O. W. Kuusinen
Source: The The Errors of Trotskyism, May 1925
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
“During the second half of last year we had here (in Germany) a classic demonstration of how the opportunity of a uniquely revolutionary situation of world historical significance may be missed.” (Trotsky, September, 1924, in his “Lessons of October.”)
“If the (German) Party had proclaimed insurrection in October last year, as proposed by the Berlin comrades, it would now be lying prone with a broken neck.” (From the draft of theses, by Trotsky and Radek, January, 1924.)
Both in September, 1923 and in January, 1924, I had much opportunity, in my capacity as secretary, to take part in the commissions on the German question appointed by the Executive of the Comintern; I am thus not only familiar with the standpoint of the Executive as a whole, but also with a standpoint of the separation leading comrades with regard to the events in Germany in October. I was thus exceedingly astonished to see the light in which these events are viewed by Trotsky in the preface to his book “1917” (“The Lessons of October”). I was much surprised that such recent events—events really not lying in any remote past can be so misrepresented. As the facts are not yet generally known, we must oppose Comrade Trotsky’s description by a statement of the actual position.
Comrade Trotsky devotes his “Lessons of October” to the exposition and delineation of the following theme: The experiences of the Russian October and the experiences of many European countries, especially the experience—as he expresses it “of the German October which did not take place,” all go to show one and the same thing. In Germany, authoritative comrades in our own ranks opposed the insurrection at the decisive moment. In Russia, thanks to the pressure exercised by Comrade Lenin, and thanks to the cooperation of Comrade Trotsky, the insurrection was set in action and the victory won. But in the “German October” the insurrection was not begun, although in Comrade’s Trotsky’s opinion “every pre-requisite for revolution was given, with the exception of far-seeing and energetic leaders.”
The existence of this revolutionary situation was not recognised in time, and no comrade arose and put pressure upon the Central, striving to prevent the insurrection. For this reason we had neither insurrection nor seizure of power. The German October did not take place, we gained nothing more than a “classic example of how the opportunity of a uniquely revolutionary situation of world historical significance may be missed.”
This drama of the German October was played for Comrade Trotsky against the background of the history of the Russian October. He describes in detail the energy with which he himself took action in 1917, and in even greater detail the manner in which various other comrades attempted to “retreat before the battle.” These comrades—“opponents of the insurrection”—had extraordinarily overestimated the forces of the enemy only two weeks before the bloodless victory of the Bolsheviki in Petrograd (“even Lenin was of the opinion that the enemy had still considerable forces in Petrograd”). According to Comrade Trotsky, the leaders of the German C.P. committed this same error of over-estimating the forces of our adversaries in October last year.
“They confidently accepted all figures calculated by the bourgeoisie as to their armed forces, added these carefully to the forces of the police and militia, then rounded up the result to half a million and more, and thus assumed a compact force, armed to the teeth, and fully able to paralyse their endeavours. It is an incontestable fact that the German counter-revolution possessed forces which were better organised and better trained than the whole and half elements of the Kornilov forces. But the active forces of the German revolution were again different from ours. In Germany the proletariat represents the overwhelming majority of the population. In our case the revolutionary question was decided, at least, at first, by Petrograd and Moscow. In Germany the insurrection would have had ten mighty strongholds at once. If we take all this into consideration, then the armed forces of the enemy were in reality by no means so dangerous as represented by the statistical calculation, with figures rounded up to numbers beyond the truth.” (“Lessons of October,” Russian edition, p. 11.)
This is the only place in which Comrade Trotsky mentions any difference in the objective premises of the Russian and German Octobers. According to his description, the conditions for the seizure of power in 1923 in Germany were not in the least less favourable than in Russia in 1917.
“It is not possible to imagine conditions more favourable, or more suitable and matured for the seizure of power.”
He does not make the very slightest mention, not even a superficial indication of any reasons, however insignificant, which might justify the retreat at the time of the “German October.” No, no, in his opinion the insurrection was the unconditional duty of the Party at this juncture. To him it is a misfortune that during the “German October” the opponents of the insurrection were able to “drag the Party back.”
Thus (according to Comrade Trotsky) the German revolution fell through. After this defeat the guilty comrades came forward with their “biassed calculations,” for the purpose of “justifying the policy which had led to defeat.” And Comrade Trotsky adds:
“It is easy to imagine how history would have been written if those comrades in the C.C. (of the Russian C.P.) who inclined in 1917 to the tactics of retreat before the battle, had had their way. The semi-official writers of history would have had no difficulty in maintaining that an insurrection in the year 1917 would have been utter nonsense.” (p. 41.)
Thanks to Comrade Trotsky’s dramatic art, his representation of the German October conjures up the figure of the one chiefly guilty of the German defeat. It is true that Comrade Trotsky does not give his name, but his figure is easily recognisable among the others. Everything that is said of him shows plainly that the figure is not that of a German; the unnamed German accused take a secondary place. The chief of the accused is obviously responsible for the appearance of the Germans in the dock at all.
Why did he not appoint better leaders in the Central of the German Party? Why did he not exercise proper pressure on the German leaders? This was his first duty...
Or, was anything else to be expected of him after the “experiences of October?” What more was to be expected of him in the future?
“Of late”—writes Trotsky—“much has been written and spoken about the necessity of “Bolshevising” the Comintern. . . What does the Bolshevising of the Communist Parties mean? It means that these parties are to be so schooled, and their leaders so chosen, that they do not leave the track when their October arrives. This is the true import of Hegel, and of all the wisdom of our books and philosophies.” (p. 64.)
Thus Comrade Trotsky in September, 1924.
Comrade Trotsky spoke differently to this in January, 1924.
At that time the Executive of the Comintern, with the collaboration of leading German comrades representing all three tendencies, had drawn the balance of the unhappy German revolution. It’s true that Comrade Trotsky did not participate personally in these sessions, but Comrade Radek submitted theses drafted, according to his official declaration, “by Comrades Trotsky and Piatakov, and by me (Radek).”
This thesis draft from the Right minority was rejected by the Executive of the Comintern, and has not been published to this day. In one part of these theses we read:
“The Executive decidedly rejects the demand made by the leaders of the Berlin organisation, to the effect that the retreat made by the Party in October is to be regarded as unjustified and even traitorous. If the Party had proclaimed the insurrection in October, as proposed by the Berlin comrades, it would now be lying prone with a broken neck. The Party committed grave errors during the retreat, and these errors are the object of our present criticism. But the retreat itself corresponded to the objective situation, and is approved by the Executive.”
We thus see that in January of this year, Comrade Trotsky was seriously of the opinion that the retreat was right during the German October, and was in accordance with the objective situation. The leaders of the Berlin organisation considered this retreat “entirely unjustified and even traitorous.” But Comrade Trotsky protested most decidedly against this view of the matter. He demanded together with Radek, Piatakov and the chairman of the German Party Central, Brandler, that the Executive should approve the retreat.
How are we to understand this?
In order to understand this, the reader must know that the tactics of “retreat before the battle,” proposed by the right wing of the Central of the German C.P. in October, 1923, were adopted with the immediate co-operation of Comrade Radek. In all essentials Comrade Trotsky has always been in agreement with this rightwing of the German C.P. (Brandler, etc.); and this was again the case in January after the defeat.
“The experience gained in the European struggles during the last few years, and especially the experience of the German struggle, show us that there are two types of leader who have the tendency to drag the Party back just at the moment when it should leap forward.” (p. 14.)
Comrade Trotsky writes this in September in his book, “The Lessons of October.” He stigmatises these “types” most thoroughly, and declares further.
“At decisive moments these two types work hand in hand, and oppose insurrection.” (p. 64.)
In October, 1923, this was really the case in Germany. And three months later—in January—Trotsky expresses the opinion that these “types” had acted perfectly rightly in Germany, that they had taken the course of action which had to be taken, that the objective situation demanded precisely this course of action, and that the Party was bound to make this retreat. An insurrection would have been utter nonsense, and the Party would have broken its neck.
The “types” thus accused naturally submitted their “biassed calculation” to the Executive in January “for the purpose of justifying the policy leading to the defeat.” The Executive rejected these calculations decisively enough. But Comrade Trotsky defended them.
Such was his lack of “boldness,” just three months after the German October.
In spite of the “Lessons of October.”
And in spite of the main rule for all the revolutions in the world: “Not to leave the track when their own October comes.”
This was in January of this year. But by September, as we have seen, Comrade Trotsky had assumed quite another role. We do not hear a single word about the justification of the retreat, nor is there a trace to be found of the “types.” No, now Comrade Trotsky appeals for the insurrection, and condemns those opposed to it.
“The decisive turning point is the moment when the Party of the proletariat passes from the stage of preparation, propaganda, organisation and agitation, to the stage of actual struggle for power, to armed insurrection against the bourgeoisie. Every irresolute, sceptical, opportunist, and pro-capitalist element still remaining in the Party will oppose insurrection at this moment, will seek theoretical formulas for this opposition, and find them among the opponents of the day before, the opportunists.” (p. ixiv.)
Thus: Down with the opportunists! Down with the heroes of capitulation! Down with Brandler and the sharers of his views!
A thousand times: Hurrah for insurrection!
But—as someone among the audience might ask diffidently—what about the broken neck?
We have here two distinct views of the German October. Which of them corresponds to the actual truth?
In my opinion, neither of them. Both are wrong.
In an article written by Comrade Trotsky in May (“East and West”) and referred to in the “Lessons of October” (p. 69), he states that “some comrades” (here Comrade Zinoviev is chiefly meant) had declared, after the German defeat: “We have over-estimated the situation, the revolution is not yet mature.” Comrade Trotsky is ironical about this “we” (we, Zinoviev), and declares:
“‘Our’ error did not lie in the fact that ‘we’ over-estimated the pre-requisites of revolution, but in that ‘we’ under-estimated, them, and did not recognise at the right moment the necessity of the application of energetic and courageous tactics: the necessity for the struggle to gain the masses for the fight for power.”
What do the facts tell us?
Even in the theses drawn up by Comrades Trotsky and Radek in January, 1924, the following is acknowledged:
“From the very beginning the Comintern and the German C.P. regarded the Ruhr struggles as a period of revolutionary development in Germany.” . . . “The appeal issued by the Leipsic Party Conference of the German C.P., the decisions of the Frankfort Conference, the resolution passed by the delegation of the German C.P. in the spring conference with the Comintern, all go to prove that both the German C.P. and the Comintern have grasped the fact that the German proletariat stands at a parting of the ways, that, after the Party has carried out its united front tactics, after it has accomplished much patient work among the Social-Democratic masses and among the non-partisan workers, and after it has gathered around it broad masses of the proletariat, it will find itself confronted by the task of not merely winning over the overwhelming majority of the proletariat, but of leading the proletariat into battle as a revolutionary Party working for the concrete aim of seizing political power, and regarding this as the sole means of escape from the situation in which the German people is placed.”
These lines are an excellent characterisation of the view-point of the Executive. But it is above all the viewpoint represented by Comrade Zinoviev’s proposals. But as to the viewpoint of the German C.P., this is somewhat embellished by Comrades Radek and Trotsky. At that time, during the autumn and winter of 1923, the Central had but a very dim idea of the revolutionary tasks facing the Party.
There was a great deal more clarity contained in various propositions made by the left opposition, but these were rejected by the Party.
If Comrade Trotsky had been desirous of describing the matter in strict accordance with actuality, he would have had to express himself somewhat as follows: With reference to the Executive and the Left opposition, these should least of all be exposed to the reproach of not having recognised the necessity for an energetic change of tactics, since they did actually recognise this necessity and exercised pressure upon the German C.P.
Yes, Comrade Trotsky may reply, but the pressure exercised by the Executive upon the German Party at that time was not “strong enough.” The January theses drawn up by Comrades Trotsky and Radek did actually contain this reproach. But they should have made their reproach “at the right time,” in the summer or autumn of 1923. If they had done so, it is possible that the Executive would have followed their advice and increased pressure. But three months after October, in January, 1924, this wise discovery was a very cheap and entirely useless argument.
The second point of the January theses of Comrades Trotsky and Radek, subjected to the criticism of the Comintern, is to be taken more seriously. They assert that the questions relating to the Ruhr struggle were discussed, even in the Enlarged Executive (middle of June, 1923) “much more from the standpoint of propaganda than from the standpoint of organisation for an immediate struggle.”
The task of organising the immediate struggle with the object of seizing power had not been concretely formulated, it is true, by June. The Executive did not adopt the “October course” until August, two months later.
J In June the situations in Germany was still such that no person of any commonsense could have thought of regarding the organisation of armed insurrection as the next task. Before such an important step as this can be taken, the existence of symptomatic phenomena proclaiming the rise of a wave of revolution, in however slight degree, is an absolutely imperative preliminary condition. In June no such symptoms were observable.
At the beginning of August an abrupt change took place in Germany. The general situation became revolutionary. Of this we have proof in the mighty mass movement leading to the overthrow of the Cuno government. Had the German C.P. foreseen this movement, it should have entered courageously into the struggle in July, and have taken over the initiative and leadership of the movement. As a matter of fact, the German Central issued a courageous proclamation on 12th July, calling upon the proletariat to take part in street demonstrations on Anti-Fascist Day (29th July).
The government prohibited this demonstration. The Left opposition of the Party demanded “the conquest of the street.”
At this time Comrades Zinoviev and Bucharin, as also Comrade Trotsky, were in Caucasia. The first two informed us, during the discussion already begun on the subject, that they were in favour of the street demonstration. Comrade Radek and I, who were in Moscow, were opposed to it. To us it appeared to be running a useless risk. Comrade Radek, who often evinces a high degree of sensitiveness for changes in the political atmosphere, did not on this occasion feel the approach of something great (nor did I), and, therefore, we could not see any valid reason for such hazardous action on the part of the German C.P. This was a mistake on our part. The view taken by Comrades Zinoviev and Bucharin was expressed in the following words:
“It is only by such methods as the appeal issued on 12th July that the German C.P. can become, in the eyes of the whole of the workers, the generally acknowledged champion and the united centre of the whole proletariat in the struggle against Fascism. Without this, the sad experience suffered by Italy and Bulgaria will be repeated. In the German Central there are more than enough retarding elements, and elements standing for prudence and caution.”
To this Radek replied that he regarded this forcing of the struggle in Germany as “steering towards a defeat in July for fear of a repetition of the Bulgarian events” and opposed these tactics most decidedly. Comrade Trotsky, however, informed us that he had formed no opinion of his own upon the subject, not being sufficiently informed.
The two points of view which had thus been formed among the members of the Executive were communicated to the Central of the C.P. of Germany. In all probability Comrade Brandler acted entirely independently of both points of view; in other words, he had probably never taken the idea of a street demonstration seriously for a moment.
Immediately after this, the broad mass movement set in. Under the pressure of this movement, the Cuno government resigned on 12th August. Comrade Zinoviev, in Caucasia, received only the scanty information provided by the Rosta on this movement; a mighty revolutionary wave is rising.
He raised the alarm.
By 15th August his most important theses “The situation in Germany and our first tasks” were already prepared. He has scarcely ever written anything better than this. A clearly defined October course runs like a scarlet thread through the whole.
After we had received these theses from Zinoviev from Caucasia, we—Radek and I—realised that in Germany the revolution was knocking at the door. This is the fact of the matter.
The following are a few sentences from the theses:
“The crisis is approaching, decisive events are at the gate. A. new and decisive chapter is beginning in the activity of the German C.P., and with this in the whole Comintern. The C.P. of Germany shapes its course rapidly and decisively in view of the impending decisive revolutionary crisis.
“The crisis is approaching. Enormous interests are at stake. The moment is coming nearer and nearer in which we shall need courage, courage, and again courage.”
Almost at the same time as we received these theses, Comrades Zinoviev and Bucharin arrived at Moscow. Comrade Trotsky, too, came back. Zinoviev’s theses were acknowledged to be right, and were accepted by the Executive. The representatives of the C. P. of Germany were at once invited to come to Moscow, but the Central replied that its representatives “could not come at present.” Although the bel-esprits among the German comrades (not the Left, these had already ceased to be bel-esprits) were already up to the ears in the revolutionary movement, they had no clear idea of the significance and graveness of the movement.
This circumstance is the best proof of the acumen with which Comrade Zinoviev grasped the import of the German movement. But Comrade Trotsky appears to have forgotten Zinoviev’s estimate of the situation, though made “at the right time.”
Comrade Zinoviev defended his standpoint for three weeks. The representatives of the Central of the German C.P. did not appear in Moscow till the middle of September. They had no choice but to acknowledge that the latest events had fully confirmed the diagnosis and revolutionary prognosis made by Zinoviev a month before, although they themselves, the representatives of the German Central, had not grasped this immediately.
Comrade Brandler succumbed to fantastic revolutionary visions. The seizure of power now, appeared to him as an easy and certain matter. He greatly exaggerated the readiness to fight and the military preparedness of the German C.P., and rendered is more difficult for the Executive to form a correct idea of the immediate difficulties and requirements of the German movement.
At the September Commission of the Comintern, Comrade Trotsky declared himself to be in agreement with Comrade Zinoviev and other comrades with reference to the general estimate of the situation. But in the question of the workers’ Soviets slogan there was a grave difference of opinion. Comrade Zinoviev and other comrades considered it necessary for the German C.P. not to limit itself to the propaganda of the idea of the Soviets only, but to proceed to the actual formation of workers’ councils, especially in districts where the conditions were most favourable for this.
Comrades Trotsky and Brandler protested energetically against this. As the other German comrades shared their opinion, Comrade Zinoviev and the others in agreement with him did not deem it possible to insist upon the acceptance of their propositions at all costs. The final decision on this question was thus unanimously accepted by the Commission.
I am not of the opinion that this decision proved to be right. I believe that a most important slogan for the mobilisation and organisation of revolutionary forces was here abandoned. Comrade Trotsky in his “Lessons of October” seeks to defend this decision. To me his defence is inadequate, but I think it unnecessary to dwell upon this vexed question within the confines of this article, as such discussion would lead to too many side-tracks. With regard to this point the decision was based upon Comrade Trotsky’s standpoint and not on Comrade Zinoviev’s. The articles written by Comrade Zinoviev at the time show plainly that he submitted loyally to the decision and wrote accordingly. No person of sound commonsense can thus maintain that Comrade Zinoviev’s proposition could have contributed even in the slightest degree to the defeat of the German revolution.
But enough of that!
An exceedingly strange and unsubstantiated accusation against Comrade Zinoviev is contained in the following words of Comrade Trotsky’s:
“Our error lies in the fact that ‘we’ kept on repeating for weeks the old platitudes about the impossibility of ‘fixing a definite time for the revolution,’ resulting in every chance being neglected.” (“East and West,” p. 59.)
Where was the question discussed “for weeks”?
In the Commission there was not one single day wasted in the discussion of the question of whether it would be possible to fix a certain time for the revolution or not. It is true that, in the course of the debate on questions of greater importance, a similar point was touched upon. The one-sided inclination shown by Comrade Trotsky to carry out the revolution strictly according to the almanac appeared to almost all the comrades present as a narrowly organisatory and somewhat un-Marxist manner of dealing with the subject. It is very possible that some comrade expressed this opinion aloud.
Serious differences of opinion arose in the Commission with reference to the “choice of leading persons.” Not that Comrade Trotsky was anxious to remove any of the opportunist members of the Central. No, he had nothing to say against those members of the Central who, later on in October, retreated before the battle. On the contrary, he wanted to remove from the Central one of the leading forces of the left-wing, Comrade Ruth Fischer. He proposed that the Executive of the Comintern should retain her in Moscow, so that she could not “disturb” the revolutionary work of the Brandler Central Committee.
Comrade Zinoviev was entirely opposed to this proposal of Comrade Trotsky’s, and it was with much pains and trouble that he finally succeeded in gaining a weak majority in the Commission for the rejection of this proposition.
I cannot remember for which of the two propositions I voted. It is very possible that I voted for Comrade Trotsky’s motion. At that time I still regarded Comrade Brandler as a steadfast revolutionist. I have no right, personally, to reproach any other comrades for having made mistakes in the question of the selection of members of the German Central. But as Comrade Trotsky is anxious to impart instructions to the Executive on the “choice of leading persons,” without saying a single word about his own errors, then I cannot but observe that in this respect Comrade Trotsky has not set us any very good example.
It is possible to agree with him when he says, referring to the German Central:
“To ignore such lessons (as that of last year—O.K.), and to fail to draw from them the necessary conclusions with regard to the choice of persons signifies to invite inevitable defeat.” (p. 1xiii.)
But here it must not be forgotten to add the really instructive episode of Ruth Fischer, in the September Commission.
No differences of opinion arose in the Commission on the other questions submitted, many of them of great practical importance.
The sister Parties of the most important neighbouring countries were mobilised by the Executive and prepared, as far as possible, for the possibilities of the German revolution.
Events in Germany took a different course to that desired by us. The revolutionary proletariat suffered a severe defeat. The causes of this defeat lay partly in the objective difficulties of the situation, partly in the deficient leadership of the Party.
It cannot be maintained that the estimate of the situation as made by the Executive in August and September, was wrong in any essential. Nothing of the kind! The possibility of victory really existed. It is true that in September (but not in August) this possibility was over-estimated. The elementary mass movement ebbed more rapidly than we had foreseen. The Social-Democrats proved in many respects to be even stronger pillars of capitalism than we had concluded from the words of our German comrades. The representatives of the German C.P. in the German commission exaggerated the Communist strength.
It is naturally a fantastic exaggeration when Comrade Trotsky writes in “East and West” (p. 120):
“With regard to all the pre-requisites of revolution, we were in the most favourable position that can be imagined.”
No, in September our estimate of the situation was not so exaggeratedly favourable. Comrade Trotsky, in his victorious self-confidence, omits to consider the great difference between the objective pre-requisites of the German revolution of 1923 and the Russian of 1917, and forgets the points in which the Russian revolution was more favourably placed, for instance the fact that in Russia we had an armed army of many millions, the overwhelming majority of which stood for the proletarian revolution in the autumn of 1917. We had nothing to compare with this in Germany in 1923, and Comrade Trotsky, when writing history, omits such trifles.
The general situation in Germany was, however, not unfavourable. At the Fifth Congress, after it was possible to form a clear idea of events, Comrade Zinoviev was quite right in saying:
“Should the revolutionary situation of October, 1923 be repeated, we should again insist upon the open acknowledgment of the fact that the revolution is knocking at the door. . . I repeat, should such a situation occur again, then we shall examine the figures, calculate our forces more accurately, but again stake everything upon the card of revolution.”
The actually existing possibility of victory was not taken advantage of by the German Party in October. The Party equipped itself for the battle, but did not enter into it. This was the greatest disappointment to us.
The Brandler Central 1s chiefly to blame. Brandler maintained that the incredible difficulties rendered the retreat inevitable. As we have seen, Comrade Trotsky agreed with this assertion by January. And a number of other comrades, including Comrade Zinoviev (and the writer of these lines) were at first—in November and December—of the same opinion, as a result of the information received chiefly through Radek and the Central of the Merman C.P. This opinion was partially shaken during the January conference, thanks to the information received from the Left. The Executive was not able to state with certainty in its resolution, whether the retreat had really been unavoidable or not. The Executive declined to accede to the demand of the Right (Radek, Trotsky, Brandler, etc.) and to “approve” the retreat.
But this or that solution of this historical question was no longer of any actual political significance. The leaders of the Party, apart from this or that answer to this question, exposed themselves to the severest criticism in October. The necessity of the retreat itself, had it really been a necessity, could not serve as justification for the utter incompetence evinced by the Central of the German C.P.
In class warfare, as in all warfare, the conditions determine the forms and aims of the strategy employed. Attacks and retreats are decided by the conditions of the struggle. But whatever these conditions, and however unfavourable they may be, they can never be such as to justify passivity in a revolution. Capitulation is not a form of fighting. It is a renunciation of the fight.
Comrade Zinoviev’s speech at the Fifth World Congress contained the following words:
“We do not reproach Brandler for not having won a victory. No. We are fully aware that defeats are often met with in war. We reproach him with something quite different: we do not ask him why are you not victorious: we ask him: why did you not fight, why did you not do your utmost to gain the victory?”
The Central of the German C.P. did not fight, it capitulated without fighting.
It need not be said that Brandler’s actions were not based on any conscious, that is, treacherous reasoning. No; if Comrade Trotsky’s present assertions (with regard to the alleged brilliant prospects of victory and the absolute impossibility of allowing the retreat) were really in accordance with the facts, then we could only conclude that Brandler and all his co-workers were traitors. But in reality this is not the case. Brandler and his adherents are incontestably Communists, but they are Communists who have committed a number of opportunist errors. They wanted to fight, but went “off the tracks.” In Saxony, they played at being ministers, instead of bringing the masses into the streets. They “prepared themselves” for revolution, but did nothing to develop the revolutionary forces of the masses. They even issued directions that all mass action should be abstained from until the “decisive struggle.” These directions were carried out everywhere, with the exception of Hamburg. And this was all. The fears and warning; expressed by Comrade Zinoviev in summer last year with respect to the possibility of a repetition of the Bulgarian events in Germany were thus substantiated. In his August theses he gave a special warning against precisely the mistake which had such disastrous results in October.
“It is impossible to save up powder until the decisive moment.
“It would be doctrinary theory, and a gigantic political error to postpone all action until the decisive struggle.”
But the German Central took precisely the wrong road. It committed precisely the “gigantic political error” against which the Executive had issued an equivocal and decided warning.
It is scarcely necessary to state that after the October experience fundamental changes took place in the Central of the German C.P. In January the Executive undertook an energetic renewal of this Central. The right-wing was removed.
Later, in May, Comrade Trotsky wrote:
“It is proper that the German C.P. has fundamentally reformed its leading organ.”
We take note of this delayed acknowledgment But it would have been better if Comrade Trotsky had lent his support to this reform earlier, in January. But at that time he was opposed to it. In the draft of theses by Comrades Trotsky and Radek, already referred to, we read that the “demand for a reform in the Central implies a panic, threatening the very existence of the Party.”
Comrade Trotsky thus supported the German Right until the last minute, whilst the Executive, and above all Comrade Zinoviev, combated the Right. We had a similar example in the September Commission in the Ruth Fischer case.
But the readers of the “Lessons of October” receive an exactly contrary impression. Thus, for instance, Comrade Trotsky writes as follows with reference to the importance of the “choice of leading persons”:
“Here ample experience was gained through that German October which failed to take place. The choice of leaders must be made from the viewpoint of revolutionary action. In Germany there were sufficient opportunities of testing the leading Party members in moments of immediate struggle.” (p. lxiii.)
This is true, and it is just for this reason that Right leaders have frequently been excluded from the German Central (Levi, Friesland, Geyer) etc.) These have later proved to be renegades. On the other band, the Executive has frequently supplemented the Party Central by representatives of the Left. But this has not been done on any single occasion on the initiative of Comrade Trotsky. The initiative has generally been Comrade Zinoviev’s, and has generally encountered resistance on the part of Comrade Trotsky.
This is no accidental phenomenon. When the Russian debate has been discussed in the sections of the Comintern, the few adherents of Comrade Trotsky have generally belonged to the extreme Right-wing of the Party. And this cannot be regarded as pure accident.
It is unnecessary to dwell upon the Russian questions, or on the international questions now belonging more to the past. It is, however, worth while to devote some attention to the prospects of the international situation as seen by Comrade Trotsky In face of all the facts of the present moment, of all the proofs to the contrary, he still speaks of a continued democratic pacifist “era.” This proves the strength of his trend towards the Right.
But this is not the whole truth. No one can understand Trotsky who sees in him nothing more than an ordinary opportunist. Comrade Trotsky is not a one-handed man. He has a right hand and a left hand. We already had the opportunity of seeing him in two roles in his interpretation of the “German October.”
And with Comrade Trotsky this does not happen by accident: it is a general rule. In actual practice he always represents two different “types” so to speak. One type deviates to the right, the other to the left. A superficial observer might conclude that Comrade Trotsky vacillates constantly between the two types. But this only appears to be the case. Comrade Trotsky is not a vacillating man. He generally adopts a definite—but wrong—course.
In reality the case is this: In his actions he deviates towards the Right, but he describes these actions in Left, very Left, terms. The Right type is the type of the man of action who speaks little, who does his work and says nothing about it. The Left type, is a man, anxious to play a prominent public role, a man who talks a great deal and does very little, and knows little about work except to describe it. But the descriptions given by the Left type differ entirely from the work actually done by the Right type.
Comrade Trotsky is not simply an ordinary opportunist. He possesses a finely developed sense of the æsthetic. He feels the æsthetic defects of the external form of opportunist policy. The external forms of politics please him more and more in proportion to their deviation to the Left. In art this may be very good, even excellent, and the Bible praises those whose right hand knoweth not what their left hand doeth; but in politics every inconsistency between form and contents, between description and actuality, between theory and practice, is invariably detrimental.
This is most clearly evidenced by the question of the German October. Comrade Trotsky, in his “Lessons of October” states that nobody “has attempted to give any other argumentation” of the events in Germany than the argumentation afforded by his May article and his speech of June.
Pardon me, Comrade Trotsky, but this is an error. The Comintern made the attempt. The German C.P. made it also. A number of articles were published. The attempt led to the holding of a number of speeches and the passing of a number of resolutions in various countries. The E.C.C.I. even published a number of pamphlets on the subject: “The Lessons of the German Events.”
It is to be regretted that Comrade Trotsky did not take the trouble to acquaint himself with at least a part of these works and with the ample supply of facts and material which they afford, before he built up his new scheme. Had he done this, he would not have so misrepresented matters. By May he had entirely forgotten the actuality of the past year (and even of January, 1924). It would seem that the comparatively advantageous results of the election had the effect of making him regard the situation of the year before as having been most favourable. And he entirely reversed the direction taken by his imagination.
Trotsky is, however, no master of the tactical and strategic mathematics of Leninism. Here it is the C.C. of the Russian C.P. which is seated firmly in the saddle, and not he. Frequently he views a situation with amazing onesidedness. In politics he often permits himself to be influenced by feelings or is led astray from the straight path by externals, by personal antipathy or sympathy for instance. This was never the case with Lenin, and should never occur in any member of Lenin’s Party.
Thus he permitted himself to be led astray by the criticism of the October defeat, and made use of this defeat as the basis for a charge against the chairman of the Comintern.
This is the evil tendency of his interpretation of historical events. He himself denies that he possesses any such tendency, but it is perfectly obvious to others. All this is not particularly “æsthetic.” Trotsky himself says: “this would be too lamentable.” Yes, it is lamentable and false.
This tendency of Trotsky’s is not only directed against certain persons, but involves a politically detrimental trend towards the Right. In attacking the person of Comrade Zinoviev, he strikes an indirect blow against the leadership of the Communist International and against the line taken by its Executive. This flank attack is condemned in advance to utter defeat. The line pursued by the Executive was and is right. The course pursued by Comrade Trotsky was and is such that events prove him to have no right to assume the role of infallible judge.
In conclusion, a few words about the lessons taught by events in Finland In Comrade Trotsky’s preface we find the following: “In the year 1917, the course of events in Finland was as follows: The revolutionary movement developed under exceedingly favourable conditions, under the protection and with the immediate military support of revolutionary Russia. But in the Finnish Party the majority of the leaders proved to be Social-Democrats, and these led the revolution to defeat.” (p. xl.)
This is not entirely correct.
It is true that in 1917 we in Finland actually missed an opportunity offered by the favourable revolutionary situation during the general strike, in the first place because we were Social-Democrats at that time, and in the second place because we were. almost entirely without weapons. It is, however, not true that at that time our revolution had the protection and immediate military support of revolutionary Russia. Our general strike took place at exactly the same time as the street fighting in Moscow for the seizure of power. At that time red Petrograd was not in a position to afford us any help. As to the garrisons and fleets still in Finland at that time, the men were partly on our side, but so sick of war that Aye could not expect them—especially in a foreign country—to come to our help.
Trotsky might say to us: “You have gone off the rails,” and we should not protest against this judgment. We said this ourselves in 1918, by which time we were able to subject ourselves to a severe self-criticism.
But we learnt something from the experience, and that with considerable rapidity. Two months later we took up the fight again.
This time we were able to claim the protection and military support of revolutionary Russia. But in March the Finnish White Guards were reinforced by German soldiery, and this decided the fate of the conflict. Our workers’ front could not hold out against regular German troops.
This was the main cause of our defeat.
No doubt there was a second cause as well: that we did not fight so well as we might have fought But at that time we were not Communists, but Social-Democrats, and we were almost entirely lacking in Bolshevist experience. But whether our Party fought well or badly, at least it fought.
Thus the German comrades need not take it as a self-praise on our part if I have blamed them for capitulating without a struggle six years after the Russian revolution, and after the experience won during four years of Bolshevist leadership in the Comintern.
We Finnish Communists have no reason to praise ourselves, but we have as little reason to fear the smoke from the powder of October.
I forgot to mention a third cause of the defeat of our revolution in 1918: this was the well known theatrical gesture made by Comrade Trotsky at the first Peace negotiations with the representatives of the German Government at Brest-Litovsk (January./ Februarv). The peace conditions proposed at that time by the German government were much more favourable than those dictated later, both for Soviet Russia and for the Finnish workers’ government. Before Comrade Trotsky left for Brest-Litovsk for the last time (at the end of January), Comrade Lenin told him that he should sign the peace treaty at once on receipt of the German ultimatum. Comrade Zinoviev, as Comrade Trotsky himself testifies, declared that “we only worsen the peace conditions by further delay, and must, therefore, sign at once.” (Minutes of the Seventh Party Conference, p. 79.)
Had peace come about between Germany and Russia at that time, then it is highly probable that the German government would have sent no troops to Finland. This conclusion of ours is based upon the memoirs of German generals, published after the war.
But on 10th February, Comrade Trotsky refused to accept the conditions of peace offered by the Germans. A valuable month passed before the peace treaty was accepted, and during this time Soviet Russia was obliged to abandon Reval and other cities at our (Finland’s) back to the Germans. And during the same time the German troops struck their blow at us.