Th. Rothstein 1919

Let us Understand the Pioneers

Source: Th. Rothstein, under his pseudonym W.A.M.M., “Let us Understand the Pioneers” The Call, 13 November 1919, p.5, (1,442 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.

Certain passages in comrade Dell’s excel­lent article of last week call for some criti­cal comment, and the Editorial Committee will, perhaps, permit me to forestall their intentions by offering it. I do so, because Dell’s views on certain points seem to be rather widely held — perhaps, indeed, not so much in the ranks of the B.S.P., as outside it; yet even the “outside” is important enough as a potential field for Communist recruiting to deserve our attention in mat­ters which have not only a theoretical, but also a practical importance.

First of all, I think comrade Dell’s fears of a possible “militarisation” of Soviet Russia as the result of the present effort to ward off the attacks of the Allies and the counter revolutionaries are baseless. Com­rade Dell, I fear, judges too much by the analogy of the great French Revolution, which was a bourgeois revolution, and ulti­mately “degenerated” into a military dicta­torship just because it was a bourgeois re­volution. So far from being a negation of the revolution, the military dictatorship of Napoleon was the fulfilment of the bour­geois character of it: it was the sole means by which the bourgeoisie was able to retain and still more deeply to impress its stamp on it against the “subversive” aspirations of the more radical petite bourgeoisie and the semi-Socialism of the proletariat and semi-proletariat. In other words, the establish­ment of the military rule of Napoleon was the deliberate act of the French bour­geoisie, which chose to sacrifice “national” liberties and a portion of its own political privileges rather than run the risk of losing its material advantages under the reign of the sans culottes, as foreshadowed in the constitution of ’93. It was in the same way that the bourgeoisie delivered the revolution into the hands of Napoleon III., in 1848, after the experience of the first months when the proletariat raised its head demanding something more than a mere change of poli­tical reforms, and that the Russian bour­geoisie was prepared to “sell out” to Korni­loff in 1917, and is still prepared to do so to any adventurer to day. And, of course, where there is a military dictatorship, there is militarism and military adventures, aggression, etc.

It will be seen that such a development is quite impossible in the case of Soviet Rus­sia. The proletariat in power has to de­fend the conquests of its revolution against the capitalist class and, therefore, must arm itself. But it cannot sell itself to a military dictator, because by doing so, it would lose not only its political rights, but also its economic position, as the master and owner of the land, factories, schools, etc. A Napoleon could well act — and indeed, did act — as the executor of the will of the bour­geoisie, in so far as the economic require­ments and interests of the latter were con­cerned, but a Cheremissoff (a Tsarist general who is commanding, under the surveillance of Government Commissars, the troops in the Petrograd Sector) or even a Trotsky would be a Tsar, and under a Tsar the workers and peasants would lose all that they have conquered by the revolution.

Let me pass to another — also, apparently an academic, but nevertheless, important point for the correct comprehension of the Russian revolution. Comrade Dell says: “The Soviet Republic has ceased to be Com­munist in the strict sense of the term; it has had to compromise.” This is a view which is assiduously propagated by Liberal critics and by anti-Bolsheviks in our own Socialist ranks. It is also the view put forward by Colonel Robins, Mr. Bullitt, and other friendly visitors to Russia — as part of their argument against intervention., I may also note in passing that this is also the view held by the “Left” Socialist Revolutionaries, who feel themselves justified on that ground to brand Lenin and the Bolsheviks as “traitors” to the revolution and — to throw bombs at them.

Unfortunately, I have not been to Russia and have not spoken to Lenin. But I have read some of his books and speeches, which have been published in this and other Countries, and I am certain that that view is wrong. So far from Soviet Russia having ceased to be Communist, it has never yet been Communist, because, as Lenin has ex­plained in his book’s, between Communism and Capitalism there must necessarily lie a period of transition, during which the Social­ist State is gradually built up on the founda­tions of the past, and in necessary accord with it. What to comrade Dell appears as a departure from the “original” Communist intentions is but the remainder of the old, which could not as yet be cleared away, but must be retained as part foundation of the growing new edifice until such time as new elements can be substituted in their place. The act of revolution is momentarious (pace Mendel’s theory), but its consummation is a gradual process in which the old and new continue to exist side by side for some time, with a growing balance, of course, on the side of the new. I should recommend com­rade Dell to study Lenin’s “State and Re­volution,” his speech on the “Task of Our Time,” and his reply to Kautsky.

Yet a third point: the liberty of the press. I could refer comrade Dell to the situation during the railway strike and to the excel­lent remarks upon the “liberty” practiced by the press at that time made by comrade Watts in the same number of “The Call.” Can Dell honestly reply to Watts’ arguments, and say that he would, in case another and perhaps still more formidable strike breaks out, allow the capitalist press once more to make use of its wealth, its vast printing press, and its tremendous means of public­ity to sabotage the strikers and to assist in breaking the strike? Surely, he would not say so. How much more were the Soviet authorities justified, after a long period (nearly six months) of tolerance, in suppressing the counter revolutionary papers in time of civil war and foreign aggression! Comrade Dell apparently imagines that, for instance, the Liberal press in. Russia, or even the Socialist, non-Bolshevik, papers were carrying on a mere literary campaign of “legitimate” criticism, such as, say, the “Manchester Guardian” or the “Daily News” are carrying on at present against Churchill and Lloyd George, on the subject of intervention. In this, however, he is mistaken. It was Gorky’s paper (in his un­regenerate days) which, I am credibly in­formed, set the infamy about the nationali­sation of women into circulation, and it was the press of the Socialist Revolutionaries which was the first to demand foreign intervention. When the March revolution broke out, the reactionary Tsarist press was immediately suppressed, and everybody found it natural. But when the proletariat makes its revolution, shall it not have the right to disarm its enemies in every way possible? For in revolutionary times, in times of civil war, there are no opponents, but only enemies, and the press is a tre­mendous weapon in their hands.

The last point. I hope our revolution in this country will be spared the horrors of the Russian and of all other revolutions (includ­ing the English one of the 17th century). Our conditions are certainly different, but comrade Dell’s reference to Lenin’s advice to Bela Kun is hardly relevant to the subject, and if it is, it is relevant in a way directly ­opposite to that conceived by Dell. I read that advice in full in the continental press, and, therefore, know its full meaning. Bela Kun had informed Lenin of the formation of a Communist Government out of Communists proper, and the old opportunist Social Demo­crats. Lenin in reply asked him: was he sure of his partners? and then added his ad­vice not to imitate the Russian example slavishly. What did he mean by that? What was the Russian example? It was the efforts which had been made by the Bolshevik party and by none more than Lenin himself, after the November Revolution, to form a coalition with the other Socialist parties on the basis of the Soviet programme. The efforts failed, and it was in respect of them that Lenin warned Bela Kun against the danger of a partnership with opportunists, and it was for this reason that Lenin, imme­diately before, had asked whether he was sure of their loyalty. But Kun did not take the warning, and Lenin, as always, turned out right. The Hungarian Soviet regime perished at the treacherous hands of the Hun­garian Mensheviks. This is the moral of the Russian “example.”

By W.A.M.M.