Th. Rothstein 1919

The Meaning of Social Revolution

Source: Th. Rothstein, under his pseudonym W.A.M.M., “The Meaning of Social Revolution” The Call, 9 January 1919, p.4, (1,386 words);
Transcribed: Ted Crawford,
HTML Markup: Chris Clayton
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 social revolution is upon us. Those who do not see it, who continue to talk in the old fashion of elections, of social reforms, of trade union rights, and other comfortable topics of the pre-war days, do not know the world in which they live. This blindness is partly due to organic defects of mind and temperament which, like those of the Bourbons, can forget nothing and learn nothing. In part, however, it e due to erroneous notions which they have not as yet been able to shake off. In the old days we Marxists used to ridicule the notion of the Revisionists, Reformists, and other adepts of Opportunism under various names, who expected the gradual transition of the capitalist into the Socialist state by “permeation” and the slow conquest of politi­cal power by Labour. We were right, and we were right in asserting that even in those countries where Socialism might be decreed by an act of parliament the capitalist classes would not acquiesce tamely in their dispossession, but would resist it by all the violent means at their disposal. On the other hand, we knew that Socialism would not come to us overnight and used to assert, as against the anarchists, that the social revolution, that is, the establishment of a collective or communist regime, would be a process requiring time and effort.

While justly upholding our view against the Opportunists on the one hand, and the anarchists on the other, we our­selves suffered from the illusion that the act of the revolution would be in the nature of an act of insurrection, after which the vic­torious proletariat, could proceed to the work of social and political reconstruction. We did not see, because we were not care­ful enough in reasoning out our own pre­mises, that the act of revolution would be in the nature of a civil international war of a long duration, that the capitalist classes, in their resistance, would find at their dis­posal gigantic resources with which to fight the rule of the working class, and that not the least important of these resources would be those sections of the working class itself and their leaders whose minds and temperament are less responsive, more inert, heavier, and colder than those of the sections to whose initiative, and courage, and quicker perception the first revolutionary act was due. In other words, we did not know that the working class is not homogeneous either mentally, or morally. We did not know that owing to a variety of causes some sections among them are more forward and others less so. We did not realise that the Revolution, in the irre­sistible logic of its development, will draw in the various sections of the working class one after the other, carrying them forward to its ultimate goal, in successive detachments, and that Capitalism, in the meantime, will be able, at every stage, to find willing, auxiliaries among the slow minded and more faint-hearted who recoil before every new step in advance as if it were a gaping chasm. Revolution, of course, ripens mental and moral processes very rapidly. To every section in turn the chasm of yesterday becomes the firm ground to day, and the jumping board tomorrow. But it is clear that this process affords great. opportunities to militant capi­talism in its defensive struggle for exis­tence. Therefore, as we said, the social revolution, even in that preliminary phase which is concerned with the conquest and consolidation of the political power of the proletariat, is bound to be a protracted and painful process, extending perhaps over a long number of years, in the nature of a civil war.

Moreover, the world proletariat is itself a composite entity consisting of national sections living under different conditions, and therefore distinguished by different traits of mind and temperament with different degrees of receptivity. The Revolution in its international sweep will draw the various countries, in successive stages and as it were thus allow the capitalist forces to play off temporarily the working class of one country against the working class of the other, so that the re­volutionary civil war assumes an interna­tional character. This further complicates and protracts the revolutionary act, which, like the sunrise in a mountainous country, sets the summits on fire one after another, according to their altitude, until all are aglow with the red and purple of the new day, and the shadows of the past night are finally driven out even from the valleys by the brilliant floods of light.

We are witnessing the opening of most tremendous drama in human notary. Only, by realising that this is but an open­ing, and that in front of us lies the vista of many years of tremendous struggle with its attendant retirements and advances, suffer­ings and joys, defeats and victories, can we understand the meaning of the events in Russia and in Germany. These two countries, by the logic of history — a logic which we find curious because we do not always understand it, but which is wonderfully consistent — have proved the highest summits to first catch the fire of the revolution. We observe there the tremendous mobilisation of the capitalist forces, well nigh accomplished in Russia and in the process of being accomplished in Germany, with the gathering of the capitalist forces of the out­side world to their assistance. We observe the resistance to the Revolution, almost en­tirely broken by now, on the part of the Opportunists representing the more back­ward sections of the people in Russia, and the triumph, for the time being, of the similar elements in Germany.

All this and much more can only be understood and given its proper place in the general framework of the historical picture, in the light of what we set out above, as the process of the revolution in the form of a national and international civil war. When we hear that in Russia the non-Bolshevik Socialists, after their prolonged and violent resistance to the Soviet régime, have finally, given up the struggle and join their former enemies in furthering the progress of the Revolu­tion against the united national and inter­national bourgeoisie, we know that the backward sections of the working and peas­ant classes have been swept forward by the storm, and that the Revolution has made a new step in advance in its triumphal march; And when we hear Scheidemann declaring at the recent Berlin Congress of German Soviets that on the meeting of the Constituent Assembly the Soviets would come to an end; when we hear at the congress Hilferding, the well known Kauts­kian, reporting on the question of “sociali­sation” of industry, declaring that one must proceed very, very carefully and that in any case full compensation must be paid to the dispossessed owner; and when we see the Bremen Majority Socialists making a stand for the resuscitation of the old Senate on the plea that the Republic was in need of money, and that the old authorities were alone entitled to decree taxes or to raise a loan — then we say that in Germany the process of the revolution is still at the be­ginning, and that even among the town proletariat, not to speak of the newly returned troops, there are still large sections not yet drawn into the whirlpool of the revolution and whom the capitalists are still able to play off against it.

But just because we understand the nature of the process we do not despair. We know that such beginnings are inevitable, and that the further successive in drawing of fresh masses is also inevitable. And we also know that although the masses in the rest of Europe may at present be only seething with discontent, without being touched as yet with the glowing rays of the rising sun, they, too, must and will catch the fire one day — perhaps to-night, perhaps to-morrow, perhaps one day next week — and join in the revolution which thus assumes more and more an international character and gradually paralyses the now apparently all powerful forces of international capitalism. The social revolution — the last struggle of the “Internationale” — has begun, but it may be years, before it attains final victory over the capitalist foe and the unconscious enemy in its midst.