Th. Rothstein 1918

Dictatorship and Democracy

Source: The Call, 26 September 1918, p. 4; (written under his pseudonym W.A.M.M.)
Transcribed: Ted Crawford,
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The press is again, as in the days of the Paris Commune, having the “time of its life.” What an opportunity for wallowing—imaginatively—in torrents of blood, for filling columns with stories of wholesale executions, for painting in lurid colours scenes of revolts, of mutual massacre, of devastating conflagrations! No news except that allowed by the censorship and prompted by malevolent imagination is permitted to come through, and so the capitalist newspapers have the amplest opportunity for indulging in their favourite pastime of slandering the Socialists and their rule.

But in the days of the Paris Commune the Socialists all the world over and even sections of bourgeois Radicals were on the side of the heroic fighters for the emancipation of the working class. In London the Positivists and the handful of Socialists of the time were openly demonstrating their sympathy with the Communards in spite of the howling of the capitalist press, and our late comrade Sam Oliver cherished to his last day the historical placards which announced the pro-Commune meetings in Trafalgar Square. In Germany, too, Bebel did not hesitate in the new Reichstag publicly to proclaim his sympathy with the rising, and at the subsequent party congress at Dresden all the delegates, in spite of the presence of the police, honoured the Commune by rising from their seats.

This is how it was forty-seven years ago, but this is not how it is now. In face of a Commune immensely vaster and immensely more important than that of Paris, the official Socialist parties almost everywhere are vying with the capitalists in heaping calumnies and curses on the Socialist regime in Russia, and even what may be called the centre parties, the official minorities, who abstain from joining in that infamous sport, think it necessary each time they mention the Bolsheviks to add apologetically that “of course, we do not approve of everything they do.” Traitors on the one side, fainthearted neutralists on the other—such is the great bulk of present-day Socialists in their attitude to the Bolsheviks of Russia, the heroes of the first Socialist Republic, the first regime of working class dictatorship in the history of the human race. They swallow every lie they are told in the capitalist press, they gloat over the calumnies spread by the Bolsheviks’ political opponents, and at best they can only say: “Well, we have no means of judging; you tell us one thing, they tell us another—whom should we believe?”

At this moment, too, Karl Kautsky himself still continues to attack the Bolsheviks and to discuss the momentous question whether a dictatorship, be it even of the working class, is compatible with Democracy? Duwell and Klara Zetkin having roughly taken him to task for his first articles and proclaimed quite openly that they were perfectly prepared to “riddle through” all formal democracies in the world in the interests of the working class, Kautsky once more spreads himself over two columns in Breitschid’s Liberal-Socialist organ to show that what the Bolsheviks are practising in Russia is not democracy, but tyranny. Have they not, he asks pathetically, excluded whole classes of the population from the franchise? Are they not suppressing papers, arresting and even executing political opponents? And he adds, in the true spirit of a pedant, that the Erfurt programme does not contain a single word which could justify the view that Democracy may be “riddled through” by Socialists in power. Ah, friend Karl, there are more things in heaven and earth than were dreamt of in your programme! Is it not, indeed, strange? Here is a man who, when the war broke out, could not make up his mind whether he should vote the war credits or reject them or abstain from voting either way, and ended, like Bouridan’s ass, placed between two bundles of straw, in collapsing from sheer inanition. Why was the choice so difficult to him? Because, forsooth, although in the East Germany was waging war against the Tsar’s autocracy, in the west she was waging it against the western “democracies.” The couponocracy of France, the plutocracy of England—in the latter, moreover, millions were at that time still excluded from the franchise—were to him “democracies,” but the Soviet regime which has realised the rule of the labouring classes, which has placed the machinery of government directly in the hands of 15,000,000 industrial workers and 80,000,000 peasants, and only excluded from all participation in the government a few million intellectual saboteurs of the Revolution and capitalist reactionaries of all kinds, as a temporary measure during the period of armed conflict and pending the complete realisation of Socialism and the abolition of all classes—this regime, I say, is to Kautsky not “democratic,” but tyrannical! He would accept a capitalist Republic where the masses would have the formal right to choose their masters every three or five or even seven years and remain the rest of the time excluded from all functions of government; he would, it seems, even accept a limited constitutional Monarchy as the British with a franchise based upon a property or tax qualification; but he is not prepared to accept a Republic where the power of government is directly wielded by the masses, because it was not provided for in the programme which he himself drew up in 1890/1.

And then the tyranny against the press and political opponents! Kautsky does not even ask himself the simple question whether the Revolution has, the right to defend itself or not—whether in the circumstances in which the Russian Revolution is placed, with external enemies on its territory intriguing with the internal enemy and with the two co-operating for the creation and intensification of famine, economic chaos, and legislative paralysis, the Revolution ought to allow the press to preach armed opposition to itself and to treat the promoters of riots and local insurrection, as well as individual terrorists attacking the leaders of the new regime, with the courtesy of a drawing room. Anyone not so hopelessly sunk in pedantry and “programmes” can see that here more than in all other situations the Soviet Government has the right to say: “Que Messieurs les assassins commencent”—Let the assassins stop first.

The truth, of course, is that behind this pedantry and references to the programme there is lurking in Kautsky, as in so many others who either attack or merely “tolerate” the Soviet regime, an intellectual and moral impotence to free themselves from the bourgeois forms of thought and bourgeois forms or life. Did we ever worship Democracy as an end in itself? Did we not ever regard it as the most perfect form of political life under a bourgeois regime, which gives the working class the best opportunity to wage the class war with a view finally to establishing—what? Why, that very dictatorship which Kautsky now finds so undemocratic. Or did Kautsky believe that the capitalist class would permit the establishment of such a dictatorship without fighting or that it would perhaps even cooperate in it? In the past, we know, he combated the Revisionist view that Society is an organism and that the capitalist order would gradually and peacefully grow into the Socialist state with the co-operation of the bourgeoisie—itself. Does he think so now? If not, is he going to defend the Socialist Revolution against its enemies by incantations and painted dragons? Socialism is certainly Democracy, but the way to it lies through Revolution, and Revolution means fight.