Karl Radek

Dictatorship and Terrorism

Chapter VI
Either ... Or ...

What significance has the question of terrorism for the West European working class? Kautsky, (Otto Bauer and Hilferding seek to account for terrorists (which they only discover with the workers’ revolution) by the fact that the working class in Russia is only a small percentage of the population. That is the sole reason, they say, why the working class must endeavor to maintain itself in power by means of violence. The European proletariat will not need to do this because they constitute the majority of the population. When they (Kautsky, etc.) inveigh against the Russian Bolshevist terror they do so on the ground that it is their duty to cleanse the Socialist escutcheon from all the blood with which Bolshevism has bespattered it. But the eagerness, nay, the venom, with which Kautsky, Ströbel, Hilferding and Ledebour treat the matter shows that for them there is more at stake than the question whether these great representatives of Socialism could accept responsibility for the poor little Russian workers’ revolution. When the Russian workers’ revolution won in November, 1917, and when, to the workers of all lands from Berlin and Vienna to New York and San Francisco, the flag of the Soviets appeared as the one under which in future they would fight and conquer, the wavering Socialist elements were concerned chiefly with one aspect of the struggle – the idea of the proletarian dictatorship. The Ströbels and the Kautskys vied with the avowed lackeys of the bourgeoisie in persuading the proletariat that Marx had understood dictatorship to mean merely the domination of the proletariat after they had legally won the majority of the people to Socialism after they had pledged themselves by law to compensate the brave bourgeoisie to the end of their lives and of those of their children for taking from them the inherited right of exploiting the workers; and after they had secured to the bourgeoisie their life annuities, to assure them of an opportunity of organising against the proletariat under the flag of democracy. But nevertheless the idea of the workers’ dictatorship made great headway amongst the working classes of Western Europe and captivated always greater masses of the proletariat, not only because of the influence of the struggle of the Russian Soviet Republic, which had found a warm place in the hearts of the proletariat of the whole world, but also, and chiefly, because of the experience the working class of all lands had had of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. After the workers of Germany in November, 1918, allowed themselves to be led astray by the Haases, Ströbels, Hilferdings, Dittmanns and Kautskys who delivered them over to the fallen power of the bourgeoisie, they (the workers) soon recognized bourgeois democracy by its fruits. Between the National Assembly and the Councils there was no fundamental antagonism, asserted Haase, the leader of the Independents at the first Congress of Councils, and he recommended the convening of National Assembly. The bourgeoisie pointed out to the workers that there was only one alternative. In order to get the real power in their hands, in order to set the seal of approval of the National Assembly on the bourgeois power, they began immediately after the Congress to suppress the workers, to deprive the Workers’ Councils of their rights, and to disarm the proletariat. In the period from January to March the workers’ faith in the miraculous power of democracy and of the National Assembly vanished, and they declared vehemently for the dictatorship and for the domination of the Councils. At the March congress of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany, Haase and Hilferding succeeded, with great difficulty, in making the workers believe that by bringing pressure to hear on the bourgeoisie in the bourgeois National Assembly, they could get, if not control by the Councils, at least joint control, and could secure the political initiative. The chief enemies of the Councils did not venture into the independent Press. Only in bourgeois papers and books, published by bourgeois firms did Kautsky and Ströbel dare to combat the idea of the proletarian dictatorship. Month by month their position in the party became more hopeless and finally there remained nothing for the opponents of the proletarian dictatorship to do but to concentrate on a dictatorship which is no dictatorship.

Rudolf Hilferding, the old counselor of Scheidemann and Ebert, a man who learned Radicalism in theory from the Austrian school of compromise, the half truth and the whole lie, gave the signal. At the September Conference of the Independents he pronounced for dictatorship, but for dictatorship of such a kind as would do no harm to the bourgeoisie, a dictatorship which is like a knife without a handle. He pronounced for dictatorship while rejecting the theory on principle. He declared that terrorism was not only ethically wrong, but that in Western Europe, it was not even necessary because there the working class possess a majority and can therefore rule without the exercise of violence. All the confused and opportunist elements eagerly welcomed this solution. It offered a way of escape for these elements of the Independent Party who, on account of their social position, are not able to break definitely with the bourgeoisie. Some of them, who are well off themselves, are instinctively drawn towards the bourgeoisie while others are accustomed to the peaceful lives of Parliameutary leaders, and will protest and demonstrate, but will not risk anything. This solution was eagerly accepted by all those elements who came over to Socialism because bourgeois democracy was bankrupt. The watchword, “Dictatorship without Terrorism”, was at once the slogan of the political authorities and that of those who were suffering from humanitarian and democratic illusions.

Not one of them could take his stand, regardless of consequences, upon the platform of the proletariat and fight their fight as demanded by the situation. Without considering the conditions of the question they will allow the proletariat to wade through a capitalist sea of mud and blood and still expect them to remain as white and spotless as Antigone. The watchword, “Dictatorship without Terrorism”, is the last refuge of the bourgeoisie.

In the first place, how shall we come to supreme power? Shall we be able to definitely establish the fact that we have a majority of the people behind us, even when we have? It is obvious that that is almost impossible. When the time is ripe for the domination of the working class the demand will be expressed in the sharpest revolutionary fight in which the bourgeoisie, as well as the proletariat, will put forth all their efforts, and in which democratic forms will be swept away.

The bourgeoisie will oppose the White Terror to the coming proletarian dictatorship. They will suppress the workers’ Press, dissolve the workers’ organizations and attempt to provoke the proletariat into premature outbreaks in order to overthrow them. It will scarcely be possible to ascertain, by any kind of elections, which side has the majority. And it is doubtful if the class-conscious proletariat, striving for the mastery, will ever, at any time before accession to power, have the majority of the people behind them. The workers, as long as Capitalism lasts, will not only be under the influence of the bourgeois Press, and bourgeois education and inherited superstitions, but they will also be impressed by the power of the bourgeoisie. The most oppressed or the most mentally active elements of the working class will free themselves from these influences in the process of revolution. As for the great majority of the proletariat, the belief in their own strength and in their own capacity to rule will grow only through the acts of the revolutionary workers’ government, through their own struggles and their own experiences. But even if the Communists advance guard of the proletariat were to gather a majority – and if it were mathematically established – even then it would be too much to expect that the bourgeoisie would submit to the majority. The bourgeoisie, as a rule, will not submit: they will have to be overthrown. As long as there are Capitalist States as well as Socialist ones the bourgeoisie will always nourish the hope that they will one day conquer the proletariat, and once overthrown, they will begin anew to organize resistance. As long as the process of revolution is still unfinished, as long as no Socialist order appears in the place of the capitalist chaos – order which will show to the masses by concrete acts the benefits of the conditions resulting from the new rule – so long will the bourgeoisie find elements amongst the wavering and vacillating portions of the proletariat and the petit-bourgeoisie which will allow’ themselves to be persuaded that under bourgeois role they would be spared all the difficulties and hardships inseparable from the struggle. In the West, in the developed capitalist countries where the bourgeoisie are best organized, and where they have a large measure of support amongst the aristocracy of labor (as was the case in Russia, by the way) the fight for power will obviously be much keener than it was in Russia, as the proletariat will have to oppose to the relatively greater might of the bourgeoisie a still more decisive measure of violence.

In these circumstances the talk of dictatorship without terrorism is nothing more than an attempt to put the proletariat off their guard, the only result of which would be that they would approach the fight unconscious of the danger and therefore would the more easily fall a prey to the bourgeoisie.

However, we may console ourselves with the thought that the working class is not sentimental, and that it will meet hard facts with hard facts. The working class, like every other aspiring class which represents the future of humanity, and which gathers in itself all aspirations after what is good and great, is fundamentally generous and for a time easily lulled to sleep, and very easily when the sleeping draught is administered by people in whom it trusts, and who speak to it as supporters of the dictatorship. The danger threatens the working class that it will attain to power through the machinations of people who will on no account take a resolute stand, whose just and honorable feelings impair their power to grasp realities, and who, at a time when violence is required, will shrink from it, and cause much greater sacrifices by this neglect than would otherwise be necessary.

The danger even threatens the proletariat that they will suffer serious temporary defeats through the machinations of unreliable leaders. Those who are acquainted with the history of the Soviet Governments of Hungary and Munich know that the disintegrating influence exercised by romantic youths (of all ages) played an important part in bringing about their downfall; and therefore the influence which Kautsky’s book still exercises on some of the leaders of the Independents is a danger signal. It warns the proletariat against accepting mere verbal declarations. The independent working masses know that it is not enough to extort from their leaders a confession in favor of dictatorship, that it is necessary to have at the points – boxes on the proletarian railway system, representatives of the revolutionary proletariat whose eyes calmly perceive facts and whose hands do not tremble. A Soviet dictatorship with leaders who have not definitely broken mentally with the capitalist world, and who are not prepared to do what hard necessity demands – such a dictatorship can only be a dictatorship in appearance, and that means certain defeat. The proletariat do not long for bloodshed; they knew from historical experience that violence or the Terror never at any time nor place created new conditions of production, that it never produced a new system of society where economic development had not prepared the ground for it. The proletariat know that violence does not produce bread or coal, and does not build railways. They know that for that willing labor of millions is necessary, but they also know that if they want coal for their houses and foundries they must first of all win the coal mines in violent revolutionary fighting, and secondly that they must watch over them, sword in hand, to prevent them being destroyed by bands of White Guards. The proletariat know that they cannot compel the peasants to plow the fields; they know that in the long run the peasants will only do that where they recognize that they will have better conditions under the rule of the proletariat than under that of the bourgeoisie. But it is essential that, by the overthrow of the bourgeoisie the peasants should be cured of their belief that the bourgeoisie alone are able to govern; and they will discard this belief not only through the fight against the bourgeoisie, but in many cases, even by the fight against the rich peasantry. Whoever has studied the history of revolutions, not from books like Kautsky’s, but from great and original if also reactionary bourgeois sources, will have no hesitation in agreeing with Ranke when he says in his history of the English Revolution that great things must always be shaped by a strong will. The meaning of terrorism in the revolution is that the revolutionary class, even in the hour of greatest danger, shrinks from nothing in order to accomplish its will, and defends itself with all its might.

The working class will only acquire this will after long experience, many struggles, defeats and victories. As a subject class, descended from the subject sections of the pre-capitalistic historical period, as a class in whose veins flows the blood of those accustomed for centuries to obey the will of others, the working class today has not that iron will to dominate which has been so highly developed in, for example, the Prussian Junkers and the English bourgeoisie. Therefore the fight must be all the keener against all those elements which are led to dissipate their energies by wavering, vacillating and carelessness. The proletariat who strive for equality of all human beings, have no longing for dictatorship with terrorism, and do not themselves choose that tactical course.

As soon as the situation permits of it they will forego it. In the process of the Socialist resolution they will always seek to discover whether this or that section of the bourgeoisie can be induced to join with them in the exercise of power, whether the circle of those possessing equal rights is not capable of extension, and they will great the day with ringing of bells and shouts of joy in which all chains will disappear, in which an end will he put to all forms of oppression, in which the long standing disgrace of exploitation of man by man will be driven from the world and consigned to oblivion; and that day of the society of free and equal brothers will come all the faster the larger the number is of bourgeois Intellectuals who realize that the domination of the bourgeoisie is gone forever, and that it is their duty to take their stand on the side of the life that is now struggling into existence. The greater the assistance the working masses receive from the brain workers the easier will it be to consummate the organization of the new life, the more difficult will be the fight of the counter-revolutionary elements against them, and the less will be the necessity of employing terrorist measures. A vacillating policy on the part of the bourgeoisie will not remove this necessity. The policy of the proletariat in this question is indicated in the announcement of the Chartists who declared: “We will achieve our aims peacefully if possible, but forcible if necessary.” The historical experience of the proletariat teaches them that force will be necessary: it all depends upon the bourgeoisie whether it will or not.

Last updated on 18.10.2011