V. I. Lenin

Greetings To

Italian, French and German Communists

Written: 10 October, 1919
First Published: Published in October 1919; Published according to the manuscript
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 30, pages 52-62
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

Scant indeed is the news we get from abroad. The blockade by the imperialist beasts is in full swing; the violence of the biggest world powers is turned against us in the hope of restoring the rule of the exploiters. And all this bestial fury of the Russian and world capitalists is cloaked, needless to say, in phrases about the lofty significance of “democracy”! The exploiter camp is true to itself; it depicts bourgeois democracy as “democracy” in general. And all the philistines and petty bourgeois, down to Friodrich Adler, Karl Kautsky and the majority of the leaders of the Independent (that is, independent of the revolutionary proletariat but dependent on petty-bourgeois prejudices) Social-Democratic Party of Germany, join in the chorus.

But the more infrequently we in Russia receive news from abroad, the greater the joy with which we follow the gigantic, universal advance of communism among the workers in all the countries of the world, the successful severance of the masses from the corrupt and treacherous leaders who, from Scheidernanu to Kautsky, have gone over to the bourgeoisie.

All that we know of the Italian Party is that its Congress has resolved by a huge majority to affiliate to the Third International and to adopt the programme, of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Thus, the Italian Socialist Party has, in practice, aligned itself with communism, though to our regret it still retains its old name. Warm greetings to the Italian workers and their party!

All that we know of France is that in Paris alone there are already two communist newspapers: L’Internattonale edited by Raymond Péricat, arid Le Titre censure edited by Georges Anquetil. A number of proletarian organisations have already affiliated to the Third International. The sympathies of the workers are undoubtedly on the side of communism and Soviet power.

Of the German Communists we know only that communist newspapers are published in a number of towns. Many bear the name Die Rote Fahne. The Berlin Rote Fahne, an illegal publication, is battling heroically against the Scheidemanmis and Noskes, the butchers who play flunkey to the bourgeoisie in deeds, just as the Independents do in words and in their “ideological” (petty-bourgeois ideological) propaganda.

The heroic struggle of Die Rote Fahne, the Berlin communist paper, evokes whole-hearted admiration. At last we see in Germany honest and sincere socialists, who, despite all persecution, despite the foul murder of their best leaders, have remained firm and unbending! At last we see in Germany communist workers who are waging a heroic struggle that really deserves to be called “revolutionary”! At last there has emerged from the very midst of the proletarian masses in Germany a force for which the words “proletarian revolution” have become a truth!

Greetings to the German Communists!

The Scheidemanns and Kautskys, the Henners and Friedrich Adlers, great as the difference between these gentlemen in the sense of personal integrity may probably be, have in equal measure proved to be petty bourgeois, most shameful traitors to and betrayers of socialism, supporters of the bourgeoisie. For in 1912 all of them took part in drafting and signing the Basle Manifesto “on the approaching imperialist war, all of them spoke then about ”proletarian revolution”, and all of them proved in practice to be petty-bourgeois democrats, knights of philistine-republican, bourgeois-democratic illusions, accomplices of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.

The savage persecution to which the German Communists have been subjected has strengthened them. If at the moment they are somewhat disunited, this testifies to the breadth and mass character of their movement, to time vigour with which communism is growing out of the very midst of the masses of workers. It is inevitable that a movement so ruthlessly persecuted by the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie and their Scheideniann-Noske henchmen and forced to organise illegally should be disunited.

And it is natural, too, that a movement which is growing so rapidly and experiencing such desperate persecution should give rise to rather sharp differences. There is nothing terrible in that; it is a matter of growing pains.

Let the Scheidemanns and Kautskys gloat in their Vorwarts and Freiheit about the differences among the Communists. There is nothing left for these heroes of rotten philistinism but to cover up their rottenness by pointing to the Communists. But if we take the real state of affairs we realise that only the blind can now fail to see the truth. And the truth is that the followers of Scheidemann and Kautsky have shamelessly betrayed the proletarian revolution in Germany, broken faith with it and have, in fact, sided with the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie. Heinrich Laufenberg in his excellent pamphlet, From the First Revolution to the Second, demonstrated this and proved it with remarkable force, vividness, clarity and conviction. The differences among the followers of Scheidemann and Kautsky are differences within disintegrating, dying parties of which there remain only leaders without masses, generals without armies. The masses are abandoning the Scheidemanns and going over to the Kautskys, being attracted by their Left wing (this is borne out by any report of a mass meeting), and this Left wing combines—in unprincipled and cowardly fashion-the old prejudices of the petty bourgeoisie about parliamentary democracy with communist recognition of the proletarian revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat and Soviet power.

Under mass pressure, the rotten leaders of the Independents acknowledge all this in words, but in deeds they remain petty-bourgeois democrats, “socialists” of the type of Louis Blanc and the other dolts of 1848 who were so mercilessly ridiculed and branded by Marx.

Here we have differences that are really irreconcilable. There can be no peace, no joint work, between the proletarian revolutionaries and the philistines, who, like those of 1848, worship at the shrine of bourgeois “democracy” without understanding its bourgeois nature. Haase and Kautsky, Friedrich Adler and Otto Bauer can twist and squirm as much s they like, use up reams of paper and make endless speeches, but they cannot get away from the fact that in practice they absolutely fail to understand the dictatorship of the proletariat and Soviet power, that in practice they are petty-bourgeois democrats, “socialists” of the Louis Blanc and Ledru-Rollill type, that in practice they are, at best, puppets in the hands of the bourgeoisie, and, at worst, direct hirelings of the bourgeoisie.

The Independents, the Kautskyites and the Austrian Social-Democrats seem to be united parties; actually, on the basic, chief and most essential issue, most of their party members do not agree with the leaders. The party membership will wage a proletarian revolutionary struggle for Soviet power the very moment a new crisis sets in, and the “leaders” will act as counter-revolutionaries as they do now. To sit between two stools is not a difficult matter in words; Hilferding in Germany and Friedrich Adler in Austria are giving a model display of this noble art.

But people who try to reconcile the irreconcilable will prove to be mere soap-bubbles in the heat of the revolutionary struggle. This was demonstrated by all the “socialist” heroes of 1848, by their Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary kindred in Russia in 1917-19, and is being demonstrated by all the knights of the Borne, or yellow, Second International.

The differences among the Communists are of another kind. Only those who do not want to cannot see the fundamental distinction. The differences among the Communists are differences between representatives of a mass movement that has grown with incredible rapidity; and time Communists have a single, common, granite-like foundation-recognition of the proletarian revolution and of the struggle against bourgeois-democratic illusions and bourgeois-democratic parliatnentarism, and recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat and Soviet power.

On such a basis differences are nothing to worry about they represent growing pains, not senile decay. Bolshevism, too, has experienced differences of this kind more than once, as well as minor breakaways caused by such differences, but at the decisive moment, at the moment of taking power and establishing time Soviet Republic, Bolshevism was united; it drew to itself all that was best in the trends of socialist thought akin to it and rallied round itself the entire vanguard of the proletariat and the overwhelming majority of the working people.

And so it will be with the German Communists, too.

The followers of Sclieidemann and Kautsky still talk about “democracy” in general, they still live in the ideas of 1848, they are Marxists in words, Louis Blancs in deeds. They prattle about the “majority” and believe that equality of ballot-papers signifies equality of exploited and exploiter, of worker and capitalist, of poor and rich, of the hungry and the satiated.

The Scheidernanns and the Kautskys would have us believe that the kind-hearted, honest, noble, peace-loving capitalists have never used the force of wealth, the force of money, the power of capita], the oppression of bureaucracy and military dictatorship, but have decided matters truly “by majority”!

The Scheidemanns and the Kautskys (partly from hypocrisy, partly from extreme stupidity, instilled by decades of reformist activity) prettily bourgeois democracy, bourgeois parliamentarism and the bourgeois republic, so as to make it appear that the capitalists decide affairs of state by the will of the majority, and not by the will of capital, not by means of deception and oppression and the violence of the rich against the poor.

The Scheidemanns and Kautskys are ready to “recognise” the proletarian revolution, but only with the proviso that first, while the force, power, oppression and privileges of capital and wealth are retained, the majority of the people shall vote (with the voting supervised by the bourgeois apparatus of state power) ”for revolution”! It is difficult to imagine the extent of the philistine stupidity displayed in these views, or the extent of the philistine gullibility (Vertrauensduslei) in the capitalists, in the bourgeoisie, in the generals, and in the bourgeois apparatus of state power.

Actually, it is precisely the bourgeoisie that has always played the hypocrite by characterising formal equality as “democracy”, and in practice using force against the poor, the working people, the small peasants and the workers, by employing countless means of deception, oppression, etc. The imperialist war (that the Scbeidemanns and the Kautskys painted in shamelessly bright colours) has made this plain to millions of people. Proletarian dictatorship is the sole means of defending the working people against the oppression of capital, the violence of bourgeois military dictatorship, and imperialist war. Proletarian dictatorship is the sole step to equality and democracy in practice, not on paper, but in life, not in political phrase-mongering, but in economic reality.

Having failed to understand this, the Scheidemanus and the Kaniskys proved to he contemptible traitors to socialism and defenders of the ideas of the bourgeoisie.

* * *

The Kautskyite (or Independent) party is dying. It is bound to die and disintegrate soon as a result of the differences between its predominantly revolutionary membership and its counter-revolutionary “leaders”.

The Communist Party, experiencing exactly the same (essentially the same) differences as were experienced by Bolshevism, will grow stronger and become as hard as steel.

The differences among the German Communists boil down, so far as I can judge, to the question of “utilising the legal possibilities” (as the Bolsheviks used to say in the 1910-13 period), of utilising the bourgeois parliament, the reactionary trade unions, the law on works’ councils (Bet riebsratge setz), bodies that have been hamstrung by the Scheidemanns and Kautskys; it is a question of whether to participate in such bodies or boycott them.

We Russian Bolsheviks experienced quite similar differences in 1906 and in the 1910-12 period. And for us it is clear that with many of the young German Communists it is simply a case of a lack of revolutionary experience. Had they experienced a couple of bourgeois revolutions (1905 and 1917), they would not he advocating the boycott so unconditionalnor fall from time to time into the mistakes of syndicalism.

This is a matter of growing pains; the movement is developing in fine style and as it grows they will pass. And these obvious mistakes must be combated openly; the differences Must not be exaggerated since it must be clear to everyone that in the near future the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat, for Soviet power, will wipe out the greater part of them.

Both from the standpoint of Marxist theory and the experience of three revolutions (1905, February 1917 and October 1917) I regard refusal to participate in a bourgeois parliament, in a reactionary (Legien, Gompers, etc..) trade union, in an ultra-reactionary workers’ council hamstrung by the Scheidemanns, etc., as an undoubted mistake.

At times, in individual eases, in individual countries, the boycott is correct, as, for example, was the Bolshevik boycott of the tsarist Duma in 1905. But the selfsame Bolsheviks took part in the much more reactionary and downright counter-revolutionary Duma of 1907. The Bolsheviks contested the elections to the bourgeois Constituent Assembly in 1917, and in 1918 we dispersed it, to the horror of the philistine democrats, the Kautskys and other such renegades from socialism. We worked in the ultra-reactionary, purely Menshevik, trade unions which (in their counter-revolutionary nature) yielded nothing to the Legien unions—the foulest and most reactionary trade unions in Germany. Even now, two years after the conquest of state power, we have not yet finished fighting the remnants of the Menslievik (i.e., the Scheidemann, Kautsky, G ompers, etc.) trade unions—so long is the process! So strong in some places and in some trades is the influence of petty-bourgeois ideas!

At one time we were in a minority in the Soviets, the trade unions and the co-operatives. By persistent effort and long struggle—both before and after the conquest of political power—we won a majority, first in all workers’ organisations, then in non-worker and, finally, even in small-peasant organisations.

Only scoundrels or simpletons can think that the proletariat must first win a majority in elections carried out under the yoke of the bourgeoisie, under the yoke of wage-slavery, and must then win power. This is the height of stupidity or hypocrisy; it is substituting elections, under the old system and with the old power, for class struggle and revolution.

The proletariat wages its class struggle and does not wait for elections to begin a strike, although for the complete success of a strike it is necessary to have the sympathy of the majority of the working people (and, it follows, of the majority of the population); the proletariat wages its class struggle and overthrows the bourgeoisie without waiting for any preliminary elections (supervised by the bourgeoisie and carried out under its yoke); and the proletariat is perfectly well aware that for the success of its revolution, for the successful overthrow of the bourgeoisie, it is absolutely necessary to have the sympathy of the majority of the working people (and, it follows, of the majority of the population).

The parliamentary cretins and latter-day Louis Blancs “insist” absolutely on elections, on elections that are most certainly supervised by the bourgeoisie, to ascertain whether they have the sympathy of the majority of the working people. But this is the attitude of pedants, of living corpses, or of cunning tricksters.

Real life and the history of actual revolutions show that quite often the “sympathy of the majority of the working people” cannot be demonstrated by any elections (to say nothing of elections supervised by the exploiters, with ’equality” of exploiters and exploited!). Quite often the “sympathy of the majority of the working people” is demonstrated not by elections at all, but by the growth of one of the parties, or by its increased representation in the Soviets, or by the success of a strike which for some reason has acquired enormous significance, or by successes won in civil war, etc., etc.

The history of our revolution has shown, for example, that sympathy for the dictatorship of the proletariat on the part of the majority of the working people in the boundless expanses of the Urals and Siberia was ascertained not by means of elections, but by the experience of a year of the tsarist general Kolchak’s rule in that area. Incidentally, Kolchak’s rule also began with a “coalition” of the Scheidemann and Kautsky crowd (in Russian they are called Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, supporters of the Constituent Assembly), just as in Germany at the moment the Haases and Scheidemanns, through their “coalition”, are paving the way to power for von Goltz or Ludendorif and covering up this power and making it look decent. In parenthesis it should be said that the Haase-Scheidemanmi coalition in the government has ended, but the political coalition of these betrayers of socialism remains. Proof: Kautsky’s books, Stampfer’s articles in Vorwärts, the articles by the Kautskys and the Scheidemanns about their “unification”, and so on.

The proletarian revolution is impossible without the sympathy and support of the overwhelming majority of the working people for their vanguard—the proletariat. But this sympathy and this support are not forthcoming immediately and are not decided by elections. They are won in the course of long, arduous and stern class struggle. The class struggle waged by the proletariat for the sympathy and support of the majority of the working people does not end with the conquest of political power by the proletariat. After the conquest of power this struggle continues, but in other forms. In the Russian revolution the circumstances were exceptionally favourable for the proletariat (in its struggle for its dictatorship), since the proletarian revolution took place at a time when all the people were under arms and when the peasantry as a whole, disgusted by the “Kautskyite” policy of the social-traitors, the Mensheviks and the SocialistRevolutionaries, wanted the overthrow of the rule of the landowners.

But even in Russia, where things were exceptionally favourable at the moment of the proletarian revolution, where a most remarkable unity of the entire proletariat, the entire army and the entire peasantry was achieved at once—even in Russia, the proletariat, exercising its dictatorship, had to struggle for months and years to win the sympathy and support of the majority of the working people. After two years this struggle has practically, but still not completely, ended in favour of the proletariat. In two years we have won the full sympathy and support of the overwhelming majority of the workers and labouring peasants of Great Russia, including the Urals and Siberia, but as yet we have not won the full support and sympathy of the majority of the working peasants (as distinct from the peasant exploiters) of the Ukraine. We could he (but shall not be) crushed by the military might of the Entente, but inside Russia we now have such sound sympathy, and from such an enormous majority of the working people, that our state is the most democratic state the world has ever seen.

One has only to give some thought to this complex, difficult and long history of proletarian struggle for powera struggle rich in the extraordinary variety of forms and in the unusual abundance of sharp changes, turns and switches from one form to another—to see clearly the error of those who would “forbid” participation in bonrgeois parliaments, reactionary trade unions, tsarist or Scheidemann Shop Stewards Committees or works’ councils, and so on and so forth. This error is due to the lack of revolutionary experience among quite sincere, convinced and valiant workingclass revolutionaries. Consequently, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg wore a thousand times right in January 1919 when they realised this mistake, pointed it out, but nevertheless chose to remain with the proletarian revolutionaries, mistaken though they were on a minor question, rather than side with the traitors to socialism, the Scheidemanns and the Kautskys, who made no mistake on the question of participating in bourgeois parliaments, but had ceased to be socialists and had become philistine democrats and accomplices of the bourgeoisie.

A mistake, however, remains a mistake and it is necessary to criticise it and fight for its rectification.

The fight against the traitors to socialism, the Scheidemanns and the Kautskys, must be waged mercilessly, but not on the issue of for or against participation in bourgeois parliaments, reactionary trade unions, etc. This would be an obvious mistake, and a bigger mistake still would be to retreat from the ideas of Marxism and its practical line (a strong, centralised political party) to the ideas and practice of syndicalism. It is necessary to work for the Party’s participation in bourgeois parliaments, in reactionary trade unions and in “works’ councils” that have been mutilated and castrated in Scheidemann fashion, for the Party to be wherever workers are to be found, wherever it is possible to talk to workers, to influence the working masses. Legal and illegal work must at all costs be combined, the illegal Party, through its workers’ organisations, must exercise systematic, constant and strict control over legal activity. This is no easy matter, but the proletarian revolution, generally speaking, knows nothing and can know nothing of “easy” tasks or aeasy” means of struggle.

This difficult task must be carried out at all costs. The Scheideinann and Kautsky gang differ from us not only (and not chiefly) because they do not recognise the armed uprising and we do. The chief and radical difference is that in all spheres of work (in bourgeois parliaments, trade unions, cooperatives, journalistic work, etc.) they pursue an inconsistent, opportunist policy, even a policy of downright treachery and betrayal.

Fight against the social-traitors, against reformism and opportunism—this political line can and must be followed without exception in all spheres of our struggle. And then we shall win the working masses. And the vanguard of the. proletariat, the Marxist centralised political party together with the working masses will take the people along the true road to the triumph of proletarian dictatorship, to proletarian instead of bourgeois democracy, to the Soviet Republic, to the socialist system.

In the space of a few months the Third International has won a number of glorious, unprecedented victories. The speed of its growth is astonishing. Particular mistakes and growing pains give no grounds for alarm. By criticising them directly and openly, we shall ensure that the working masses of all cultured countries, educated in the spirit of Marxism, quickly rid themselves of the betrayers of socialism, the Scheidemanns and Kautskys of all nations (for these traitors are to be found in all nations).

The victory of communism is inevitable. Communism will triumph.

N. Lenin

October 10, 1919