Leon Trotsky

Terrorism and Communism

Chapter 1
The Balance of Power

The argument which is repeated again and again in criticisms of the Soviet system in Russia, and particularly in criticisms of revolutionary attempts to set up a similar structure in other countries, is the argument based on the balance of power. The Soviet regime in Russia is utopian – “because it does not correspond to the balance of power.” Backward Russia cannot put objects before itself which would be appropriate to advanced Germany. And for the proletariat of Germany it would be madness to take political power into its own hands, as this “at the present moment” would disturb the balance of power. The League of Nations is imperfect, but still corresponds to the balance of power. The struggle for the overthrow of imperialist supremacy is utopian – the balance of power only requires a revision of the Versailles Treaty. When Longuet hobbled after Wilson this took place, not because of the political decomposition of Longuet, but in honor of the law of the balance of power. The Austrian president, Seitz, and the chancellor, Renner, must, in the opinion of Friedrich Adler, exercise their bourgeois impotence at the central posts of the bourgeois republic, for otherwise the balance of power would be infringed. Two years before the world war, Karl Renner, then not a chancellor, but a “Marxist” advocate of opportunism, explained to me that the regime of June 3 – that is, the union of landlords and capitalists crowned by the monarchy – must inevitably maintain itself in Russia during a whole historical period, as it answered to the balance of power.

What is this balance of power, after all – that sacramental formula which is to define, direct, and explain the whole course of history, wholesale and retail? Why exactly is it that the formula of the balance of power, in the mouth of Kautsky and his present school, inevitably appears as a justification of indecision, stagnation, cowardice and treachery?

By the balance of power they understand everything you please: the level of production attained, the degree of differentiation of classes, the number of organized workers, the total funds at the disposal of the trade unions, sometimes the results of the last parliamentary elections, frequently the degree of readiness for compromise on the part of the ministry, or the degree of effrontery of the financial oligarchy. Most frequently, it means that summary political impression which exists in the mind of a half-blind pedant, or a so-called realist politician, who, though he has absorbed the phraseology of Marxism, in reality is guided by the most shallow maneuvers, bourgeois prejudices, and parliamentary “tactics.” After a whispered conversation with the director of the police department, an Austrian Social-Democratic politician in the good, and not so far off, old times always knew exactly whether the balance of power permitted a peaceful street demonstration in Vienna on May Day. In the case of the Eberts, Scheidemanns and Davids, the balance of power was, not so very long ago, calculated exactly by the number of fingers which were extended to them at their meeting in the Reichstag with Bethmann-Hollweg, or with Ludendorff himself.

According to Friedrich Adler, the establishment of a Soviet dictatorship in Austria would be a fatal infraction of the balance of power; the Entente would condemn Austria to starvation. In proof of this, Friedrich Adler, at the July congress of Soviets, pointed to Hungary, where at that time the Hungarian Renners had not yet, with the help of the Hungarian Adlers, overthrown the dictatorship of the Soviets.

At the first glance, it might really seem that Friedrich Adler was right in the case of Hungary. The proletarian dictatorship was overthrown there soon afterwards, and its place was filled by the ministry of the reactionary Friedrich. But it is quite justifiable to ask: Did the latter correspond to the balance of power? At all events, Friedrich and his Huszar might not even temporarily have seized power had it not been for the Roumanian army. Hence, it is clear that, when discussing the fate of the Soviet Government in Hungary, it is necessary to take account of the “balance of power,” at all events in two countries – in Hungary itself, and in its neighbor, Roumania. But it is not difficult to grasp that we cannot stop at this. If the dictatorship of the Soviets had been set up in Austria before the maturing of the Hungarian crisis, the overthrow of the Soviet regime in Budapest would have been an infinitely mere difficult task. Consequently, we have to include Austria also, together with the treacherous policy of Friedrick Adler, in that balance of power which determined the temporary fall of the Soviet Government in Hungary.

Friedrich Adler himself, however, seeks the key to the balance of power, not in Russia and Hungary, but in the West, in the countries of Clemenceau and Lloyd George. They have in their hands bread and coal – and really bread and coal, especially in our time, are just as foremost factors in the mechanism of the balance of power as cannon in the constitution of Lassalle. Brought down from the heights, Adler’s idea consists, consequently, in this: that the Austrian proletariat must not seize power until such time as it is permitted to do so by Clemenceau (or Millerand, i.e., a Clemenceau of the second order).

However, even here it is permissible to ask: Does the policy of Clemenceau himself really correspond to the balance of power? At the first glance it may appear that it corresponds well enough, and, if it cannot be proved, it is, at least, guaranteed by Clemenceau’s gendarmes, who break up working-class meetings, and arrest and shoot Communists. But here we cannot but remember that the terrorist measures of the Soviet Government – that is, the same searches, arrests, and executions, only directed against the counter-revolutionaries – are considered by some people as a proof that the Soviet Government does not correspond to the balance of power. In vain would we, however, begin to seek in our time, anywhere in the world, a regime which, to preserve itself, did not have recourse to measures of stern mass repression. This means that hostile class forces, having broken through the framework of every kind of law – including that of “democracy” – are striving to find their new balance by means of a merciless struggle.

When the Soviet system was being instituted in Russia, not only the capitalist politicians, but also the Socialist opportunists of all countries proclaimed it an insolent challenge to the balance of forces. On this score, there was no quarrel between Kautsky, the Austrian Count Czernin, and the Bulgarian Premier, Radoslavov. Since that time, the Austro-Hungarian and German monarchies have collapsed, and the most powerful militarism in the world has fallen into dust. The Soviet regime has held out. The victorious countries of the Entente have mobilized and hurled against it all they could. The Soviet Government has stood firm. Had Kautsky, Friedrich Adler, and Otto Bauer been told that the system of the dictatorship of the proletariat would hold out in Russia – first against the attack of German militarism, and then in a ceaseless war with the militarism of the Entente countries – the sages of the Second International would have considered such a prophecy a laughable misunderstanding of the “balance of power.”

The balance of political power at any given moment is determined under the influence of fundamental and secondary factors of differing degrees of effectiveness, and only in its most fundamental quality is it determined by the stage of the development of production. The social structure of a people is extraordinarily behind the development of its productive forces. The lower middle classes, and particularly the peasantry, retain their existence long after their economic methods have been made obsolete, and have been condemned, by the technical development of the productive powers of society. The consciousness of the masses, in its turn, is extraordinarily behind the development of their social relations, the consciousness of the old Socialist parties is a whole epoch behind the state of mind of the masses, and the consciousness of the old parliamentary and trade union leaders, more reactionary than the consciousness of their party, represents a petrified mass which history has been unable hitherto either to digest or reject. In the parliamentary epoch, during the period of stability of social relations, the psychological factor – without great error – was the foundation upon which all current calculations were based. It was considered that parliamentary elections reflected the balance of power with sufficient exactness. The imperialist war, which upset all bourgeois society, displayed the complete uselessness of the old criteria. The latter completely ignored those profound historical factors which had gradually been accumulating in the preceeding period, and have now, all at once, appeared on the surface, and have begun to determine the course of history.

The political worshippers of routine, incapable of surveying the historical process in its complexity, in its internal clashes and contradictions, imagined to themselves that history was preparing the way for the Socialist order simultaneously and systematically on all sides, so that concentration of production and the development of a Communist morality in the producer and the consumer mature simultaneously with the electric plough and a parliamentary majority. Hence the purely mechanical attitude towards parliamentarism, which, in the eyes of the majority of the statesmen of the Second International, indicated the degree to which society was prepared for Socialism as accurately as the manometer, indicates the pressure of steam. Yet there is nothing more senseless than this mechanized representation of the development of social relations.

If, beginning with the productive bases of society, we ascend the stages of the superstructure – classes, the State, laws, parties, and so on – it may be established that the weight of each additional part of the superstructure is not simply to be added to, but in many cases to be multiplied by, the weight of all the preceding stages. As a result, the political consciousness of groups which long imagined themselves to be among the most advanced, displays itself, at a moment of change, as a colossal obstacle in the path of historical development. To-day it is quite beyond doubt that the parties of the Second International, standing at the head of the proletariat, which dared not, could not, and would not take power into their hands at the most critical moment of human history, and which led the proletariat along the road of mutual destruction in the interests of imperialism, proved a decisive factor of the counter-revolution.

The great forces of production – that shock factor in historical development – were choked in those obsolete institutions of the superstructure (private property and the national State) in which they found themselves locked by all preceding development. Engendered by capitalism, the forces of production were knocking at all the walls of the bourgeois national State, demanding their emancipation by means of the Socialist organization of economic life on a world scale. The stagnation of social groupings, the stagnation of political forces, which proved themselves incapable of destroying the old class groupings, the stagnation, stupidity and treachery of the directing Socialist parties, which had assumed to themselves in reality the defense of bourgeois society – all these factors led to an elemental revolt of the forces of production, in the shape of the imperialist war. Human technical skill, the most revolutionary factor in history, arose with the might accumulated during scores of years against the disgusting conservatism and criminal stupidity of the Scheidemanns, Kautskies, Renaudels, Vanderveldes and Longuets, and, by means of its howitzers, machine-guns, dreadnoughts and aeroplanes, it began a furious pogrom of human culture.

In this way the cause of the misfortunes at present experienced by humanity is precisely that the development of the technical command of men over nature has long ago grown ripe for the socialization of economic life. The proletariat has occupied a place in production which completely guarantees its dictatorship, while the most intelligent forces in history – the parties and their leaders – have been discovered to be still wholly under the yoke of the old prejudices, and only fostered a lack of faith among the masses in their own power. In quite recent years Kautsky used to understand this. “The proletariat at the present time has grown so strong,” wrote Kautsky in his pamphlet, The Path to Power, “that it can calmly await the coming war. There can be no more talk of a premature revolution, now that the proletariat has drawn from the present structure of the State such strength as could be drawn therefrom, and now that its reconstruction has become a condition of the proletariat’s further progress.” From the moment that the development of productive forces, outgrowing the framework of the bourgeois national State, drew mankind into an epoch of crises and convulsions, the consciousness of the masses was shaken by dread shocks out of the comparative equilibrium of the preceding epoch. The routine and stagnation of its mode of living, the hypnotic suggestion of peaceful legality, had already ceased to dominate the proletariat. But it had not yet stepped, consciously and courageously, on to the path of open revolutionary struggle. It wavered, passing through the last moment of unstable equilibrium. At such a moment of psychological change, the part played by the summit – the State, on the one hand, and the revolutionary Party on the other – acquires a colossal importance. A determined push from left or right is sufficient to move the proletariat, for a certain period, to one or the other side. We saw this in 1914, when, under the united pressure of imperialist governments and Socialist patriotic parties, the working class was all at once thrown out of its equilibrium and hurled on to the path of imperialism. We have since seen how the experience of the war, the contrasts between its results and its first objects, is shaking the masses in a revolutionary sense, making them more and more capable of an open revolt against capitalism. In such conditions. the presence of a revolutionary party, which renders to itself a clear account of the motive forces of the present epoch, and understands the exceptional role amongst them of a revolutionary class; which knows its inexhaustible, but unrevealed, powers; which believes in that class and believes in itself; which knows the power of revolutionary method in an epoch of instability of all social relations; which is ready to employ that method and carry it through to the end – the presence of such a party represents a factor of incalculable historical importance.

And on the other hand, the Socialist party, enjoying traditional influence, which does not render itself an account of what is going on around it, which does not understand the revolutionary situation, and, therefore, finds no key to it, which does not believe in either the proletariat or itself – such a party in our time is the most mischievous stumbling block in history, and a source of confusion and inevitable chaos.

Such is now the role of Kautsky and his sympathizers. They teach the proletariat not to believe in itself, but to believe its reflection in the crooked mirror of democracy which has been shattered by the jack-boot of militarism into a thousand fragments. The decisive factor in the revolutionary policy of the working class must be, in their view, not the international situation, not the actual collapse of capitalism, not that social collapse which is generated thereby, not that concrete necessity of the supremacy of the working class for which the cry arises from the smoking ruins of capitalist civilization – not all this must determine the policy of the revolutionary party of the proletariat – but that counting of votes which is carried out by the capitalist tellers of parliamentarism. Only a few years ago, we repeat, Kautsky seemed to understand the real inner meaning of the problem of revolution. “Yes, the proletariat represents the sole revolutionary class of the nation,” wrote Kautsky in his pamphlet, The Path to Power. It follows that every collapse of the capitalist order, whether it he of a moral, financial, or military character, implies the bankruptcy of all the bourgeois parties responsible for it, and signifies that the sole way out of the blind alley is the establishment of the power of the proletariat. And to-day the party of prostration and cowardice, the party of Kautsky, says to the working class: “The question is not whether you to-day are the sole creative force in history; whether you are capable of throwing aside that ruling band of robbers into which the propertied classes have developed; the question is not whether anyone else can accomplish this task on your behalf; the question is not whether history allows you any postponement (for the present condition of bloody chaos threatens to bury you yourself, in the near future, under the last ruins of capitalism). The problem is for the ruling imperialist bandits to succeed – yesterday or today – to deceive, violate, and swindle public opinion, by collecting 51 per cent, of the votes against your 49. Perish the world, but long live the parliamentary majority!”

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Last updated on: 24.12.2006