Leon Trotsky

The Third International
After Lenin

III. Summary and Perspectives
of the Chinese Revolution:
Its Lessons for the Countries of the Orient
and for the Whole of the Comintern

(Part 2)

3. Democratic Dictatorship or a Dictatorship of the Proletariat?

4. Adventurism as the Product of Opportunism

5. Soviets and Revolution

3. Democratic Dictatorship or a Dictatorship of the Proletariat?

But how did the last Plenum of the ECCI evaluate the experiences of the Chinese revolution, including the experience of the Canton insurrection? What further perspectives did it outline? The resolution of the February (1928) Plenum, which is the key to the corresponding sections of the draft program on this subject, says concerning the Chinese revolution:

“It is incorrect to characterize it as a ‘permanent’ revolution [the position of the representative of the ECCI]. The tendency to skip [?] over the bourgeois-democratic stage of the revolution while simultaneously [?] appraising the revolution as a ‘permanent’ revolution is a mistake analogous to that committed by Trotsky in 1905 [?].”

The ideological life of the Comintern since Lenin’s departure from its leadership, that is, since 1923, consisted primarily in a struggle against so-called “Trotskyism” and particularly against the “permanent revolution.” How is it, then, that in the fundamental question of the Chinese revolution not only the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, but also the official delegate of the Comintern, i.e., a leader who was sent with special instructions, happen to commit the very same “mistake” for which hundreds of men are now exiled to Siberia, and put in prison? The struggle around the Chinese question has been raging for some two and a half years. When the Opposition declared that the old Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (Chen Tu-hsiu), under the influence of the false directives from the Comintern, conducted an opportunist policy, this evaluation was declared to be “slander.” The leadership of the Communist Party of China was pronounced irreproachable. The celebrated Tang Ping-shan declared amid the general approval of the Seventh Plenum of the ECCI that

“At the very first manifestations of Trotskyism, the Communist Party of China and the Young Communist League immediately adopted a unanimous resolution against Trotskyism.” [3]

But when, not withstanding; these “achievements,” events unfolded their tragic logic which led to the first and then to the second and even more frightful debacle of the revolution, the leadership of the Communist Party of China, formerly flawless, was re-baptized as Menshevik and deposed in the space of twenty-four hours. At the same time a decree was promulgated that the new leadership fully reflected the line of the Comintern. But no sooner did a new and a serious test arise than it was discovered that the new Central Committee of the Communist Party of China was guilty (as we have already seen, not in words, but in actions) of swerving to the position of the so-called “permanent revolution.” The delegate of the Comintern took the very same path. This astonishing and truly incomprehensible fact can be explained only by the yawning “scissors” between the instructions of the ECCI and the real dynamics of the revolution.

We shall not dwell here upon the myth of the “permanent revolution” of 1905 which was placed in circulation in 1928 in order to sow confusion and bewilderment. We shall confine ourselves to an examination of how this myth broke down on the question of the Chinese revolution.

The first paragraph of the February resolution, from which the above-quoted passage was taken, gives the following motives for its negative attitude toward the so-called “permanent revolution”:

“The current period of the Chinese revolution is a period of a bourgeois-democratic revolution which has not been completed either from the economic standpoint (the agrarian revolution and the abolition of feudal relations), or from the standpoint of the national struggle against imperialism (the unification of China and the establishment of national independence), or from the standpoint of the class nature of the state (the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry) ...”

This presentation of motives is an unbroken chain of mistakes and contradictions.

The ECCI taught that the Chinese revolution must secure for China the opportunity to develop along the road to socialism. This goal could be achieved only if the revolution did not halt merely at the solution of the bourgeois-democratic tasks but continued to unfold, passing from one stage to the next, i.e., continued to develop uninterruptedly (or permanently) and thus lead China toward a socialist development. This is precisely what Marx understood by the term “permanent revolution.” How then can we, on the one hand, speak of a non-capitalist path of development for China and, on the other, deny the permanent character of the revolution in general?

But – insists the resolution of the ECCI – the revolution has not been completed, either from the standpoint of the agrarian revolution or from the standpoint of the national struggle against imperialism. Hence it draws the conclusion about the bourgeois-democratic character of the “present period of the Chinese revolution.” As a matter of fact the “present period” is a period of counter-revolution. The ECCI doubtlessly intends to say that the new resurgence of the Chinese revolution, or the third Chinese revolution, will bear a bourgeois-democratic character because the second Chinese revolution of 1925-1927 solved neither the agrarian question nor the national question. However, even thus amended, this reasoning is based upon a total failure to understand the experiences and lessons of both the Chinese and the Russian revolutions.

The February 1917 revolution in Russia left unsolved all the internal and international problems which had led to the revolution – serfdom in the villages, the old bureaucracy, the war, and economic debacle. Taking this as a starting point, not only the SRs and the Mensheviks, but also a considerable section of the leadership of our own party tried to prove to Lenin that the “present period of the revolution is a period of the bourgeois-democratic revolution.” In this, its basic consideration, the resolution of the ECCI merely copies the objections which the opportunists raised against the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat waged by Lenin in 1917.

Furthermore, it appears that the bourgeois-democratic revolution remains unaccomplished not only from the economic and national standpoint, but also >from the “standpoint of the class nature of the state (the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry).” This can mean only one thing: that the Chinese proletariat is forbidden to struggle for the conquest of power so long as no “genuine” democratic government stands at the helm in China. Unfortunately, no instructions are forthcoming as to where we can get it.

The confusion is further increased by the fact that the slogan of Soviets was rejected for China in the course of these two years on the ground that the creation of Soviets is permissible presumably only during the transition to the proletarian revolution (Stalin’s “theory”). But when the Soviet revolution broke out in Canton and when its participants drew the conclusion that this was precisely the transition to the proletarian revolution, they were accused of “Trotskyism.” Is the party to be educated by such methods? Is this the way to assist it in the solution of supreme tasks?

To save a hopeless position, the resolution of the ECCI (without any connection whatever with the entire trend of its thought) rushes in post-haste to its last argument’taken from imperialism. It appears that “the tendency to skip over the bourgeois-democratic stage is all the more [!] harmful because such a formulation of the question eliminates [?] the most important national peculiarity of the Chinese revolution, which is a semi-colonial revolution.”

The only meaning that these senseless words can have is that the imperialist yoke will be overthrown by some sort of non-proletarian dictatorship. But this means that the “most important national peculiarity” has been dragged in at the last moment in order to paint the Chinese national bourgeoisie or the Chinese petty-bourgeois “democracy” in bright colors. This argument can have no other meaning. But this only “meaning” has been adequately examined by us in our chapter “On the nature of the Colonial Bourgeoisie.” There is no need to return to this subject.

China is still confronted with a vast, bitter, bloody, and prolonged struggle for such elementary things as the liquidation of the most “Asiatic” forms of slavery, national emancipation, and unification of the country. But as the course of events has shown, it is precisely this that makes impossible in the future any petty-bourgeois leadership or even semi-leadership in the revolution. The unification and emancipation of China today is an international task, no less so than the existence of the USSR. This task can be solved only by means of a desperate struggle on the part of the downtrodden, hungry, and persecuted masses under the direct leadership of the proletarian vanguard’a struggle not only against world imperialism, but also against its economic and political agency in China, against the bourgeoisie, including the “national” bourgeoisie and all its democratic flunkeys. And this is nothing else than the road toward the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Beginning with April, 1917, Lenin explained to his opponents, who accused him of having adopted the position of the “permanent revolution,” that the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry was realized partially in the epoch of dual power. He explained later that this dictatorship met with its further extension during the first period of Soviet power from November 1917 until July 1918, when the entire peasantry, together with the workers, effected the agrarian revolution while the working class did not as yet proceed with the confiscation of the mills and factories, but experimented with workers’ control. So far as the “class nature of the state” was concerned, the democratic-SR-Menshevik “dictatorship” gave all that it could give – the miscarriage of dual power. As to the agrarian overturn, the revolution gave birth to a perfectly healthy and strong baby, but it was the proletarian dictatorship that functioned as the midwife. In other words, what the theoretical formula of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry had combined, was dissociated in the course of the actual class struggle. The hollow shell of semi-power was provisionally entrusted to Kerensky-Tseretelli, while the real kernel of the agrarian-democratic revolution fell to the share of the victorious working class. This dialectical dissociation of the democratic dictatorship, the leaders of the ECCI failed to understand. They drove themselves into a political blind alley by condemning mechanically any “skipping over the bourgeois-democratic stage” and by endeavoring to guide the historical process in accordance with circular letters. If we are to understand by the bourgeois-democratic stage, the accomplishment of the agrarian revolution by means of a “democratic dictatorship,” then it was the October Revolution itself that audaciously “skipped” over the bourgeois-democratic stage. Should it not be condemned for it?

Why is it then that the historically inevitable course of events which was the highest expression of Bolshevism in Russia must prove to be “Trotskyism” in China? No doubt owing to the very same logic which declares to be suitable for China the theory of the Martynovs, a theory fought by Bolshevism for two decades in Russia.

But is it at all permissible to draw here an analogy with Russia? Our answer is that the slogan of a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry was constructed by the leaders of the ECCI exclusively and entirely in accordance with the method of analogy, but a formal and literary analogy and not a materialist and historical analogy. An analogy between China and Russia is entirely admissible if we find the proper approach to it, and Lenin made excellent use of such an analogy. Moreover he did so not after but before the events, as if he had foreseen the future blunders of the epigones. Hundreds of times Lenin had to defend the October Revolution of the proletariat that had the audacity to conquer power notwithstanding the fact that the bourgeois-democratic tasks had not been solved. Precisely because of that, and precisely in order to do that, replied Lenin. Addressing himself to the pedants, who in their arguments against the conquest of power referred to the economic immaturity of Russia for socialism, which was “incontestable” for him [4], Lenin wrote on January 16, 1923:

“It does not even occur to them, for instance, that Russia, standing on the border between civilized countries and countries which were for the first time definitely drawn by this war into the vortex of civilization, all Eastern countries and non-European countries’that Russia therefore could and should have manifested certain peculiarities which fall, of course, along the general lines of world development but which make its revolution different from all preceding revolutions of the Western European countries and which introduce certain partial innovations in approaching the countries of the Orient.” [5]

The “peculiarity” which brings Russia closer to the countries of the Orient was seen by Lenin precisely in the fact that the young proletariat, at an early stage, had to grasp the broom and sweep feudal barbarism and all sorts of rubbish from its path toward socialism.

If, consequently, we are to take as our starting point the Leninist analogy between China and Russia, then we must say: from the standpoint of the “political nature of the State,” all that could have been obtained through the democratic dictatorship in China has been put to the test, first in Sun Yat-sen’s Canton, then on the road from Canton to Shanghai, which culminated in the Shanghai coup d’etat, and then in Wuhan where the Left Kuomintang appeared in its chemically pure form, i.e., according to the directives of the ECCI, as the organizer of the agrarian revolution, but in reality as its hangman. But the social content of the bourgeois-democratic revolution will fill the initial period of the coming dictatorship of the Chinese proletariat and the peasant poor. To advance now the slogan of a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry after the role not only of the Chinese bourgeoisie, but also of Chinese “democracy” has been put to a thorough test, after it has become absolutely incontestable that ’’democracy” will play even a greater hangman’s role in the coming battles than in the past’to advance this slogan now is simply to create the means of covering up the new varieties of Kuomintangism and to prepare a noose for the proletariat.

Let us recall for the sake of completeness what Lenin tersely said about those Bolsheviks who insisted upon counterposing to the SR-Menshevik experience the slogan of a “genuine” democratic dictatorship:

“Whoever now talks only about the ’revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ has lost touch with life, has, in virtue of this circumstance, gone over, in practice, to the petty bourgeoisie against the proletarian class struggle; and he ought to be relegated to the museum of ’Bolshevik’ pre-revolutionary antiquities (or, as one might call it, the museum of ’old Bolsheviks’).[6]

These words ring as if they were actually spoken today. Of course it is not at all a question of calling the Communist Party of China to an immediate insurrection for the seizure of power. The pace depends entirely upon the circumstances. The consequences of defeat cannot be removed merely by revising the tactic. The revolution is now subsiding. The half-concealing resolution of the ECCI, the bombast about imminent revolutionary onslaughts, while countless people are being executed and a terrific commercial and industrial crisis rages in China, are criminal light-mindedness and nothing else. After three major defeats an economic crisis does not rouse but, on the contrary, depresses the proletariat which, us it is, has already been bled white, while the executions only destroy the politically weakened party. We are entering in China into a period of reflux, and consequently into a period in which the party deepens its theoretical roots, educates itself critically, creates and strengthens firm organizational links in all spheres of the working class movement, organizes rural nuclei, leads and unites partial, at first defensive and later offensive, battles of the workers and the peasant poor.

What will turn the tide in the mass movement? What circumstances will give the necessary revolutionary impulsion to the proletarian vanguard at the head of the many-millioned masses? This cannot be predicted. The future will show whether internal processes alone will be sufficient or an added impulsion will have to come from without.

There are sufficient grounds for assuming that the smashing of the Chinese revolution, directly due to the false leadership, will permit the Chinese and foreign bourgeoisie to overcome to a lesser or greater degree the frightful economic crisis now raging in the country. Naturally, this will be done on the backs and bones of the workers and peasants. This phase of “stabilization” will once again group and fuse together the workers, restore their class self-confidence in order subsequently to bring them into still sharper conflict with the enemy, but on a higher historical stage. It will be possible to speak seriously about the perspective of an agrarian revolution only on the condition that there will be a new mounting wave of the proletarian movement on the offensive.

It is not excluded that the first stage of the coming third revolution may reproduce in a very abridged and modified form the stages which have already been passed, presenting, for instance, some new parody of the “national united front.” But this first stage will be sufficient only to give the communist party a chance to put forward and announce its “April” thesis, that is, its program and tactics of the seizure of power, before the popular masses.

But what does the draft program say on this?

“The transition to the proletarian dictatorship is possible here [in China] only after a series of preparatory stages [?] only as a result of a whole period of the growing over [??] of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into the socialist revolution.”

In other words, all the “stages” that have already been gone through are not to be taken into account. The draft program still sees ahead what has already been left behind. This is precisely what is meant by a tail-endist formulation. It opens wide the gates for new experiments in the spirit of the Kuomintang course. Thus the concealment of the old mistakes inevitably prepares the road for new errors.

If we enter the new upsurge, which will develop at an incomparably more rapid tempo than the last one, with a blueprint of “democratic dictatorship” that has already outlived its usefulness, there can be no doubt that the third Chinese revolution, like the second, will be led to its doom.

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4. Adventurism as the Product of Opportunism

The second paragraph of the same resolution of the February plenum of the ECCI says:

“The first wave of the broad revolutionary movement of workers and peasants which in the main proceeded under the slogans, and to a considerable extent under the leadership of the communist party, is over. It ended in several centers of the revolutionary movement with heaviest defeats for the workers and peasants, the physical extermination of the communists and revolutionary cadres of the labor and peasant movement in general.”

When the “wave” was surging high, the ECCI said that the whole movement was entirely under the blue banner and leadership of the Kuomintang which even took the place of Soviets. It is precisely on that ground that the communist party was subordinated to the Kuomintang. But that is exactly why the revolutionary movement ended with “heaviest defeats.” Now when these defeats have been recognized, an attempt is being made to erase the Kuomintang from the past as if it had never existed, as if the ECCI had not declared the blue banner its own.

There have been no defeats either in Shanghai or in Wuhan in the past; there were merely transitions of the revolution “into a higher phase” -- that is what we have been taught. Now the sum total of these transitions is suddenly declared to be “heaviest defeats for the workers and peasants." However, in order to mask to some extent this unprecedented political bankruptcy of forecasts and evaluations, the concluding paragraph of the resolution declares:

“The ECCI makes it the duty of all sections of the CI to fight against the social democratic and Trotskyist slanders to the effect that the Chinese revolution has been liquidated [?].”

In the first paragraph of the resolution we were told that “Trotskyism” was the idea of the permanent Chinese revolution, that is, a revolution which is precisely at this time growing over from the bourgeois to the socialist phase; from the last paragraph we learn that according to the “Trotskyists,” “the Chinese revolution has been liquidated.” How can a “liquidated” revolution be a permanent revolution? Here we have Bukharin in all his glory.

Only complete and reckless irresponsibility permits of such contradictions which corrode all revolutionary thought at its roots.

If we are to understand by “liquidation” of the revolution the fact that the labor and peasant offensive has been beaten back and drowned in blood, that the masses are in a state of retreat and decline, that before another onslaught there must be, apart from many other circumstances, a molecular process at work among the masses which requires a certain period of time, the duration of which cannot be determined beforehand; if “liquidation” is to be understood in this way, it does not in any manner differ from the “heaviest defeats” which the ECCI has finally been compelled to recognize. Or are we to understand liquidation literally, as the actual elimination of the Chinese revolution, that is, of the very possibility and inevitability of its rebirth on a new plane? One can speak of such a perspective seriously and so as not to create confusion only in two cases – if China were doomed to dismemberment and complete extirpation, an assumption for which there is no basis whatever, or if the Chinese bourgeoisie would prove capable of solving the basic problems of Chinese life in its own non-revolutionary way. Is it not this last variant which the theoreticians of the “bloc of four classes,” who directly drove the communist party under the yoke of the bourgeoisie, seek to ascribe to us now?

History repeats itself. The blind men who did not understand the scope of the defeat of 1923, for a year and a half accused us of “liquidationism” towards the German revolution. But even this lesson, which cost the International so dearly, taught them nothing. At present they use their old rubber stamps, only this time substituting China for Germany. To be sure, their need to find “liquidators” is more acute today than it was four years ago, for this time it is much too obviously apparent that if anybody did “liquidate” the second Chinese revolution it was the authors of the “Kuomintang” course.

The strength of Marxism lies in its ability to foretell. In this sense the Opposition can point to an absolute confirmation in experience of its prognosis. At first concerning the Kuomintang as a whole, then concerning the “Left” Kuomintang and the Wuhan government, and, finally, concerning the “deposit” on the third revolution, that is the Canton insurrection. What further confirmation could there be of one’s theoretical correctness?

The very same opportunist line, which through the policy of capitulation to the bourgeoisie has already brought heaviest defeats to the revolution during its first two stages, “grew over” in the third stage into a policy of adventurous raids on the bourgeoisie and thus made the defeat final.

Had the leadership not hurried yesterday to leap over the defeats which it had itself brought about, it would first of all have explained to the Communist Party of China that victory is not gained in one sweep, that on the road to the armed insurrection there still remains a period of intense, incessant, and savage struggle for political influence on the workers and peasants.

On September 27, 1927, we said to the Presidium of the ECCI:

“Today’s papers report that the revolutionary army has occupied Swatow. It is already several weeks that the armies of Ho Lung and Yeh Ting have been advancing. Pravda calls these armies revolutionary armies ... But I ask you: what prospects does the movement of the revolutionary army which captured Swatow raise before the Chinese revolution? What are the slogans of the movement? What is its program? What should, be its organizational forms? What has become of the slogan of Chinese Soviets, which Pravda suddenly advanced for a single day in July?”

Without first counterposing the communist party to the Kuomintang as a whole, without the party’s agitation among the masses for Soviets and a Soviet government, without an independent mobilization of the masses under the slogans of the agrarian revolution and of national emancipation, without the creation, broadening, and strengthening of the local Soviets of workers’, soldiers’, and peasants’ deputies, the insurrection of Ho Lung and Yeh Ting, even apart from their opportunist policy, could not fail to be only an isolated adventure, a pseudo-Communist Makhno feat; it could not fail to crash against its own isolation. And it has crashed.

The Canton insurrection was a broader and deeper repetition of the Ho Lung-Yeh Ting adventure, only with infinitely more tragic consequences.

The February resolution of the ECCI combats putschistic moods in the Communist Party of China, that is, tendencies toward armed uprisings. It does not say, however, that these tendencies are a reaction to the entire opportunist policy of 1925-1927, and an inevitable consequence of the purely military command issued from above to “change the step,” without an evaluation of all that had been done, without an open revaluation of the basis of the tactic, and without a clear perspective. Ho Lung’s campaign and the Canton insurrection were – and under the circumstances could not fail to be – breeders of putschism.

A real antidote to putschism as well as to opportunism can be only a clear understanding of the truth that the leadership of the armed insurrection of the workers and poor peasants, the seizure of power, and the institution of a revolutionary dictatorship fall henceforth entirely upon the shoulders of the Communist Party of China. If the latter is permeated thoroughly with the understanding of this perspective, it will be as little inclined to improvise military raids on towns or armed insurrections in traps as to chase humbly after the enemy’s banner.

The resolution of the ECCI condemns itself to utter impotence by the fact alone that in arguing most abstractly concerning the inadmissibility of leaping over stages and the harmfulness of putschism, it entirely ignores the class content of the Canton insurrection and the short-lived Soviet regime which it brought into existence. We Oppositionists hold that this insurrection was an adventure of the leaders in an effort to save their “prestige.” But it is clear to us that even an adventure develops according to laws which are determined by the structure of the social milieu. That is why we look to the Canton insurrection for the features of the future phase of the Chinese revolution. These features fully correspond with our theoretical analysis made prior to the Canton uprising. But how much more imperative it is for the ECCI, which holds that the Canton uprising was a correct and normal link in the chain of struggle, to give a clear class characterization of the Canton insurrection. However, there is not a word about this in the resolution of the ECCI, although the Plenum met immediately after the Canton events. Is this not the most convincing proof that the present leadership of the Comintern, because it stubbornly pursues a false policy, is compelled to occupy itself with the fictitious errors of 1905 and other years without daring to approach the Canton insurrection of 1927, the meaning of which completely upsets the blueprint for revolutions in the East which is set down in the draft program?

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5. Soviets and Revolution

In the February resolution of the ECCI the representatives of the Comintern, “Comrade N. and others,” are made responsible for the “absence of an elected Soviet in Canton as an organ of insurrection.” Behind this charge in reality lies an astounding admission.

In the report of Pravda (No.31), written on the basis of first-hand documents, it was stated that a Soviet government had been established in Canton. But not a word was mentioned to indicate that the Canton Soviet was not an elected organ, i.e., that it was not a Soviet – for how can there be a Soviet which was not elected? We learn this from the resolution. Let us reflect for a moment on the signIficance of this fact. The ECCI tells us now that a Soviet is necessary to effect an armed insurrection, but by no means prior to that time. But lo and behold! When the date for the insurrection is set, there is no Soviet. To create an elected Soviet is not an easy matter. It is necessary that the masses know from experience what a Soviet is, that they understand its form, that they have learned something in the past to accustom them to an elected Soviet organization. There was not even a sign of this in China, for the slogan of Soviets was declared to be a Trotskyist slogan precisely in the period when it should have become the nerve center of the entire movement. When, however, helter-skelter, a date was set for an insurrection so as to skip over their own defeats, they simultaneously had to appoint a Soviet as well. If this error is not laid bare to the core, the slogan of Soviets can be transformed into a strangling noose of the revolution.

Lenin in his time explained to the Mensheviks that the fundamental historical task of the Soviets is to organize, or help organize, the conquest of power so that on the day after the victory they become the organ of that power. The epigones’and not the disciples’draw from this the conclusion that Soviets can be organized only when the 12th hour of the insurrection has struck. Lenin’s broad generalization they transform post factum into a little recipe which does not serve the interests of the revolution but imperils it.

Before the Bolshevik Soviets in October 1917 captured power, the SR and Menshevik Soviets had existed for nine months. Twelve years before, the first revolutionary Soviets existed in Petersburg, Moscow, and scores of other cities. Before the Soviet of 1905 was extended to embrace the mills and factories of the capital, there was created in Moscow, during the strike, a Soviet of printers’ deputies. Several months before this, in May 1905, a mass strike in Ivanovo-Voznesiensk set up a leading organ which already contained all the essential features of a Soviet of workers’ deputies. Between the first experiment of setting up a Soviet of workers’ deputies and the gigantic experiment of setting up a Soviet government, more than twelve years rolled by. Of course, such a period is not at all required for all other countries, including China. But to think that the Chinese workers are capable of building Soviets on the basis of the little recipe that has been substituted for Lenin’s broad generalization is to substitute impotent and importunate pedantry for the dialectic of revolutionary action. Soviets must be set up not on the eve of the insurrection, not under the slogan of immediate seizure of power’for if the matter has reached the point of the seizure of power, if the masses are prepared for an armed insurrection without a Soviet, it means that there have been other organizational forms and methods which made possible the performance of the preparatory work to insure the success of the uprising. Then the question of Soviets becomes of secondary importance and is reduced to a question of organizational technique or merely to a question of denomination. The task of the Soviets is not merely to issue the call for the insurrection or to carry it out, but to lead the masses toward the insurrection through the necessary stages. At first the Soviet rallies the masses not to the slogan of armed insurrection, but to partial slogans, so that only later, step by step, the masses are brought towards the slogan of insurrection without scattering them on the road and without allowing the vanguard to become isolated from the class. The Soviet appears most often and primarily in connection with strike struggles which have the perspectives of revolutionary development, but are in the given moment limited merely to economic demands. The masses must sense and understand while in action that the Soviet is their organization, that it marshals the forces for a struggle, for resistance, for self-defense, and for an offensive. They can sense and understand this not >from an action of a single day nor in general from any single act, but from the experience of several weeks, months, and perhaps years, with or without interruptions. That is why only an epigonic and bureaucratic leadership can restrain the awakening and rising masses from creating Soviets in conditions when the country is passing through an epoch of revolutionary upheavals and when the working class and the poor peasants have before them the prospect of capturing power, even though this is a perspective of one of the subsequent stages and even if this perspective can be envisaged in the given phase only by a small minority. Such was always our conception of the Soviets. We evaluated the Soviets as that broad and flexible organizational form which is accessible to the masses who have just awakened at the very first stages of their revolutionary upsurge; and which is capable of uniting the working class in its entirety, independent of the size of that section which, in the given phase, has already matured to the point of understanding the task of the seizure of power.

Is any documentary evidence really necessary? Here, for instance, is what Lenin wrote about the Soviets in the epoch of the first revolution:

“The Social Democratic Labor Party of Russia [the name of the party at that time] has never refused to utilize at moments of greater or smaller revolutionary upsurge certain non-party organizations of the type of Soviets of Workers’ Deputies in order to strengthen the influence of the social democrats on the working class and to consolidate the social democratic labor movement.” [7]

One could cite voluminous literary and historic evidence of this type. But one would imagine that the question is sufficiently clear without them.

In contradistinction to this the epigones have converted the Soviets into an organizational parade unifo rm with which the party simply dresses up the proletariat on the eve of the capture of power. But this is precisely the time when we find that the Soviets cannot be improvised in 24 hours, by order, for the direct purpose of an armed insurrection. Such experiments must inevitably assume a fictitious character and the absence of the most necessary conditions for the capture of power is masked by the external ritual of a Soviet system. That is what happened in Canton where the Soviet was simply appointed to observe the ritual. That is where the epigone formulation of the question leads.

*  *  *

During the polemics on the Chinese events the Opposition was accused of the following alleged flagrant contradiction: whereas from 1926 on the Opposition advanced the slogan of Soviets for China, its representatives spoke against the slogan of Soviets for Germany in the Autumn of 1923. On no other point perhaps has scholastic political thought expressed itself so glaringly as in this accusation. Yes, we demanded for China a timely start for the creation of Soviets as independent organizations of workers and peasants, when the wave of revolutionary upsurge was mounting.

The chief significance of the Soviets was to be that of opposing the workers and peasants to the Kuomintang bourgeoisie and its Left Kuomintang agency. The slogan of Soviets in China meant above all the break with the suicidal and infamous “bloc of four classes” and the withdrawal of the communist party from the Kuomintang. The center of gravity consequently lay not in bare organizational forms, but in the class line.

In the Autumn of 1923 in Germany it was a question of organizational form only. As a result of the extreme passivity, backwardness, and tardiness of the leadership of the Comintern and the Communist Party of Germany, the moment for a timely call for the organization of Soviets was missed. The factory committees, due to pressure from below and of their own accord, had occupied in the labor movement of Germany by the Autumn of 1923 the place which would no doubt have been much more successfully occupied by Soviets had there been a correct and daring policy on the part of the communist party. The acuteness of the situation had in the meantime reached its sharpest point. To lose any more time would have meant definitely to miss the revolutionary situation. The insurrection was finally placed on the order of the day, with very little time left. To advance the slogan of Soviets under such conditions would have been the greatest pedantic stupidity conceivable. The Soviet is not a talisman with omnipotent powers of salvation. In a situation such as had then developed, the hurried creation of Soviets would only have duplicated the factory committees. It would have become necessary to deprive the latter of their revolutionary functions and to transfer them to the newly-created and still utterly unauthoritative Soviets. And when was this to be done? Under conditions in which each day counted. This would have meant to substitute for revolutionary action a most pernicious game in organizational gew-gaws.

It is incontestable that the organizational form of a Soviet can be of enormous importance; but only at a time when it furnishes a timely reflection of the correct political line. And conversely, it can acquire a no less negative meaning if it is converted into a fiction, a fetish, a bagatelle. The German Soviets created at the very last moment in the Autumn of 1923 would have added nothing politically; they would only have caused organizational confusion. What happened in Canton was even worse yet. The Soviet which was created in a hurry to observe the ritual was only a masquerade for the adventurist putsch. That is why we discovered, after it was all over, that the Canton Soviet resembled an ancient Chinese dragon simply drawn on paper. The policy of pulling rotten strings and paper dragons is not our policy. We were against improvising Soviets by telegraph in Germany in September 1923. We were for the creation of Soviets in China in 1926. We were against the masquerade Soviet in Canton in 1927. There are no contradictions here. We have here instead the profound unity of the conception of the dynamics of the revolutionary movement and its organizational forms.

The question of the role and significance of the Soviets which had been distorted and confused and obscured by the theory and practice of recent years, has not been illuminated in the least in the draft program.

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3. Minutes, p.205.

4. Works, Vol.XVIII, part 2, p.119.

5. Ibid., p.118.

6. Works, Vol.XIV, part 1, p.29.

7. Works, Vol.VIII, p.215.

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Last updated on: 14.4.2007