Karl Radek

Dictatorship and Terrorism

Chapter V
The Russian Sodom And Gomorrha

We shall begin with facts that cannot be contraverted. During the period from March to November, 1917, the rule of the Russian bourgeoisie underwent a continuous process of dissolution. The bourgeoisie desired to carry on the war; the mass of peasants and workers wanted to end it, at whatever cost. [1]

The peasants wanted to seize the land and the feudal estates. The bourgeoisie, in conjunction with the Junkers, wished to avert this. The workers were not willing to endure the rule of the bourgeoisie any longer. That rule had ruined the country, and they were convinced that it could not build it up again. All the means of violence in the hands of the bourgeoisie were unavailing in face of the fact that proletarians and peasants were in a majority in the army, and that the working class were in control of industrial and governmental centers. In November 1917, the power of the bourgeoisie was at an end. What could the Marxists – the representatives of the working class – do in this process of the decay of capitalist power? The friends of Kautsky, the Russian Mensheviks, who considered themselves Marxians, and were so described by Kautsky, decided by an overwhelming majority that “The Russian proletariat are too weak to assume power; they must cooperate with the bourgeoisie and support their rule; and as the bourgeoisie of Russia did not want to stop the war they demanded of the proletariat that they (the proletariat) should remain true to the cause of Entente Capitalism. Herr Kautsky has never fought against this policy, but has discovered that Tseretelli is the representative of Marxism. The Russian workers, however, hunted both Kerensky and Tseretelli: and those who did this were the overwhelming majority of the population. No “democratic” government in the world ever had such resolute masses of people behind it as the Bolsheviks had from November 1917 to March 1918. No historian will be able to deny that the Bolsheviks came to power supported by the immense majority of the people. The opposite impression was created by the Press on the one hand, which was entirely controlled by the small sections of the bourgeoisie and the Intelligentsia; and on the other, by the circumstance that owing to the lack of suitable political apparatus in the villages and to the incapacity of the peasants to express their will sufficiently clear, the adherents of the Constitutional Assembly were able to misrepresent the true state of affairs. What it meant, however, was that the Bolsheviks, after the ruin of the old army, and before the building up of the Red one – that they, with scarcely any armed power, held out in February and March 1918. That the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly did not cause a movement to be set on foot anywhere against the Bolsheviks will be understood only by those who reflect that they took over power as the representatives of the decisive majority of the people.

Power therefore fell to the peasants and workers by a spontaneous historical process which broke the domination of the bourgeoisie and their Menshevik supporters. The peasants had no party representation. (The Left Socialist Revolutionaries wished to represent them but did not. They represented part of the Intellectual section which had not much support amongst the peasantry.) The proletariat, who controlled the means of communication and the towns, and who possessed organs of government in the trade unions, and the Soviets of the Bolshevik Party, were masters of the situation. What ought they to have done? Herr Kautsky, who was opposed to the taking over of power by the Russian proletariat (he conceals this in his book) takes these facts for granted and gives the Russian proletariat the following advice:

“No class voluntarily renounces the power it has acquired no matter what the circumstances may have been under which it gained its dominating position. It would have been foolish to have demanded such renunciation from the Russian and Hungarian proletariat, on account of the backward condition of their countries. But a Socialist party, informed by the real Marxist spirit, would have accommodated the problems which it placed before the proletariat for the time being to the material and physical conditions prevailing, and would not have demanded immediate and complete socialization in such a country of undeveloped capitalist production as Russia.

It is very gracious of Herr Kautsky to admit that the Russian proletariat cannot give up its power. His pamphlet of last year contained the advice to the Russian proletariat to “restore democracy”. Since the appearance of that pamphlet over a year ago the war of the Entente and of the Russian counter-revolution appears to have taught Herr Kautsky that if the Soviet dictatorship were overthrown its place would be taken by the dictatorship of the counter-revolution with Czarist generals at its head. On that question he says:

“You have attained to power although not in a democratic way. And now, since the fact is accomplished, use your power in a rational manner. Accommodate yourselves to conditions; do not attempt impossible jumps; leave complete Socialization alone: it is impossible in a country so backward, from the point of view of capitalist conditions, as Russia.”

What is “complete Socialization”? If the words have any meaning at all they can only mean the immediate transference of all means of production to the possession and control of society and the attempt to end Capitalism with one blow. It shows absolute ignorance of the real course of the development of the Russian Revolution for anyone to assert that the Communist Party had on its program a demand for such complete Socialisation, or that the Workers’ Government had sought, on doctrinaire grounds, to realise it. The Communist Party fought during the Kerensky regime for the control of industry through Workers’ Councils with full knowledge of the fact that the proletariat had to acquire an insight into the working of industry – to learn how to administer in order gradually to be able to direct the industrial machine. When Kautsky says that “therefore the proletariat must previously have acquired qualities which will enable them to direct production when they take possession of it,” he gives a very simple and school-master like presentation of an extremely complicated process. We cannot, of course, direct a process we do not understand. In capitalist society not only the mass of manual workers in the factories, but even the intellectual proletariat (technicians, engineers. etc.) are destitute of the ability to direct industry. Each one performs a part of the work: they are all little wheels in an intricate mechanism. The management is in the hands of a few directors who carefully guard their secrets (market conditions, etc.). As long as capital rules it seeks to exclude the proletarian by every means from the direction of industry. When the proletariat, however, come to power, without the capacity to manage, they will be faced with the necessity to do so; not only because the struggle for power will have induced in them the will to take their fate in their own hands, but also because the capitalists, in the struggle for power, will injure production by measures of sabotage and all other means, in order to make the position of the proletariat as difficult as possible. How is such a situation to be met? Kautsky, Hilferding and Bauer believed they had found the way when they consented to sit on royal commissions (on which not a single proletarian had a place) and study the “Socialization question.” They had first of all to ascertain, in conjunction with capitalist representatives and learned professors, how coal, fisheries, etc., could be nationalized, one after another, without injury to “production.” Then they came to the conviction that the occasion of sabotage and civil war should be taken from the capitalists by giving them handsome compensation. Later, when matters reach a crisis, this compensation can be gradually taxed out of existence. Contemporaneously with the gradual nationalization of the most highly centralized and most easily conducted industries, their directing boards should cease to be of a purely private capitalist nature and become mixed bodies, having representatives of the State, the consumers and the workers, besides those of the capitalists. A two-fold object will thus be secured: in the first place, the workers will gradually acquire an insight into the work of management; and in the second place, the continuity of production will be secured. This is the standpoint from which Kautsky criticizes the economic policy of the Soviet Government.

Before we describe the Russian development let us ask if this viewpoint has been proved to be correct in Germany and German-Austria. The cookery books say that the carp likes to be roasted in cream; and Kautsky and Co. apparently thought that the bourgeoisie likes to be gradually expropriated. But they must have been convinced that the bourgeoisie preferred not to he expropriated at all. They (the bourgeoisie) caused Herr Kautsky and other professors in Berlin, and Herr Bauer in Vienna, to “study” the question, and meanwhile they set about building up again their power which had been shaken in November, and the question of Socialization was settled. If the Government, in its proposed plan for Workers’ Councils, would grant a place to a representative of the workers on the managing body, all would be well; otherwise industrial unrest will continue and the fitness of the Government’s proposals will not be tested. The workers require, not an occasional glimpse into the work of management, but a daily participation in the direction of industrial undertakings, and only in this way can they really master the conditions and problems of the direction of industry. It can therefore be seen that the method of Kautsky is a Utopian one, and can be compared to the attempt to wash the skin without wetting it. The real development which took place in Russia, and the outlines of which will be repeated in other countries, makes it more difficult for the proletariat to learn how to direct production, and makes the process of transition from Capitalism to Socialism much more painful. What happened in Russia?

The workers demanded control of industry through work-shop committees. They did this not on doctrinaire grounds, nor under the influence of Communist propaganda, but from the pressure of necessity. It frequently happened that capitalists wanted to close their factories, as the rising prices of raw materials, machinery, and labor power threatened their war profits. It was more to their interest to save their war profits and to temporarily paralyze industry. In other cases the capitalists dislocated industry for the time being, in order to compel the workers to minimize their demands; and in others again, because they were really unable to obtain raw materials. In all these cases the workers attempted to save themselves from unemployment, and angrily demanded the control of industry in order to see whether the suspension were really inevitable, and whether their demands were unreasonable, etc. Control was gained in varying measure in different parts of Russia, but everywhere the demand was fiercely resisted, and in many places the workers had to drive the factory owners off the premises in order to gain access to the offices. It is clear that at this stage of development neither the common interests of society nor those of the workers as a whole were represented, that in the struggle much of value was lost. If Kautsky in his pamphlet on Democracy and Dictatorship believed it was necessary to convert Lenin from the opinion that the seizure of factories by the workers in these factories is not Socialism – that merely shows the professor’s stupidity. So long as there is no organ which represents all the workers’ interests; so long as the fighting organs of individual proletarian groups are merely in process of formation – just so long is it impossible for the object of the struggle to be common. In the same way the destruction of value which every group of workers attempted to carry through in their factories was impossible. The Soviet Government, when it attained to power in November, 1917, had to deal with the struggle of each group of proletarians against its own particular exploiters, with individualist tendencies, and with the necessity to escape want. What ought it to have done when confronted with such problems?

In the first place there was the danger confronting it that the capitalists were attempting to save what they possibly could. They drew their money from the banks, and endeavored to transfer the stocks of goods to speculators. It had to take the banks in its own hands, to declare the factories, with all their stocks, the property of the nation, and to hand their control over to workers’ councils. Then it had to prevent the possibility of the workers in individual factories selling their raw materials and finished products to favorites of their own. Only after that was it possible to secure the general proletarian organs of control should be built, and control of individual factories taken out of the hands of individual workers councils. Finally, it succeeded in introducing, not only the extension of production in general, but also the direction in the interests of all, of the production of every thing needed by society. Kautsky has not the smallest idea of the colossal work that has been accomplished in this sphere since the first days of the November Revolution. The struggle for peace, the German attack, the fight against the operations immediately set on foot by the militarist counter-revolution, the spontaneous demobilization of the army, the building up of the most primitive organs of State power – these problems, which confronted the proletariat and their party, were such that the ordinary professor, in his study amongst his books, cannot have the slightest conception of. But from Lenin’s speech on the problems of the Soviet power, which was published in April, 1918, in the fifteenth month of the revolution, every thinking person can see that the proposals were not the invention of a man living in the clouds, but the attitude of a great proletarian leader to the problems with which practically the whole of Russia was already grappling in the first weeks of the Revolution. Lenin’s pamphlet is polemical through and through. It was directed against the Left Wing of the Communist Party of Russia, which was grouped round the periodical, the Communist published in Moscow under the direction of Bucharin, Radek, Ossinski, Lomov and Smirnov. The whole party was unanimous on the point that the question of the organization of production was the most important domestic question of the Revolution. Both wings were agreed on what Kautsky now serves up to the Communists as a brand-new discovery that “without the cooperation of the intelligentzia, Socialism at the present stage of production cannot be accomplished.” The Russian Communists have never told the workers that they could direct production without expert knowledge, or that they could acquire this knowledge so rapidly that they would be able to do without the intellectual capital of society. if the workers had realized this they would not have been concerned about the sabotage of the petit-bourgeois Intellectuals. Their opposition was based on wholly different grounds. Lenin proceeded on the assumption that with the defeat of Kaledin the period of the open counter-revolutionary resistance of the bourgeoisie was ended, and that we could begin to hire the services, as directors of production, of the best members of the bourgeoisie – men who had been tested, and with whose help production could be extended. “We Communists and the working class have not managed factories anywhere. We must first learn, and we can learn only from the directors of the trusts. If we pay for our learning we shall get back our money a thousand fold,” declared Lenin. And his declaration was merely the result of earnest conversations with a number of prominent industrial experts on the formation of a great mixed factory in the Urals, in whose revenue the industrial experts should be interested and whose direction should be in the hands of industrial experts, and of representatives of the State and of the workers. All the brand-new clever ideas of Kautsky were known to the Communists of Russia; and even the Left Wing of the Communist Party did not consider Lenin’s proposals as an infraction of principle. Nobody thought that Communism must be accomplished at one bound, or that in the Communist society the capitalist elements could he immediately removed. Lenin’s plan was in strict accordance with principle, but the Left Communists considered it unworkable. They said it was wrong to adopt it till the open resistance of the counter-revolutionaries was crushed once and for all. The bourgeoisie had not abandoned this resistance and therefore it was impossible to attract their leaders to the work even if economic concessions were granted them in the period of transition. They would either refuse to cooperate with the Soviet government in the hope of its early downfall under the pressure of the European counter-revolution, and in the desire to hasten its downfall; or they would, in appearance, make a compromise with the Soviet Government in order to erect the positions thus conceded into bastions to he used later against the workers’ revolution. The Left Communists on the other hand quite agreed with him in his endeavor to create as favorable conditions as possible for intellectual workers-engineers, technicians, etc.-in order to gain the cooperation of these not necessarily counter-revolutionary elements. History (which crowned Lenin’s foreign policy – the policy of evasion rather than a direct collision with German Imperialism with success) showed that his attempt to promote production by attracting capitalists to it, was at that time impracticable. The breathing space which his foreign policy gained for the revolution alloyed it to organize itself, was also a breathing-space for the counter-revolution, which, under the shield of German Imperialism in the Ukraine and under the protection of the Entente in Siberia, organized more energetic attacks on Soviet Russia. Instead of effecting compromises with the matadors of Capitalism for the improvement of industry the proletariat State had to fight the Terror with all available means in order to protect the power of the working class – the fundamental condition for any kind of Socialization. But even then the hard facts and stern necessities had to be reckoned with in considering methods of socialization, quite independently of abstract combinations. During the war Soviet Russia was cut off from the ore and coal of the Donetz basin and of the Caucasus, from the naptha of Baku, and since the Czecho-Slovakian revolt, from the metals of the Urals, and from the wool of Taskent. This situation necessitated the collecting of every available atom of raw material. It necessitated the closing of factories which could not be worked full time, and the handing over of their machines and supplies of raw material to those which could. It necessitated the suspension of production of articles not actually necessary, and even of many indispensable things, and the placing of industry at the service of the defense of the Revolution. All large industry had to be vigorously centralized in the hands of the proletarian State. “Complete Socialization” – exclusive of handicrafts, etc. – was not the result of the Communist doctrine; it was the result of the war of defense of the Revolution.

It called also for new methods of management. The Russian workers, during the many months the Revolution has lasted, have learned a great deal about industrial affairs. Bourgeois correspondents, who are inveterate enemies of Socialism and who insinuate themselves into Soviet affairs under the pretense that they are converts to Socialism in order that they may, in the guise of impartial observers spend a few weeks collecting “pictures of life” in Soviet Russia afterwards to be hawked about these people, naturally, have no conception of the work which has been performed by the inexperienced Russian proletariat under the most unfavorable conditions. Whoever appeals against these assertions to the speeches of the Soviet leaders and to articles in the Soviet Press, forgets the aim of those pessimistic descriptions printed in the Soviet Press. Soviet Russia is waging a life-and-death struggle. It can win only if it exerts all its strength, and employs every means of defense. The leaders and the Press must denounce every weakness of the organism in order to call forth fresh efforts. Even where failure is due to objective obstacles and difficulties it is helpful to tell the masses that all these hindrances can be overcome. While the bourgeoisie and Social Democratic Press of Germane endeavors to conceal every form of corruption practised by the State authorities, the Soviet Press ruthlessly lays bare the weaknesses of its own State machinery. Soviet functionaries are recklessly attacked by it, and so also are the working masses at every failure, and this notwithstanding the fact that Ossinski, one of the greatest experts in economic policy in the Soviet Government was perfectly right when he pointed out a year ago that production depends in the first place on objective circumstances and is the result of a continuously working process. Wherever work is continually interrupted through want of fuel or raw materials, production, recorded per head and per hour, falls. It follows then that the masses are permanently undernourished, and must continue to be so, people must product war necessities in the first place, and can only produce industrial goods on the very smallest scale to be exchanged for articles of food. Finally, the most energetic proletarians, who have learned how to manage production, are at the front, and are the soul of the Red Army. In this situation, conditions will not allow of waiting until the capacity of the proletariat for directing is gradually developed. In this process of the strengthening of collective independence and of the rugged feeling of collective responsibility, the most intelligent workers, manual as well as mental workers, must be invested with dictatorial powers. The Kautskys see in that the bankruptcy of Communism, a renunciation of the Soviet idea. In reality these transient dictatorial encroachments are a result of the war which does not allow the Soviet Constitution to overecom its infantile weaknesses, or to strengthen the independence of the masses. These encroachments lead to the overcoming of stagnation only because they are backed by the Soviets, which have the confidence of the masses, and which point out to them the meaning and the necessity of such measures.

This description of the internal development of the Russian Soviet Republic shows the difficulties with which it has to contend, thanks not only to the immaturity of the Russian proletariat and not only to the preponderating agrarian character of the country, but also and primarily to the fact that the Russian Revolution broke out before the proletariat of the capitalist countries rose in rebellion. It had to grapple not only with its own counter-revolution but also with world capital which attempted to suppress it in order that it might again have a supply of cannon fodder at its disposal, and which now seeks to trample upon it and to destroy the seat of the world revolution. The shock of the counter-revolutionary armies of world capital, the plot concocted on Russian soil and the assistance it has repeatedly givens to Russian capital, which always held out the hope of victory over the Russian workers – all these circumstances were bound to make the struggle of the Russian Revolution more severe in character. When the Russian working class attained to power they sought to avoid the infliction of cruelties in spite of the savage persecution to which they had been subjected during the Kerensky regime. The revolutionary workers shielded with their own bodies the arrested Ministers of Kerensky, they pardoned counter-revolutionary generals, because, instructed by the Communist Party, they understood that the proletarian revolution did not mean the removal of individuals, but the alteration of social conditions. When savage reprisals took place they were the work of peasant masses clad in soldier’s uniforms, and not of the organized workers. Except for the fight in Moscow the Revolution was carried through practically peacefully. The political Terror was instituted on a large scale when the Russian bourgeoisie under the protection of German bayonets in the Ukraine, began to advance against the workers with fire and sword; when in Central Russia in the spring of 1918 they concealed behind the German Government, and with the assistance of its officials, sought to remove substantial portions of the impoverished Russian people’s property to Germany; when, with English and French money they began to hatch plots and organized attempts on the lives of the leaders of the Russian proletariat; and when, finally, they began to arm all armies of mercenaries in Siberia and in the Caucasus against soviet Russia. This is not the place to repeat the details of the savage White Terror which can be gleaned from the report of Joshua Rosset, the representative of the American Red Cress in Siberia. Kautsky declares that when the leaders of the counter-revolution resorted to terrorist methods they were true to themselves, “because to them human life was so cheap as to be merely a means of furthering their own aims.”

“They do not renounce their principles when they sacrifice human life in order to retain their power, but the Bolsheviks can only do this when they become untrue to the principle of the sacredness of human life which they themselves have exalted and vindicated.”

Herr Hilferding, the junior representative of the firm of “castrated Marxism,” now repeats with his master that terrorism is absolutely immoral; and the brave George Ledebour foams at the mouth against the immorality of the Bolshevist Terror. George Ledebour, in defense of himself, can point to the fact that in the Kerensky epoch he protested energetically at the Stockholm conference of the Zimmerwaldians against the terrorism of the Kerensky Government. Messrs Kautsky and Co. cannot even plead humanitarian confusion in extenuation of their conduct. They were silent while Russian soldiers, peasants and workers were driven to fight in the interests of Entente capital with all the means of the most savage terrorism. They were silent when the Kerensky Government threw into prison the revolutionary peasants who had organized themselves to expropriate the large land-owners; when it sent punitive expeditions against the peasants and for the defense of the landlords; when it ruthlessly persecuted thousands of workers on account of their Bolshevik propaganda; when it suppressed the Bolshevist Press; when it persecuted leaders of the Russian proletariat as German spies. The apostles of morality only discovered the absolute immorality of terrorism when the question arose whether the proletariat should, with tooth and nail, defend their power and endeavor to secure the possibility of freedom. Then these Marxians, who had hitherto taught the proletariat that there was no such thing as absolute truth, and no absolute moral law, discovered that the proletariat had the right to conquer when they could do so without endangering human life. If they are so solicitous for human life why do they see only the sacrifice of the Extraordinary Commission, and not the masses who must starve because the Russian bourgeoisie, with the help of Entente capital, destroyed the railway bridges in order to disorganize traffic; because the Russian bourgeoisie begin an offensive against Soviet Russia which has no prospect of military success but can only hope to destroy the harvests so as to compel the masses to capitulate through hunger. But if the accusation of immorality, which the “moral” Kautskys, Hilferdings and Ledebours bring forward against the young struggling working class, is nonsensical, it is not thereby stated that terrorism answers the purpose, what views it has, or what aims it pursues.

It is clear that, in the long run, even the most severe terrorism would not have been able to save the Russian Revolution if Capitalism had emerged victorious from the crisis of the war and consolidated itself. Then the counter-revolution, while compelling Soviet Russia to produce only for war purposes, could have achieved its own ends. If the Soviet Republic cannot, within a reasonable space of time, establish its production on a peaceful basis so as to be able to give its industrial products to the peasants in exchange for food, it is clear that the weaker sections of the workers, will, even in the midst of victorious campaigns, be destroyed. But this very possibility must act as an incentive on every West European Socialist, to whom Socialism is not an empty term, to make the most strenuous efforts to get the working class of the West to engage in the fight against Capitalism, instead of inviting the Russian revolutionaries to lay down their arms before the counter-revolutionaries in the name or human right. When Kautsky, in his book of last year on Democracy and Dictatorship, expressed the hope that the Bolshevist dictatorship in Russia would be dissolved by democracy, it must have been evident not only to the Russian Mensheviks, but also to their stupid Western imitators, that if the Russian workers’ dictatorship with its Terror collapsed, its place would be taken, not by democracy, but by the White Terror of Kolchak and Denikin. Compelled to choose between the proletarian dictatorship with its terrorise, and the naked terrorism of the White dictatorship, these people implore the. Russian proletariat to be gentle and good and prepared to assist others, and promise that they will erect a monument to the Russian proletariat inscribed as follows:

“Ye fallen heroes, assassinated by the capitalist Terror, because it was a noble thing to obey the dictates of humanity; to have lived for the most part on a vegetable diet, supplemented now and then with smaller animals, caterpillars, worms, reptiles, and even unfledged birds; to have refrained from killing any large mammal in order to eat it. In this ye resembled our ancestor, the ape. Honor to his memory!”

Now, the Russian proletariat will not take this advice, and the only good that can come out of it is that it will enable the proletariat to see that the Hilferdings and the Ledebours, are in the last resort, disciples of Scheidemann.


1. When Herr Kautsky, after the experiences of November, 1918, in Germany, raises the complaint against the Bolsheviks that “they demanded the demobilization of the army without caring whether it would assist the German military autocracy or not.” He is merely accusing the Bolsheviks of doing what the German militarists accuse his party of doing if they (the German military autocracy) did not win and it came to a German revolution, the Bolsheviks were certainly not responsible for it” – which merely means that Herr Kautsky considers Marshal Foch to have been the father of the German revolution. Just as this singular Marxist felt in the German revolution like one who has got into a wild riot and is only prevented by lack of courage from declaring it to be a misfortune, so we see in his assertion that the Russian Revolution had not a determining influence on the outbreak of the German revolution, merely a moving demonstration that Herr Kautsky is sometimes animated by Christian feelings and seeks to save even the Bolsheviks from hell. Therefore greetings to Foch and Wilson, the fathers of the nation-liberating German revolution, and to Kautsky, their prophet. But joking apart. After Herr Kautsky has established his contention, on one page, that the Bolsheviks were innocent of exercising any influence on the German revolution, he says on another page:

The fact that a proletarian government has not only assumed power but has been able to maintain it for nearly two years under the most trying circumstance’s has immensely strengthened the sense of power of the proletarians of all countries. The Bolsheviks have thereby done a great deal for the real world revolution, much more than their emissaries, who have done as much injury to the proletarian cause as the revolutionaries have done good.”

So! We forgive Herr Kautsky for his sally at the Bolshevik “emissaries”, as his opinions of their actions must have been formed from police reports, and draw attention to his admission that Bolshevik rule in Russia has clone a great deal for the actual world revolution. Does he not then consider the German revolution as a part of the “real world revolution”. This contradiction is to be explained by the fact that a short memory is due as much to senility as to extreme malevolence.

Last updated on 18.10.2011