Leon Trotsky

Terrorism and Communism


By Max Bedact

In a land where “democracy” is so deeply entrenched as in our United States of America it may seem futile to try to make friends for a dictatorship, by a close comparison of the principles of the two – Dictatorship versus Democracy. But then, confiding in the inviting gesture of the Goddess of Liberty many of our friends and fellow citizens have tested that sacred principle of democracy, freedom of speech, a little too freely – and landed in the penitentiary for it. Others again, relying on the not less sacred principle of democracy, freedom of assembly, have come in unpleasant Contact with a substantial stick of hardwood, wielded by an unwieldly guardian of the law, and awoke from the immediate effects of this collision in some jail. Again others, leaning a little too heavily against the democratic principle of freedom of press broke down that pasteboard pillar of democracy, and incidentally into prison.

Looking at this side of the bright shining medal of our beloved democracy it seems that there is not the slightest bit of difference between the democracy of capitalist America and the dictatorship of Soviet Russia. But there is a great difference. The dictatorship in Russia is bold and upright class rule, which has as its ultimate object the abolition of all class rule and all dictatorships. Our democracy, on the other hand, is a Pecksniffian Dictatorship, is hypocrisy incarnate, promising all liberty in phrases, but in reality even penalizing free thinking, consistently working only for one object: to perpetuate the rule of the capitalist class, the capitalist dictatorship.

“Dictatorship versus Democracy” is, therefore, enough of an open question even in our own country to deserve some consideration. To give food for thought on this subject is the object of the publication of Trotsky’s book.

This book is an answer to a book by Karl Kautsky, Terrorism and Communism. It is polemical in character. Polemical writings are, as a rule, only thoroughly understood if one reads both sides of the question. But even if we could not take for granted that the proletarian reader is fully familiar with the question at issue we could not conscientiously advise a worker to get Kautsky’s book. It is really asking our readers to undertake the superhuman task of reading a book which in the guise of a scientific treatise is foully hitting him below the belt, and then expect him to pay two dollars for it in the bargain.

Anyhow, to read Kautsky’s book is an ordeal for any revolutionist. Kautsky, in his book, tries to prove that the humanitarian instincts of the masses must defeat any attempt to overpower and suppress the bourgeoisie by terrorist means. But to read his book must kill in the proletarian reader the last remnants of those instincts on which Kautsky’s hope for the safety of the bourgeoisie is based. There would even not be enough of those instincts left to save Kautsky from the utter contempt of the proletarian masses, a fate he so richly deserves.

Mr. Kautsky was once the foremost exponent of Marxism. Many of those fighting to-day in the front ranks of the proletarian army revered Kautsky as their teacher. But even in his most glorious days as a Marxist his was the musty pedantry of the German professor, which was hardly ever penetrated by a live spark of revolutionary spirit. Still, the Russian revolution of 1905 found a friend in him. That revolution did not commit the unpardonable sin of being successful. But when the tornado of the first victorious proletarian revolution swept over Russia and destroyed in its fury some of the tormentors and exploiters of the working class – then Kautsky’s “humanitarianism” killed the last remnant of revolutionary spirit and instinct in him and left only a pitiful wreck of an apologist for capitalism, that was once Kautsky, the Marxist.

July, 1914. The echoes of the shots fired in Sarajewo [Sarajevo, now part of Bosnia – Transcriber] threaten to set the world in flames. Will it come, the seeming inevitable? No ! – A thousand times no! Had not the forces of a future order, had not the International of Labor – the Second International – solemnly declared in 1907 in Stuttgart, in 1911 in Copenhagen and in 1912 in Basel: “We will fight war by all means at our disposal. Let the exploiters start a war. It will begin as a war of capitalist governments against each other; it will end – it must end – as a war of the working class of the world against world capitalism; it must end in the proletarian revolution.” We, the socialists of the world, comrades from England and Russia, from America and Germany, from France and Austria; we comrades from all over the world, had solemnly promised ourselves: “War against war” We had promised ourselves and our cause to answer the call of capitalism for a world war with a call on the proletariat for a world revolution.

Days passed. July disappeared in the ocean of time. The first days of August brought the booming of the cannon to our ears, messengers of the grim reality of war. And then the news of the collapse of the Second International; reports of betrayal by the socialists; betrayal in London and Vienna; betrayal in Berlin and Brussels; betrayal in Paris; betrayal everywhere. What would Kautsky say to this rank betrayal, Kautsky, the foremost disciple of Marx, Kautsky the foremost theoretician of the Second International? Will he at least speak up? He did not speak up. Commenting on the betrayal he wrote in Die Neue Zeit: “Die Kritik der Waffen hat eingesetzt; jetzt hat die Waffe der Kritik zu schweigen.” [The arbitrament of arms is on; now the weapon of criticism must rest.] With this one sentence Kautsky replaced Marxism as the basis of his science with rank and undisguised hypocrisy. From then on although trying to retain the toga of a Marxist scholar on his shoulders, with thousands of “if’s” and “when’s”’ and “but’s” he became the apologist for the betrayal of the German Social Democracy, and the betrayal of the Second International.

It is true that his “if’s” and “when’s” and “but’s” did not satisfy the Executive Committee of the Social Democratic Party. They hoped for a victory of the imperial army and wanted to secure a full and unmitigated share of the glory of “His Majesty’s” victory. That is why they did not appreciate Kautsky’s excellent service. So they helped the renegade to a cheap martyrdom by removing him from the editorship of Die Neue Zeit. After 1918 it may have dawned upon Scheidemann and Ebert how much better Kautsky served the capitalist cause by couching his betrayal in words that did not lose him outright all the confidence of the proletariat. And Kautsky himself is now exhausting every effort to prove to Noske and Scheidemann how cruelly he was mistreated and how well he deserves to be taken back to their bosom.

Kautsky’s book Terrorism and Communism is dictated by hatred of the Russian revolution. It is influenced by fear of a like revolution in Germany. It is written with tears for the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie and its pseudo-”socialist” henchmen who have been sacrificed on the altar of revolution by the proletarian dictatorship in Russia. Kautsky prefers to sacrifice the revolution and the revolutionists on the altar of “humanitarianism.” The author of Ethics and the Materialist Conception of History knows – must know – that humanitarianism under capitalism is capitalist humanitarianism. This humanitarianism mints gold out of the bones, the blood, the health and the suffering of the whole working class while it sheds tears about an individual case of cruelty to one human being. This humanitarianism punishes murder with death and beats to death the pacifist who protests against war as an act of mass murder. Under the cloak of “humanitarian instincts”’ Kautsky only hides the enemy of the proletarian revolution. The question at issue is not terrorism. It is the dictatorship; it is revolution itself. If the Russian proletariat was justified in taking over power it was in duty bound to use all means necessary to keep it. If it is a crime for them to use terrorist means then it was a crime to take a power which they could maintain only by terrorist means. And that is really Kautsky’s point. The crime of the Bolsheviki is that they took power. If Kautsky were a mere sentimentalist and yet a revolutionist he could shed tears over the unwillingness of the bourgeoisie to give up power without a struggle. But not being a revolutionist he condemns the proletariat for having taken and maintained power by the only means possible, by force. Kautsky would much prefer to shed crocodile tears over tens of thousands of proletarian revolutionists slaughtered by a successful counter-revolution. He scorns the Russian Communists because they robbed him of the opportunity to parade his petit bourgeois and consequently pro-capitalist “humanitarian’” sentiments in a pro-revolutionary cloak. But he must parade them at any cost. So he parades them without disguise as a mourner for the suppressed bourgeoisie in Russia.

Trotsky’s answer to Kautsky is not only one side of a controversy. It is one of the literary fruits of the revolution itself. It breathes the breath of revolution. It conquers the gray scholastic theory of the renegade with the irresistible weapon of the revolutionary experience of the Russian proletariat. It refuses to shed tears over the victims of Gallifet and shows what alone saved the Russian revolution from the Russian Gallifets, the Kolchaks, Wrangels, etc.

Trotsky’s book is not only an answer to Karl Kautsky; it is an answer to the thousands of Kautskys in the socialist movement the world over who want the proletariat to drown the memory of seas of proletarian blood shed by their treachery in an ocean of tears shed for the suppressed bourgeoisie of Russia.

Trotsky’s book is one of the most effective weapons in the literary arsenal of the revolutionary proletariat in its fight against the social traitors for leadership of the proletarian masses.

Terrorism and Communism Index

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Last updated on: 24.12.2006