V. I. Lenin

The Heroes
Of The Berne International

Deliver: 25 May, 1919
First Published: June 1919; Published according to the manuscript
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 29, pages 392-401
Translated: George Hanna
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters & Robert Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

In my article, The Third International and Its Place in History (The Communist International No. 1, May 1, 1919, p. 38 of the Russian edition), I pointed to one of the outstanding symptoms of the ideological bankruptcy of members of the old, putrid, Berne International. This bankruptcy of the theoreticians of the reactionary socialism which did not understand the dictatorship of the proletariat found expression in the proposal made by the German “independent” Social-Democrats to join, unite, combine the bourgeois parliament with a form of Soviet power.

Kautsky, Hilferding, Otto Bauer and Co., the most outstanding theoreticians of the old International, did not realise that they were proposing to combine the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with the dictatorship of the proletariat! The men who made names for themselves and won the sympathies of the workers by their advocacy of the class struggle and by the proofs they advanced of its necessity, failed to realise—at the crucial moment of the struggle for socialism—that they were betraying the whole doctrine of the class struggle, were renouncing it completely and actually deserting to the camp of the bourgeoisie by their attempt to combine the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with the dictatorship of the proletariat. This sounds incredible, but it is a fact.

By way of a rare exception, we have managed to receive in Moscow a fairly large number of foreign newspapers, although not of consecutive dates, so that we are now able to retrace in greater detail—although not in complete detail, of course—the history of the vacillation of those gentlemen, the “Independents”, on the most important theoretical and practical question of the present day. This is the question of the relation between dictatorship (of the proletariat) and democracy (bourgeois), or between Soviet power and bourgeois parliamentarisin.

In his pamphlet Die Diktatur des Proletariats (Wien, 1918) Herr Kautsky wrote that “the Soviet form of organisation is one of the most important phenomena of our time. It promises to acquire decisive importance in the great decisive battles between capital and labour towards which we are marching” (p. 33 of Kautsky’s pamphlet). And he added that the Bolsheviks made a mistake in converting the Soviets from “a combat organisation of one class” into “a state organisation” and thereby “destroying democracy” (ibid.).

In my pamphlet The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (Petrograd and Moscow, 1918) I examined this argument of Kautsky’s in detail and showed him to be completely oblivious of the fundamental tenets of Marxism on the state; for the state (every state, including the most democratic republic) is nothing more nor less than a machine in the hands of one class for the suppression of another. To describe the Soviets as the combat organisation of a class, and deny them the right to convert themselves into a “state organisation”, is actually tantamount to renouncing the ABC of socialism, proclaiming, or advocating, that the bourgeois machine for the suppression of the proletariat (that is, the bourgeois-democratic republic, the bourgeois state) should remain inviolate; it is actual desertion to the camp of the bourgeoisie.

The absurdity of Kautsky’s position is so glaring, the pressure exerted by the masses of the workers who are demanding Soviet power is so strong, that Kautsky and his followers have been obliged to make an ignominious retreat; they have got themselves into a muddle, for they lack the courage honestly to admit their mistake.

On February 9, 1919, Freiheit (Freedom), the organ of the “Independent” (of Marxism, but absolutely dependent on petty-bourgeois democracy) Social-Democrats of Germany, contained an article by Herr Hilferding. In this article the author is already demanding that the Workers’ Councils should be converted into a state organisation, but that they should exist side by side with the bourgeois parliament, the National Assembly, and together with it. On February 11, 1919, in an appeal to the German proletariat, this slogan was accepted by the entire Independent Party (and consequently, also by Flerr Kautsky, who thereby contradicted the statements he had made in the autumn of 1918L

This attempt to combine the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with the dictatorship of the proletariat is a complete renunciation of Marxism and of socialism in general; forgotten are the experiences of the Russian Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries who from May 6, 1917 to October 25, 1917 (old style) made the “experiment” of combining the Soviets as a “state organisation” with the bourgeois state and failed ignominiously.

At the Party Congress of the Independents (held at the beginning of March 1919) the entire Party accepted this supremely sagacious proposal to combine Workers’ Councils with bourgeois parliamentarism. But Freiheit No. 178, of April 13, 1919 (Supplement) reported that the “Independent” group at the Second Congress of Workers’ Councils had proposed the following resolution:

“The Second Congress of Workers’ Councils takes its stand on the Workers’ Council system. Accordingly, the political and economic structure of Germany shall be based on the Councils (fibteorganisation). The Councils are the elected representative bodies of the working population in all spheres of political and economic life.”

In addition to this, the same group submitted to the Congress a draft of “directives” (Richtlinien) in which we read the following:

“All political power is concentrated in the hands of the Congress of Workers’ Councils ....” “The right to elect and be elected to the Councils shall be enjoyed by all, irrespective of sex, who perform socially necessary and useful labour and do not exploit the labour of others ....”

..We see, therefore, that the “independent” leaders have turned out to be paltry philistines who are entirely dependent upon the philistine prejudices of the most backward section of the proletariat. In the autumn of 1918, these leaders, through their mouthpiece Kautsky, completely rejected the idea of the Workers’ Councils being converted into state organisations. In March 1919, following in the wake of the masses of the workers, they surrender this position. In April 1919, they throw the decision of their Congress overboard and go over entirely to the position of the Communists: “All Power to the Workers’ Councils.”

Leaders of this type are not worth very much. There is no need to have leaders to serve as an index of the temper of the most backward section of the proletariat which marches in the rear and not ahead of the vanguard. And considering the spineless way in which they change their slogans, such leaders are worthless. They cannot he trusted. They will always be mere ballast, a minus quantity in the working-class movement.

The most “Left” of these leaders, a certain Herr Däumig, argued as follows at the Party Congress (cf. Freiheit of March 9):

“Däumig stated that nothing stands between him and the demand of the Communists for ’All Power to the Workers’ Councils’. But he must protest against the putschism practised by the Communist Party and against the Byzantinism they display towards the masses instead of educating them. Putschist, isolated action cannot lead to progress ....”

By putschisin the Germans mean what the old revolutionaries in Russia, some fifty years ago, called “flashes”, “pyrotechnics”, i.e., small conspiracies, attempts at assassination, revolts, etc.

By accusing the Communists of being “putschists”, Herr Dhumig merely betrays his own “Byzantinism”, his own servility to the philistine prejudices of the petty bourgeoisie. The “Leftism” of a gentleman of this type, who repeats a “fashionable” slogan because he fears the masses but does not understand the mass revolutionary movement is not worth a brass farthing.

A powerful wave of spontaneous strikes is sweeping across Germany. The proletarian struggle is evidently grow—big in intensity to a degree unprecedented even in Russia in 1905, when the strike movement rose to heights that had never been reached before anywhere in the world. Anybody who speaks of “pyrotechnics” in face of such a movement proves that he is a hopeless vulgariser and a slave to philistine prejudices.

Those philistine gentlemen headed by Däumig are probably dreaming of a revolution (that is, if any idea of revolution ever enters their heads) in which the masses will all rise at once, fully organised.

Such revolutions never happen, nor can they happen. Capitalism would not be capitalism if it did not keep millions of working people, the vast majority of them, in a state of oppression, wretchedness, want and ignorance. Capitalism cannot collapse except fis a result of a revolution which, in the course of struggle, rouses masses who had not hitherto been affected by the movement. Spontaneous outbreaks become inevitable as the revolution matures. There has never been a revolution in which this has not, been the case, nor can there be such a revolution,

Herr Däumig lies when he says that the Communists pander to spontaneity; it is the same sort of lie that we heard so often from the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries. The Communists do not pander to spontaneity, they are not in favour of isolated outbreaks. The Communists urge the masses to take organised, integrated, united, opportune and mature action. The philistine slander of Dumig, Kautsky and Co. cannot refute this fact.

But the philistines cannot understand that the Communists quite rightly regard it as their duty to be with the fighting masses of the oppressed and not with the philistine heroes who stand aloof from the struggle, timidly waiting to see how things turn out. Mistakes are inevitable when the masses are fighting, but the Communists remain with the masses, see these mistakes, explain them to the masses, try to get them rectified, and strive perseveringly for the victory of class-consciousness over spontaneity. It is better to be with the fighting masses, who, in the course of the struggle, gradually learn to rectify their mistakes, than with the paltry intellectuals, philistines, and Kautskyites, who hold aloof until “complete victory” is achieved—this is the truth that the Däumigs cannot understand.

The worse for them. They have already gone down in the history of the world proletarian revolution as cowardly philistines, reactionary sniveliers, yesterday the servants of. the Scheidemanris and today the advocates of “social peace”, and it does not matter whether that advocacy is concealed by the combination of the Constituent Assembly with the Workers’ Councils or by profound condemnation of “putschism”.

Herr Kautsky has broken the record for substituting reactionary philistine snivelling for Marxism. He does nothing else but bewail what is taking place, complain, weep, express horror, and urge conciliation! All his life this Knight of the Rueful Countenance has been writing about the class struggle and about socialism; but when the class stiuggle reached maximum intensity, reached the threshold of socialism, our pundit lost his nerve, burst into tears, and turned out to be a common or garden philistine. In issue No. 98 of the organ of the Vienna traitors to socialism, of the Austerlitzes, Renners and Bauers (A rbeiterzeitung [Workers’ Gazette], April 9, 1919, Vienna, morning edition), Kautsky for the hundredth, if not the thousandth time, sums up all his lamentations in the following words:

Economic thinking and economic understanding,” he wails, “has been knocked out of the heads of all classes ....” “The long war has accustomed large sections of the proletariat to treat economic conditions with absolute contempt and to place all their confidence in the almighty power of violence ....”

These are the two “favourite points” of this “extremely learned” man! The “cult of violence” and the break-down of industry—this is what has driven him to the usual, age-old, typical whining and snivelling of the philistine instead of analysing the real conditions of the class struggle. “We expected”, he writes, “that the revolution would come as the product of the proletarian class struggle ...”, “but the revolution came as a consequence of the collapse of the prevailing system in Russia and Germany in the war..,.”

In other words, this pundit “expected” a peaceful revolution! This is superb!

But Herr Kautsky has lost his nerve to such a degree that he has forgotten what he himself wrote when he was a Marxist, namely, that in all probability a war would provide the occasion for revolution. Today, instead of calmly and fearlessly investigating what changes must inevitably take place in the form of the revolution as a consequence Of the war, our “theoretician” bewails the collapse of his “expectations”!

“... Large sections of the proletariat ignore economic conditions!”

What utter piffle! How familiar the Menshevik press of Kerensky days made this philistine refrain to us!

The economist Kautsky has forgotten that when a country has been ruined by war and brought to the brink of disaster, the main, the fundamental, the root “economic condition” is to save the workers. If the working class is saved from death from starvation, saved from perishing, it will be possible to restore disrupted production. But in order to save the working class it is necessary to have the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is the only means of preventing the burdens and consequences of the war from being thrust upon the shoulders of the workers.

The economist Kautsky has “forgotten” that the question of how the burdens of defeat are to be distributed is determined by the class struggle, and that amidst the conditions prevailing in an absolutely exhausted, ruined, starving and dying country, the class struggle must inevitably assume a different form. It is no longer a class struggle for a share of the results of production, it is not a struggle to take charge of production (for production is at a standstill, there is no coal, the railways have been wrecked, the war has knocked people out of their groove, the machines are worn out, and so on and so forth) but a struggle to save the workers from starvation. Only simpletons, even if very “learned” ones, can “condemn”, under such circumstances, “consumers’, soldiers” communism and superciliously remind the workers of the importance of production.

The first and foremost task is to save the workers. The bourgeoisie want to retain their privileges, to thrust all the consequences of the war upon the workers, and this means starving the workers to death.

The working class wants to save itself from starvation, and for this it is necessary to smash the bourgeoisie, first to ensure consumption, even the most meagre, otherwise it will be impossible to drag out even an existence of semi-starvation, it will be impossible to hold out until industry can be restarted.

“Think of production!” says the well-fed bourgeoisie to the starving and exhausted workers. And Kautsky, repeating the capitalists’ refrain in the guise of “economic science”, becomes completely a lackey of the bourgeoisie.

But the workers say that the bourgeoisie, too, should be put on a semi-starvation ration, so that the working people might recuperate somewhat, so that the working people may be saved from death. “Consumers’ communism” is a means of saving the workers. The workers must be saved, no matter at what sacrifice! Half a pound each for the capitalists, a pound each for the workers—this is the way out of this period of starvation and ruin. Consumption by the starving workers is the basis of, and the condition for, the restoration of industry.

Clara Zetkin was quite right when she told Kautsky that he was “slipping into bourgeois political economy. Production is for man, and not man for production ....”

Independent Herr Kautsky revealed the same dependence upon petty-bourgeois prejudices when he bewailed the “cult of violence”. When, as far back as 1914, the Bolsheviks argued that the imperialist war would become civil war, Herr Kautsky said nothing, but he remained in the same party with David and Co. who denounced this forecast (and slogan) as “madness”. Kautsky failed entirely to understand that the imperialist war would inevitably be transformed into civil war; and now he is blaming both combatants in the civil war for his own lack of understanding! Is this not a perfect example of reactionary philistine stupidity?

But while in 1914, failure to understand that the imperialist war must inevitably be transformed into civil war was only philistine stupidity, today, in 1919, it is something worse. It is treachery to the working class; for the civil war in Russia, Finland, Latvia, Germany and Hungary, is a fact. Kautsky admitted hundreds and hundreds of times in his former writings that there are periods in history when the class struggle is inevitably transformed into the civil war. There is one now, but Kautsky is found in the camp of the vacillating, cowardly, petty bourgeoisie.

“. . . .The spirit that inspires Spartacus is virtually the spirit of Ludendorff . Spartacus is not only encompassing the doom of its own cause, but is also causing an intensification of the policy of violenceon the part of the Majority Socialists, Noske is the antipode of Spartacus . . . .

These words of Kautsky’s (quoted from his article in the Vienna Arbeiterzeitung) are so infinitely stupid, base and despicable that it is sufficient to point to them without making any comment.The party which tolerates such leaders must be rotten to the core. In the light of these words of Kautsky’s, the Borne International, to which Herr Kautsky belongs, must be appraised on its merits as a yellow International.

As a curiosity we shall also quote the argument advanced by Herr Haase, in an article entitled “The International at Amsterdam” (Freiheit, May 4, 1919). Herr Haase boasts of having proposed a resolution on the colonial question which states that “it is the function of an alliance of nations organised on the lines proposed by the International before the advent of socialism ... [please note this! ][Interpolations in square brackets in quoted passages have been introduced by Lenin unless otherwise stated.—Editor.];... to administer the colonies primarily in the interests of the natives, and then in the interests of all the nations that are united in the alliance of nations ....”

A gem, is it not? According to the resolution proposed by this pundit, before the advent of socialism, the colonies will be administered not by the bourgeoisie, but by some sort of benevolent, just, sentimental “alliance of nations”! Is this not tantamount to whitewashing the most disgusting capitalist hypocrisy? And these are the “Lefts” in the Berne International ....

So that the reader may make a more striking comparison between the stupidity, baseness and despicableness of the writings of Haase, Kautsky and Co. and the real situation in Germany, I shall cite one other brief passage.

The well-known capitalist, Waither Rathenau, recently wrote a book entitled, Der neue Stoat (The New State). It is dated March 24, 1919. Its value as a theoretical work is nil. But as an observer, Waither Rathenau is compelled to admit the following.

“We are a nation of poets and thinkers, but in our auxiliary occupations [im IVebenberuf] we are philistines ......

“Only the extreme monarchists and the Spartacists now have ideals ....”

...“The unvarnished truth is that we are heading for dictatorship, proletarian or pretorian. (pp. 29, 52, 65).

Evidently this bourgeois considers himself as “independent” of the bourgeoisie as Kautsky and Haase imagine they are of the petty bourgeoisie and of philistinisin.

But Walther Rathenau towers head and shoulders above Karl Kautsky, for the latter snivels, and like a coward hides from the “unvarnished truth”, whereas the former frankly admits it.

May 28, 1919