Karl Radek

Dictatorship and Terrorism


by Daniel Gaido

The Radek brochure was endorsed by Trotsky as a suitable answer to Kautsky’s criticism of his book Terrorism and Communism [Dictatorship versus Democracy]: A Reply to Karl Kautsky (1920) in the introduction to this collection of writings L. Trotzki, Die Grundfragen der Revolution, Hamburg: C. Hoym, 1923.

Here is the sequence of events:

As early as 1884 Engels had predicted that with the outbreak of the proletarian revolution all the reactionary forces would hide under the banner of democracy:

“As to pure democracy and its role in the future I do not share your opinion. Obviously it plays a far more subordinate part in Germany than in countries with an older industrial development. But that does not prevent the possibility, when the moment of revolution comes, of its acquiring a temporary importance as the most radical bourgeois party (it has already played itself off as such in Frankfort) and as the final sheet-anchor of the whole bourgeois and even feudal regime. At such a moment the whole reactionary mass falls in behind it and strengthens it; everything which used to be reactionary behaves as democratic.” (Engels’ letter to August Bebel, London, 11–12 December, 1884).

In Woodrow Wilson’s War Message (April 2, 1917), the white supremacist American President declared that “The world must be made safe for democracy.” The US imperialist crusade was thus disguised as a democratic crusade against Prussian militarism. The “democratic” rhetoric of Wilson found ardent supporters in Kautsky and the other leaders of the German Social Democracy “center” faction, Hugo Haase and George Ledebour. (Rosa Luxemburg, Wilsons Sozialismus (April 1917), Spartacus, Nr. 4). When the October Revolution took place, Kautsky condemned the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly by the Bolsheviks in January 1918 and joined the camp of the democratic counterrevolution.

In a December 1918 addition to his book The State and Revolution Lenin wrote:

“To confine Marxism to the theory of the class struggle means curtailing Marxism, distorting it, reducing it to something acceptable to the bourgeoisie. Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat. That is what constitutes the most profound distinction between the Marxist and the ordinary petty (as well as big) bourgeois. This is the touchstone on which the real understanding and recognition of Marxism should be tested. And it is not surprising that when the history of Europe brought the working class face to face with this question as a practical issue, not only all the opportunists and reformists, but all the Kautskyites (people who vacillate between reformism and Marxism) proved to be miserable philistines and petty-bourgeois democrats repudiating the dictatorship of the proletariat. Kautsky’s pamphlet, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, published in August 1918, i.e., long after the first edition of the present book, is a perfect example of petty-bourgeois distortion of Marxism and base renunciation of it in deeds, while hypocritically recognizing it in words (see my pamphlet, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, Petrograd and Moscow, November 1918).” (Lenin, The State and Revolution: The Marxist Theory of the State and the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Revolution, Ch. II, section 3).

The polemic waged by Lenin and Mehring against Kautsky was continued by Trotsky, whose Terrorism and Communism [Dictatorship versus Democracy]: A Reply to Karl Kautsky (1920) was written in response to Kautsky’s Terrorism and Communism: A Contribution to the Natural History of Revolution (1919). Karl Radek defended the Bolshevik policy in the present brochure, Proletarian Dictatorship and Terrorism (originally published in 1920).

In 1921 Kautsky wrote a third book against the Bolshevik Revolution From Democracy to State Slavery: A Polemic with Trotsky (Kautsky, Von der Demokratie zur Staats-Sklaverei: eine Auseinandersetzung mit Trotzki, Berlin: Verlagegenossenschaft Freiheit, 1921.), never translated to English, which was answered by Radek in The Paths of the Russian Revolution (1922) (included in the collection In Defence of the Russian Revolution: A Selection of Bolshevik Writings, 1917–1923, edited by Al Richardson London: Porcupine Press, pp. 35–75.).

For other Bolsheviks criticisms of the democratic counterrevolution see Klara Zetkin, Through Dictatorship to Democracy (1919) and Lev Kamenev, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat (1920). Kautsky continued the polemics long after the Russian leaders had abandoned it to turn to more pressing problems. See Karl Kautsky, The Labour Revolution (1924) and The Lessons of the October Experiment (1925), a criticism of Trotsky’s The Lessons of October (1924).

Daniel Gaido

Last updated on 18.10.2011