road to Socialism. Such a road can only be democracy. I think that on the question of democracy I concur on all points with Otto Bauer and the Vienna Congress. But in my discussion of democracy I finally touched upon the subject of dictatorship, and here unfortunately our ways must part, at least for the moment, as regards the question of Soviet Russia.

There is one thing at any rate in which I agree with Otto Bauer and that is in wishing that the Soviet dictatorship may succeed in its “Socialist construction” work. This wish of his I fully share, but I lack faith in its fulfillment.

We have all heard of the Utopians who in the first half of the last century tried to make Socialism an immediate reality through the establishment of Communist colonies. With a backward proletariat, it was inevitable that these efforts should assume the character of a ready-made community plan, brought from above and carried out under the guidance of a dictatorship. Every Socialist was bound to wish ardently for the success of those efforts. Every failure was a heavy blow to us, and weakened, at least temporarily, the force of Socialist propaganda. But since the time of Marx and Engels we have learned that these efforts were doomed to failure because of an undeveloped proletariat. Since this became clear to us we have never helped in the organization of Socialist colonies and always opposed the very idea of such colonies, however desirable their success might have been. We knew that this was impossible and that all such efforts could not help being unsuccessful. Must we now give our approval merely because the same attempt is being made not on a small but on a tremendous scale? In other words, approve it because its failure must carry with it not an insignificant debacle but a terrible calamity?

From the time when the Socialist movement was placed upon a Marxist foundation and until the World War this movement grew steadily and developed without any serious setbacks, for Marxism taught us that the success of every cause depended not only upon our will and our wish but also upon the circumstances under which it was being advanced. Thanks to Marxism we have never undertaken tasks unrealizable under given conditions. Therein lay the great significance of Russian Marxism founded by Plekhanov and Axelrod and accepted, at that time, by Lenin. It grew out of the incessant struggle with the early Socialist-Revolutionists, who thought that it was possible to build immediately a Socialist economy in Russia on the basis of village communism. To this the Marxists opposed the view that Socialism could be realized only by a working class that had reached a higher level of development. Such a working class can arise only under a system of highly developed industrial capitalism and after a prolonged exercise by the masses of the people of democratic liberties making possible the formation of large class organizations and the development of the proletarian class-struggle.

Unfortunately, the Russian Social-Democrats split into two approximately equal factions. One consisted of Mensheviki, who were organizing the party by democratic methods, as was always insisted upon by Marx. Against them appeared the Bolsheviki led by Lenin, who strove to establish in the party the dictatorial power of the leaders.

Then came the World War; the collapse of the Russian armies, of the power of the land barons and capitalists. The Socialists found themselves riding the tide in Russia. But at the same time the Bolsheviki began a fierce struggle against the other Socialists – the Mensheviki and the Socialist-Revolutionists. The latter were supported by the majority of the population. The Bolsheviki under Lenin’s leadership, however, succeeded in capturing control of the armed forces in Petrograd and later in Moscow and thus laid the foundation for a new dictatorship in place of the old Czarist dictatorship.

Having seized control, Lenin at once conceived himself powerful enough to undertake from above and by utopian methods the carrying out of a task which until then he himself as a disciplined Marxist had regarded as unrealizable, namely, the immediate establishment of the Socialist order of production with the aid of an immature proletariat. It should be noted that it was a question not of village communism, for the private economy of the individual peasant was preserved, but of state economy in industry and commerce.

This was the task undertaken by Lenin, in opposition to the Mensheviki and the Socialist-Revolutionists, who declared the undertaking utopian and unrealizable. They likewise denounced the dictatorship and the destruction of democracy.

The grandiose experiment undertaken by the Bolsheviki 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 Bolsheviki 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 principles of our party and rejected the Communist methods under all circumstances as non-Marxist. As between these two currents there soon appeared a third one. This rejects the Bolshevik methods for its own country but believes that these methods are justified in Russia.

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 one hundred years ago were likewise impelled by the insufficient development of the proletariat in their countries. The methods of both the old utopians and the Bolsheviki are not mere accidents, but derive their logic from existing 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 proletariat possesses some peculiar inherent socialist powers which the proletarians of Western Europe lack. So far the existence of such powers has not been established. Therefore, there is not the slightest reason for thinking that in Russia the road to Socialism will be different from that elsewhere.

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 the social revolution in Western capitalist countries, and that only the establishment of the 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 Bolsheviki themselves. Lenin created a breach in this Communism by making some concessions 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.

We do not know whether Lenin would have continued the Nep. He died in 1924. After his death differences arose among the Bolsheviki on the question of the Nep. And indeed the development of the Nep demanded the adoption of a definite policy. It was necessary either to extend the system, which promised an economic upturn but threatened the existence of the dictatorship, or to abolish the Nep and return to integral communism. It was the latter that was decided upon by Stalin, who had gained unlimited authority among Lenin’s followers.

State industry, however, was in a precarious condition and facing imminent ruin. Its production apparatus had to be overhauled. And so once more the Bolsheviki recalled Marx’s doctrine, upon which after all Bolshevism at the beginning was founded, namely, that modern Socialism could develop only on the basis of a highly advanced heavy industry. It was decided therefore to create this industry at express train speed with the aid of a Five-Year Plan. Within five years, beginning with 1928, it was planned to build an industrial organization that was to eclipse that of the United States.

The plan was immediately put into execution with all the zeal and energy available. During the “Piatiletka” there were accomplished indeed colossal things that aroused the admiration and amazement of the capitalist world and of many Socialists who previously had maintained a sceptical attitude toward the Bolshevist experiment. Now some of them take the view which they themselves had previously rejected. They say, “Well, it is true that the Bolshevik methods are not suitable for us, nevertheless they seem to lead to Socialist construction in Russia.”

An indirect criticism of this view was once offered by Lenin himself in the days of Czarism, when he was ridiculing the Czarist government. In January 1905 he published in the newspaper Vperiod an article about the Russian reverses in the war with Japan, where he clearly proved that those reverses were the result of Russia’s lack of freedom, which hindered the efforts of energetic and self-reliant people without whom it was impossible to win a war.

“Events have proved,” wrote Lenin, “how right those foreigners were who laughed at the way tens and hundreds of millions of rubles were wasted on the purchase and construction of magnificent dreadnoughts, and who pointed out that all these expenditures were useless in the absence of people capable of handling modern military machinery and navigating modern vessels.”

This applies to both machines intended for destruction and those built for production. Machines are useless if there are no competent people to tend them.

Indeed, what characterizes modern production is not only a highly developed technique but also highly qualified workers who know how to operate the latest machinery and who are to be found in sufficient numbers only in a democracy. These workers even to a larger extent than the machines are the prerequisites for a true Socialist society that guarantees welfare and freedom to all.

In Russia, however, under the Czar as well as under the Bolsheviki, all efforts have always been directed toward importing the modern technique of capitalist countries, but not the freedom which creates modern men.

In the sixties of the past century, under the influence of the defeats suffered in the Crimean war, a liberal movement sprang up among a section of the Russian nobility. This faction, after abolishing serfdom, wanted to emulate the English aristocracy in conducting a modern economy. The abolition of serfdom brought to some of the landowners large indemnities which they used in the purchase of agricultural machinery in England. But they could not import English workers along with the machinery, or if they could it was only in small numbers. The peasants, who by law had just been freed from serfdom but who in reality continued to be the slaves of the landowners and of absolutism, showed little capacity for handling modern machinery. The machines soon fell into disrepair and became junk.

The promoters of the “Piatiletka” disregarded these early experiences. They too believed that all that was necessary was to import from the industrial countries as many new machines as possible. They forgot that it was necessary also to create the political and social conditions that further the development of modern men. Still less did they think of the fact that such men cannot be developed as fast as new machines are created, and that for this purpose a Five-Year plan is not enough.

But to create new machines in the face of a lack of qualified workmen means not to increase the productive forces of the country but to waste its resources.

Furthermore, Stalin and his men during the “Piatiletka” were wasting national wealth in a manner quite different from the method employed in the sixties by the liberal landowners. These last spent for the purchase of machinery only such funds as would have been wasted anyway in gambling, in trips to Paris, etc. The condition of their peasants did not grow worse on account of it. Quite different is the case with Stalin. All the wealth of Russia which her exploiters had been able to garner before the World War by accumulating the surplus value that flowed into their pockets had been spent or destroyed first in the war, then in the civil war and finally in consequence of the establishment of a bureaucratic state economy by the Bolsheviki. The large sums of money needed for the creation of the new industrial apparatus could be raised only by extracting as much as possible of the newly-created surplus value from the laboring masses. But the productiveness of these masses is quite low. Under Czarism the wages and standard of living of the workers were pitifully low. They declined further during the World War and civil war. During the Nep period they rose somewhat. Now they have been greatly reduced again in order to obtain money for the purchase of numerous machines.

Foreign tourists in Russia stand in silent amazement before the gigantic enterprises created there, just as they stand before the pyramids, for example. Only seldom does the thought occur to them what enslavement, what lowering of human self-esteem was connected with the construction of those gigantic establishments.

The Russian landowners imported machinery without improving the condition of the peasants or adding to their freedom. This was the cause of the failure of their technical reform plan. The Bolsheviki, on the other hand, import machinery by rendering the condition of the workers immeasurably worse and curtailing their freedom. They extract the means for the creation of material productive forces by destroying the most essential productive force of all the laboring man. In the terrible conditions created by the “Piatiletka” people rapidly perish. Soviet films, of course, do not show this. But to convince oneself one only has to inquire of Western European and American workers who went to work in Russia, wishing to escape the capitalist hell and find happiness in the Soviet paradise. After a short stay these workers hurry back to their former hell where conditions now, of course, are bad enough but yet more bearable than is the condition of the workers or even of privileged persons on the other side of the Soviet border.

The results of the “Piatiletka” have turned out to be terrible largely because the Bolsheviki, not content with setting up a large number of gigantic industrial establishments, undertook to transform the individual peasant economy forthwith into a gigantic collective economy, doing precisely that which Lenin had prudently abstained from. For Lenin was able to win because he energetically supported the demands of the peasants who were bent on taking possession of the land of the landowners. It must be remarked, however, that this support was quite unnecessary to the peasants, inasmuch as the Socialist-Revolutionists and the Mensheviki sided with the peasants in this question and had promulgated the division of the land among the peasants before the Bolsheviki had seized power.

But Stalin needed money for a program of rapid industrialization on a gigantic scale. Those enterprises which already existed were working on a deficit, therefore the expedient of extracting more from the peasants seemed all the more necessary. This method of procedure encountered many difficulties when applied to the individual, free peasant who had enough resistance power. Hence the idea of combining the individual peasant holdings into gigantic collectives, the so-called kolkhozy, ruled by the state. From such enterprises the State thought to collect a much larger share of their production than from individual peasants. But the peasants would not join the kolkhozy. Therefore they must be compelled to enter them by force. Thus the diligent and willing toil of free peasants is replaced with the compulsory labor of unwilling serfs. And the yield of such labor is always poor in quality and quantity. It can be managed only with the aid of the most primitive and simple tools of production. A man working under compulsion will quickly damage any kind of complicated tool. And yet the kolkhozy were supposed to be the last word of modernity and efficiency in agricultural economy. They are supplied with the best American implements. With the change to the new methods of production cattle were to a large extent slaughtered. The member of the kolkhoz is compelled to work with the new implements of production which are not suited to him, for they demand free, highly skilled workers. The old implements to which he has become accustomed are gone. It is easy to imagine the results accomplished by a man working against his will and interests. And in fact the productivity of Russian agriculture since the introduction of “Socialist construction” has been falling appreciably. At present there is real famine in that agricultural country. In the days of the Czar we were perfectly justified in denouncing famine in Russia as evidence of the rottenness of the political order. But the famine in Russia this year exceeds anything known before. It rages practically all over the Ukraine, in Northern Caucasus and the Lower Volga region – the most fertile sections of the country – the very ones in which the collectivization of agriculture has been most extensive. Must we therefore welcome famine as the inevitable attendant of Socialist construction?

Gigantic enterprises have been created in agriculture and industry. But they owe their existence to the use of methods which compel the broad masses of the people to starve, to live in rags and filth. This is not the road that will lead us to Socialism, but one that will lead farther away from it, for it increasingly deprives the workers of their capacity to work successfully. It also degrades them in a spiritual sense. For along with want grows dissatisfaction, and to combat this dissatisfaction all sorts of deceptions are employed, and oppression, enhancing the fear that holds the people in subjection, is increased. Resort to capital punishment increases.

According to the laws of social development established by Marx, a backward agricultural country cannot show the way to Socialism to other countries. Its failure in this respect is foreordained. It is merely a question of when and how this failure will finally manifest itself. Until now the Bolsheviki have been skillful in disguising their failure under the mask of promises of a glorious future. The last such promise was the Five-Year plan. But the Bolshevist state economy has been in existence now more than fifteen years. For more than ten years the USSR has been enjoying complete peace. And yet, contrary to all promises, things under the Bolshevist state economy have been getting worse every year, (excepting the short period of the Nep), and the day is not far distant when even the most credulous will become convinced that the Bolshevist way leads not upward, toward Socialism, but downward, to open ruin or slow disintegration.

He, who, like myself, has come to this conviction cannot consider it his duty to help in the dissemination of false views regarding the Russian experiment. On the contrary, he must regard it as his duty to point out to the world that what is going on in Russia is not the bankruptcy of the Socialist methods of Marxism, but evidence of the failure of the methods of utopianism. It is also evidence of the bankruptcy of dictatorship, which we reject under all circumstances in times of peace as a means of political ascendancy and Socialist construction. Only in a democracy is Socialism possible.

Otto Bauer himself does not claim that the existing order in Russia constitutes Socialism. He merely speaks of the possibility of the success of Socialism under Soviet dictatorship, and he admits that for this it is necessary to “wrest from the dictatorship that freedom of thought without which no true Socialism can exist.” Of course, capitalism has been destroyed in Russia, but that does not mean that Socialism has been achieved. It would be nonsensical if out of hatred for capitalism we were to welcome every non-capitalistic form of production, even though it might mean more want and enslavement for the workers than was the case under the domination of Capital.

I expect that soon the failure of the attempts to transform Russia into a Socialist community by methods of dictatorship will become apparent to all. The failure of the Communist experiment in Russia, however, does not mean the downfall of the Bolshevik regime. The two things are not necessarily linked together. Nay, they are mutually exclusive. The same backwardness that makes Socialism in Russia at the present time impossible favors the strengthening of despotism once it has taken root.

The Soviet dictatorship may continue long after the world has recognized the fact that Socialism is no longer the essential purpose of that dictatorship but is only a delusion by means of which it strives to prolong its life and which is uses to deceive itself and others. The Bolsheviki may continue in power for a more or less extended period of time but their power will become increasingly incapable of withstanding serious trials. One such trial may overthrow it over night. We should always be prepared for the unexpected in Russia.

Otto Bauer fears the unexpected that may lead to the crash of the dictatorship. He thinks that the “dictatorship of the Reds can be replaced only by a dictatorship of the Whites.”

This view is widely held at the moment. But I cannot share it.

Bauer also admits that democracy in Russia is necessary. But he hopes that it may come as soon as the dictatorship has succeeded in creating a more or less prosperous regime. I, too, wish with all my heart that democracy may come in this peaceful way. But here, too, I must side with those who lack the faith, that this will happen. I think my friend Otto Bauer is putting the cart before the horse. He hopes that prosperity will lead to freedom. I, on the other hand am convinced that as long as then is no freedom no ascent toward prosperity is possible, but only a descent to increasing want.

Like every absolutism in history, Bolshevist absolutism will be compelled to grant freedom to the Russian masses only under the pressure of an irresistible movement of the people.

To avoid all misunderstanding, I want first of all to remark that I am not at all advocating the organization of open rebellion against the rulers residing in the Kremlin, and that I am still less in favor of any kind of foreign intervention. The latter if attempted would bring incalculable harm, and the organization of an insurrection against such a powerful government apparatus as the Bolshevist is bound to fail. If this apparatus is not wrecked as a result of dissension within the ruling group itself then there is no other way of shortening its tenure except through an elemental upsurge of the people whose pressure will prove irresistible.

So that the question before us is not whether we should encourage the Russian Socialists to organize an insurrection. The question is altogether different, namely, how are we to act when, without our help but solely under pressure of the desperate condition of the state and its economic life, there will break out a mass movement of such power as to threaten the domination of the Communist party? Will such an insurrection lead inevitably to the establishment of the dictatorship of the Whites, so that in order to fight it the Socialist International will have to mobilize all the forces at its command?

That, of course, will be of little help to the dictators in the Kremlin. Popular movements that pass into revolutions have such a sweep that the efforts of foreign parties and emigrés living just across the border are insignificant by comparison. This, however, will not absolve us from the duty which we owe to the proletariat of the entire world to take a definite stand for or against the movement.

First of all, however, we must ask ourselves the question as to just what is meant by “White Dictatorship.” “White Guards” is the name given to those who favor the return of the Czar and the landowners. They played a part in the Russian civil war of 1918-1920. Now there remain only small remnants of that element. They may seize upon this or that occasion to parade in Europe or in China, but on the Russian people, the Russian workers and peasants, they have no influence whatever. In this respect the revolution has brought about a radical change.

Just what form the workers’ and peasants’ movement may take in present-day Russia is hard to say. We are dealing with an utterly abnormal state organism. The Communist Party may split, units of the Red Army may refuse to obey their officers, hunger may lead to an explosion of despair, the bureaucratic apparatus may stop working, the dictatorship itself may become more moderate and make some concessions, breaches may appear in the dike of terror and cause the whole structure eventually to be swept away. Many other things may happen. But what ground have we for thinking that in that case the representatives of Czarism, large industry and capital will gain such mastery as to be able to put the laboring masses under the harness of a new dictatorship? Against whom will the peasants and workers rise up if Bolshevism should collapse? Against the state economy? The workers will prefer private enterprise only in cases where they are assured better living and working conditions than they can get from the government-owned economy. But even the peasants will not oppose state industry if it can supply them with commodities of good quality and at low prices. True, the majority of peasants will abandon the kolkhozy as soon as government coercion is removed, but this they will do only if they receive the necessary means of production. At first the kolkhozy will simply stop delivering their supplies to the government for next to nothing. Perhaps many of them, under a freer regime, will organize a new form of production preparatory to Socialism.

What the peasants and workers will destroy first of all, for it oppresses them both economically and politically more than anything else, is the whole machinery of government dictatorship. Owing to the fact that the state finances are unsound, industrial undertakings and the kolkhozy are operating on a deficit and the government treasury no longer receives any surplus funds. When the OGPU, the huge bureaucratic apparatus and the Red Army are no longer well paid their discipline will be destroyed. They will become less dependable, less capable and ready to offer resistance to the growing insubordination of the masses. If in addition there is discord and indecision among the dictators themselves, then that will mean the end of the dictatorship.

The disbanding of the political police, the bureaucracy and the army will be the first result of the overthrow of the Red dictatorship. Where, then, are the elements that will make a White dictatorship not only possible but inevitable ?

This does not at all mean that the overcoming of Bolshevism will and must assume the form of a democratic idyl. Sixteen years of steady and growing misery and oppression can not help but kindle the fire of hate in the hearts of the people, and we are able to judge of the intensity of this hatred from the unceasing killings of Bolshevik agents in the villages. To this must be added the utter lack of experience and traditions associated with free organization and self-rule among the people. If under these circumstances there should be an outbreak of rebellion among the peasants and workers they are likely at first to lead to a condition that is the very opposite of dictatorship, namely to anarchy and chaos. But ultimately there will be formed new political and social combinations the nature and character of which we can not as yet discern. For in the present condition of Russia everything is abnormal, therefore the overcoming of it may assume abnormal forms. But where the peasants and the workers are given an opportunity for free self-determination, they always tend toward democratic forms of organization. What ground have we for supposing then that the Russian peasants and workers will act differently after they will have overthrown their only overlord – the Bolshevist dictatorship? Or where is that power that is capable of imposing a new dictatorship upon them against their will? Such fears proceed not from a study of the present social structure in Russia, but from historical analogy with events that have taken place under an entirely different set of circumstances.

In my opinion the Socialist International has not the slightest reason or right to brand in advance as a reactionary movement every rebellion of the Russian people against the prevailing dictatorship. The democratic movement among the peasants and workers must count upon our fullest sympathy. Every attempt on the part of the White Guard elements to gain ascendancy in Russia will meet the unanimous resistance of all Socialists without distinction. But it would be extremely erroneous to suspect and denounce as White Guardist every popular movement without investigation, merely because it arouses fear in the hearts of the dictators in the Kremlin.

Our first duty is to watch carefully events in Russia. Then we shall not be deceived by partisans either on the right or on the left. At the present moment there is no more important research work than that of studying conditions in Russia. It is of decisive importance to the labor movement of the entire world.

I agree with Otto Bauer as far as the appraisal of the importance of the study of conditions in Russia is concerned. But I thoroughly disagree with him as to the essence of this appraisal. Otto Bauer thinks that every method of overthrowing the Soviet government would be a reactionary step for the whole of Europe. I expect the very opposite result from such an overthrow.

The old idealists among the dictators in the Kremlin have either died out or been removed from office. The men who are at the helm now have derived from the class struggle of the proletariat, in which they formerly participated as part of the Social-Democratic movement, only the desire to utilize the working class for their own ends, which in practice are no longer the liberation of the laboring masses but the strengthening of their own absolutism. The working classes not alone of Russia but of the entire world have become their cannon fodder. In the eyes of the Kremlin rulers the proletarians of all countries must play the part of wooden soldiers marching to their command. This is really the task of the Comintern. This is what all the illusions about a world revolution have come to. The leaders of the Comintern themselves probably no longer do not believe in this world revolution. But the greater the misery in their own country, the more interested are they in having the workers of other countries drawn into all sorts of senseless adventures. The more wretched the end of these adventures, the more harm they cause the proletariat, the more insignificant by comparison will the troubles in Russia appear.

In this effort to establish their dictatorship over the proletariat of the world and to drag it into adventures regardless of consequences, the Moscow dictators encounter the determined resistance of Social-Democracy. Therefore they regard the Social Democracy as their most dangerous enemy. The rage of the Communists is directed principally not against foreign capitalists but against the workers organized into Social-Democratic parties and free trade unions.

The rulers of Russia seem to be able to get along with the capitalists and capitalist governments and to do business with them. For the capitalists are not in the least embarrassed by dictatorship methods, nor by the omnipotence of a political police, nor by the exploitation of the masses for purposes of “primitive accumulation.” They would greatly appreciate having a similar regime in their own countries. Bismarck, for example, knew that the best way to control a proletariat attempting to lift its head is by encouraging it to open mutiny against the government and thus to create an opportunity for the bloody suppression of the workers. The fact that from time to time and by the most stupid methods the Communists create such opportunities for blood-letting from which the workers suffer makes them a valuable ally of all the reactionary forces of capitalism.

The fundamental aim of the Communists of every country is not the destruction of capitalism but the destruction of democracy and of the political and economic organizations of the workers.

By their policies they always pave the way for reaction. The capitalists no longer fear Soviet Russia, they help her. The entire Five-Year plan was conceived in the expectation that the capitalists of the entire world would vie with one another in supplying Soviet Russia with improved means of production, and in this the Communists were not deceived. And the capitalists fear Soviet Russia just as little politically as they do economically. Mussolini owes his success in no small measure to the Communists. They made possible the triumph of Hitler in Germany. In France and other countries the reactionaries owe a number of their seats in Parliament to the Communists. Everywhere from the moment the war ended the Communists have been doing the greatest harm to the cause of the working class by bringing discord into its ranks.

Right now one hears louder than ever the demand for a united front which before the war existed in almost every country of the world, with the exception of Russia, and which gave the laboring masses a chance to assert themselves victoriously. The split in the ranks of the proletariat was responsible for the fact that the revolutions of 1918 and 1919 did not accomplish the maximum results possible at that time. Now all our revolutionary gains are threatened, if we do not form a united front. The building of such a front is the most urgent need in the class struggle of the proletariat. In this we all agree. But I am not as optimistic as Otto Bauer and others that the united front could be re-established by negotiations between the Socialist International and the Comintern.

I am far from opposing an honest rapprochement. I should never wish to play the part of an opponent of unity. But I can foresee that nothing worth-while will come of these attempts.

Some say: we are absolutely opposed to the Communist parties outside of but not to the dictatorship in Russia. In reality the reverse is true: cooperation with those Communist parties who are freeing themselves from their dependence on the present rulers of Russia for the purpose of attaining some common goal is possible. This has been proved by experience more than once. On the other hand, those Communists who are ruled by Moscow are implacably hostile to our party not because of their Communist objectives, which are shared also by the Communist opposition, but because what the Moscow rulers want is not independently thinking allies but obedient tools.

The enemy that makes impossible any united front resides in Moscow. The conflict between Moscow and the Socialist International is not based upon a misunderstanding hut is deeply rooted in their respective natures and is just as insoluble as is the contradiction between dictatorship and democracy.

The re-establishment of a united proletarian front is impossible as long as the Socialist parties adhere firmly to democratic ideals, while Russia is ruled by a dictatorship seeking to subordinate to itself the proletariat of the whole world.

A united front will come of itself as soon as this dictatorship has vanished, for without it the Communist parties will be deprived of their life-force. They will speedily disintegrate as soon as slogans and money cease to come from Russia and the iron and golden ring that is holding them has been removed.

With the disappearance of the Bolshevist dictatorship there will begin a period of speedy unification and coordination of all the independent organizations of the proletarian democracy, who will resume their march to victory.

Not the collapse of the dictatorship in Russia but its further continuance in power constitutes the gravest menace and causes the greatest damage to the liberation struggle of the modern working class.


Last updated on 19.1.2004