Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 1

To Comrades of the Spartacus League

WITH THE GREATEST willingness and joy I accept the suggestion of Comrade Albert, delegate of the German Communist Party, to write a few lines for the German party press.

Having been, like all Russian Marxists, a disciple of German Socialism during my émigré existence, I participated to the best of my ability in the German party press for a number of years. With special gratification I seize this opportunity to renew my collaboration – under the existing, extremely altered conditions.

In these years the Hegelian [1] mole of history has been diligently digging his subterranean tunnels; much that had once stood firmly now lies in ruins – much that was weak, or seemingly so, has now become mighty. Moscow used to be justifiably considered the incarnation of world reaction. Today Moscow has become the meeting place for the Congress of the Third Communist International. At one time I could visit the Berlin of the Hohenzollerns only by using a false passport. (Let me retroactively apologize to the esteemed gendarmes of the Prussian monarchy, nowadays fulfilling the role of guardians of the Republic.) Today ... incidentally, even today the gates of Berlin cannot as yet be considered open to a Russian Communist. However, I hope that for the opening of these gates, we shall not have to wait as long as we have waited up to now. There have been some changes in the German Social Democracy, too.

Comrade Albert confirms that which we never had any doubts about, namely, that the German workers are following the struggle of the Russian working class not only attentively but with fervent sympathy. Neither the unconscionable slanders of the bourgeoisie nor the most erudite criticisms of Karl Kautsky have swerved them from this sympathy.

From Kautsky we have heard that although the conquest of political power by the working class happens to be the historical task of a Social-Democratic Party, inasmuch as the Russian Communist Party has come to power not through those portals nor at the time indicated by Kautsky’s prescription, the Soviet Republic must therefore be handed over for correction and reform to Kerensky [2], Tseretelli [3] and Chernov. [4]

Kautsky’s pedantic-reactionary criticism must seem the more unexpected to those German comrades who lived consciously through the period of the first Russian revolution and who read the 1905-06 articles [5] of Kautsky. At that time Kautsky (true, not without Rosa Luxemburg’s beneficent influence) thoroughly understood and recognized that the Russian revolution could not be consummated by a bourgeois-democratic republic but, because of the level attained by the class struggle within the country and because of the entire international condition of capitalism, must lead to the dictatorship of the working class. Kautsky at that time wrote flatly in favor of a workers’ government with a Social-Democratic majority. It did not even enter his mind to place the actual course of the class struggle in dependence upon any transitory and superficial combinations of political democracy. Kautsky then understood that the revolution would for the first time awaken the multimillioned peasant and middle-class masses; and do so, moreover, not at a single stroke, but gradually, layer by layer, so that when the decisive moment was reached in the struggle between the proletariat and the capitalist bourgeoisie, the broad peasant masses would still be found at an extremely primitive level of political development and would cast their votes for the intermediate political parties, reflecting thereby only the backwardness and the prejudices of the peasantry. Kautsky then understood that the proletariat, on arriving, by the logic of the revolution, at the conquest of power, could not arbitrarily postpone this action to an indefinite future because such an act of self-renunciation would only clear the field for the counter-revolution. Kautsky then understood that the proletariat, having taken the revolutionary power into its own hands, would not stake the fate of the revolution upon the fleeting moods of the least conscious and still unawakened masses at a given moment, but would, on the contrary, transform the entire state power concentrated in its hands into a mighty apparatus of enlightenment and organization of the most backward and most ignorant peasant masses. Kautsky understood that to pin on the Russian revolution the label, “bourgeois,”and thereby delimit its tasks, would be to remain abysmally ignorant of what is occurring under the sun. He acknowledged quite correctly – together with the revolutionary Marxists of Russia and Poland – that in the event the Russian proletariat attained power before the European working class, it would have to utilize its ruling class position in order to further with every effort the extension of the proletarian revolution in Europe and throughout the whole world – if only for the sake of saving the Russian revolution by making the latter an integral part of the European revolijtion, and thus hastening Russia’s own transition to a socialist system. At that time, all these world perspectives, permeated with the genuine spirit of the Marxist doctrine, were naturally made neither by Kautsky nor by us in any way dependent upon how or for whom the peasantry would vote in November-December 1917 during elections to the so-called Constituent Assembly.

Today when the perspectives outlined 15 years ago have become the reality, Kautsky refuses to issue a certificate of baptism to the Russian Revolution because it has not been legally certified by the political department of bourgeois democracy. An astonishing fact! What incredible debasement of Marxism! One can say with complete justification that the collapse of the Second International finds an even more odious expression in this philistine attitude of its outstanding theoretician toward the Russian Revolution than it did in the vote cast August 4, 1914, in favor of war credits. [6]

For a number of decades Kautsky promoted and defended the ideas of social revolution. Today when the revolution has come, Kautsky shies away in terror. He abjures the Soviet power in Russia, he stands hostilely opposed to the mighty movement of the Communist proletariat of Germany. Kautsky closely resembles a school-master who, year in and year out, within the four walls of a stuffy schoolroom keeps repeating to his pupils a description of spring and then, in the decline of his pedagogical career, happens to stumble into the lap of nature during springtime, fails to recognize spring, is driven to frenzy (insofar as frenzy is proper to school teachers) and begins proving that the greatest disorder prevails in nature, that is, that the real spring is no spring at all for it is occurring contrary to nature’s laws. How good it is that the workers do not harken to even the most authoritative pedants, but do harken to the voice of spring.

We, the disciples of German philosophy, the disciples of Marx, remain, together with the German workers, convinced that the spring of revolution is taking place wholly in accordance with the laws of nature and at the same time the laws of Marx’s theory, for Marxism is not a supra-historical kindergarten rod but the social analysis of the paths and methods of an actually unfolding historical process.

We likewise learned from Comrade Albert that the revolutionary German workers rejected those accusations which were leveled in their time against us by the selfsame Kautskyan Independent Party, which indicted us for deeming it possible to conclude the Brest-Litovsk peace with victorious German militarism. Bernstein [7] in his time circulated literary productions wherein he not only submitted to harsh judgment our having concluded peace with the Hohenzollern diplomats but also accompanied his criticism with darkest insinuations. He accused us – no more, no less – consciously deceiving the Russian workers about the inevitability of the German revolution – solely for the purpose of covering up our intrigues with the Hohenzollern government. I refrain from referring to the fact that these “theoreticians of Marxism”who consider themselves genuine realists and sages didn’t understand even a few months ago the inevitability of a social catastrophe in Germany, whereas we “utopians”had predicted it from the very first day of the war. But isn’t it astounding political stupidity to proclaim the German revolution impossible, that is, to acknowledge the immutability of mighty German militarism, while at the same time demanding that the government of a weakened and exhausted country like Russia should at all costs continue waging – hand in hand with English imperialism – war against Hohenzollern? According to Bernstein and Co. we were guilty of failing to monopolize the struggle against German imperialism, and resting our hopes on the revolutionary activity of the German proletariat. But here, too, we were proved correct. Contrary to the logic of pedants and school teachers, the German working class has settled scores with the monarchy and is moving on the correct path toward the complete destruction of the rule of the bourgeoisie. Unfortunately I haven’t the opportunity of ascertaining whether the English and French Bernsteins are now indicting the German working class because it is compelled to agree to a peace with Anglo-French imperialism. But we Russian Communists do not for a moment doubt that the terrible peace now being imposed by the world bandits on the German people will react completely to the damage of the ruling classes of the Entente.

Since the argument relating to the illegitimate birth of the dictatorship of the Russian working class does not exercise any great influence upon the German workers, a new argument is now being advanced in order to traduce the Russian Revolution. The Soviet government is aiming, mind you, to invade Eastern Prussia with the Red Army. We don’t doubt that this fiction, too, which political charlatans are circulating in order to frighten and deceive idiots meets with no credence among German workers. It is our considered opinion that we shall fulfill our duty to the international revolution if we preserve the rule of the working class on the soil of Russia. This task demands of the Russian proletariat an enormous straining of forces and revolutionary self-sacrifice. Up to now our Red Army has successfully coped with its task. In the last six months it has liberated from the White Guard gangs an area of 700,000 square kilometers with a population of 42,000,000 souls. We confidently expect that the Workers’ and Peasants’ Army will not only maintain socialist power on this territory but also sweep clean those provinces of the Federated Republic where the power of the bourgeoisie is still being maintained with the assistance of foreign imperialists. As regards Germany, we consider that the task of transforming her into a socialist republic is first of all the business of the German working class. Precisely for this reason, this business is in firm and reliable hands. We send to the German proletarians our fervent greetings and ask them to believe that never have they been so close and dear to the heart of every Russian Communist as they are today, when amid incredible hardships in the struggle against traitors and turn-coats, with the road dotted with lifeless bodies of their best fighters like Liebknecht and Luxemburg, they are tirelessly and courageously marching toward final victory.

March 9, 1919


1. Hegel – the greatest German philosopher of the first part of the nineteenth century. His outstanding achievement was the systematization of the dialectic character of development in nature and in society. The gist of Hegel’s doctrine consists in recognizing that inorganic, organic and social formations arise, develop and are destroyed.

2. Kerensky – member of the Social Revolutionary Party, was elected deputy to the Fourth Duma. After the February Revolution of 1917 which overthrew the Czar, he became the outstanding representative of petty-bourgeois conciliationists. “Kerenskyism” has become a synonym for a transitional period between bourgeois democracy and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

3. Tseretelli was one of the most prominent Russian Mensheviks from Georgia, deputy to the Second Duma. After the February Revolution he was one of the leaders of the so-called “revolutionary defensists and entered as Minister of Posts and Telegraph into the coalition government.

4, Chernov was the founder and most prominent leader of the Social Revolutionary Party. During the first imperialist war he donned temporarily the cloak of Zimmerwaldism. After the February Revolution he served as Minister of Agriculture in the Kerensky government.

5. The reference here is to Kautsky’s pamphlets: The Motor Forces of the Russian Revolution (an answer to a questionnaire sent out to prominent Socialist leaders by Plekhanov), The Agrarian Question in Russia, The Russian and the American Workers, The Revolutionary Perspective, and so on. In these pamphlets and articles Kautsky supported the Bolsheviks. (See Report on the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Red Army, Note 8.)

6. On August 4, 1914 the Social-Democratic fraction in the German Reichstag voted credits for the war against which it had issued public statements only a short while before. (See Manifesto of the Communist International to the Workers of the World, Notes 21 and 22.)

7. Bernstein is the theoretician of opportunism, with whose name is linked the theoretical revision of Marxism which began in 1896-97. Bernstein served as the theoretician of reformism for 25 years. During the interval between the two world wars he did not play any significant political role. (See Manifesto of the Communist International to the Workers of the World, Note .)

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Last updated on: 15.1.2007