Leon Trotsky

Between Red and White

‘Public Opinion’, Social
Democracy, Communism

One more question must be cleared up: on what does the Second International base its demand that we, the Soviet Federation, the Communist Party, should evacuate Georgia? Even if we were to admit that Georgia has been forcibly occupied, and that this fact is the expression of our Soviet imperialism, what right has Henderson, a member of the Second International, a former British Cabinet Minister, to demand that the proletariat organized in a state, that the Third International, that revolutionary communism, should disarm Soviet Georgia ‘merely for the sake of his pious eyes’. When Mr. Churchill makes these demands, he makes as well a significant gesture in the direction of the long barrels of the naval guns and the barbed wire of the blockade. Upon what does Henderson rely? Is it the Holy Scriptures, or a party programme, or his own record? But the Holy Scriptures are nothing but a naive myth, Mr. Henderson’s programme is a myth, if not a naive one, and as to his record, it is a severe indictment against him.

Not so long ago, Henderson was a Minister in one of the democracies, viz., of his own – the British democracy. Why then has he not insisted that his own democracy, for the defence of which he was ready to make all sacrifices, including the acceptance of a Ministerial portfolio from the Liberal-Conservative Lloyd George, should begin to put into practice not our principles (heaven forbid) but his own – Mr. Henderson’s? Why has he not demanded the evacuation of India and Egypt? Why did he not, at the right time, support the demands of the Irish for their complete liberation from the yoke of Britain?

We are aware that Henderson, as well as MacDonald, does protest, on certain appointed days, by means of mournful resolutions against the excesses of British imperialism. But these feeble and irresolute protests have never imperilled, and do not now imperil, the interests of British capitalism, and have never led, nor are they leading, to courageous and decisive action. They are only intended to salve the conscience of the ‘socialist’ citizens of the ruling nation, and to serve as an outlet for the dissatisfaction of the British workers. They will not help to break the chains of the colonial slaves. The Hendersons regard British domination over the colonies not as political questions, but as a fact in natural history. They have never declared that Indians, Egyptians, and other enslaved peoples have the right (nay, that it is their duty) to rise in armed revolt against British domination. Neither have they undertaken as ‘socialists’ to give armed assistance to the colonies in their struggle for liberation. On this point there can certainly be no doubt whatever, that this is a question of the most elementary, ultra-democratic duty, and that for two reasons: first, because the colonial slaves certainly constitute an overwhelming majority, as compared with the infinitesimal ruling British minority; secondly, because this same minority, and especially its official socialist section, recognizes the principles of democracy as the guiding principle of its existence. There is India. Why does not Henderson organize a rising in favour of the evacuation of British troops from India? For there can be no more evident, monstrous and shameless violation of the laws of democracy than the domination of all the consolidated forces of British capitalism over the prostrate body of this unhappy and enslaved country! It seems to us that Henderson, MacDonald and the rest of them ought unceasingly to sound the tocsin, demand, appeal, denounce and preach revolution to the Indians and to all British workers against this inhuman trampling upon all the principles of democracy. But they remain silent, or worse still, they from time to time, with obvious boredom, sign a reasonable resolution, which is as stale and meaningless as a British sermon, and has for its aim to prove that, while supporting colonial domination, they would like its roses without the thorns, and that, in any case, they are not willing to allow these thorns to prick the fingers of loyal British socialists. For ‘democratic and patriotic’ considerations, Henderson ensconced himself with the greatest equanimity in a ministerial armchair, and it did not appear to strike him that his armchair was resting on the most anti-democratic pedestal in the world: – the domination of a numerically insignificant capitalist clique, through the medium of some tens of millions of Britishers, over several hundred millions of coloured Asiatic and African slaves. And, what is worse still, on the plea of defending this monstrous domination concealed under the cloak of democratic forms, Henderson allied himself with the unashamed military and police dictatorship of Russian Tsarism. In so far as you were a member of the British War Cabinet, Mr. Henderson, you were a Minister of Russian Tsarism. Do not forget that.

Henderson, of course would not even dream of asking the Tsar, his patron and ally, to remove the Russian forces from Georgia, or from the other territories which he had enslaved. At that time he would have described such a demand as rendering a service to German militarism. He looked upon every revolutionary movement in Georgia directed against the Tsar in the same light as upon a rising in Ireland, viz., as the result of German intrigue and German gold.

In the end one’s brain reels from all these monstrous crying contradictions and inconsistencies! Nevertheless, they are in the order of things, for British domination, or rather the domination of its ruling upper ten thousand over one quarter of the human race, is looked upon by the Hendersons not as a question of politics, but as a fact in natural history. These democrats, with all their Fabian, emasculated and feeble socialism, have always been and always will be the slaves of public opinion. They are thoroughly imbued with the anti-democratic exploiter, planter, and parasite views on races which are distinguished by the colour of their skins, by the fact that they do not read Shakespeare, or wear stiff collars.

Thus, although having Tsarist Georgia, Ireland, Egypt and India on their consciences, they dare to demand from us their opponents, and not their allies, the evacuation of Soviet Georgia. But, strange as it may seem, this ridiculous and thoroughly inconsistent demand is an unconscious expression of the respect of petty-bourgeois democracy for the proletarian dictatorship. Unconsciously, or half consciously, Henderson and Co. are saying: ‘Of course one cannot expect bourgeois democracy (whose ministers we become when invited), to take the democratic principle of self-determination seriously. One cannot expect the socialists of this democracy, or the respectable citizens of the ruling nation who conceal our slave ownership with democratic fictions, to aid the colonial slaves against their slave owners. But you, the revolution, personified in the proletarian state, are obliged to do what we, owing to our cowardice, mendacity and hypocrisy, are unable to do.’

In other words, while formally placing democracy above all else, they recognize, willingly or unwillingly, that one can put demands to the proletarian state which would seem ridiculous and even silly if they were put to bourgeois democracy, whose ministers or loyal representatives they are.

However, they express this unwilling respect for the proletarian dictatorship, which they reject, in a way which is in keeping with their political vagaries. They demand that the dictatorship should maintain and defend its power, not by its own methods, but by the methods which (in words, but not in deeds) they consider obligatory for democracy, but which they never apply themselves. We have already dealt with this in the first manifesto of the Communist International. Our enemies demand that we defend our lives in no other way than according to the rules of French duelling - that is to say, by the rules laid down by our enemies – but they do not consider such rules binding for themselves in their struggle against us.

* * *

In order to refresh one’s memory and to get a clear idea of the policy of the ‘Western Democracies’ with regard to backward nationalities, and also the role which the members of the Second International are playing in the policy, one should read the memoirs of M. PalŽologue, the former French Ambassador to the Court of the Tsar. If there were no such book, it would have been necessary to write one like it. We would also have had to invent PalŽologue himself, if he had not spared us this trouble by his timely appearance on the arena of literature. PalŽologue is a true representative of the Third Republic, with a Byzantine name, as well as a Byzantine soul. In November, 1914, during the first period of the war, one of our Court ladies, at a command from ‘above’ (evidently the Tsarina), gave him a pious autographed message from Rasputin. M. PalŽologue, the representative of the Republic, replied to Rasputin’s impressive message as follows:

The French people, which is very sensitive, understands perfectly well that the Russian people’s love for its country finds its incarnation in the person of the Tsar.

This letter of the Republican diplomat, which was intended to come to the knowledge of the Tsar, was written ten years after January 9th, 1905 [1], and 122 years after the French Republic had executed Louis Capet, who was, in the words of the PalŽologues of that day, the incarnation of the French people’s love for its country. What is strange in this is not that M. PalŽologue, in keeping with the malpractices of secret diplomacy, willingly soiled his hands with these dirty Court intrigues, but that he himself brought this shameful fact to the notice of that same democracy which he so inadequately represented at the Court of Rasputin. And this has not prevented him from remaining up to the present time a prominent political worker of the ‘democratic republic’, and to fill important posts! It is this which would be astounding if we did not know the trend of development of bourgeois democracy, which rose as high as Robespierre to end in PalŽologue.

This frankness of the former ambassador in all probability is only a cloak for his Byzantine cunning. He tells us so much in order not to tell us all. Perhaps he is only putting our suspicions and curiosity to rest. We know what demands were put to him by the capricious and all-powerful Rasputin. Who knows what means PalŽologue had to devise in order to protect the interests of France and civilization?

At least one thing is certain: M. PalŽologue belongs today to that French political group which is prepared to swear that the Soviet Power does not represent the true will of the Russian people, and which is persistently asserting that a resumption of relations with Russia will only be possible when regularly functioning democratic institutions hand over the government of Russia to the Russian PalŽologues.

The ambassador of the French democracy did not stand alone. Side by side with him was Buchanan. On November 13th, 1914, Sir George Buchanan (according to PalŽologue) declared to Sazonov: ‘The government of his Britannic Majesty has recognized that the question of the Straits and Constantinople must be settled according to Russian aspirations. It gives me pleasure to announce this to you.’ Thus was laid down the programme of the war of right, justice, and national self-determination. Four days later Buchanan declared to Sazonov: ‘The British government will be compelled to annex Egypt. It trusts that the Russian government will not offer any opposition to this.’ Sazonov was not slow in giving his consent. Three days after that PalŽologue ‘reminded’ Nikolai II that Syria and Palestine were bound to France by a wealth of historic recollections and also by moral and material interests. He, PalŽologue, hoped that His Majesty would approve of the measures which the government of the republic (the same democratic republic), deemed it necessary to take, in order to safeguard these interests.

Oui, certes,’ (‘Yes, certainly’), was His Majesty’s reply. Finally, on March 12, 1915, Buchanan demanded that in return for Constantinople and the Straits, Russia should cede to Great Britain the neutral part of Persia (that part as yet unpartitioned). Sazonov answered ‘C’est entendu’ (’That is understood.’).

So two democracies in conjunction with Tsarism, which at that period shone with the reflected democratic light emanating from the Entente, settled the fate of Constantinople, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Persia. Sir George Buchanan was as worthy a representative of the British democracy as PalŽologue of the French. Buchanan remained at his post after the downfall of Nikolai II. Henderson, a minister of His Majesty and, if we are not mistaken, a British socialist, came to Petrograd during the Kerensky regime, in order to take Buchanan’s place (should this be necessary), because someone in the British government had imagined that they should speak in a different tone to Kerensky than to Rasputin. After Henderson had taken a survey of Petrograd, he found that Buchanan was the right man in the right place as the representative of British democracy. Buchanan undoubtedly held the same opinion of Henderson, the socialist.

PalŽologue, exhibited ‘his’ socialists as an example to the restive Tsarist dignitaries. In connection with the Court ‘agitation’ of Count Witte for the speedy conclusion of the war, PalŽologue declared to Sazonov: ‘Look at our socialists and their correct attitude.’ (page 189) This summing up by PalŽologue of Messrs. Renaudel, Longuet, Vandervelde and all their followers, is rather startling even now, after all we have gone through. PalŽologue, having received and respectfully acknowledged Rasputin’s admonitions, in his turn expressed to the Tsarist minister his patronizing appreciation of the French socialists, and recognized the correctness of their attitude. These words: ‘voyez mes socialistes – ils sont impeccables’ (’Look at my socialists – they are beyond reproach’) should form a device for the banner of the Second International, from which the words: ‘Workers of the world unite’ should have been removed long ago. This latter device suits Henderson as much as the Phrygian cap [2] suits PalŽologue.

The Hendersons consider the domination of the Anglo-Saxon race over the other races as a natural fact ensuring the spread of civilization. For them the question of national self-determination begins only beyond the confines of the British Empire. This national arrogance is the chief link between the western social-patriots and their bourgeoisie, viz., it makes them the slaves of their bourgeoisie.

At the beginning of the war a French socialist (a professor of a Swiss university), gave the following answer to a very natural query, as to how an alliance with Tsarism could be reconciled with the defence of democracy: ‘It is a question of France and not of Russia. In this struggle France is the moral force while Russia is the physical force.’ He said this as something quite natural, and without the slightest compunction for the shameless jingoism of his remark. A month or two later during a discussion on the same subject in the offices of L’Humanité, in Paris, I quoted the words of the French professor in Geneva.

’He is quite right,’ answered the then editor of the paper.

This recalls to my mind the words of young Renan – that the death of a Frenchman is a moral event, while the death of a Cossack (Renan means a Russian), is a physical fact. This monstrous national arrogance has its causes. The French bourgeoisie already had a glorious historical past at a time when the other peoples were still in a semi-mediaeval barbaric state. The British bourgeoisie was ahead even of the French in opening up the paths of the new civilization. Hence the contemptuous attitude towards the rest of humanity, which they treated as historical manure. With its self-assurance, its wealth of experience, with the diversity of its cultural achievements, the British bourgeoisie prevented the free moral and spiritual development of its own working class, and poisoned its mind with the psychology of the ruling class.

In the mouth of Renan the phrase about the Frenchman and the Cossack was the cynical expression of the pride of a class, both materially and spiritually powerful. The same phrase, turned inside out by a French socialist, signified the humility of French socialism, its spiritual exhaustion, its purely flunkeyish dependence upon the spiritual crumbs off the rich table of the bourgeoisie.

If PalŽologue, mincing the phrase of Renan, says that the death of a Frenchman is an incomparably greater loss to culture than the death of a Russian, the same PalŽologue says (or at least implies), that the death of a French stock-broker millionaire, professor, lawyer, diplomat, or journalist, on the battlefront represents an incomparably greater loss to culture than the death of a French turner, textile worker, chauffeur or peasant. The one is the logical sequence of the other. National aristocratic sentiment is at bottom a contradiction to socialism – not in the levelling milk-and-water Christian sense that all nations, all men are equal upon the scales of culture, but in the sense that national aristocratic sentiment, closely linked with bourgeois conservatism, is completely and entirely directed against the social revolution, which alone can create the conditions for a higher culture. National aristocracy assesses the cultural value of a human being from the standpoint of the past. Socialism considers the cultural value of human beings from the standpoint of the future. It cannot be gainsaid that the French diplomat PalŽologue radiates more imbibed cultural blessings than, say, a peasant of the Tambov province. Yet, on the other hand, it cannot be denied that the Tambov peasant, who with his cudgel has chased out the landlords and the diplomats, has laid the foundation for new and higher culture. The French working man and the French peasant, thanks to their higher culture, will achieve this better, and progress forward more rapidly.

We Russian Marxists, owing to the belated development of Russia, were not weighed down by a powerful bourgeois culture. We became allied to European spiritual culture not through the medium of our miserable national bourgeoisie, but independently: we assimilated the most revolutionary conclusions of European experience and European thought, and developed them to their highest pitch. This has given some advantages to our generation. Let us declare frankly: the sincere and profound enthusiasm with which we contemplate the products of the British genius in the most varied spheres of human creative endeavour, only the more sharply and pitilessly accentuates the sincere and profound contempt with which we regard the spiritual narrow-mindedness, the theoretical banality and the lack of revolutionary dignity, which characterize the authorized leaders of British socialism. They are not the heralds of a new world; they are but the surviving relics of an old culture, which in their person expresses anxiety for its further fate. And the spiritual barrenness of these relics seems to be a sort of retribution for the profligate lavish past of bourgeois culture.

* * *

The bourgeois mind has imbibed some of the great cultural achievements of mankind. Yet at the present time it is the chief obstacle to the development of human culture.

One of the leading virtues of our party, which makes it the mightiest lever of development of the epoch, consists of its complete and absolute independence of bourgeois public opinion. These words signify much more than they at first sight seem. They need to be explained. Particularly if we bear in mind such a thankless section of the audience as the Second International. Every revolutionary thought, even the simplest truth, must be nailed down here with extreme care.

Bourgeois public opinion is a close psychological web which envelops on all sides the tools and instruments of bourgeois violence, protecting them against any incidental shocks, as well as against the fatal revolutionary shock, which, however, in the last resort is inevitable. Active bourgeois public opinion is composed of two parts: first, of inherited views, actions, and prejudices which represent the fossilised experience of the past, a thick layer of irrational banality and useful stupidity; and second, of the intricate machinery and clever management necessary for the mobilization of patriotic feeling and moral indignation, of national enthusiasm, altruist sentiment, and other kinds of lies and deceptions.

Such is the general formula. But some explanatory examples are necessary. When in famine-stricken Russia, a Cadet lawyer, who with funds supplied by Britain or by France, helped in making a noose for the neck of the working class, dies of typhus in a prison, the wireless and the cables of bourgeois public opinion produce a sufficiently great number of vibrations to arouse a wave of indignation in the receptive conscience of the collective Mrs. Snowdens. It is quite obvious that all the devilish work of the capitalist wireless and cables would have been useless, if the skull of the petty bourgeois did not serve as a gramophone box.

Let us take another instance: the famine on the Volga. In its present form of unprecedented calamity, this famine, at least half of it, is a result of the civil war raised on the Volga by the Czechoslovaks and Kolchak, that is, by the Anglo-American and French capital which organized and sustained it. This drought fell upon a soil that had been already exhausted and ruined, denuded of working cattle, machinery and other stock. We, on the other hand, have cast into gaol some officers and lawyers (which we by no means hold up as an example of humanitarianism), and bourgeois Europe and America attempted then to picture the whole of Russia, with its hundred million inhabitants, as a vast hunger-prison. They encircled us with a wall of blockade, while their hired White Guard agents applied the bomb and torch to the destruction of our scanty supplies. If there is anyone who handles the scales of pure morality, let him weigh up the severe measures that we are compelled to adopt in our life and death struggle against the whole world, against the calamities which world capitalism, in quest of unpaid interests on loans, showered upon the heads of the Volga mothers. Yet the machine of bourgeois public opinion works so systematically, and with such arrogant self-righteousness, the cretinism of the middle class represents such a valuable gramophone box, that as a result, Mrs. Snowden pours her surplus human pity out upon ... the poor down-trodden agents of imperialism in our land.

Reverence of bourgeois public opinion is a more impassable barrier to the activity of the social reformers than even the bourgeois laws. It may be put down as a law of modern capitalist governments, that the more ‘democratic’ the more ‘liberal’ and ‘free’ is their regime, the more respectable are their national socialists, and the more stupid the obeisance of the national Labour Party before the public opinion of the bourgeoisie. Why have an outward policeman over Mr. Mac-Donald when there is an inward one within his soul?

Here we must not shirk the question, the very mention of which is a menace to respectability. I speak of religion. It was not so very long ago that Lloyd George called the Church the central power station of all parties and currents, i.e., of bourgeois public opinion as a whole. This is particularly true in reference to Britain. Not in the sense of course, that Lloyd George derives the real inspiration for his politics from religion, or that the hatred of Churchill for Soviet Russia is due to his burning desire to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, or that the Notes of Lord Curzon are copied directly from the Sermon on the Mount. Oh no! The driving force of their politics are the very mundane interests of the bourgeoisie which put them in power. But that ‘public opinion’ which alone makes possible the smooth working of the mechanism of governmental compulsion, finds its chief resources in religion. The legal restraint that has been put over men, over classes, and over society as a whole, as a sort of ideological whip, is merely the unadorned application of religious restraint – that heavenly whip which is held over the head of exploited humanity. After all is said and done, it is a hopeless matter to impose upon an unemployed docker a faith in the sacredness of democratic legality by the force of formal arguments. The first essential thing here is material argument – a policeman with a heavy club on earth, and above him – the Supreme Policeman, armed with the thunder in Heaven. But when even in the minds of ‘socialists’ the fetishism of bourgeois legality is coupled with the fetishism of the epoch of the Druids, we get as a result that ideal inner policeman, with whose aid the bourgeoisie (at least for a time) can allow itself the luxury of approximate observance of democratic ritual.

When speaking of the treasons and betrayals of the social-reformers, we by no means desire to assert that they are all, or a majority of them, merely bought. If so, they would never do for the serious part set to them by bourgeois society. It is even unimportant to guess the extent to which the vanity of a middle-class man might feel flattered by becoming an MP in a loyal opposition, or even a member of the Imperial Cabinet, although there is a good deal of that sentiment, of course.

Suffice it to say that the same bourgeois public opinion which in days of quietude permits them to be in the Opposition, at a decisive moment, when the life or death of bourgeois society is at stake, or at least its most important interests – in a war, a rebellion in Ireland or in India, the great coal lock-out, or the Soviet Republic in Russia – proved capable of forcing them to take the political position which was necessary to the capitalist order. Without wishing in any way to attribute to the personality of Mr. Henderson any titanic features that it does not possess, we may confidently assume that Mr. Henderson as the head of the ‘Labour Party’ is a supremely important asset to bourgeois society in Britain. For in the heads of the Hendersons the fundamental elements of bourgeois education and the fragmentary scraps of socialism are welded into one by the traditional cement of religion. The question of the economic emancipation of the British proletariat cannot be seriously put as long as the labour movement is not purged of such leaders, organizations, and moods, which are the embodiment of the timid, cringing, cowardly and base submission of the exploited to the public opinion of the exploiters. The inward policeman must be cast out before the outward policeman can be overthrown.

The Communist International teaches the workers to treat the public opinion of the bourgeoisie with contempt, and above all, to scorn these ‘socialists’ who crawl upon their bellies before the commandments of the bourgeoisie. It is not a question of ostentatious contempt, nor of lyrical tirades and curses. The poets of the bourgeoisie itself more than once made the nerves of the latter tingle by their daring challenges, particularly on the questions of religion, marriage, and the family. It is a question of the profound inner freedom of the proletarian vanguard from the spiritual snares and pitfalls of the bourgeoisie, of the new revolutionary public opinion which should allow the proletariat not merely in words but in deeds, not in tirades, but where necessary by kicks, to smash all the bourgeois commandments, and march freely to that revolutionary goal it has set itself, which is at the same time the objective demand of history.


1. When the Tsar’s army massacred a peaceful mass deputation of Petrograd workers.

2. The symbol of the French Revolution.

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Last updated on: 3.1.2007