L. Trotzky

The Tasks of Communist Education

(16 August 1923)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 56 [34], 16 August 1923, pp. 599–600.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2022. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

The “New Man” and the Revolutionist

It is frequently asserted that the task of communist enlightenment consists in the education of the new man. These words are somewhat too general, too pathetic, and we must be particularly careful not to permit any formless humanitarian interpretation of the conception “new man” or the tasks of communist education. There is no doubt whatever but that the man of the future, the citizen of the commune, will be an exceedingly interesting and attractive creature, and that his psychology (the futurists will pardon me, but I fancy that the man of the future will possess a psychology) will be very different to ours. Our present task, unfortunately, cannot lie in the education of the human being of the future. The Utopian and humanitarian-psychological viewpoint is, that the new man must first be formed, and that he will then, create the new conditions. We cannot believe this. We know that man is a product of social conditions. But we know too that between human beings and conditions there exists a complicated and actively working mutual relationship. Man himself is an instrument of this historical development, and not the fact. And in this complicated historical reflex action of the conditions experienced by active human beings, we do not create the abstractly harmonious and perfect citizen of the commune, but we form the concrete human beings of our epoch, who have still to fight for the creation of the conditions out of which the harmonious citizen of the commune may emerge. This, of course, is a very different thing, for the simple reason that our great-grandson, the citizen of the commune, will be no revolutionist.

At first glance this appears to be wrong, it sounds almost insulting. And yet it is so. The conception “revolutionist” is formed oy us out of our thoughts and wishes, out of the totality of our best passions, and thus the word “revolutionist” is permeated by the highest ideals and morals which we have taken over from the whole preceding epoch of cultural evolution. Thus it seems to us that we cast an aspersion on our posterity when we do not think of them as revolutionists. But we must not forget that the revolutionist is a product of definite historical conditions, a product of class society. The revolutionist is no psychological abstraction. Revolution in itself is no abstract principle, but a material historical fact, growing out of class antagonism, out of the violent subjection of one class by another. Thus the revolutionist is a concrete historical type, and in consequence a temporary type. We are proud of belonging to this type. But by means of our work we are creating the conditions of a social order,in which no class antagonisms will exist, no revolutions, and thus no revolutionists. It is true that we can extend the meaning of the word “revolutionist ” until it comprises the whole conscious activity of man directed towards the subjection of nature, and towards the expansion of technical and cultural gains. But we have no right to make such an abstraction, such a limitless extension of the conception “revolutionist”, for we have by no means fulfilled our concrete historical revolutionary task, the overthrow of class society. Consequently, we are far from being required to educate the harmonious citizen of the commune, forming him by careful laboratory work, in an extremely disharmonious transition stage of society. Such an undertaking would be a wretchedly childish Utopia. What we want to make is champions, revolutionists, who will inherit and complete our historical traditions, which we have not yet carried to a conclusion.

Revolution and Mysticism

What are the main characteristics of the revolutionist? It must be emphasized that we have no right to separate the revolutionist from the class basis upon which he has evolved, and without which he is nothing. The revolutionist of our epoch, who can only be associated with the working class, possesses his special psychological characteristics, characteristics of intellect and will. If it is necessary and possible, the revolutionist shatters the historical obstructions, resorting to force for the purpose. If this is not possible, then he makes a detour, undermines and crushes, patiently and determinedly. He is a revolutionist because he does not fear to shatter obstacles and relentlessly to employ force; at the same time he knows its historical value. It is his constant endeavor to maintain his destructive and creative work at their highest pitch of activity, that is, to obtain from the given historical conditions the maximum which they are capable of yielding for the forward movement of the revolutionary class.

The revolutionist knows only external obstacles to his activity, no internal ones. That is: he has to develops within himself the. capacity of estimating the arena of his activity in all its concreteness, with its positive and negative aspects, and to strike a correct political balance. But if he is internally hampered by subjective hindrances to action, if he is lacking in understanding or will power, if he is paralysed by internal discord, by religious, national, or craft prejudices, then he is at best only half a revolutionist. There are too many obstacles in the objective conditions already, and the revolutionist cannot allow himself the luxury of multiplying the objective hindrances and frictions by subjective ones. Therefore, the education of the revolutionist must, above all, consist in his emancipation from that residue of ignorance and superstition, which is frequently found in a very “ sensitive ” consciousness. And therefore we adopt a ruthlessly irreconcilable attitude to anyone who utters a single word to the effect that mysticism or religious sentimentality might be combined with communism. Religiousness is irreconcilable with the Marxian standpoint. We are of the the opinion that atheism, as an inseparable element of the materialist view of life, is a necessary condition for the theoretical education of the revolutionist. He who believes in another world is not capable of concentrating all his passion on the transformation of this one.

Darwinism and Marxism

Even if Darwin, as he himself asserted, did not lose his belief in God for all his rejection of the biblical theory of creation, Darwinism itself is none the less entirely irreconcilable with this belief In this, as in other respects, Darwinism is a forerunner, a preparation for Marxism. Taken in a broadly materialist and dialectic sense, Marxism is the application of Darwinism to human society. Manchester liberalism has attempted to fit Darwinism mechanically into sociology. Such attempts have only led to childish analogies vetting a malicious bourgeois apologia: Marx’s competition was explained as the “eternal” law of the struggle for existence. These are absurdities. It is only the inner connection between Darwinism and Marxism which makes it possible to grasp the living flow of Being in its primeval connection with inorganic nature; in its further particularization and evolution; in its dynamics; in the differentiation of the necessities of life among the first elementary varieties of the vegetable and animal kingdoms; in its struggles; in the appearance of the “first” man or manlike creature, making use of the first tool; in the development of primitive cooperation, employing associative organs; in the further stratification of society consequent on the development of the means of production, that is, of the means of subjugating nature; in class warfare; and, finally, in the struggle for the uplift of the classes.

To comprehend the world from such a broad point of view signifies the emancipation of man’s Consciousness for the first time from the residue of mysticism, and the securing of a firm foothold. It signifies being quite clear on the point that for the future there are no inner subjective hindrances to the struggle, but that the sole existing obstacles and reactions are external, and have to be overcome in various ways, according to the conditions of the conflict.

The Theory of Revolutionary Action

How often we have said: “Practice wins in the end.” This is correct in the sense that the collective experience of a class, and of the whole of humanity, gradually sweeps away the illusions and false theories based on hasty generalizations. But it may be said with equal truth: “Theory wins in the end”, when we understand by this that theory in reality comprises the total experience of humanity. Seen from this standpoint, the opposition between theory and practice vanishes, for theory is nothing else than correctly considered and generalized practice. Theory does not defeat practice, but the thoughtless, empirical, crude attitude to it. In order to be able properly to estimate the conditions of the struggle, the situation of our own class, we must possess a reliable method of political and historical orientation. This is Marxism, or, with respect to the latest epoch, Leninism.

Marx and Lenin – these are our two supreme guides in the sphere of social research. For the younger generation the way to Marx is through Lenin. The straight road becomes increasingly difficult, for the period is top long which separates the rising generation from the genius of those who founded scientific socialism, Marx and Engels. Leninism is the highest embodiment and condensation of Marxism for direct revolutionary action in the epoch of the imperialist death agony of bourgeois society. The Lenin institute at Moscow must be made a higher academy of revolutionary strategy. Our Communist Party is permeated by the mighty spirit of Lenin. His revolutionary genius is with us. Our revolutionary lungs breathe the atmosphere of that better and higher doctrine which the preceding development of human thought has created. Thus it is that we are so profoundly convinced that tomorrow is ours.

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Last updated on: 2 May 2023