Karl Radek

Dictatorship and Terrorism

Chapter III
The Model Dictatorship

When the Commune of Paris was smothered in blood by the Versaillese; when the world bourgeoisie began an Indian dance of calumny around the fallen revolutionaries, when, under the influence of the campaign of slander, the worthy trade union leaders of England took fright and withdrew from the International Association – Karl Marx covered the mutilated bodies of the Communards with the flag of the International. Marx did this in spite of the fact that any expression of solidarity with the Commune threatened the young and weak First International with the greatest danger, and in spite of the circumstance that he was very skeptical of the wisdom of the Communist insurrection, as he saw more clearly than any other man its fatal weaknesses. He did not do it merely from a sentimental motive of solidarity with a rebellion in which thousands of proletarians with inspired enthusiasm. He did it because he, with a highly developed historical sense, saw through the chaos of the often tragi-comical errors and mistakes of the commune, through the mists of its confused ideas, through the ruins of its half-accomplished deeds, the outlines of a new era, to the building of which it had unknowingly contributed. Marx saw clearly that the beacon of the Commune demonstrated two important lessons to the proletariat. The first was that the proletariat cannot simply seize and operate the old State apparatus but must destroy it in order to create a new one: the second was that the new apparatus must differ fundamentally from bourgeois Parliamentarism with its separation of the province of law making from that of administration, and that both must be united in the workers associations of representatives which would carry out their own laws. These lessons of the Commune were, in the opinion of Marx and Engels, of the greatest importance because they showed to them the essential nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Everything else in the Commune was for them a particular or transient circumstance; that was the general and permanent: it was that which stamped the Commune of 1871, with all its defects, as a mighty step forward, although its immediate results were nothing but ruins and meant the setting back of the French worker’s movement for fifty years. Kautsky and Bernstein, upon whom devolved the task of continuing the work of Marx, did not understand that they would have to begin with these lessons. Splashing around in the waters of the opening Parliamentary epoch, or grubbing for worms in the sands, they did not grasp these lessons and withheld them from the knowledge of the proletariat. We see how, today, in the face of the Russian and German revolutions, Karl Kautsky knew to begin with the lessons of the Commune.

He devotes forty pages to this task. In these forty pages he seeks to represent it as an instance of a model dictatorship which he is prepared to accept. The Paris Commune finds favor in his eyes. It was elected on the basis of universal suffrage and therefore does not transgress the sacred laws of democracy. Herr Kautsky is triumphant.

“And yet Friedrich Engels wrote on 18th March, 1891, on the twentieth anniversary of the Paris Commune: ‘Gentlemen, do you want to know what the dictatorship of the proletariat is like? Then look at the Paris Commune! That was the dictatorship of the proletariat!’ It can be seen, therefore, that by dictatorship Marx and Engels by no means meant the abolition of equal universal suffrage, or of democracy in general.”

Hail to thee, laurel-crowned victor! Karl Kautsky triumphs. In another place he cites my remarks from the introduction to Bucharin’s pamphlet on the program where I infer that, considered in the abstract, the bourgeoisie can be left in possession of the franchise, even under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

“But the revolution consists in this, that it is a civil war, in which classes, which fight with cannons and machine-guns, renounce the Homeric duel of words.”

These statements of mine, written in the summer of 1915 show that even the Russian Communists saw that the abolition of the right of the bourgeoisie to vote was by no means a characteristic of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They were merely convinced that during the period of the civil war the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie assumes such an acute form that the common ground of the democratic franchise, Parliament as the theatre of war, disappears. What is demonstrated in this connection by the Paris Commune? It was and Herr Kautsky takes good care to conceal the fact) an insurrection against the results of universal suffrage in France. On the basis of this Kautskyan panacea the National Assembly of France came into being in 1871 and showed 400 Monarchists and 200 Republicans (and such Republicans!). It was a faithful reflection of the reaction which prevailed in the country districts and in the small towns. The National Assembly not only concluded peace with Bismark, but prepared to make war on revolutionary Paris. And then – Paris rose against the National Assembly. “Paris has no right to rebel against France; it must, on the contrary, unreservedly recognize the supremacy of the National Assembly” – thus was Paris apostrophized by one of its representatives and mayors, M. Clemenceau, the “Tiger” of today; and the Socialistic ancestor of Kautsky, Louis Blanc, said to the delegates of the Commune, “you are rebels against a most freely elected Assembly.” Mr. Thiers declared “The Government would betray the Assembly, France and civilization if it allowed the forces of Communism and rebellion to be built up alongside of the lawful power called into being by the general voice of the people.” Herr Kautsky quietly suppresses the whole controversy on principle in which not only counter-revolutionaries like Thiers, but bourgeois Radicals and Socialists like Louis Blanc reproached the Commune with treachery against democracy. The Communards defended themselves against this charge by claiming that the National Assembly had no right to exist after the conclusion of peace, as it was only to make peace it had been elected. This polemical argument, however, was merely a blow in the air, because the Commune did not represent an insurrection for the purpose of compelling a new election, but for the purpose of winning special rights for Paris (election of its own officials, National Guard, etc.) in order to save Paris and the other large towns from the Versaillese reaction which had found expression through universal suffrage. A member of the Central Committee of Paris declared in reply to Clemenceau’s reproach quoted above,

“We are not thinking of laying down laws for France – we have suffered from that too long already – but we are no longer willing that the force of the people being outvoted by the backward rural districts should continue. The point in question is not whether your mandate or ours (that is, the mandate of the National Assembly or that of the Communards) is the lawful one. We say to you! ‘The revolution is here, but we are no usurpers. We desire to call upon Paris to appoint its representatives.’”

While Herr Kautsky, after shamelessly concealing the character of the Commune as an insurrection against the “democratic” National Assembly represents the general election to the Commune as the burial of its democratic character and of the source of its power, this bowing of the Commune to the democracy of Paris after it had rebelled against the democracy of the country districts, has no meaning from the point of view of principle. The tactical manoeuvre of the Commune is perfectly clear. The reaction against which the Commune rebelled had not its majority in Paris or in the large towns, but in the rural districts. Paris, where the proletariat and the Radical petit-bourgeoisie had a decisive majority; Paris, whose counter-revolutionaries had fled; Paris, which recognized the general election, had nothing to do with democracy “in general”: what it achieved was the subordination of all others to the mass of the proletariat and the petit-bourgeoisie, the bearers of the Commune.

From the circumstance that the Commune of Paris had no enemies on its own soil (the counter-revolutionaries and the counter-revolutionary troops had run away to Versailles) the avoidance of the use of violence within the walls of Paris was assured. Says Kautsky himself:

“The enemy which was dangerous to it the Commune stood without the halls of its community and could not be reached by the agency of terrorism.”

The virtue of the Commune, therefore, consists in the imitation of the people of Nürnberg, who did not hang any one they did not catch. Our comrade Dzierschinski, the chief of the Extraordinary Commission in Moscow, whom Kautsky abhors, has most assuredly not caused the death of one of the most dangerous enemies of Soviet Russia in so far as such enemies are out with the Soviet community and are not to be reached by the agency of terrorism. The means of defense employed by the Commune was not terrorism, but war against the Versaillese. The Commune had conducted this war in such a manner that it hastened its downfall by several months. The armies of the counter-revolution existed merely as scattered remnants of the defeated and demoralized Napoleonic army. The Commune had a military preponderance as far as men, munitions, and the spirit of the people were concerned. It had on its side the working class of all the large towns of France. It permitted its strength to be split-up and dissipated; it did not seek the trembling enemy, then merely collecting its thoughts, but allowed him to surprise it, it knew only the heroism of a fight to the death, and nothing of the organizing of war. That this is an example of the dictatorship which is to be imitated, even Kautsky will not assert.

What were the reasons for this complete failure of the Commune? It had a sufficient number of officers who had voluntarily placed themselves at its service. It had in the Pole, Dombrowsky; a good military leader. The masses of the people were prepared for any sacrifice as was shown by their reckless fight when the Versaillese poured into the town. The reason for this want of offensive spirit on the part of the Commune, without which a strong defence is impossible, was the absence of a clearly-defined goal, which was due to the fact that the Commune could form merely an historical episode. The Franco-German war ended the epoch of bourgeois revolutions, and introduced the era of “peaceful” development of the consolidated capitalist States of Western and Central Europe. Not only was the working class a minority of the population, but industry was neither centralized nor concentrated. The economic backwardness of Capitalism corresponded to the intellectual backwardness of the proletariat, who although Socialist in sentiment, could not show a large number of men in any single country who knew how Socialist freedom was to be attained. The foremost section of the proletariat was split in two parts. One of these sought to emancipate itself socially by peaceful organization without the knowledge of capitalist society; the other hoped, by the conquest of political power, to reach the same goal without having any concrete plan for attaining it. When, on the 18th of March, Paris rose against the Government; it had no far-reaching aims. The workers defended their guns in the correct belief that Thiers wanted to steal them in order to disarm Paris, the Citadel of the Republic, and to open the gates to Social and Political reaction. The Government fled. The proletarians and petit-bourgeoisie of Paris rejoiced, in common with all other parties, that they were at liberty to elect their Commune, without even suspecting that the flight of the Government meant the announcement of the fact that the life-and-death struggle had begun. They could have laid Versailles in ruins but did not do so because they had no goal to aspire to beyond Paris. They wished to so arrange matters that the poor would be released from the burden of rents and mortgages, and they hoped that the provinces would follow the noble example of Paris. They did not even inaugurate an agitation in the provinces. When the siege by the Versaillese began they could not arrive at a common policy because they had no common aim. On the social field it was not only the want of time (the Commune lasted only 72 days) which prevented them from forming a far-seeing constructive policy for the transition from Capitalism to Socialism, and not only the necessity for defence. As the transition to Socialism was impossible on account of the scattered and small scale character of the industries of Paris, the Socialism of the Commune exhausted itself in measures of social reform and generally in plans for the relief of the poor. When Kautsky declares that the “Marxian method of Socialization, which closely resembled that of the Commune, is still our method to-day.” it is well to remember that if the learned Marxian prophet’s ideas were clearer he would not say wherein the Marxian method of socialization consists if he had not in mind the Marxian measures for the transition period which were proposed in 1848 and which fit the policy of the Commune and the year 1919 as well as the spurious word “socialization” fits the problems of the Socialist revolution. There is one Marxian method of Socialism – that is, Marxism. Marx did not draw up recipes for concrete economic measures for all phases of the social revolution. Kautsky’s admiration for the “socialization methods” of the Commune is veneration for nothing whatever in which “socialization” consists, at which Herr Kautsky, at the behest of Ebert and Scheidemann, together with his learned young man Hilferding, labored so laboriously till he discovered that his efforts were so much waste paper. Kautsky has discovered three virtues in the Commune: first, the Communards hanged no counter-revolutionaries whom they did not catch; second, they socialized nothing; and third, they were tolerant, as they did not suppress one proletarian section after another as the wicked Bolsheviks did. The tender hearted old greybeard, with his tongue in his cheek, omits to mention one thing: Proudhonists, Blanquists and Internationalists fought one another bitterly during the period of the Commune, although their views, as we now see clearly, merely constituted different aspects of the same confusion. All of them, however, bled for the Commune, for the domination of the proletariat. When, in the last days of the Commune, Vermorel, a member of the Minority of the Commune, was transporting a wagon of munitions, he met Ferré, a representative of the Majority, before the Town Hall and said to him smilingly, “You see, Ferré, the members of the Minority are fighting.” “The members of the Majority will also do their duty,” replied Ferré. And the Communard Lissagaray says: “These two men, who met death so nobly, showed to the people a generous spirit of emulation.” But Socialists who, like Louis Blanc, remained with the country people at Versailles and did not even raise their voices when captive Communards were shot down before their eyes, have passed into history as traitors to the proletariat. A Socialist historian says of Louis Blanc:

“Elected in Paris to the National Assembly, he remained at Versailles when the Assembly declared war on Paris. He supported the Government in its struggle against the Commune. His illusions of liberating the proletariat through cooperation with the aristocratic and progressive sections of the bourgeoisie ended in cooperation with the brutal and reactionary Junkers for the purpose of throttling the proletariat. His views and sympathies were thereby but little altered. But class antagonisms are stronger than pious aspirations. He who comes from the camp of the bourgeoisie and does not possess sufficient courage and capacity for sacrifice to write definitely with the proletariat and destroy the bridges behind him – such a one will, despite all his sympathy for the proletariat, be found on the side of the enemies of the people, when a decisive moment comes.”

These are the words of Karl Kautsky, who thus showed he had a presentiment of what would happen to himself. The quiet comfortable study is the bridge which unites him with the bourgeoisie. He had not the courage to tread the way of the martyr as Rosa Luxemburg did, and we therefore see him now in Versailles as the successor of Louis Blanc. And when he says that the greatest virtue of the Commune was that Socialists did not prosecute Socialists we say to him:

“Your praise is a slander alike on Majority and Minority of the Commune, which consisted of comrades-in-arms who had no reason to mutually persecute one another. You falsify history unnecessarily. Should the proletarian revolution in Germany succeed, you have nothing to fear, Herr Kautsky. Although impartial, however good your intentions may be, you are a traitor. You are so harmless that the revolution can allow itself the luxury of giving you your necessary ration of fodder, caterpillars and unfledged birds, so that you may continue to nourish yourself after your senile fashion as well as the ink and paper you require. But at the same time, we will have our revenge: we will compel your admirers Scheidemann, Hilferding, etc., to read your works, which at the present they only pretend to do.”

Last updated on 18.10.2011