Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 1

Order out of Chaos

GERMAN soldiers rush back to their homeland from those countries where the criminal will of the German aggressors hurled them. Newly-fledged Polish troops attack them on the route, disarm, and then massacre them. The British, French and Americans have seized Germany by the throat and, with an eye on the clock, take her feverish pulse. This does not stop them demanding from her government that the remains of the German forces go to war with Soviet Russia to prevent her from liberating the lands occupied by German imperialism. The Belgians, whose country was only yesterday crucified by German imperialism, today seizes the whole German Rhineland. The semi-mendicant Rumanians drained dry by their ruling embezzlers, whose capital is alternately the prey of the Germans and the Anglo-French, themselves seize Bessarabia, Transylvania and Bukovina. American naval forces are sitting on a bed of nails up in our cold and hungry north trying to puzzle out why they were brought there. On the streets of Berlin, which not long ago boasted its iron order, bloody waves of civil war are overflowing. French troops have landed at Odessa, while at the same time very large areas of France herself are occupied by American, British, Australian and Canadian armies who treat the French like a colonial population. Poland, resurrecting herself after a century and a half’s non-existence, with a delirious impatience engages in war with the Ukraine and Prussia and provokes Soviet Russia.

The American president Wilson who, like the fraud and hypocrite Tartuffe, roams across blood-drenched Europe as the highest representative of morality, the Messiah of the American dollar, chastises, pardons and settles the destinies of nations. Everyone asks him, invites him and pleads with him: The King of Italy, the perfidious ruling Georgian Mensheviks, the humiliated and favour-begging Scheidemann, the moulting tiger of the French middle class, Clemenceau, the fireproof safes of the City of London and even the midwives of Switzerland. Rolling up his trousers Wilson steps over the puddles of European blood and by the grace of the New York stock market which did well to place its last stake on the European lottery, unites the Yugoslavs with the Serbs, asks the price of the Hapsburg crown, between two sniffs of tobacco rounds out Belgium at the expense of looted Germany and weighs up whether it would not be possible to bring in orang-outangs and baboons to deliver Christian culture from Bolshevik barbarism.

Europe resembles a mad-house and it seems at first sight that even its inmates do not know for one half-hour at a time whom they are going to butcher and with whom they will fraternize. But the one lesson that stands out irrefutably from the cloudy waves of this chaos is that of the criminal responsibility of the bourgeois world. Everything which is now happening in Europe has been prepared by the past centuries: by the economic regime, by state relations, by organized militarism, by the morality and philosophy of the ruling classes and by the religion of every priest. The monarchy, nobility, church hierarchy, bureaucracy, bourgeoisie, professional intelligentsia, owners of wealth and rulers of states have all been preparing and have prepared those incomprehensible events which make the old “cultured” Christian Europe so much like a madhouse.

The European “chaos” is a chaos only in form; in essence higher laws of history find their expression there, destroying the old in order to create the new in its place. With the aid of the same rifles the population of Europe is now fighting in the name of different tasks and programmes, answering different historical epochs. Basically they amount to three: imperialism, nationalism and communism.

This war began as a scuffle between the great capitalist vultures for the seizure and division of the world, and in this consists imperialism. But in order to move the many-millioned masses into battle, to incite them against each other and to keep up a spirit of hate and frenzy amongst them, “ideas” or “moods” were necessary which were close to the masses, deceived and doomed to annihilation as they were. And as such a hypnotic agent the idea of nationalism placed itself at the disposal of the imperialist bandits. The mutual link between people speaking one and the same language and belonging to one and the same nation has a great force. This link was not felt when people lived a patriarchal life within their villages or provincial districts. But the more bourgeois production developed, the more it united village with village and province with city, the more people drawn into its whirlpool learnt to value a common language – this great intermediary in material and spiritual relations. Capitalism sought to assert itself above all on a national basis and gave birth to mighty national movements: in splintered Germany, dismembered Italy, torn-up Poland, in Austria-Hungary, amongst the Balkan Slavs, in Armenia. By means of revolutions and wars the European bourgeoisie had, in some places with rips and patches, solved a part of the national question. A united Italy was created, a united Germany, without German-speaking Austria, though with dozens of kings. The peoples of Russia were clamped together in the steel vice of Tsarism. In Austria and the Balkans furious internecine strife continued between nations who were doomed to close cohabitation and were incapable of establishing peaceful forms of cooperation.

At the same time capitalism rapidly outgrew its national framework. The nation-state was merely a trampoline which was essential for making a leap. Capital soon became cosmopolitan; it found at its disposal world wide means of communication, it had agents and servants speaking every tongue and it strove to plunder the peoples of the earth irrespective of their language, the colour of their skin or the religion of their priests. While the middle and petty bourgeoisie and also broad circles of the working class still breathed an atmosphere of national ideology, capitalism had, in its striving for world dominion, developed into imperialism. The worldwide slaughter presented from the beginning a menacing picture of imperialism coupled with nationalism: the mighty clique of finance capital and heavy industry had succeeded in harnessing to its chariot all those feelings. passions and moods instilled by the link of nationality, the unity of tongue, common historical memories and above all common habitation within the nation-state. Setting out on the high road to plunder, seizure and destruction the imperialists of each of the warring camps learnt how to instil the popular masses with the idea that it was a matter of a struggle for national independence and national culture. Just as the bankers and big manufacturers exploit the small shopkeepers and workers, so imperialism, without exception, takes under its command nationalist and chauvinist feelings and objectives pretending that it is serving and safeguarding them. With this terrible psychological ammunition the great massacre has fed and sustained itself over four and a half years.

But communism has appeared on the scene. In its time it too had arisen on national soil with the awakening of the workers’ movement at the first, though uncertain, blow of the capitalist machine. In communist teaching the proletariat counterposed itself to the bourgeoisie. And if the latter became imperialist and world-plundering, then the advanced proletariat became internationalist and world-uniting. The imperialist bourgeoisie represents numerically a trifling minority of the peoples. It has held on, ruled and reigned until now, and with the aid of the ideas and moods of nationalism it has managed to hold the broad and petty-bourgeois working masses in its bondage. The internationalist proletariat has been a minority at the opposite end of the scale. It rightly hoped to break the majority of the people from the spiritual servitude of imperialism. But right up till the last great massacre of the peoples even the best and the most perceptive proletarian leaders had not suspected with what strength the prejudices of the bourgeois state system and the habits of national conservatism were still embedded in the consciousness of the popular masses. In July 1914 all this was revealed and it was, without exaggeration, the blackest month in world history not because the kings and stock merchants unleashed a war, but because they managed to dominate from inside hundreds of millions of masses of people, to deceive, enmesh, hypnotize and psychologically involve them in their marauding exploits.

Internationalism, which through the decades had been the official banner of the powerful organization of the working class, seemed to have disappeared at once in the fire and smoke of the international carnage. Then it reappeared sporadically like a dim flickering light from separate groups in different countries. The learned and unlearned high priests of the bourgeoisie attempted to depict these groups as dying remains of a Utopian sect. But the name of Zimmerwald had already rolled with an alarming echo throughout the bourgeois press.

The revolutionary internationalists went their own way. As a first task they provided themselves with a clear appraisal of what had happened. A long “epoch” of peaceful bourgeois development with its everyday trade union struggles, reformist hairsplitting and petty parliamentary juggling had created a many-millioned organization topped out with opportunists, which placed mighty fetters on the proletariat’s revolutionary energies. By the force of historical events official social-democracy, which had been built under the sign of social revolution, had turned into the most counter-revolutionary force in Europe and the whole world. It had knitted itself so closely into the national state, its parliament, ministers and commissions and had become so familiar with its erstwhile foes, the parliamentary knaves of the bourgeoisie and middle class, that at the start of the bloody catastrophe of the capitalist system it could see nothing beyond the danger to national “unity”. Instead of calling the proletarian masses on to the offensive against capitalism, it called them to the defence of the “national” state. The social-democracy of the Plekhanovs, the Tseretelis, Scheidemanns, Kautskys, Renaudels and the Longuets mobilized in the service of imperialism every national prejudice, every servile instinct, every bit of chauvinist scum, everything dark and purulent that had accumulated in the souls of the oppressed toiling masses during centuries of slavery. It was clear to the party of revolutionary communism that this gigantic historical swindle would only be ended with the frightful crash of the reigning clique and their underlings. In order to summon the masses to a military upsurge, readiness to self-sacrifice and in short to spend years in filthy, foul-smelling pits of trenches, it was necessary to give birth to great hopes and monstrous illusions in their consciousness. The disillusionment and bitterness of the masses inevitably had to assume forms proportionate to the scale of the deception. The revolutionary internationalists (they were not yet then called communists) foresaw this and built their revolutionary tactic on this prediction: they “set course” for the socialist revolution.

Two conscious minorities, the imperialist and the internationalist declared a mortal struggle upon each other and before their struggle moved to the city streets in the form of an open civil war it had deepened in the consciousness of millions upon millions of toiling people. This no longer consisted of parliamentary conflicts, which even in the best moments of parliamentarism had revealed an extremely limited power of instructive action. Here the whole people, right to its dark and sluggish roots was seized in the steel claws of militarism and was violently dragged right into the maelstrom of events. Communism opposed imperialism and said: “Now you are in practice demonstrating to the masses what you are like and what you are capable of, but my turn is coming next.” The great match between imperialism and communism is not decided by paragraphs of reforms, parliamentary votes or strike decisions of trade unions. Events are written with iron and each step of the struggle is stamped in blood. This alone had already decided that the outcome of the struggle between imperialism and communism would not be reached along the road of formal democracy. Deciding fundamental questions of social development by means of universal suffrage must have meant in present conditions, when the questions were posed at pointblank range, cutting short the fight between mortal class enemies and an appeal to a third party in the form of those intermediate and mainly petty-bourgeois masses who were, as yet, not involved in the struggle or who took part in it semi consciously. But it was just these masses, fooled by the great lie of nationalism, and experiencing the most diverse and contradictory moods, who could not present themselves to imperialism nor less to communism nor even to themselves as an authoritative third party. Await and postpone a solution to the quarrel until such time as these confused intermediate masses recover their senses and could draw all the conclusions from the lessons of the war? How? In what way? Artificial pauses are possible only in skirmishes between athletes in the circus arena or on the tribune of parliament, but not in a civil war. The greater the degree of tension in relationships and every disaster reached as a result of the imperialist war, the less objective possibility remains of bringing the struggle within the bounds of formal democracy or of a simultaneous universal count of hands. “In this war you imperialism, have shown what you are capable of, but now my turn has come: I will take power in my hands and I will show those masses who are still wavering and still confused what am capable of, where I will lead them and what I will or can give them.” Such was the slogan of the October uprising of communism and such is the meaning of that terrible war that the Spartacists have declared on the bourgeois world on the streets of Berlin. The imperialist massacre was solved by the civil war. The more the capitalist war has taught the workers to handle the rifle, the more decisively they began to use the rifle for their own ends. However, the old bloodbath, which is not yet finally liquidated, here and there still sparks off new bloody clashes along national and state lines and threatens to burst forth into a new conflagration At the very moment when communism is already toasting its first victories and has every right not to fear any defeats, from under the volcanic soil there still leaps forth the yellow tongues of flames of nationalism.

Poland which was yesterday asphyxiated, dismembered, mutilated and bled white, today in a last and overdue drunken orgy of nationalism attempts to plunder Prussia, Galicia, Lithuania and Byelorussia. And yet the Polish proletariat is already building its Soviets.

Serbian nationalism seeks a plunderous satisfaction for ancient humiliations and wounds on territory populated by Bulgarians. Italy snatches Serbian provinces for itself. The Czechs, who have scarcely broken free from the German-Hapsburg heel, intoxicated by the fleeting independence which the mighty cheaters of imperialism left them, violate the cities of German Bohemia and menace the Russians in Siberia. The Czech communists sound the alarm. Events crowd in on events. The map of Europe is continuously changing, but the deepest changes occur in the consciousness of the masses. That rifle which yesterday served nationalist imperialism today in the same hands serves the cause of the social revolution. The American stock market which for a long time skilfully kindled the European blaze to give its bankers and industrialists the possibility of warming their hands in its flames low despatches its chief salesman and its supreme broker, the honey-worded rogue, Wilson, to examine more closely whether the matter hasn’t gone too far. Not so long ago the American millionaires were laughing into their shaven chins, rubbing their hands together: “Europe has become a madhouse, Europe is exhausted, ruined, Europe is turning into a cemetery of the old culture; we shall pay a visit to its ruins, we shall buy up its best monuments, we shall invite the most august scions of all the European dynasties to tea; Europe’s competition is disappearing, industrial life will come decisively over to us and the profits of the whole world will begin to flow into our American pockets.”

But now the malicious cackling is starting to stick in the throats of the stock market Yankees. Out of the European chaos more and more imperiously and powerfully the idea of order, of a new, communist order raises its head. Amidst the turmoil and commotion of bloody clashes, whether imperialist, national or class in content, those peoples most backward in the revolutionary sense are slowly but unwaveringly drawing level with those who already have their first victories behind them. Out of that prison of the peoples which was Tsarist Russia, a free federation of Soviet republics grows up before our eyes in our own time with the liberation of Riga, Vilnius and Kharkov. There is no other way out, no other road for the peoples of former Austria-Hungary and of the Balkan Peninsula. Soviet Germany will join this family which within a month or two will embrace Soviet Italy and Soviet France. To turn Europe into a federation of Soviet republics is the only conceivable solution to the needs of the national development of large and small peoples without prejudicing the centralist requirements of economic union first of Europe then of the whole world.

The bourgeois democrats have in their time dreamed of a United States of Europe. These dreams found a hypocritical delayed response in the speeches of the French social democrats in the early stages of the last war. The bourgeoisie could not unite Europe as they counterposed to the unifying tendencies of economic development the divisive aims of national imperialism. In order to unite the peoples it is necessary to liberate the economy from the fetters of private property. Only the dictatorship of the proletariat is capable of implementing the requirements of national development within its natural and legitimate frontiers and of co-ordinating nations in a unity of working co-operation: precisely such will be a federation of Soviet republics of Europe founded on the free self-determination of the nations populating it. There is no other solution. This union will be directed against Britain if she lags behind the continent in her revolutionary development. Together with a Soviet Britain the European federation will aim its blows against the imperialist dictatorship of America as long as the transatlantic republic remains the republic of the dollar – until the triumphant shrieks of the New York stock exchange turn into its death rattle.

Bloody chaos still stands over Europe. The old is coupled to the new. Events jostle events and blood congeals on blood. But from this chaos more and more firmly and bravely steps forward the idea of a communist order from which the bourgeoisie cannot be delivered either by its Versailles plots, its mercenary bands, its voluntary lackeys of conciliation and social-patriotism or the great trans-Atlantic patron of all capitalist butchers.

Now it is not a spectre of communism which is haunting Europe as it was 72 years ago when the Communist Manifesto was written: the ideas and hopes of the bourgeoisie have become spectres while communism marches through Europe in flesh and blood.

January 13, 1919, Balashov

Supplement to Pravda, January 26, 1919

First 5 Years of the Comintern (Vol.1) Index

History of the Communist International Section

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Last updated on: 19.1.2007