Julius Martov

The Roots of World Bolshevism


Originally published in Russia in 1919.
Republished as first part of the German edition of World Bolshevism in 1923. [1]
Translated by ?
Transcribed by Adam Buick.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

1. Bolshevism as a world phenomenon

When, in 1918, the baroque expression which is the title of the present chapter was used, many Russian Marxists saw in it a paradox. It seemed absurd to accept the very idea that the quite and routine province of Russia could in any way become a model for the West – “the rotten West”, as was freely said in Russia – to follow when working out the forms and content of the revolutionary process.

We were all inclined to link Russian Bolshevism to the agricultural nature of the country, to the absence of any real political education in popular circles, in short to purely national factors.

In the other countries, the revolutionary movement developed on noticeably different social bases, and it seemed very improbable that it would flow into the ideological and political mould of Bolshevism. At most people afterwards resigned themselves to accepting that the Bolshevik element could colour the revolution in countries which were equally backward as were Rumania, Hungary and Bulgaria.

It also seemed obvious, in the eyes of the socialists of western Europe, that Bolshevism didn’t lend itself to export on the world political market. They stated many times that this purely Russian phenomena would not be able to acclimatise itself in western Europe. This certainty of immunity was precisely one of the reasons why eminent representatives of European socialism were not afraid to praise Russian Bolshevism and thus make themselves the harbingers of the hold of Bolshevik ideas on the worker masses of their own country.

They certainly did not foresee that at a certain moment Bolshevism would suddenly surge forth in their countries. This is why, obedient to considerations of narrow day-to-day politics, they simply gave up making the least criticism of the ideology and policy of Russian Bolshevism. Some of them even defended it in its entirety against the attacks emanating from bourgeois enemy circles, without even considering it useful to make a distinction between what appertained to the revolution as such in its essence and what, on the other hand, represented only the specific contribution of Bolshevism and which constituted a denial of the whole ideological heritage of the International.

Numerous representatives of European socialism still today remain faithful to this attitude. When not long ago Kautsky had to analyse the reasons for the failure of his party in the elections to the Constituent Assembly he criticised the leaders for having obstinately refused to make any criticism of Russian Bolshevism and for having given them political publicity.

Such an attitude, let it be repeated, was possible to the extent that European Socialism proclaimed and really believed that they had nothing to fear from the Bolshevik conflagration.

And when “world Bolshevism” had everywhere become an undeniable factor in the revolutionary process, European Marxists found themselves as unprepared as Russian Marxists – if not more so – to understand the historical importance of this event and to discover the reasons which ensured its persistence.

2. The heritage of war

After three months of German revolutionary experience, it became clear that Bolshevism was not uniquely the product of an agrarian revolution. Strictly speaking, the revolutionary experience of Finland had already offered sufficient reasons to revise this notion which had acquired the strength of a prejudice. Certainly, the national particularities of Russian Bolshevism are explained, in large part, by the agrarian structure of Russia. But the social bases of “world Bolshevism” must be sought elsewhere.

The world war made the army play an important role in social life, and this is without any doubt the first common factor that can be discerned in the revolutionary process of countries as socially dissimilar as Russia, Germany, England and France. The existence of a link cannot be denied between the role played by the soldiers in a revolution and the Bolshevik inspiration animates it. Bolshevism is not simply a “soldiers’ revolution”, but in each country the development of the revolution undergoes the influence of Bolshevism in direct relation to the mass of soldiers in arms who participate in it.

In its time, the role of the soldiery in the Russian revolution has been sufficiently analysed. From the first days of the rising tide of Bolshevism, Marxists pointed out that “consumption communism” provided the only common interest capable of creating a link between disparate and often declassed, i.e. torn from their real social milieu, social elements.

Less attention has been devoted to another factor of the psychology of revolutionary soldier crowds. We are referring to this “anti-parliamentarism” which is quite understandable in a social milieu which has not been cemented by the hard lessons of the collective defence of its interests and which draws, at the present time, its material force and influence from the sole fact of possessing arms.

The English papers reported the following curious fact. On the occasion of elections to the House of Commons ballot papers were made available to English troops on the French front. Often the solders destroyed these ballot papers by burning them and declaring: “Just let us home and we’ll undertake to put things right”. In Germany as in Russia we have noticed many times that soldier crowds show their first political concern by a tendency to “put things right” by the force of arms. This state of mind showed itself just as much in favour of the “Right” – a frequent fact in the first months of the revolution in Russia and in the first weeks in Germany – as of the “Left”. In both cases we are in the presence of a collective group convinced that it suffices to hold arms and know how to use them in order to be able to direct the destinies of a country.

This state of mind leads fatally to an irreducible opposition to democratic principles and to parliamentary forms of government.

Nevertheless, however excessive its role in the Bolshevik storm the sole presence of the mass of soldiers cannot explain either the success of Bolshevism or the geographical extent of its hold. A cruel deception has been the fate of those who in Russia in October 1917 had declared with a blissful optimism that Bolshevism was the work of “revolutionary praetorians” and that it would find itself deprived of its social bases as soon as the army was demobilised.

Far from this happening the real features of Bolshevism showed themselves in striking relief at the time precisely when the former army, which had carried it to power, was abolished and when Bolshevism was able to rely on a new military organisation which from then on exercised no directing power and did not participate in any way in the running of State affairs.

On the other hand, we have seen in Finland and Poland the presence of Bolshevik elements which developed independently of any revolutionary soldiery for the good reason that these countries did not have any national army that had taken part in the war.

It results from this that the roots of Bolshevism must be sought, in the final analysis, in the situation of the proletariat.

3. The psychology of Bolshevism

What are the essential features of proletarian Bolshevism as a world phenomenon?

First, maximalism, i.e. the tendency to obtain the maximum of immediate results in the matter of social improvements without taking into account the objective situation. This kind of maximalism presupposes the existence of a strong dose of naïve social optimism that allows a belief, in the absence of a critical spirit, in the possibility of achieving these maximum conquests at any time and in resources, the social wealth that the proletariat seeks to take hold of, being inexhaustible.

Secondly, the absence of any understanding of social production and its requirements; the predominance, as we have already seen with the soldiers, of the point of view of the consumer over that of the producer.

Thirdly, the penchant for solving all questions of political struggle, of the struggle for power, by the immediate use of armed force, even when it is a question of dissentions between different fractions of the proletariat. This penchant proves that no confidence exists in the power to solve social problems by the application of democratic methods. Various authors have already sufficiently uncovered the objective factors which have led to the predominance of this tendency in the workers’ movement of today.

The composition of the worker mass has been changed. The old cadres, those who possessed the highest class education, have passed four and a half years at the front; they have been detached from productive work, become imbued with the mentality of the trenches, have been absorbed psychologically into the amorphous mass of declassed elements. On their return to the ranks of the proletariat, they have brought to it a revolutionary spirit with, however, the mentality of a soldiers’ riot.

During the war their place in production was taken by millions of new workers recruited from ruined artisans and other “little people”, rural proletarians and women of the working class. These newcomers were working at a time when the proletarian political movement had completely disappeared and when even the trade unions had become skeletal. While the war industry took on in Germany monstrous proportions, the number of members of the metalworkers union did not reach the level of July 1914. In these new masses of the proletariat class consciousness developed very slowly, the more so in that they scarcely had the chance to take part in organised actions alongside more advanced workers.

Thus, those who had lived in the trenches lost in the course of time their professional habits, became detached from regular productive work, and were morally and physically exhausted by the inhuman atmosphere of modern war. Meanwhile those who had taken their places in the factories had furnished an effort beyond their strength, trying to ensure through overtime that they got vital necessaries whose prices had increased in impossible proportions.

This exhausting effort was largely carried out to produce works of destruction. From the social point of view it had been unproductive and had been incapable of giving rise in the worker masses to a consciousness that their work was indispensable to the existence of society. But this is an essential element in the class psychology of the modern proletariat.

These factors of social psychology came together to facilitate the development of the Bolshevik element in all the countries affected directly or indirectly by the world war.

4. The crisis of proletarian consciousness

Nevertheless it seems to me that the causes indicated above are not enough to explain the progress made by the Bolshevik element in the world arena. If Bolshevism puts down deep roots in the worker masses of the countries which took part in the war and even in neutral countries, this is only because the operation of these causes did not find a sufficient psychological resistance in the social and political habits, in the ideological tradition of the proletarian masses.

From 1917-18 an identical phenomenon can be seen in different countries: the worker masses which awaken to the class struggle show a pronounced suspicion with regard to the organisations which were at the head of the movement before the month of August 1914. In Germany and Austria strikes took place despite the contrary decisions of the unions. Here and there influential clandestine groups form and take the lead of the political and economic demonstrations. In England factory committees arose to face the trade unions and launched powerful strikes of which they assumed the leadership. Similar movements are observed in neutral countries: in Scandinavia, in Switzerland.

After the end of the war when the proletariat had its hands free, this tendency developed even more strongly. In Germany in November-December 1918 the great masses were unanimously inspired by the desire to exclude the unions from any role in the leadership of the economic struggle and in the control of private production. Soviets and factory councils tend to replace the previous organisations. The Haase-Ebert government is obliged to take account of the factual situation and to extend the responsibilities of these new centre of action at the expense of those of the unions.

In England the press reports the distrust of the masses with regard to the secretaries of the trade unions and their refusal to submit themselves to their instructions; it sees in this the most characteristic feature of the strike movement of today. In a speech given in the House of Commons, Lloyd George brought out this particularity as a element filling the government with the most serious worries.

The class movement born of the war has stirred up deep proletarian layers which till then had been untouched and which had not passed through the long school of organised struggle. These new recruits did not find to guide them more advanced comrades strongly welded together by the unity of their ends and means, their programme and their tactics. On the contrary, they saw the old parties and unions falling into ruin, the old International going through the deepest crisis the working-class movement had ever known. Torn to shreds by mutually implacable hatreds the International experienced a shake-up of beliefs which for decades had been considerable inattackable.

In these conditions nothing other than what we now observe could have been expected. The movement of the new proletarian layers and, partly, even that of the same elements which before 1914 already marched under the banner of Social Democracy, developed, in a way, in a vacuum without any link with the political ideology of before. It spontaneously creates its own ideology which forms under the pressure of forces of the present time, which is an exceptional time from the economic, political and social psychology point of view.

“Naked on the naked earth” is how the proletariat is today, because the movement of the masses was completely stopped for four and a half years and because intellectual life wholly atrophied in the working class – and not only in them.

The “Burgerfrieden”, the sacred union, involved the cessation of all propaganda dealing with the irreconcilable antagonism of classes, of all educational effort tending towards the “socialisation of consciousness”. The work of the sacred union was actively completed by censorship and the war-state regime.

That is why, when they were able to reappear after the crushing blow of the world war, the worker masses did not find at hand any centre of ideological organisation on which they could base themselves. But it was psychologically indispensable to group around a “point of support” whose moral prestige was universally recognised, whose authority was not open to discussion and was not discussed.

What they were offered was only the psychological possibility of choosing freely between the different remnants of the old International. Is it surprising that they ranged themselves on the side of those who represented the most simplistic, the most general expression of the spontaneous instinct of revolt, of those who refused to consider themselves as linked by an ideological continuity; of those who agreed to adapt themselves infinitely to the aspirations of the amorphous masses in effervescence? Is it surprising that the reciprocal action of these amorphous masses and of ideological elements of this sort led to the creation of phenomena of mental atavism in the workers movement of the most advanced countries; that it led to a revival of illusions, prejudices, slogans and methods of struggle which had had their place in the period of Bakuninism, at the beginning of the Lassallean movement or even earlier still: in the attempts of the proletarian elements of the sans-culottes of Paris and Lyons in 1794 and 1797?

The 4 August 1914 – the day the Social Democrat majorities capitulated before imperialism – marked the catastrophic interruption of the class action of the proletariat. From that date all the phenomena which today surprise many people by their suddenness were created in embryonic state.

In the first weeks of hostilities I had occasion to write that the crisis of the workers movement due to the war was, in the first place, a “moral crisis”: the disappearance of mutual confidence between different fractions of the proletariat, the devaluation in the proletarian masses of the previous moral and political bases . For many decades ideological links had been brought nearer reformists and revolutionaries, at times even socialists and anarchists, or indeed these, together, to liberals and Christian workers. But I could not imagine that the loss of mutual confidence, that the destruction of ideological links would lead to a civil war between proletarians.

But I saw clearly that this prolonged disintegration of the class community, that this disappearance of any ideological link – which were consequences of the collapse of the International – would subsequently play a decisive role in the particular conditions of the revival of the revolutionary movement.

Since the collapse of the International was inevitably going to lead to such consequences, revolutionary Marxists had the duty to work energetically to weld together the proletarian elements who had remained faithful to the class struggle and to react resolutely against “social-patriotism”, even when the masses had not yet shaken off the nationalist intoxication and panic even. To the extent that it would have been possible to achieve this welding together on the international level, it was still permissible to hope that the rising of the masses would not destroy the ideological heritage of a half-century of workers’ struggles; it was still permissible to hope that a dyke would oppose the assault of anarchy.

Such was the objective meaning of the attempts at Zimmerwald and Kienthal in 1915-16. Unfortunately, the aim which had been fixed was far from achieved. This failure must not be attributed, of course, either to choice or to the faults which might have been committed by one or other of the “Zimmerwaldians”. The crisis of the workers movement was manifestly too pronounced to allow the internationalist minorities of the time to modify the evolution or lessen the birth-pangs of a new proletarian consciousness. This simple fact shows the extent to which the crisis was historically inevitable, to what extent its origin was mixed with the profound changes which had occurred in the existence, in the historic role of the proletariat, but which had not yet given rise to corresponding changes in its collective consciousness.

A social class needs to have already gone through the determined cycle of its evolution for it to start to realise the historical significance of its movement. This was the case for the classes which preceded the proletariat. But with the proletariat, we see the existence for the first time of a doctrine which determines its role of link in historical evolution and which reveals the objective, historically ineluctable aims towards which it is going; of a doctrine which has attempted to direct the movement so as to try to reduce to a minimum the number of victims and the loss of social energy which is characteristic of an “empirical evolution”.

This doctrine can do much. But not everything.

Once again, historical evolution has revealed itself to be stronger than doctrine. Once again it has been shown that the human race is doomed to move blindly at the whim of empirical attempts; to draw the lessons of its defeats in the bitter disappointment of retreats and of progress in zigzag. Once again it has been proved that it cannot be otherwise as long as humanity has not made a “leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom”, as long as it has not subjected to its will the anarchic forces of its social economy.

More than any other rise, that of the proletariat has been underpinned by elements of a conscious orientation of history. But, no more than the rest of humanity, is the proletariat the master of its economic life. And until it has become so, it will have to set very narrow limits to the possibilities of subordinating the course of historical events to the power of scientific doctrine.

The extent of the collapse that occurred on 4 August 1914 and the duration of its ideological consequences attest to the fact that at the present point of historical development these limits are even narrower than we believed in our arrogant celebration of the successes achieved for a quarter of a century by the international workers movement, i.e. by revolutionary Marxism.

“Failure of Marxism” hasten to proclaim the doctrinaires and politicians opposed to revolutionary education. Let them not be so hasty to show their joy, since the defeat of Marxism as effective leader of the movement has been at the same time its greatest triumph as “materialist interpretation” of history. As the ideology of the conscious fraction of the working class, Marxism has shown itself to be entirely “subjected” to the fundamental law established by Marxist doctrine and which governs the evolution of all ideologies within an anarchistic society divided into classes. It is exact that under the pressure of historical events Marxist teaching has not imposed identical conclusions on all its disciples. In the consciousness of a fraction of the working class it has changed into “social-patriotism”, into class collaboration; in that of another it has assumed the aspect of a primitive anarcho-jacobin “Communism”. But this differentiation reveals precisely the supremacy of matter over consciousness, a supremacy proclaimed by the teaching of Marx and Engels.

The proletariat needs to discover the secret of the misadventures that it has gone through during the present period of transition; it needs to elucidate the historical causes of its downfall of yesterday and the objective meaning of the vagaries of today; only then can it discuss the means to overcome the contradictions of the present time: utopia of immediate aims and mediocrity of the means of action.

5. A step backwards

The tradition was broken. The masses lost the faith they had previously had in the old leaders and old organisations. This double phenomenon greatly contributed to imbuing the new revolutionary movement with this ideology, this anarchist-tending psychology which characterises it today in all countries.

The change that occurred in the social composition of the proletariat, the four years of war accompanied by a recrudescence of savagery and brutality, followed by a “simplification” of the intellectual physiognomy of the European, created a propitious field for the return of ideas and methods which it had been thought had disappeared for ever.

The triumph of “consumption communism” which does not even seek to organise production on collective bases can be seen everywhere today in the proletarian masses. That is a great evil, evidence of a huge retreat in the social evolution of the proletariat and in the process of its formation into a class capable of running society.

This new direction of the revolutionary movement manifestly feeds the growth of Bolshevism. One of the principal duties of Marxian socialism is to combat it. But, while combating it, the perspective of history must not be lost sight of, nor must the reasons which have determined this indifference of the popular masses with regard to the development of the means of production be forgotten.

For four years the ruling classes have annihilated the productive forces, have destroyed the accumulated social wealth, have brought to all the problems posed by the need to maintain economic life easy solutions inspired by the well-known formula: “Pillage what as been pillaged”, i.e., in the event: by requisitions, taxes, forced labour, imposed on the defeated. And when, after having been deprived for four years of the least possibility to educate themselves politically, the popular masses are called upon in their turn to make history should we be astonished that they begin by the very thing that the ruling classes had ended with? The study of past revolutions allows it to be stated that in past centuries extreme revolutionary parties have also drawn from the arsenal of the wars of their time methods of action which led them to use requisitions, confiscations and taxes to settle problems of economic policy.

While the capitalist classes stupidly ruined the ruined the productive forces, wasted the accumulated wealth, while they diverted for long periods the best workers from their productive work, they got consolation by persuading themselves that this temporary destruction of the national heritage and of its living sources would –(in case of victory) thanks to the conquest of world hegemony, annexations, etc – give such an impetus to the national economy that all the sacrifices would be recuperated a hundredfold.

To support this opinion no statesman of the imperialist coalitions would have been able to furnish even the slightest serious proof ; similarly, none of them would have known how to combat with a semblance of reason the manifest truth that the world war, with its gigantic expense and destruction, would inevitably throw the world economy (or at least that of Europe) a good step backward. In the end, these statesmen, as well as the bourgeois masses, settled their doubts by imagining that “everything would turn out right” and that the automaticity of economic evolution would somehow find the means to cure the wounds, the fruit of the “creative effort” of the imperialist classes.

We are therefore not surprised that the worker masses are guided by the same blind faith when they try to radically improve their situation without taking into account the continuing destruction of the forces of production. For the popular masses have been contaminated by the fatalism that seized the bourgeoisie of the whole world the day it gave free rein to the monster of war. To the extent that they come to reflect on the consequences of the anarchy, these masses in their turn unconsciously hope that the ways of historical development will end up by leading them to the destination and that the final victory of the working class will cure by its own virtue the wounds inflicted on the national economy in the course of the struggle.

To the extent that they think this the proletarian masses of today are hardly more advanced, from the point of view of the conscious creation of history, than were the masses of the petty bourgeoisie who carried on the revolution in England in the 17th century and in France in the 18th century. As then, the conscious action of the masses is no guarantee at all that the objective results of their efforts will in fact be the regime to which they aspire and not a completely different regime.

This, obviously, is a sad indication of the regression within the workers movement. For the whole historical sense of the immense work of which the workers movement has been the object since 1848 consisted precisely in establishing a state of correlation between the conscious creative activity of the proletariat and of the laws of historical evolution that had been discovered. At bottom, it was a question of ensuring, for the first time in history, if only a minimal relationship between the objective achievement of the revolutionary process and the subjective aims pursued by the revolutionary class.

Yes, it is a regression. But when the rightwing socialists denounce this regression, when they adopt the attitude of accusers to better base their own policy, it becomes impossible for us to forget that they collaborated for their part in the coming of this regression. Where were they, during the great war, when for the first time in history there was a need to call on humanity to take care of the forces of production? Did they not, in tow to the bourgeois patriots, convince the popular masses that the systematic, intensive, prolonged destruction of the forces of production could constitute, for their country, a way towards the flourishing of these same forces as had never yet been known? “By destruction without limit towards the highest degree of civilisation!” This slogan of the world war has it not become the slogan of world Bolshevism?

The rightwing socialists have contributed to bringing into being this disdain for the future – even the immediate future – of the national economy and for the fate of the forces of production, a disdain with which the whole social psychology engendered by the great war is imbued. This, to such an extent that the social groups which today struggle fanatically against Bolshevism in the name of the safeguard and reconstruction of these forces of production proceed regularly employ means which are just as destructive from the economic point of view as the methods of Bolshevism itself can be.

We have been able to see this in the Ukraine and on the Volga where, rather than see them pass into the hands of the Bolsheviks, the bourgeoisie preferred to destroy the stocks of supplies, the railways, the depots, the machines. Furthermore, at the time of the “sabotage” of the end of 1917 we saw the rightwing of democracy denounce the economic vandalism of the Bolshevik revolution, but not take any account of the blows which their sabotage was going to irredeemably bring to the structure of the national economy much more than to Bolshevik rule.

Today we are witnessing the same thing in Germany, where no idea perhaps enjoys a popularity equal to that of the need for labour discipline as the only thing able to save the productive forces of the country. In the name of this idea the bourgeois and rightwing socialist parties denounce the Spartakist elements of the proletariat for their tendency to provoke permanent strikes and to thus undermine any possibility of regular productive work. Objectively they are right: the German economy is in such a critical state that the “strike epidemic” can itself on its own drive the country to a catastrophe. But it is a curious thing that it is precisely to the strike weapon that most often the bourgeoisie and the elements grouped around the rightwing socialists have recourse when they resist Bolshevism. For a while now in the struggle against the Spartakist wave we regularly witness “bourgeois strikes”, strikes of all the liberal professions as well as of State and local government officials. Doctors abandon their hospitals, followed by all their staff, railway staff suspend rail traffic.

And for what futile reasons do they do this!

Here, in a town in the east, the soviet of soldiers decides to disarm a division whose state of mind is considered counter-revolutionary. On its side, the assembly of the representatives of the bourgeois professions consider that the division has furnished proof of its attachment to the republic; they protest against the disarmament as constituting a weakening of the eastern front in face of a possible invasion by the Russian Bolsheviks; as a result of which they decide to proclaim a strike until the soviet annuls the incriminated decision.

Cases of this kind are not rare.

It is clear that Bolshevism, i.e. the “extremist” current of the extreme left of the class movement of the proletariat, does not lead in itself to the triumph of the “consumer” over the “producer”: it is not it that caused the rational development of the forces of production to be neglected and the stocks from the accumulation of wealth under a previous regime to be consumed. On the contrary, such a tendency is clearly opposed to the very spirit of Marxian socialism; that it could develop within the class movement of the proletariat is the consequence of the illness with which capitalist society was afflicted from the moment it was hit by the crisis. This is why, in the eyes of the historians of the future, the triumph of Bolshevik doctrines in the workers movement of the advanced countries will certainly not appear as a sign of an excess of revolutionary consciousness, but as the proof of an insufficient emancipation of the proletariat from the psychological ambience of bourgeois society.

This is why any policy which seeks a remedy against the economic vandalism of Bolshevism in an alliance with the bourgeoisie or in a capitulation to it is fundamentally false. We have seen in Russia – in the Ukraine, in Siberia – that after having defeated the Bolsheviks by force of arms the bourgeoisie has been unable to put an end to the economic collapse. As for Europe, we see already that, if it succeeds in aborting the proletarian revolution, all the “League of Nations” labels will not prevent the bourgeoisie from creating such a regime of international relations, crushing the economic organism under such a plate of armaments, erecting such customs barriers that the national economy will be condemned to reconstitute itself on the volcano of new armed conflicts, pregnant with even more terrible destructions than the world has just known. In these conditions it is more than doubtful that the world bourgeoisie will be able to bring Europe back to the economic level from which it was toppled by the war.

Victory of reason over chaos in the midst of the proletarian revolution or cultural regression for a rather long period: the present situation can have no other outcomes.

World Bolshevism has made itself the ideology of contempt for the apparatus of production left by the former regime. But, alongside this contempt, typical of the movement of our days, we see a similar disdain for the intellectual culture of society: in delivering its blows the revolution is not to respect the positive elements of this culture. On this question too, the masses who surge today into the arena of history and who boast of carrying out the revolution are much inferior to those who formed the core of the class movement of the proletariat during the epoch before the war. Here again, it cannot be doubted that the retreat has to be entirely attributed to the influence of the four years of war.

On the occasion of the execution of Lavoisier the sans-culottes of Paris were already saying in 1794: “The Republic does not need scientists!” Supporting before the electors of Paris the candidature of Marat for the Convention against that of the English materialist philosopher Priestley, Robespierre declared that there were “too many philosophers” in the elected assemblies. Modern sans-culottism of “communist” obedience is not very far from its predecessors in its attitude towards the scientific heritage left by bourgeois society. But, once again, only “pharisees” can revolt against it without remembering the militarism before which they knelt with admiration or capitulated cowardly, while only yesterday they gave themselves over to its orgies. For, need it be recalled, militarism hardly treated science and philosophy any better and that it is it which has brought up in this contempt the popular masses who today are trying to make history. French and German militarism pitilessly sent professors and scientists to dig trenches and to contribute as pen pushers to the great cause of the “defence of the fatherland”. In behaving in this way they did not care at all about momentarily diminishing the intellectual productivity of their country. What right therefore have they to be indignant if, in an identical spirit of irrational waste, professors and scientists are used to clean cesspools and to prepare graves?

“You wanted it, Georges Dandin”. In 1914-15 the bourgeoisie showed that it exercised an influence on the working class which had not yet been breached; it showed that the intellectual domain of the proletariat was still subordinate to it. And the working class which at present is in revolt against the bourgeoisie is one such as the latter has made in four years of this “war” education which has led to the decomposition of proletarian culture that was the fruit of long decades of class struggle.

Thus, in the developed capitalist countries the worker masses provide an excellent field for a new flowering of this primitive communism with ideas of equal division which already guided the first steps of the nascent workers movement. This is why, at this stage of the revolution, the role of inspirer and leader can be assumed by the country where precisely the reasons for this simplistic conception of socialism is going to lose itself in the depths of virgin territory which capitalism has not yet violated and where the laws of primitive accumulation still reign.

Imperialism has brought Western Europe back to the economic and cultural level of Eastern Europe. Should it be a surprise that the latter is today imposing its ideological notions on the masses in revolt of the former?

The European bourgeois and social-nationalists can witness with apocalyptic terror the hatching of world Bolshevism. This is perhaps the first act in the vengeance which the East is reserving for arrogant Western imperialism for having ruined it, for having held back its economic evolution.


1. The first part of Martov’s book World Bolshevism that was published in Berlin in 1923. When the rest of this book was translated into English and published in New York in 1938, this first section, which had originally appeared in Russia in 1919, was omitted.

Last updated on 2.7.2008