Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

We Have Paid Too Much

Written: 9 April, 1922
First Published: Pravda No. 81, April 11, 1922; Signed: Lenin; Dictated by telephone; Published according to the Pravda text
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 2nd Printing, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1973, Volume 33, pages 330-334
Translated: David Skvirsky and George Hanna
Transcription\HTML Markup: David Walters & R. 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

Imagine that a Communist has to enter premises in which agents of the bourgeoisie are carrying on their propaganda at a fairly largo meeting of workers. Imagine also that the bourgeoisie demands from us a high price for admission to these premises. If the price has not been agreed to beforehand we must bargain, of course, in order not to impose too heavy a burden upon our Party funds. If we pay too much for admission to these premises we shall undoubtedly commit an error. But it is better to pay a high price at all events until we have learned to bargain properly than to reject an opportunity of speaking to workers who hitherto have been in the exclusive “possession ”, so to speak, of the reformists, i.e., of the most loyal friends of the bourgeoisie.

This analogy came to my mind when in today’s Pravda I read a telegram from Berlin stating the terms on which agreement has been reached between the representatives of the three Internationals.

In my opinion our representatives were wrong in agreeing to the following two conditions: fitst, that the Soviet Government should not apply the death penalty in the case of the forty-seven Socialist-Revolutionaries; second, that the Soviet Government should permit representatives of the three Internationals to be present at the trial.

These two conditions are nothing more nor less than a political concession on the part of the revolutionary proletariat to the reactionary bourgeoisie. If anyone has any doubt about the correctness of this definition, then, to reveal the political na•vetŽ of such a person, it is sufficient to ask him the following questions. Would the British or any other contemporary government permit representatives of the three Internationals to attend the trial of Irish workers charged with rebellion? Or the trial of the workers implicated in the recent rebellion in South Africa?[1] Would the British or any other government, in such, or similar circumstances, agree to promise that it would not impose the death penalty on its political opponents? A little reflection over these questions will be sufficient to enable one to understand the following simple truth. All over the world a struggle is going on between the reactionary bourgeoisie and the revolutionary proletariat. In the present case the Communist International, which represents one side in this struggle, makes a political concession to the other side, i.e., the reactionary bourgeoisie; for everybody in the world knows (except those who want to conceal the obvious truth) that the Socialist-Revolutionaries have shot at Communists and have organised revolts against them, and that they have done this actually, and sometimes officially, in a united front with the whole of the international reactionary bourgeoisie.

The question is—what concession has the international bourgeoisie made to us in return? There can only be one reply to this question, and it is that no concession has been made to us whatever.

Only arguments which becloud this simple and clear truth of the class struggle, only arguments which throw dust in the eyes of the masses of working people, can obscure this obvious fact. Under the agreement signed in Berlin by the representatives of the Third International we have made two political concessions to the international bourgeoisie. We have obtained no concession in return.

The representatives of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals acted as blackmailers to extort a political concession from the proletariat for the benefit of the bourgeoisie, while emphatically refusing, or at any rate making no attempt, to induce the international bourgeoisie to make some political concession to the revolutionary proletariat. Of course, this incontrovertible political fact was obscured by shrewd bourgeois diplomats (the bourgeoisie has been training members of its class to become good diplomats for many centuries); but the attempt to obscure the fact does not change it in the least. Whether the various representatives of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals are in direct or indirect collusion with the bourgeoisie is a matter of tenth-rate importance in the present case. We do not accuse them of being in direct collusion. The question of whether there has been direct collusion or fairly intricate, indirect connection has nothing to do with the case. The only point that has anything to do with it is that as a result of the pressure of the representatives of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals, the Communist International has made a political concession to the international bourgeoisie and has obtained no concession in return.

What conclusion should be drawn from this?

First, that Comrades Radek, Bukharin and the others who represented the Communist International acted wrongly.

Further. Does it follow from this that we must tear up the agreement that they signed? No. I think it would be wrong to draw such a conclusion. We ought not to tear up the agreement. All we have to do is to realise that on this occasion the bourgeois diplomats proved to be more skilful than ours, and that next time, if the price of admission is not fixed beforehand, we must bargain and manoeuvre more skilfully. We must make it a rule not to make political concessions to the international bourgeoisie (no matter how skilfully these concessions may be concealed by intermediaries, no matter of what sort) unless we receive in return more or less equivalent concessions from the international bourgeoisie to Soviet Russia, or to the other contingents of the international proletariat which is fighting capitalism.

Perhaps the Italian Communists and a section of the French Communists and Syndicalists, who were opposed to united front tactics, will infer from the above argument that united front tactics are wrong. But such an inference will obviously be wrong. If the communist representatives have paid too much for admission to premises in which they have some, even if small, opportunity of addressing workers up to now in the exclusive “possession” of reformists, such a mistake must be rectified next time. But it would be an incomparably greater mistake to reject all terms, or all payment for admission to these fairly well-guarded and barred premises. The mistake that Comrades Radek, Bukharin and the others made is not a grave one, especially as our only risk is that the enemies of Soviet Russia may be encouraged by the result of the Berlin Conference to make two or three perhaps successful attempts on the lives of certain persons; for they know beforehand that they can shoot at Communists in the expectation that conferences like the Berlin Conference will hinder the Communists from shooting at them.

At all events, we have made some breach in the premises that were closed to us. At all events, Comrade Radek has succeeded in exposing, at least to a section of the workers, the fact that the Second International refused to include among the slogans of the demonstration a demand to annul the Treaty of Versailles. The great mistake the Italian Communists and a section of the French Communists and Syndicalists make is in being content with the knowledge they already possess. They are content with knowing well enough that the representatives of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals, and also Paul Levi, Serrati and others, are very shrewd agents of the bourgeoisie and vehicles of their influence. But people, workers, who really know this, and who really understand its significance, are undoubtedly in the minority in Italy, Britain, the U.S.A. and France. Communists must not stew in their own juice, but must learn to penetrate into prohibited premises where the representatives of the bourgeoisie are influencing the workers; and in this they must not shrink from making certain sacrifices and not be afraid of making mistakes, which, at first, are inevitable in every new and difficult undertaking. The Communists who refuse to understand this and who do not want to learn how to do it cannot hope to win over the majority of the workers; at all events, they are hindering and retarding the work of winning this majority. For Communists, and all genuine adherents of the workers’ revolution, this is absolutely unpardonable.

Once again, the bourgeoisie, in the persons of their diplomats, have outwitted the representatives of the Communist International. Such is the lesson of the Berlin Conference. We shall not forget this lesson. We shall draw all the necessary conclusions from it. The representatives of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals need a united front, for they hope to weaken us by inducing us to make exorbitant concessions; they hope to penetrate into our communist premises without any payment; they hope to utilise united front tactics for the purpose of convincing the workers that reformist tactics are correct and that revolutionary tactics are wrong. We need a united front because we hope to convince the workers of the opposite. We shall put the blame for the mistakes on our communist representatives who committed them, and on those parties which commit them, while we shall try to learn from these mistakes and to prevent a repetition of them in the future. But under no circumstances shall we thrust the blame for the mistakes of our Communists upon the proletarian masses, who all over the world are facing the onslaught of advancing capital. We adopted united front tactics in order to help these masses to fight capitalism, to help them understand the “cunning mechanism” of the two fronts in international economics and in international politics; and we shall pursue these tactics to the end.

April 9, 1922


[1] Workers’ uprisings broke out in March 1922 in Johannesburg, Benoni and Brakpan in South Africa. In order to preserve their profits following the drop of the price of gold in the world market, the owners of the goidlields began lowering the wages of European workers and discharging them en masse. On January 9, 1922, this provoked a strike in the gold-fields. In March the strike developed into an uprising. The workers seized the towns of Benoni and Brakpan, and two workers’ suburbs (Fordsburg and Geppestown) of Johannesburg. The then young Communist Party of South Africa was active in the uprising. Many Communists heroically sacrificed their lives during the armed struggle. On March 10, the reactionary government of General Smuts declared the above towns in a state of siege, and brought in troops, artillery and aircraft. On March 14, the uprising was suppressed and more than 10,000 persons were arrested. Thousands of workers were tried by military tribunals.