Leon Trotsky

Terrorism and Communism


The origin of this book was the learned brochure by Kautsky with the same name. My work was begun at the most intense period of the struggle with Denikin and Yudenich, and more than once was interrupted by events at the front. In the most difficult days, when the first chapters were being written, all the attention of Soviet Russia was concentrated on purely military problems. We were obliged to defend first of all the very possibility of Socialist economic reconstruction. We could busy ourselves little with industry, further than was necessary to maintain the front. We were obliged to expose Kautsky’s economic slanders mainly by analogy with his political slanders. The monstrous assertions of Kaustky – to the effect that the Russian workers were incapable of labor discipline and economic self-control – could, at the beginning of this work, nearly a year ago, be combated chiefly by pointing to the high state of discipline and heroism in battle of the Russian workers at the front created by the civil war. That experience was more than enough to explode these bourgeois slanders. But now a few months have gone by, and we can turn to facts and conclusions drawn directly from the economic life of Soviet Russia.

As soon as the military pressure relaxed after the defeat of Kolchak and Yudenich and the infliction of decisive blows on Denikin, after the conclusion of peace with Estonia and the beginning of negotiations with Lithuania and Poland, the whole country turned its mind to things economic. And this one fact, of a swift and concentrated transference of attention and energy from one set of problems to another – very different, but requiring not less sacrifice – is incontrovertible evidence of the mighty vigor of the Soviet order. In spite of political tortures, physical sufferings and horrors, the laboring masses are infinitely distant from political decomposition, from moral collapse, or from apathy. Thanks to a regime which, though it has inflicted great hardships upon them, has given their life a purpose and a high goal, they preserve an extraordinary moral stubbornness and ability unexampled in history, and concentrate their attention and will on collective problems. Today, in all branches of industry, there is going on an energetic struggle for the establishment of strict labor discipline, and for the increase of the productivity of labor. The party organizations, the trade unions, the factory and workshop administrative committees, rival one another in this respect, with the undivided support of the public opinion of the working class as a whole. Factory after factory willingly, by resolution at its general meeting, increases its working day. Petrograd and Moscow set the example, and the provinces emulate Petrograd. Communist Saturdays and Sundays – that is to say, voluntary and unpaid work in hours appointed for rest – spread ever wider and wider, drawing into their reach many, many hundreds of thousands of working men and women. The industry and productivity of labor at the Communist Saturdays and Sundays, according to the report of experts and the evidence of figures, is of a remarkably high standard.

Voluntary mobilizations for labor problems in the party and in the Young Communist League are carried out with just as much enthusiasm as hitherto for military tasks. Voluntarism supplements and gives life to universal labor service. The Committees for universal labor service recently set up have spread all over the country. The attraction of the population to work on a mass scale (clearing snow from the roads, repairing railway lines, cutting timber, chopping and bringing up of wood to the, towns, the simplest building operations, the cutting of slate and of peat) become more and more widespread and organized every day. The ever increasing employment of military formations on the labor front would be quite impossible in the absence of elevated enthusiasm for labor.

True, we live in the midst of a very difficult period of economic depression – exhausted, poverty-stricken, and hungry. But this is no argument against the Soviet regime. All periods of transition have been characterized by just such tragic features. Every class society (serf, feudal, capitalist), having exhausted its vitality, does not simply leave the arena, but is violently swept off by an intense struggle, which immediately brings to its participants even greater privations and sufferings than those against which they rose.

The transition from feudal economy to bourgeois society – a step of gigantic importance from the point of view of progress – gave us a terrifying list of martyrs. However the masses of serfs suffered under feudalism, however difficult it has been, and is, for the proletariat to live under capitalism, never have the sufferings of the workers reached such a pitch as at the epochs when the old feudal order was being violently shattered, and was yielding place to the new. The French Revolution of the eighteenth century, which attained its titanic dimensions under the pressure of the masses exhausted with suffering, itself deepened and rendered more acute their misfortunes for a prolonged period and to an extraordinary extent. Can it be otherwise?

Palace revolutions, which end merely by personal reshufflings at the top, can take place in a short space of time, having practically no effect on the economic life of the country. Quite another matter are revolutions which drag into their whirlpool millions of workers. Whatever be the form of society, it rests on the foundation of labor. Dragging the mass of the people away from labor, drawing them for a prolonged period into the struggle, thereby destroying their connection with production, the revolution in all these ways strikes deadly blows at economic life, and inevitably lowers the standard which it found at its birth. The more perfect the revolution, the greater are the masses it draws in; and the longer it is prolonged, the greater is the destruction it achieves in the apparatus of production, and the more terrible inroads does it make upon public resources. From this there follows merely the conclusion which did not require proof – that a civil war is harmful to economic life. But to lay this at the door of the Soviet economic system is like accusing a new-born human being of the birth-pangs of the mother who brought him into the world. The problem is to make a civil war a short one; and this is attained only by resoluteness in action. But it is just against revolutionary resoluteness that Kautsky’s whole book is directed.

* * *

Since the time that the book under examination appeared, not only in Russia, but throughout the world – and first of all in Europe – the greatest events have taken place, or processes of great importance have developed, undermining the last buttresses of Kautskianism.

In Germany, the civil war has been adopting an ever fiercer character. The external strength in organization of the old party and trade union democracy of the working class has not only not created conditions for a more peaceful and “humane” transition to Socialism – as follows from the present theory of Kautsky – but, on the contrary, has served as one of the principal reasons for the long-drawn-out character of the struggle, and its constantly growing ferocity. The more German Social-Democracy became a conservative, retarding force, the more energy, lives, and blood have had to be spent by the German proletariat, devoted to it, in a series of systematic attacks on the foundation of bourgeois society, in order, in the process of the struggle itself, to create an actually revolutionary organization, capable of guiding the proletariat to final victory. The conspiracy of the German generals, their fleeting seizure of power, and the bloody events which followed, have again shown what a worthless and wretched masquerade is so-called democracy, during the collapse of imperialism and a civil war. This democracy that has outlived itself has not decided one question, has not reconciled one contradiction, has not healed one wound, has not warded off risings either of the Right or of the Left; it is helpless, worthless, fraudulent, and serves only to confuse the backward sections of the people, especially the lower middle classes.

The hope expressed by Kautsky, in the conclusion of his book, that the Western countries, the “old democracies” of France and England – crowned as they are with victory – will afford us a picture of a healthy, normal, peaceful, truly Kautskian development of Socialism, is one of the most puerile illusions possible. The so-called Republican democracy of victorious France, at the present moment, is nothing but the most reactionary, grasping government that has ever existed in the world. Its internal policy is built upon fear, greed, and violence, in just as great a measure as its external policy. On the other hand, the French proletariat, misled more than any other class has ever been misled, is more and more entering on the path of direct action. The repressions which the government of the Republic has hurled upon the General Confederation of Labor show that even syndicalist Kautskianism – i.e., hypocritical compromise – has no legal place within the framework of bourgeois democracy. The revolutionizing of the masses, the growing ferocity of the propertied classes, and the disintegration of intermediate groups – three parallel processes which determine the character and herald the coming of a cruel civil war – have been going on before our eyes in full blast during the last few months in France.

In Great Britain, events, different in form, are moving along the self-same fundamental road. In that country, the ruling class of which is oppressing and plundering the whole world more than ever before, the formulæ of democracy have lost their meaning even as weapons of parliamentary swindling. The specialist best qualified in this sphere, Lloyd George, appeals now not to democracy, but to a union of Conservative and Liberal property holders against the working class. In his arguments there remains not a trace of the vague democracy of the “Marxist” Kautsky. Lloyd George stands on the ground of class realities, and for this very reason speaks in the language of civil war. The British working class, with that ponderous learning by experience which is its distinguishing feature, is approaching that stage of its struggle before which the most heroic pages of Chartism will fade, just as the Paris Commune will grow pale before the coming victorious revolt of the French proletariat.

Precisely because historical events have, with stern energy, been developing in these last months their revolutionary logic, the author of this present work asks himself: Does it still require to be published? Is it still necessary to confute Kautsky theoretically? Is there still theoretical necessity to justify revolutionary terrorism?

Unfortunately, yes. Ideology, by its very essence, plays in the Socialist movement an enormous part. Even for practical England the period has arrived when the working class must exhibit an ever-increasing demand for a theoretical statement of its experiences and its problems. On the other hand, even the proletarian psychology includes in itself a terrible inertia of conservatism – the more that, in the present case, there is a question of nothing less than the traditional ideology of the parties of the Second International which first roused the proletariat, and recently were so powerful. After the collapse of official social-patriotism (Scheidemann, Victor Adler, Renaudel, Vandervelde, Henderson, Plekhanov, etc.), international Kautskianism (the staff of the German Independents, Friedrich Adler, Longuet, a considerable section of the Italians, the British Independent Labor Party, the Martov group, etc.) has become the chief political factor on which the unstable equilibrium of capitalist society depends. It may be said that the will of the working masses of the whole of the civilized world, directly influenced by the course of events, is at the present moment incomparably more revolutionary than their consciousness, which is still dominated by the prejudices of parliamentarism and compromise. The struggle for the dictatorship of the working class means, at the present moment, an embittered struggle with Kautskianism within the working class. The lies and prejudices of the policy of compromise, still poisoning the atmosphere even in parties tending towards the Third International, must be thrown aside. This book must serve the ends of an irreconcilable struggle against the cowardice, half-measures, and hypocrisy of Kautskianism in all countries.

* * *

P.S. – To-day (May 1920) the clouds have again gathered over Soviet Russia. Bourgeois Poland, by its attack on the Ukraine, has opened the new offensive of world imperialism against the Soviet Republic. The gigantic perils again growing up before the revolution, and the great sacrifices again imposed on the laboring masses by the war, are once again pushing Russian Kautskianism on to the path of open opposition to the Soviet Government, in reality, on to the path of assistance to the world murderers of Soviet Russia. It is the fate of Kautskianism to try to help the proletarian revolution when it is in satisfactory circumstances, and to raise all kinds of obstacles in its way when it is particularly in need of help. Kautsky has more than once foretold our destruction, which must serve as the best proof of his, Kautsky’s, theoretical rectitude. In his fall, this “successor of Marx” has reached a stage at which his sole serious political programme consists in speculations on the collapse of the proletarian dictatorship.

He will be once again mistaken. The destruction of bourgeois Poland by the Red Army, guided by Communist working men, will appear as a new manifestation of the power of the proletarian dictatorship, and will thereby inflict a crushing blow on bourgeois skepticism (Kautskianism) in the working class movement. In spite of mad confusion of external forms, watchwords, and appearances, history has extremely simplified the fundamental meaning of its own process, reducing it to a struggle of imperialism against Communism. Pilsudsky is fighting, not only for the lands of the Polish magnates in the Ukraine and in White Russia, not only for capitalist property and for the Catholic Church, but also for parliamentary democracy and for evolutionary Socialism, for the Second International, and for the right of Kautsky to remain a critical hanger-on of the bourgeoisie. We are fighting for the Communist International, and for the international proletarian revolution. The stakes are great on either side. The struggle will be obstinate and painful. We hope for the victory, for we have every historical right to it.

Moscow, May 29, 1920

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Last updated on: 24.12.2006