Karl Radek

Dictatorship and Terrorism

Chapter IV
The Softening Influence of Democracy on Manners

Herr Kautsky gives two examples for the benefit of German readers of the way in which democracy has influenced manners: the violent dictatorship of the Jacobins which was bound to end in defeat because it sought to realize its illusions by force, and was therefore bound to mislead and brutalize the proletariat; and against this dark picture he places the bright and moral democratic dictatorship of the Commune of 1871 which has found a warm place “in the hearts of all who long for the liberation of mankind, and not least because it was thoroughly imbued with the spirit of humanity which animated the working class of the nineteenth century.” We have shown that Kautsky’s presentation is a mere juggling trick. The Paris Commune of 1793 represented no proletarian dictatorship, but a bourgeois one; and it was not “wrecked” on the impracticability of proletarian illusions, but fulfilled its great historical mission – the destruction of feudalism. The proletarian Commune of 1871, on the contrary, was wrecked after a two-months’ existence by the confusion of its leaders who were full of illusions, and did not understand that the fight should have been carried beyond the walls of Paris. That which Kautsky calls the spirit of humanity was in reality the weakness of the leaders of the Commune, their irresolution in the face of an inexorable enemy. It was not the contrast between violence and democracy that was expressed in the Communes of 1793 and 1871 because the Commune of 1793 stood theoretically on the ground of democracy as much as the Commune of 1871, and the Commune of 1871 forgot democracy in practice as completely as that of 1793. The contrast lies in the strenuous fight of a class whose time has come, whose domination is an historical necessity (the Jacobin bourgeoisie were in this position in 1793) and the confusion and impotence of a class which is still incapable of exercising domination and which lacks the resolution to fight for it with all the means at its disposal (the French working class of 1871 was in this condition). When Kautsky asserts that the Commune of 1871 has found a warm corner, thanks to its spirit of humanity in the hearts of all who long for the liberation of mankind, the old man mistakes his own womanish heart for the dauntless one of the proletarian. It is not because of its weakness (which he calls humanity) that the Commune has become the symbol of proletarian aspirations, but because it was the first attempt of the proletariat to seize power.

What this spirit of “humanity” is which it is pretended ruled in the Commune and which is so dear to his heart, Kautsky attempts to represent in a lifeless abstraction in which he shows savage men on the one hand and peaceful men on the other, and how at one time savagery, and at another time gentleness, gained the upper hand. We need not delay over this professorial balderdash because Kautsky never rises above the level political twaddle, and does not even clear up in any way an historical event by showing the action of gentleness and savagery. Kautsky becomes more concrete when he asserts that democracy, which clearly shows the proportional strength of the classes, prevented them from rushing blindly into the conflict, and that Marxism has the same effect on the proletariat; and that the proletariat, thanks to the Marxist explanation, has learned that victory can only be the result of a gradual process of growth.

“Socialists are always being urged to undertake, at any given moment, only such tasks as could be accomplished under the material conditions and with the relative strength of classes, which obtained at the time. If everything were done according to expert opinion it would be impossible for Socialists to fail in any undertaking or to find themselves in a desperate situation which would force them to resort, contrary to the spirit of the proletariat and of Socialism, to mass terrorism. In fact, since Marxism began to dominate the Socialist movement till the time of the world war, that movement has, in almost everything it has consciously undertaken, been preserved front serious defeat; and the idea that Socialism could be accomplished by means of a reign of terror has been entirely discarded by its adherents.”

So says the professor in his book. Till the World War democracy and Marxism had shown fine results. And why did not democracy, with its much advertised relatively strong position and its tendency to soften manners, prevent this most savage form of destruction? We are certain that Herr Kautsky will declare triumphantly that the war came about because his democratic medicine had not been administered in sufficiently large doses to the Hohenzollerns, the Hapsburgs and the Romanoffs. Apart from the fact that, despite all the diplomatic documents which tell so heavily against these dynasties, no Marxist can forget the whole social and political history of the pre-war period, the will of the “democracy” must have been to defend by all means, even the most brutal, the interests of Entente capital against the piratical attempts at expansion of Imperial Germany if the Hohenzollerns and the Hapsburgs succeeded in unchaining the war. And does Herr Kautsky know nothing of the ignoble war of the Western “democracies” against Soviet Russia and Soviet Hungary? It is evident that this singular Marxist was still, in the summer of 1919, full of illusions about the readiness of capital to forcibly resist the attempts of the proletariat to liberate themselves. He quotes from my Foreword to Bucharin’s pamphlet as follows:

“The more developed Capitalism in any country is the more reckless and brutal will be its defensive fight, and therefore the bloodier will be the proletarian revolution and the more reckless will be the measures by means of which the victorious working class will bring the defeated capitalist class to its knees.”

Referring to these statements Herr Kautsky declares first of all that I “elevate the Bolshevist practice of eighteen months to the position of a universal law of development,” and that I advocate the practice of wrong with the “recklessness and brutality of the capitalists’ war of defence.” “Of such brutality there was no trace in November, 1917 in Petrograd or Moscow, and still less in Budapesth at a later date.” These remarks of an unpaid agent of the bourgeoisie only show that he notes nothing which does not suit himself and is not favorable to Capitalism. He says nothing of the hecatombs of those who fell during the Kerensky regime of Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries – the regime so much after his own ideas – simply because Russian Capitalism shrank from no means of arresting the victory of the proletariat. He has heard nothing of the November rebellion at Moscow when the resistance of the capitalist guards had to be broken in more than usually heavy fighting. He has heard nothing of the 13,000 sacrificed by the Whites in Finland; he has heard nothing of the forest of gibbets erected in the Ukraine amidst the stormy applause of the bourgeoisie of the whole of Russia; he has heard nothing of the thousands of proletarians slaughtered in the Kuban and Donetz districts; he has heard nothing of the Kolchak regime, whose deeds of horror have been reported by representatives of the American Government like Joshua Rosett; he has heard nothing of the counter-revolutionary plots subsidized by the Entente which aimed at crippling the concrete constructive work of the Soviets. He has heard nothing of the thousands of dead piled up by Herr Noske in defence of German Capitalism. He has heard nothing of the circulars of Churchill, the “democratic” War Minister of England, which proves that the English oligarchy would not hesitate a moment to smother in blood any attempt of the proletariat at rebellion; of how that oligarchy even during the sittings of the Peace Conference and the building of the League of Nations, caused 1,000 people to be shot down in Cairo in answer to native demonstrations, and so treated the movement for independence in India that Rabindranath Tagore, certainly no savage Bolshevik, renounced the knighthood conferred upon him by the King of England, and declared that the “severity of the punishment inflicted upon the unhappy people was without parallel in the history of civilized nations from the most remote period.” This appeared in the Manchester Guardian on 7th June, the very time that Herr Kautsky was putting the finishing touches to his work on Terrorism. Herr Kautsky has not noticed the bloody fight of M. Clemenceau against the workmen of Paris who, on the First of May, exercised their “democratic right” to demonstrate for Soviet Russia. And we are sure that if after the enthusiastic circulation of his latest pamphlet by the Anti-Bolshevist League, a second edition appears, we shall find collected all the stories of cruelty which the capitalist Press has scattered broadcast about Soviet Hungary, but nothing about the thousands of proletarians whom the Hungarian rulers, with the assistance of the Entente, offered up as a sacrifice in the holy war for Capitalism and democracy.

His whole theory of the “softening influence of democracy on manners” conceals a simple fact. In the period from 1871 to 1915 there was no attempt in Europe, except in Russia, to overthrow bourgeois society. The proletariat accommodated themselves to capitalist rule, and sought to improve their position within the framework of Capitalism. Therefore, apart from “little” massacres in France, as in Italy, Austria and North America, the wantonness of the capitalist policemen subsided, because the bourgeoisie could afford to renounce the use of excessive force against the proletariat. In the colonies, where the proletarized peasants, in their ignorance of Marxism, ventured to rise in revolt, they were overthrown according to all the rules of the art of militarism. The softening of manners consists in the fact that the bourgeoisie do not murder the workers, by whose sweat they live, because it is not only unnecessary, but would even be prejudicial to the interest of the profit-takers.

Marxism simply summarized the experience of the working classes when it warned them against rioting. That it was their sense of weakness and not the influence of Marxism that was the deciding factor is shown by the fact that in countries where the influence of Marxism was so weak as in Italy, France and England there was no serious disturbance in the last ten years. That the working class of any country did not attempt to seize power before the war, and that it was not anywhere brought practically face to face with the question of the use of force, was due to objective conditions which, after 1871 and still more after 1890, originated in the period of the consolidation of the capitalist States and their economic expansion.

Marxism was never really practically brought face to face with the question of force, and the merit which Herr Kautsky claims for it as a great restraining influence exists for the most part only in his imagination. At the same time it should not be denied that Marxism, true to its nature, was always careful in treating of the use of force, and made the guiding star of its policy the advice to comrades to refrain from provocative measures, and so became a restraining factor in the last decade where the working class was faced with the problems of violence through the policy of Imperialism. The world war has made the problem a question for the working class movement. Indeed for years the prophet of the Second International has done nothing else than prove to this generation, which has grown up in the period of the “peaceful development” of Capitalism, any real sense of historical development in stormy revolutionary times has been lost. We saw this in Kautsky’s treatment of the greatest bourgeois revolution, and the first proletarian revolution of the epoch of so-called “democracy”; we shall see it in a more repulsive form in his treatment of the great Russian Workers’ revolution.

Last updated on 18.10.2011