In England serfdom had disappeared in actual fact by the end of the fourteenth century—that is, two centuries before it arose in Russia and four and a half centuries before it was abolished. The expropriation of the landed property of the peasants dragged along in England through one Reformation and two revolutions to the nineteenth century. The capitalist development, not forced from the outside, thus had sufficient time to liquidate the independent peasant long before the proletariat awoke to political life.
From Chapter 3 of The History of the Russian Revolution (1931)
The English revolution of the seventeenth century, exactly because it was a great revolution shattering the nation to the bottom, affords a clear example of this alternating dual power, with sharp transitions in the form of civil war.
At first the royal power, resting upon the privileged classes or the upper circles of these classes—the aristocrats and bishops—is opposed by the bourgeoisie and the circles of the squirearchy that are close to it. The government of the bourgeoisie is the Presbyterian Parliament supported by the City of London. The protracted conflict between these two regimes is finally settled in open civil war. The two governmental centres—London and Oxford—create their own armies. Here the dual power takes a territorial form, although, as always in civil war, the boundaries are very shifting. Parliament conquers. The king is captured and awaits his fate.
It would seem that the conditions are now created for the single rule of the Presbyterian bourgeoisie. But before the royal power could be broken, the parliamentary army has converted itself into an independent political force. It has concentrated in its ranks the Independents the pious and resolute petty bourgeoisie, the craftsmen and farmers. This army powerfully interferes in social life, not merely as an armed force, but as a Praetorian Guard, and as the political representative of a new class opposing the prosperous and rich bourgeoisie. Correspondingly the army creates a new state organ rising above the military command: a council of soldiers’ and officers’ deputies (’agitators’). A new period of double sovereignty has thus arrived: that of the Presbyterian Parliament and the Independents’ army. This leads to open conflicts. The bourgeoisie proves powerless to oppose with its own army the ‘model army’ of Cromwell—that is, the armed plebeians. The conflict ends with a purgation of the Presbyterian Parliament by the sword of the Independents. There remains but the rump of a parliament; the dictatorship of Cromwell is established. The lower ranks of the army, under the leadership of the Levellers—the extreme left wing of the revolution—try to oppose to the rule of the upper military levels, the patricians of the army, their own veritably plebeian regime.
But this new two-power system does not succeed in developing: the Levellers, the lowest depths of the petty bourgeoisie have not yet, nor can have, their own historic path. Cromwell soon settles accounts with his enemies. A new political equilibrium, and still by no means a stable one, is established for a period of years.
From Chapter 11 of The History of the Russian Revolution (1931)
In the middle of the seventeenth century the bourgeois revolution in England developed under the guise of a religious reformation. A struggle for the right to pray according to one’s own prayer book was identified with the struggle against the king, the aristocracy, the princes of the church, and Rome. The Presbyterians and puritans were deeply convinced that they were placing their earthly interests under the unshakeable Protection of divine providence. The goals for which the new classes were struggling commingled inseparably in their consciousness with the texts from the Bible and the forms of churchly ritual. Emigrants carried with them across the ocean this tradition sealed with blood. Hence the extraordinary virility of the Anglo-Saxon interpretation of Christianity. We see even today how the minister ‘socialists’ of Great Britain back up their cowardice with these same magic texts with which the people of the seventeenth century sought to justify their courage.
From Chapter 1 of The History of the Russian Revolution (1931)
Let us first look at the religious Reformation, which proved the watershed between the Middle Ages and modern history; the deeper were the interests of the masses that it involved, the wider was its sweep, the more fiercely did civil war develop under the religious banner, and the more merciless did the terror become on the other side.
In the seventeenth century England carried out two revolutions. The first, which brought forth great social upheavals and wars, brought amongst other things the execution of King Charles I, while the second ended happily with the accession of a new dynasty. The British bourgeoisie and its historians maintain quite different attitudes to these two revolutions: the first is for them a rising of the mob—the ‘Great Rebellion’; the second has been handed down under the title of the ‘Glorious Revolution’. The reason for this difference in estimates was explained by the French historian, Augustin Thierry. In the first English revolution, in the ‘Great Rebellion’, the active force was the people; while in the second it was almost ‘silent’. Hence, it follows that, in surroundings of class slavery, it is difficult to teach the oppressed masses good manners. When provoked to fury they use clubs, stones, fire. and the rope. The court historians of the exploiters are offended at this. But the great event in modern ‘bourgeois’ history is, none the less, not the ‘Glorious Revolution’ but the ‘Great Rebellion’.
From Terrorism and Communism (1920)
But was parliamentarism born on the Thames by a peaceful evolution? Was it the fruit of the ‘free’ foresight of a single monarch? No, it was deposited as the result of a struggle that lasted for ages, and in which one of the kings left his head at the crossroads.
The historic-psychological contrast mentioned above between the Romanovs and the Capets can, by the way, be aptly extended to the British royal pair of the epoch of the first revolution. Charles I revealed fundamentally the same combination of traits with which memorists and historians have endowed Louis XVI and Nikolai II. ‘Charles, therefore, remained passive,’ writes Montague, ‘yielded where he could not resist, betrayed how unwillingly he did so, and reaped no popularity, no confidence. "He was not a stupid man’, says another historian of Charles Stuart, but he lacked firmness of character … His evil fate was his wife, Henrietta, a Frenchwoman, sister of Louis XIII, saturated even more than Charles with the idea of absolutism.’ We will not detail the characteristics of this third -chronologically first—royal pair to be crushed by a national revolution. We will merely observe that in England the hatred was concentrated above all on the queen, as a Frenchwoman and a papist, whom they accused of plotting with Rome, secret connections with the Irish rebels, and intrigues at the French court.
But England had, at any rate, ages at her disposal. She was the pioneer of bourgeois civilization; she was not under the yoke of other nations, but on the contrary held them more and more under her yoke. She exploited the whole world. This softened the inner contradictions, accumulated conservatism, promoted an abundance and stability of fatty deposits in the form of a parasitic caste, in the form of a squirearchy, a monarchy, House of Lords, and the state church. Thanks to this exclusive historic privilege of development possessed by bourgeois England, conservatism combined with elasticity passed over from her institutions into her moral fibre. Various continental philistines, like the Russian professor Milyukov, or the Austro-Marxist Otto Bauer, have not to this day ceased going into ecstasies over this fact. But exactly at the present moment, when Britain, hard pressed throughout the world, is squandering the last resources of her former privileged position, her conservatism is losing its elasticity, and even in the person of the Labourites is turning into stark reaction. In the face of the Indian revolution the ‘socialist’ MacDonald will find no other methods but those with which Nikolai II opposed the Russian revolution. Only a blind man could fail to see that Great Britain is headed for gigantic revolutionary earthquake shocks, in which the last fragments of her conservatism, her world domination, her present state machine, will go down without a trace. MacDonald is preparing these shocks no less successfully than did Nikolai II in his time, and no less blindly. So here too, as we see, is no poor illustration of the problem of the role of the ‘free’ personality in history.
From Chapter 6 of The History of the Russian Revolution (1931)
The old British historian of Spain, Adam, relates in four volumes, which have been particularly well gnawed by bookworms, the history of the Pyrenean peninsula from the time of its discovery by the Phoenicians until the death of Charles III. Great Britain’s role in destroying Spanish might emerges from under Adam’s pen in an instructive light. Over the course of a century Britain played upon the antagonism between France and Spain, striving to weaken them both, but once having weakened Spain began to defend her as well as plundering her colonies. In the so-called ‘War of Spanish Succession’, Britain led a European coalition made up of the Dutch, the Austrians and the Portuguese against the Bourbons who had unified France and Spain. The war was conducted supposedly in the name of the right of succession of the Austrian ruling house to the Spanish throne. In passing, Britain seized Gibraltar (1704), and at a cheap price: a detachment of sailors clambered on to a rock, which was undefended on account of its ‘impregnability’, from where Britain was to hold sway over the entrance and exit to the Mediterranean Sea. In the War of Spanish Succession British methods of international banditry found their classic expression: 1) the alliance against the Bourbons, who unified France with Spain, was an alliance against the chief continental power; 2) once this alliance was created Britain took its leadership; 3) she suffered less and gained more from the war than her allies, not only by seizing Gibraltar but also by securing in the Treaty of Utrecht first-class trading privileges in Spain and her colonies; 4) having weakened the unified Spain-France, thereby achieving her main aim, Britain was quick to betray the Austrian pretender to the Spanish throne by recognizing Philippe Bourbon, Louis XIV’s grandson, as King of Spain on condition that he renounce any claim to the French throne. The analogies with the present war speak for themselves. Incidentally we can let the philosophers of social-patriotism determine who was the aggressor and who was on the defensive in the Anglo-Spanish War.
At the end of the 1750’s Pitt the Elder considered it necessary to declare war on Spain because of the secret ‘family pact’, directed against Britain, which had been concluded by the Madrid and Versailles courts. The British government hesitated, and the worthy historian, Adam, tells of the reasons for this hesitation in epic fashion. ‘The details of the family pact were still not known. Britain was burdened with debts; Spain had done nothing that could provoke Britain to war; she was obliged to respect international law and, more particularly, the great interests of commerce and moreover the solid strength of the Spanish Navy.’ These words might appear ironic when applied to Great Britain were not the author himself a devout Englishman. We can see that, long before Lloyd George, British rulers knew how to turn their back on international law when it was convenient.
From It Happened in Spain written in November and December 1916 and first published in Krasnaya Nov, July 1922 and January 1926.
[For example] what is the military doctrine of Britain? Into its composition there evidently enters (or used to enter): the recognition of the urgent need for naval hegemony; a negative attitude towards a regular land army and towards military conscription; or, still more precisely, the recognition of Britain’s need to possess a fleet stronger than the combined fleets of any two other countries and, flowing from this, Britain’s being enabled to maintain a small army on a volunteer basis. Combined with this was the maintenance of such an order in Europe as would not allow a single land power to obtain a decisive preponderance on the continent.
It is incontestable that this British ‘doctrine’ used to be the most stable of military doctrines. Its stability and definitive form were determined by the prolonged, planful, uninterrupted growth of Great Britain’s power in the absence of events and shocks that would have radically altered the relationship of forces in the world (or in Europe, which used to signify the selfsame thing in the past). At the present time, however, this situation has been completely disrupted. Britain dealt her ‘doctrine’ the biggest blow when during the war she was compelled to build her army on the basis of compulsory military service. On the continent of Europe, the ‘equilibrium’ has been disrupted. Nobody has confidence in the stability of the new relationship of forces. The power of the United States excludes the possibility for any longer maintaining automatically the rule of the British fleet. It is too early now to forecast the outcome of the Washington Conference?
But it is quite self-evident that after the imperialist war Great Britain’s ‘military doctrine’ has become inadequate, impotent and utterly worthless. It has not yet been replaced by a new one. And it is very doubtful that there will ever be a new one, for the epoch of military and revolutionary convulsions and of radical regroupment of world forces leaves very narrow limits for military doctrine in the sense in which we have defined it above with respect to Britain: A military ‘doctrine’ presupposes a relative stability of the domestic and foreign situation.
From ‘Military Doctrine or Pseudo-Military Doctrinairism’ (dated December 5th 1921), Kommunisticheskii International, 17th December 1921
… At the same time we have to bear in mind that our Navy could take on a great and wide role with a change in international conditions. Here it must be noted that there is something in our Navy, that weak, at the moment so very weak organism, that forms our superiority and advantage by comparison with even the British Navy: for we have left our deepest crisis behind us, whereas they still have all of their crisis to come. They have a powerful organism, yet their crisis will also be very powerful—this crisis will paralyse the forces of the British Navy for a long while.
The British revolution will to an enormous extent depend oil the behaviour of the British Navy; the latter will likewise predetermine the fate of the British colonies. How the process of decomposition in the British Navy will take place, with its inner struggle and uprisings, possibly of one section against another, we do not nor cannot tell; but we do know that it is inevitable and by that critical. and sharp period we must have a Red Navy which, even if small, is firmly cohesive and absolutely conscious.
From a speech to the All-Russian Conference of Sailors, 1st April 1922
For the sake of illustration let us take Britain and let us try to imagine what will be, or more correctly, may be the character of a civil war in the British Isles. Naturally, we cannot prophesy. Naturally, events may unfold in an altogether different way, but it is nevertheless profitable to try to imagine the march of revolutionary events under the peculiar conditions of a highly developed capitalist country in an insular position.
The proletariat constitutes the overwhelming majority of the population in Britain. It has many conservative tendencies. It is hard to budge. But in return, once it starts moving and after it overcomes the first organized opposition of internal enemies, its ascendancy on the islands will prove to be overwhelming owing to its overwhelming numbers. Does this mean that the bourgeoisie of’ Great Britain will not make the attempt with the assistance of Australia, Canada, the United States and others to overthrow the British proletariat? Of course it will. For this, it will attempt to retain the navy in its hands. The bourgeoisie will require the navy not only to institute a famine blockade but also for purposes of invasion raids. The French bourgeoisie will not refuse black regiments. The same fleet that now serves for the defence of the British Isles and for keeping them supplied uninterruptedly with necessities will become the instrument of attack upon these islands. Proletarian Great Britain will thus turn out to be a beleaguered naval fortress. There is no way of retreat from it, unless into the sea. And we have presupposed that the sea will remain in enemy hands. The civil war will consequently assume the character of the defence of an island against warships and invasion raids. I repeat this is no prophecy: events may unfold in a different way. But who will be so bold as to insist that the scheme of civil war outlined by me is impossible? It is quite possible and even probable. It would be a good thing for our strategists to ponder over this, they would then become completely convinced how unfounded it is to deduce manoeuvrability from the revolutionary nature of the proletariat. For all anyone knows, the British proletariat may find itself compelled to cover, the shores of its islands with trenches, deep ribbons of barbed wire defences and positional artillery.
From a speech to a conference of military delegates to the 11th Party Congress, 1st April 1922.
In Britain the stormy era of Chartism, of the revolutionary awakening of the British proletariat had entirely exhausted itself a full ten years before the emergence of the First International. The repeal of the Corn Laws (1846), the industrial flowering of the country consequent upon this which turned Britain into the workshop of the world, the introduction of the ten-hour working day (1847), the increase in emigration from Ireland to America and finally the extension of suffrage to the urban workers (1867) were all conditions which significantly improved the position of the upper layers of the proletariat and led its class movement along the peaceful course of trade unionism and to the liberal-labour politics that complemented it. The era of possibilism, that is of the conscious and steady adaptation to the economic, judicial and state forms of national capitalism, had for the British working class, as the oldest of its kind, already opened up before the rise Of the International, two decades earlier than for the continental proletariat. If more British trade unionists joined the International in the beginning, then it was purely because they considered that in this way they would have a possibility of defending themselves better against the import of continental blacklegs during strike struggles.
From ’War and the International’, Golos, 20th and 21st November and 13th December 1914.
Britain had far earlier based her capitalist development upon the imperialist plunder. She gave the upper layer of the proletariat an economic interest in her dominion over the world. in upholding its interests the British working class confined itself to pressure upon the bourgeois parties which had in turn accustomed it to the idea of the capitalist exploitation of the backward countries. It began to start upon the path of an independent policy only as Britain began to lose her positions on the World market, being squeezed out in the process by her main rival, Germany.
From ’War and the International’, Golos, 20th and 21st November and 13th December 1914.
The oldest capitalist country in Europe and the world is Britain. Britain, especially during the last half-century, has been from the standpoint of the proletarian revolution the most conservative country. The consistent social-reformists, i.e., those who try to make both ends meet, hence drew all the conclusions they needed, asserting that it was precisely Britain that indicated to other countries the possible paths of political development and that in the future the entire European proletariat would renounce the programme of social revolution. For the Marxists, however, the ‘incongruity’ between Britain’s capitalist development and her socialist movement, as conditioned by a temporary combination of historical forces, did not contain anything disheartening. It was Britain’s early entry onto the path of capitalist development and world robbery that created a privileged position not only for her bourgeoisie but also for a section of her working class. Britain’s insular position spared her the direct burden of maintaining militarism on land. Her mighty naval militarism, although requiring huge expenditures, rested nevertheless on numerically small cadres of hirelings and did not require a transition to universal military service. The British bourgeoisie skilfully utilized these conditions in order to separate the top labour layer from the bottom strata, creating an aristocracy of ‘skilled’ labour and instilling into it a trade union caste spirit. Flexible despite all its conservatism, the parliamentary machinery of Great Britain, the incessant rivalry between two historical parties—the Liberals and the Tories—a rivalry which at times assumed rather tense form although remaining quite hollow in content, invariably created when the need arose an artificial political safety-valve for the discontent of the working masses. This was supplemented by the fiendish dexterity of the ruling bourgeois clique in the business of spiritually crippling and bribing, quite ‘exquisitely’ at times, the leaders of the working class. Thus thanks to Britain’s early capitalist development her bourgeoisie disposed of resources that enabled them systematically to counteract the proletarian revolution. Within the proletariat itself, or more correctly, within its upper layer, the same conditions gave shape to the most extreme conservative tendencies which manifested themselves in the course of decades prior to the World War … While Marxism teaches that class relations arise in the process of production and that these relations correspond to a certain level of productive forces; while Marxism further teaches that all forms of ideology and, first and foremost, politics correspond to class relations, this does not at all mean that between politics, class groupings and production there exist simple mechanical relations, calculable by the four rules of arithmetic. On the contrary, the reciprocal relations are extremely complex. It is possible to interpret dialectically the course of a country’s development, including its revolutionary development, only by proceeding from the action, reaction and interaction of all the material and superstructural factors, national and world-wide alike, and not through superficial juxtapositions, nor through formal analogies.
From ’Thoughts on the Progress of the Proletarian Revolution: En Route’, Izvestia, 29th April and 1st May 1919.
History on the whole knows of no revolution that was accomplished in a democratic way. For revolution is a very serious contest, which is always settled, not according to form, but according to substance. It happens quite frequently that individuals lose their fortunes and even their ‘honour’ when playing cards according to the rules of the game; but classes never consent to lose possessions, power and ‘honour’ by observing the rules of the game of ‘democratic’ parliamentarism. They always decide this question in grim earnest, i.e., in accordance with the real correlation of the material forces, and not with the phantom shadows of these forces.
No doubt even in countries like Britain with an absolute majority of proletarians, the representative institution called into being by a working class revolution will reflect, not only the first needs of the revolution, but also the monstrous conservative traditions of this country. The mentality of a present-day British trade union leader is a mixture of the religious and social prejudices of the period of the restoration of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the practical skill of a trade union official at the height of capitalist development, the snobbishness of a petty bourgeois fighting to be respectable, and the uneasy conscience of a labour politician who has repeatedly betrayed the workers. To this must be added the influences of intellectuals, of professors and Fabians; of the Socialist moralizings of Sunday preachers, the rationalist schemes of pacifists, the dilettantism of ‘Guild Socialists’, and the stubborn and haughty Fabian narrow-mindedness. Although the present social relations in Britain are quite revolutionary, her mighty historical past has deposited a conservative crust on the consciousness of not only the labour bureaucracy but also the upper strata of the more skilled mechanics. The obstacles to social revolution in Russia are objective: the predominance of petty peasant farming, and technical backwardness in industry; in England these obstacles are subjective: the ossified consciousness of a collective Henderson and a hydra-headed Mrs. Snowden. The proletarian revolution will dispose of these obstacles by methods of elimination and self-purification. But it cannot hope to dispose of them in a democratic way. Mr. MacDonald himself will prevent such a consummation, not by his programme but by the mere fact of his conservative existence.
From Between Red and White (1921)
The whole present-day political and cultural movement rests upon capitalism, out of which it is growing, has grown and has outgrown. But capitalism has schematically speaking, two different facets: the capitalism of the metropolis and the capitalism of the colonies. The classic model of a metropolis is Britain. At the present time it is -called ‘Labour’ government of MacDonald. As for crowned by the so the colonies I would hesitate to say which one of them is most typical as a colony: this would either be India, a colony in the normal sense, or China, which preserves the semblance of independence yet in her world position and the course of her development belongs to the colonial type. Classic capitalism is in Britain. Marx wrote his Capital in London by directly observing the development of the most advanced country—you will know this, though I do not remember which year you cover this in … In the colonies capitalism develops not out of its own fragments but as an intrusion of foreign capital. This is what creates the two different types. Why is MacDonald, to put it not very scientifically but in quite precise terms just the same, why is MacDonald so conservative, so limited and so stupid?
Because Britain is the classic land of capitalism, because capitalism there organically developed from handicrafts through manufacture into modern industry step by step, by an ‘evolutionary’ road so that yesterday’s prejudices and those of the day before, the prejudices of the past and the previous centuries, all the ideological garbage of the ages can be discovered under MacDonald’s skull [applause]. At first glance there is here some historical contradiction: why did Marx appear in backward Germany, in the most backward of the great countries of Europe in the first half of the 19th century, not counting Russia of course? Why did Marx appear in Germany and why did Lenin appear in Russia on the borders of the 19th and 20th centuries? A clear contradiction! But what is its nature? One that can be explained by the so-called dialectic of historical development. In the shape of British machinery and in the shape of British cotton cloth, history created the most revolutionary factor of development. But this machinery and this cloth were processed and created by way of a prolonged and slow historical transition, one step at a time, while human consciousness remained in general frightfully conservative.
When economic development proceeds slowly and systematically it tends to find it hard to break through human skulls. Subjectivists and idealists in general say that human consciousness, critical thought and so on and so forth draw history forward like a tug towing a barge behind it. This is untrue. You and I are Marxists and we know that the motive power of history consists of the productive forces which have up till now taken shape behind man’s back and with which it tends to be very difficult to smash through man’s conservative skull in order to produce there the spark of a new political idea, and especially, let me repeat, if the development takes place slowly, organically and imperceptibly. But when the productive forces of a metropolis, of a classic land of capitalism, like Britain, encroach upon a more backward country, as with Germany in the first half of the 19th century, and with ourselves on the watershed of the 19th and the 20th centuries, and at the present time with Asia; when economic factors intrude in a revolutionary way cracking the old regime, when development takes place not gradually, not ‘organically’ but by means of terrible shocks, and abrupt shifts in the old social layers, then critical thought finds its revolutionary expression incomparably more easily and rapidly, providing there is of course the necessary theoretical prerequisite for this. That is why Marx appeared in Germany in the first half of the 19th century and that is why Lenin appeared here and that is why we can observe at first sight the paradoxical fact that in the land of the highest, oldest and most revered European capitalism, Britain, we have the most conservative ‘Labour’ party. While on the other hand in our Soviet Union, an extremely backward country economically and culturally speaking, we have—and I say this unashamedly for it is a fact—the best communist party in the world [applause].
From a speech to the Communist University for Toilers of the East, 21st April 1924 (Perspectives and Tasks in the East)
… What in reality explains the fact that in such a powerful, cultured, educated, civilized, etc., country as Britain, the Communist Party still exists as a mere propagandist society, not yet possessing the power to play an active part in politics? In order to answer in a radical way the explanation—at first glance so simple and fitting—that Communism is directly proportionate to backwardness and barbarism, an explanation which expresses the whole wisdom of Menshevism, I will recall a few other phenomena and institutions in the life of Great Britain. In Britain, there is—and I ask you not to forget it—a monarchy, whereas there is none here or in France or in Germany. Now a monarchy cannot be depicted from any point of view as an expression of the highest culture, as one of the highest attainments of mankind—even MacDonald doesn’t do that, he keeps quiet about it, politely and diplomatically holds his tongue, and doesn’t say that a sign of the high cultural level of Britain is that there, in contrast to barbarous Russia, they have a monarchy. In Britain there is still to this day an aristocracy enjoying distinctions of rank. There is a House of Lords. In Britain, finally, the church, or rather the churches, wield tremendous influence in all spheres of life. There is no country in Europe where church influence in political, social and family life is so great as in Great Britain. Over there, for a man to say that he does not belong to a church, does not go to church, and even more, that he does not believe in God, requires quite exceptional personal courage. So it is difficult there, in each separate case, to break through the old, dense web of hypocrisy and clerical prejudices and the worldly customs which are based on this hypocrisy and these prejudices. None of you will say, I hope, that the influence of the church or of the churches on social consciousness is an expression of human progress. Thus it turns out that in Britain, alongside of the fact that the Communist Party is exceptionally weak, there are to be found such other facts, not matters of indifference for us, as the existence of a monarchy, an aristocracy, a House of Lords and a tremendous influence of religion in politics, in social life, and in everyday affairs. And if you approach Britain one-sidedly from this aspect, that is, from the aspect of the monarchy, the House of Lords, the aristocracy, landlordism and church influence, then you would doubtless say that the most barbarous and backward country in Europe is Britain. That would be as true as the statement of the Mensheviks that communism is a product of backwardness; that is to say, it would be as untrue, as one-sided, as false. Can one really agree that Britain is the most backward country in Europe? No, this idea cannot at all be fitted into the framework of our general picture of Britain. In Britain technique is at a very high level, and technique is decisive in human life. America, true, has outstripped Britain in the field of technique: the daughter of British culture has raced ahead of her mother along the line of technique. Before the war Germany was rivalling Britain more and more sharply, threatening to outstrip and in certain branches of industry actually outstripping Britain. But today, after the defeat of Germany, Britain leads Europe economically, British science, literature and art have played and are playing a role of the first order in the development of human thought and human creative achievement. How can one find one’s way out of this contradiction? For a contradiction stares us in the face: on the one hand, high technique, science, etc.; on the other, monarchy, aristocracy, House of Lords, power of religious prejudices over people’s minds. What conclusion can be drawn? This conclusion. that there is no single yardstick with which one can measure the development of a country in every sphere, and on the basis of that measurement make a uniform evaluation covering all aspects of social life. Development is contradictory. In certain spheres a country achieves tremendous successes, but it happens quite often that by these very successes that country holds back its own development in other spheres. Let me speak concretely about this matter. Britain was the first country to take the road of capitalist development and won, thanks to that fact, the hegemony of the world market in the nineteenth century. The British bourgeoisie became, again thanks to this fact, the richest, strongest, and most enlightened of the bourgeoisies. These conditions enabled it, as we know, to create a privileged position for the upper strata of the British working class and thereby to blunt class antagonisms. The British working class is becoming conscious of itself as an independent class hostile to the bourgeoisie much more slowly than the working class of other countries with less powerful bourgeoisies. Thus it turns out that the growth of the British bourgeoisie, the most advanced bourgeoisie in Europe, having taken place in exceptionally favourable conditions, has for a long time held back the development of the British proletariat. The slow and (organic’ growth of technique in England, and the fact that the Reformation and the bourgeois revolution happened close together in time, held back the work of critical thought in relation to the church. The British bourgeoisie developed under the protection of ancient institutions, on the one hand adapting itself to them and on the other subjecting them to itself, gradually, organically, ‘in an evolutionary way’. The revolutionary upheavals of the 17th century were profoundly forgotten. In this consists what is called the British tradition. Its basic feature is conservatism. More than anything else the British bourgeoisie is proud that it has not destroyed old buildings and old beliefs, but has gradually adapted the old royal and noble castle to the requirements of the business firm. In this castle, in the corners of it, there were its. icons, its symbols, its fetishes, and the bourgeoisie did not remove them. It made use of them to consecrate its own rule. And it laid down from above upon its proletariat the heavy lid of cultural conservatism.
The British working class has developed quite differently from ours. Our young proletariat was formed in a period of some 50 years, mainly from peasants and handicraftsmen who had lived in the countryside, along with their fathers and grandfathers, in ancient surroundings, in economic backwardness, amid ignorance and religious prejudices. Capital ruthlessly seized the peasant lad or youth by the scruff of the neck and at once flung him into the cauldron of factory life. The change in his conditions took place catastrophically. When the young peasant felt the blast of the factory’s steam he at once began to think about who he was and where he was. At that stage the revolutionary party caught up with him and began to explain to him what and where he was. It gained ascendancy over him all the more easily because he had no conservative ideas: the old village notions did not fit at all; he needed a complete and radical change in his whole outlook on the world.
With the British worker things went quite differently. His father and his grandfather were workers, and his great-grandfathers and remoter ancestors were small artisans. The British worker has a family tree, he knows who his ancestors were, he has a family tradition. This is also a kind of ‘culture’, but it is expressed in the fact that in his consciousness he drags around with him many of the prejudices of his ancestors. For him, the British worker, there was not this sudden, sharp, catastrophic transition from the closed little world of the village to modern industry; he has developed organically from his remote ancestors into gradually changing conditions of factory life and urban culture. In his mind there still to this day sit old, medieval craft ideas and prejudices, only modified in form and adapted to the conditions of capitalism. The life of the crafts and the craft festivals—celebration of the birth of a son, his entry into apprenticeship, graduation to the independent position of master-craftsman, and so on—were shot through and through with religiosity, and this religiosity passed over into trade unionism, which has a heavy conservative tail stretching back into the Middle Ages . . .
British technique is a fundamentally capitalist technique. It was not brought in from outside, destroying national economic forms, but has developed on the basis of these national forms. The consciousness of the working class reflects this ‘organic’ growth of technique, while lagging very much behind it. It must not be forgotten that human consciousness, taken on the scale of society, is fearfully conservative and slow-moving. Only idealists imagine that the world is moved forward through the free initiative of human thought. In actual fact the thought of society or of a class does not take a single step forward except when there is extreme need to do so. Where it is at all possible, old familiar ideas are adapted to new facts. We speak frankly if we say that classes and peoples have hitherto not shown decisive initiative except when history has thrashed them with its heavy crop. Had things been different, would people have allowed the imperialist war to happen? After all, the war drew nearer under the eyes of everyone, like two trains hurtling towards each other along a single track. But the peoples remained silent, watched, waited and went on living their familiar, everyday, conservative lives. The fearful upheavals of the imperialist war were needed for certain changes to be introduced into consciousness and into social life. The working people of Russia overthrew Romanov, drove out the bourgeoisie and took power. In Germany they got rid of Hohenzollern but stopped half-way … The war was needed for these changes to take place, the war with its tens of millions of dead, wounded and maimed … What a clear proof this is of how conservative and slow to move is human thought, how stubbornly it clings to the past, to everything that is known, familiar, ancestral—until the next blow of the scourge.
Such blows have occurred in Britain too, of course. Thus, after the rapid industrialization there developed in the second third of last century the stormy movement of the working class which is known as Chartism. But bourgeois society stood sufficiently firm and the Chartist movement came to nothing. The strength of the British bourgeoisie lay in its maturity, its wealth, its world power, the crumbs which it shared with the upper strata of the working class, thereby demoralizing also the weakened masses.
Think over this process to the extent necessary to understand the profound difference from our development, which was extremely delayed and therefore extremely contradictory. Take our metalworking and coal-mining South: boundless expanses of steppe, thinly populated, steppe settlements with deep mud around them in spring and autumn … and suddenly huge metal-working enterprises arise in these steppes. They did not, of course, develop out of our own economy but broke in upon us thanks to foreign capital. From the backward and scattered villages European (and sometimes American) capital assembled fresh cadres of workers, tearing them from the conditions which Marx once called ‘the idiocy of rural life’. And there you had these fresh proletarians of the Donets Basin, of Krivoi Rog and so on, not bringing with them into the pits and the factories any hereditary traditions, any craft conservativism, any fixed and firm beliefs. On the contrary, it was in these new, unfamiliar and stem conditions that they only for the first time properly felt the need for firm beliefs, which would give them moral support. To their aid came Social- Democracy, which taught them to break with all their old prejudices and so gave a revolutionary consciousness to this class which had been born in a revolutionary way. This, in broad outline, is the answer to the question which was put to me and which 1, in my turn, have set before you.
It is possible to put the matter like this: the richer, stronger, mightier, cleverer, firmer a bourgeoisie has proved to be, the more it has succeeded in holding back the ideological and consequently the revolutionary development of the proletariat. Here is another expression of the same idea. The British bourgeoisie has got used to the servility of the so-called workers’ leaders whom it has educated. Let me interrupt myself to introduce a very interesting quotation from the British newspaper, the Sunday Times. The newspaper complains because in Britain today, under the MacDonald Government, stormy strikes are taking place, and it says: ‘We have in Great Britain the finest body of Labour leaders in the world, men of experience and patriotism, with a real sense of responsibility and a wide knowledge of economics. But they are rapidly being thrust aside by the avowed revolutionaries, whose influence is increased every time the Government capitulates to them.’ That’s what it says, word for word. As to the statement that they are being ‘thrust aside by the avowed revolutionaries’, that, alas, is as yet an exaggeration. Of course, revolutionaries are increasing in number in Britain too, but unfortunately they have still far from sufficiently ‘thrust aside’ those leaders whom the Sunday Times calls wise politicians, filled to the brim with wisdom and patriotism.
How has this come about? In our country there have never been leaders who won such praise from the bourgeoisie, even if we bear in mind that at a certain period the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks played a considerable role, because our bourgeoisie -discounting the sharpest and most decisive moments, when things were at their most critical—was dissatisfied even with the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks. What is the cause of such satisfaction with the workers’ leaders on the part of the bourgeoisie over there in Britain? It is due to the fact that the British bourgeoisie themselves have trained these leaders. How did they get the opportunity of training ‘labour’ leaders? This was due to the circumstance that they were powerful and cultured, being the ruling class of an advanced capitalist country. As fast as the working class advanced young leaders from its ranks, all sorts of political ‘specialists’ in the service of the British bourgeoisie at once settled on them, won them over, brought to bear on them all that could be imagined by a powerful bourgeois culture. Among us the average petty-bourgeois, the philistine, the member of the intelligentsia of liberal and even radical views, has considered from time immemorial that since Britain is a highly civilized country therefore everything which exists in Britain or which comes from Britain is superior, good, progressive, and so on. In this we see expressed the petty-bourgeois incapacity for thinking dialectically, analysing phenomena, grasping a problem in its historical concreteness. There is something which is really good, British technique, and that we are trying to transfer to our country in exchange for grain, timber and other valuable commodities. The British monarchy, hypocritical British conservatism, religiosity, servility, sanctimoniousness—all this is old rags, rubbish, the refuse of centuries which we have no need for whatsoever [applause].
If British culture has affected our average philistine in this way from afar off, by correspondence, so to speak, evoking in him a blind infatuation, how much more strongly, directly and concretely does it affect the British petty-bourgeois and the semi-petty bourgeois representative of the British working class. What the British bourgeoisie has been able to achieve is a sort of hypnotic fascination for its culture, its world-historical importance. By means of this skilfully organized hypnosis it has influenced the workers’ leaders, whom it has known how to keep always surrounded by its reporters, photographers, sportsmen, clergymen, lecturers and so forth, all cunningly turned on to each newcomer among the workers’ leaders. The newcomer in this way finds himself in a bourgeois milieu. They praise him to the skies if he nibbles at the bait, and they give him a good brushing the wrong way if he takes the slightest step against the bourgeoisie. And this does not just happen once, but day by day, week by week, and year in and year out. And the young leader going out into society begins to feel ashamed because his Sunday suit is not sufficiently well-cut; he dreams of a top-hat to wear when he goes out on a Sunday, so as not to be any different from a real. gentleman. These may seem trifles but, after all, they make up a man’s life. And in this hypnosis of a way of life lies the art of a ruling class, a powerful, cultured, hypocritical, base, greedy class—an art which consists in exercising an everyday influence whereby to work upon and subject to itself everyone who comes forward from among the working class, everyone who stands a head taller than the others in every factory, in every ward and borough, in every town and throughout the country.
Probably a lot of you have seen The Times. It comes out ev6y day in dozens of pages of splendid fine print, with a variety of illustrations and an endless range of sections, so that everything has its place in the paper, from questions of high politics to all kinds of sport, and including the affairs of the churches and of the world of fashion. And from what point of view is everything presented? Naturally, from the point of view of the interests of the bourgeoisie.
Other British bourgeois newspapers are not so solid as The Times, but they are built on the same model, so as to capture the reader’s attention from every direction and lead him to genuflect before the British national tradition, that is, before the bourgeoisie. And the workers’ press is very weak; besides which, with the exception of the Communist publications, it is permeated through and through with the same hypnosis of bourgeois culture. This hypnosis is supplemented by direct terrorism. To belong to a church is in Britain the same as covering your nakedness with clothes, or paying what you owe in a shop. May one walk down the street naked? May one not belong to a church? To declare that one does not belong to a church, and still more than one does not believe in God, requires in Britain the same sort of extraordinary courage as to go naked in public. The so-called Labour government headed by MacDonald is also a product of the age-long education of the workers’ leaders in this way. That is the reason, in the last analysis, why British Menshevism is so strong and communism weak.
Now let us repeat our question: is the weakness of communism in Britain a symptom of the country’s high level of civilization, or is it a symptom of backwardness? After our analysis we have no grounds for failing into the trap of such a mechanical presentation of the question. We say: it is at one and the same time a symptom of very early development and of great backwardness, because history operates not mechanically, but dialectically: it combines during long periods advanced tendencies in one sphere with monstrous backwardness in another. If we compare, from the standpoint of world-historical development, the ‘Labour’ government of MacDonald and the bourgeois-nationalist government of Turkey (about which I spoke in my speech at Tbilisi6) the conclusion we draw is not in MacDonald’s favour. You recall that the ‘great’ Liberal leader Gladstone—in reality he was a liberal philistine, and Marx had a most highly concentrated hatred of him—the ‘great’ Gladstone once delivered a tremendous speech against the bloodstained Sultan, the representative of fanatical, barbarous Islam, and so on. If you take the average philistine and say to him: Britain and Turkey—well, of course, Britain means civilization and progress, Turkey means backwardness and barbarism. But see what is happening. There is now in Britain a government of Mensheviks and in Turkey a bourgeois-nationalist government. And this bourgeois-nationalist government of Turkey has found it necessary to abolish the Caliphate. The Caliphate is the central institution of Pan-Islamism, that is, one of the most reactionary trends in the entire world. But the Menshevik government of Britain has re-established the Caliphate of Hejaz, in order to uphold the rule of the bourgeoisie over its Moslem slaves. History’s conclusion is that the Menshevik government of Britain, in spite of British civilization, etc., is playing in this conjuncture of forces a reactionary role, whereas the bourgeois-nationalist government of backward Turkey, as of a nationally oppressed country, is playing a progressive role. Such is the dialectic of history! Of course, from the standpoint of the development of technique, science and art, Britain is immeasurably superior to Turkey. The accumulated wealth of Britain is beyond comparison with what Turkey possesses in this respect. But we see that it turns out that, precisely in order to protect this wealth and its whole national ‘civilization’ in general, the British bourgeoisie has been obliged to follow an ultra-conservative policy, so that a Labour government becomes in its hands an instrument for re-establishing the Caliphate. There is no abstract yardstick applicable to all spheres of life. It is necessary to take living facts in their living, historical interaction. If we master this dialectical approach to the question, the latter becomes much clearer to us. Germany, for example, is placed not by accident, as regards this question of the relationship between the forces of the Communist Party and of Social-Democracy, between Russia and Britain. This is to be understood by the course of development of capitalism in Germany. It is necessary, of course, to investigate concretely the history of each separate country, in order to discover more exactly the causes of the delayed or hastened growth of the Communist Party. In a general way, however, we can draw the following conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat in countries which have entered the path of capitalism very late in the day, like our country, is easier than in countries with an extensive previous bourgeois history and a higher level of culture. But this is only one side of the matter. A second conclusion, no less important, states: socialist construction after the conquest of power will be easier in countries with a higher capitalist civilization than in countries which are economically backward like ours. This means that for the British working class to break through to real proletarian power, to dictatorship, will be incomparably harder than it was for us. But once having broken through to power, it will advance to socialism much quicker and much more easily than ourselves. And it is even uncertain, history has spoken with a double tongue on this question, who will build socialism earlier, we or the British. If the British working class takes power in the next ten years—I speak approximately, and give this figure not in order to prophesy but merely as an arithmetical example—it will then within another ten years have a real socialist economy, very highly developed, while we in 20 years’ time will probably still have, not only somewhere in Yakutia but also nearer here, very many survivals of peasant backwardness …
Decades will be needed to transform our North and our South into a centralized socialist economy, based on a high level of technique, with our great expanses of territory still only thinly populated. And I think that in 20 or 25 years’ time the British worker, turning to us, will say: ‘Don’t be annoyed, but I’ve got a bit ahead of you.’ Naturally, we shan’t be annoyed—those of us, that is, who survive till then. Get ahead, comrade British workers, do us the favour of getting ahead, please, we beg you, we’ve been waiting a long time for this [laughter]. Such is the dialectic of history. Politics has held the British worker back, has for a long time, so to speak, hobbled him, and he is advancing with such timid, pitiful, MacDonaldite little steps. But when he frees himself from his political trammels, the British racehorse will outstrip our peasant nag.
To generalize theoretically what I have said, in the Marxist terminology which is familiar to us, I should say that the question itself boils down to the inter-relation between the basis and the superstructure and to the inter-relation of bases and superstructures of different countries one with another. We know that superstructures—state, law, politics, parties and so on—arise on an economic basis, are nourished and determined by this basis. Consequently, basis and superstructure have to correspond. And this happens in fact, only not simply but in a very complicated way. A powerful development of one superstructure (the bourgeois state, bourgeois parties, bourgeois culture) sometimes holds back for a long time the development of other superstructures (the revolutionary proletarian party), but in the last analysis—in the last analysis, not immediately—the basis reveals itself nevertheless as the decisive force. We have shown this by the example of Britain. If we approach the problem in a formal way, it may appear that the weakness of the British Communist Party contradicts the Marxist law of the relationship between basis and superstructure. But this is certainly not the case. Dialectically, the basis, as we have seen, will, in spite of everything, secure its victory. In other words: a high level of technique, even through the barrier of ultraconservative politics, will nevertheless manifest its preponderance and will lead to socialism sooner than in countries with a low level of technique.
That, comrades, is what I conceive the fundamental answer to be to the question which was put to me at Sokolniki.
From a speech to the 5th All-Russian Congress of Medical and Veterinary Workers, 21st June 1924 (Through What Stage Are We Passing?)
We have a strong suspicion that Mrs. Snowden is burning with curiosity to know what we, who deny God and His commandments, understand by ‘honesty’. We even suspect that Mr. Henderson puts this question to us not without irony, that is if irony can be at all compatible with piety.
We confess that we are not acquainted with the Absolute Morality of the Popes, either of the Church or of the University, of the Vatican or of the P.S.A. [Pleasant Sunday Afternoon] The Categorical Imperative of Kant, the Transubstantiation of Christ, and the artistic virtues of a religious myth, are as unknown to us as the old, hard and cunning Moses who found the treasure of eternal morality on Mount Sinai. Morality is a function of living human society. There is nothing absolute in its character, for it changes with the progress of that society, and serves as an expression of the interests of its classes, and chiefly of the governing classes. Official morality is a bridle to restrain the oppressed. In the course of the struggle the working class has elaborated its own revolutionary morality, which began by dethroning God and all absolute standards. But we understand by honesty a conformity of words and deeds before the working class, checked by the supreme end of the movement and of our struggle: the liberation of humanity through the social revolution. For instance, we do not say that one must not deceive and be cunning, that one must love one’s enemies, etc., for such exalted morality is evidently only accessible to such deeply religious statesmen as Lord Curzon, Lord Northcliffe, and Mr. Henderson. We hate or despise our enemies, according to their deserts; we beat them and deceive according to circumstances, and, even when we come to an understanding with them, we are not swept off our feet by a wave of forgiving love. But we firmly believe that one must not lie to the masses and that one must not deceive them with regard to the aims and methods of their own struggle. The social revolution is entirely based upon the growth of proletarian consciousness and on the faith of the proletariat in its own strength and in the party which is leading it. One may play a double game with the enemies of the proletariat, but not with the proletariat itself. Our party has made mistakes, together with the masses which it was leading. We have always quite openly acknowledged these mistakes to the masses, and, together with them we have made the necessary changes. What the devotees of legality are pleased to call demagogy is merely truth, too plainly and too loudly expressed. That, Mrs. Snowden, is our conception of honesty.
From Between Red and White (1921)
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 relies 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 fossilized 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 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 organised 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 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. MacDonald 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, h 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 Dockers 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 treasonous 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 role 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.
From Between Red and White (1921)
The protest of a number of the clergy of Great Britain against the preferment of charges against the former patriarch Tikhon, addressed to the Soviet Government, makes it necessary to give the following clarifications.
1) Notwithstanding the words of protest, there is no attack on the church, but there is the preferment of charges against individual representatives of the church, including the former patriarch of it, of organizing resistance to measures taken by the Soviet regime, which were carried out with the object of saving the lives of tens of millions of human beings, children among them.
2) The overwhelming majority of the priesthood in the conflict between the former patriarch Tikhon and the Soviet regime, are on the side of the Soviet regime and of the toiling masses represented by it. Only some elements of the church, not numerous ones, the most privileged and debauched by their connection with the Tsarist aristocracy and with capital, constitute the group of the former Patriarch Tikhon. Public opinion in Russia will note the fact that the protecting British ecclesiastical hierarchy is identifying itself not with the hungry, toiling masses of Russia, not even with the majority of the priesthood, but with a numerically insignificant church hierarchy, which has always gone hand in hand with the tsars, the bureaucracy, the nobility, and has now entered upon an outright struggle against the regime of the workers and peasants.
3) Public opinion in Russia also affirms that in the most brutal periods of the blockade, in which the British Government also participated, the authors of the protest did not raise their voice against the throttling of Russian workers and peasants and their children. The population of Russia has equally not heard of any protest by the Protestants against the attempt to strangle the toiling Russian people in the noose of usury.
4) This is why both the Soviet regime and the toiling people regard the above mentioned protest of the princes of the various churches in Great Britain as having been dictated by narrow caste solidarity, wholly directed against the real interests of the people and the elementary requirements of humanity.
Draft of Soviet government reply to a protest by a number of British church leaders dated 3rd June 1922 and first published in Izvestia 8th June. The document is reproduced by kind permission of the International Institute for Social History.
For comparison I’ve brought along one British and one American newspaper. Many of you have probably seen them. [Voices: we haven’t].
Here’s The Times newspaper, a big paper, curse it. [Laughter, applause.] It is the main organ of the British press, a Conservative newspaper which supports any government on matters of foreign policy, whether Liberal, Conservative or MacDonald’s so-called Labour government which however has conducted a conservative foreign policy and domestic policy. This is the issue for just one day with 32 pages and the paper is printed in brevier and nonpareil.
Today I asked a comrade to count up how much this would come to if transferred into our Pravda. On six pages in Pravda, there are 270,000 printed characters, but here on 32 pages there are 2,300,000 i.e. 83/4 times more. What a lot of lies that makes! [Applause]. You will ask: where do they find such an amount of material every day? How many ‘Burkors’, must they have? [Laughter].
So allow me to show you: the first, second and third pages are set in the smallest type, here the advertisements are printed, without screaming headlines or wasting unnecessary space, yet a model of order with a strict plan so that it’s very easy to find any advertisement.
Then comes a page devoted to the law report. On various occasions I’ve spoken and written that public education must also include attentive coverage of what goes on in the courts because the court shows the seamy side of society. In the courts we have a reflection both of our day-to-day life and our whole process of construction but an inverted reflection as it were. However, coverage of the courts is done badly in our press: we have neither enough space nor the necessary know-how.
Next, on two pages of The Times comes the sport—of every kind: who spilt whose blood at boxing; football takes up a huge space; and finally every vixen hunted by a lord will find its biography here. [Laughter, applause.) Next comes parliament, again in very small type, nonpareil, two pages, receiving about the same attention as football and boxing, then home affairs compact and packed in tightly.
Next comes what we call ‘miscellany’. Next, commerce, here’s that page, theatre, a page, foreign news—just a page, but in the number of characters these pages count for two of Pravda’s.
This middle sheet here forms what we would call simply a newspaper. Here you have foreign affairs, here the main news of the previous day and here features, leaders and anything else. Next a continuation of the most important news. These four pages form the core of the paper. But there are 28 pages besides them!
Let’s go on. Here again are ‘various’ reports from all over the world. I will not describe them in any more detail. Here are the pages of illustrations, photographs and so on, sharp and far better than in our weeklies and monthlies, yet this is a daily printed by the rotary method. Here is finance and the Stock Exchange, company reports, business, share prices, commodity markets, then shipping and so on, and then the last pages with advertisements.
That’s what a daily issue of The Times is like. If you think that this is a record-breaking paper in size, then you’re wrong. In this respect America leaves Britain far behind at least in quantity. [Voice: what about quality?]
In the quality of the technique The Times is superior to all papers. In respect of vulgarity, sensations, and playing upon the basest feelings, the Americans probably hold the record, though it is difficult to decide this exactly. During the recent General Strike in Britain the government’s paper was printed on just four pages, I will show it to you, but what a vast quantity of compressed lies it contained! …
You must not forget that in Britain, where there are dozens of bourgeois newspapers with wider circulations than The Times, there’s only one daily ‘Labour’ paper and that’s a MacDonaldite one, that is, if not belonging to the bourgeoisie itself then to its political henchman.
This alone fully explains why it so happens that. the bourgeoisie can manage without censorship and have a ‘free’ press, at least in normal times when there is no General Strike, no civil war and no international war.
Why have censorship if you have the printing works, the writers and the paper wholly and completely in your hands? In ‘peace’ time this is more than enough, for the property-owners’ press is an organized conspiracy to safeguard the interests of the landlords and capitalists. This press has its internal censorship. Every bourgeois journalist has a gendarme sitting inside him so that an external one is unnecessary. . . .
This same Times and all the rest of the British press experienced a few difficult days not so long ago. That was during the General Strike, which by its very fact showed that the ‘freedom’ of the press, like all other freedoms apart from the press itself, rests upon a specific industrial basis, upon the continuity of the proletariat’s labour and turns to dust with the interruption of this continuity.
All the bourgeois papers were replaced by one government paper. It came out like this, in four pages. The government requisitioned all the paper for itself, thereby demonstrating that ‘freedom’ of the press is not a paragraph of the constitution but a matter of possessing the material resources. An instructive lesson for the British proletariat!
Here now is the News of the General Council’—four little pages. It wasn’t however, because they had only four little pages that they suffered such a defeat. On four small pages you can say a lot. In 1917 Pravda was ever so small, but what a revolution it produced, first in minds, then in relationships. It’s all a question of what you say!
So here in the paper of the strike there reigned the spirit of conciliation, kow-towing, submissiveness and cowardice and therefore the strike suffered such a defeat.
During the strike there was one incident which must be of interest not only to printers but also to our reporters. The compositors on the Daily Mail, one of the most villainous papers in the world (and that’s saying something!), suddenly refused to set a leading article aimed against the strike and written in a mad dog’s saliva.’The greatest excitement and indignation throughout public opinion up to and including MacDonald! ‘What, interference with editorial business, an infringement of the freedom of the press!’
So what then is their freedom of the press? The freedom of the press is the undisputed right of the bourgeoisie to print with workers’ hands in ‘their’ printing works on ‘their’ paper everything that is directed against the interests of the people, whereby the attempt by the workers to intervene in the matter and declare that today, on the day of the General Strike, we typographical slaves refuse to print your slander against the proletariat, is condemned and assailed as an attack on the freedom of the press!
The strike was quite big enough, despite its defeat, to lay bare to the bones the whole fraud of British democracy.
It would be a fine thing if in every workers’ club in Britain and in every trade union premises there was on the wall this issue here of the Daily Mail published in Paris on the day of the start of the strike.
Here is the leader printed under the headline ‘For King and Country . After it, a second article ‘For the Freedom of the Press’. A pompous, emotive, patriotic, militant tone. ‘Days of great ordeals are beginning. Moscow is raising up the working class against Britain, the King, the country and the freedom of the press.’ (This, comrades, is the same Daily Mail that accuses our trade unions of sending not their own money but that of the Soviet government to the British miners in order to wreck the British economy.)
But here is what is particularly remarkable. This most profoundly moral newspaper which intervenes on behalf of the King, the country and the freedom of the press prints just in front of this very regal article, here in these two columns, right under the nose of King and country, dozens of bawling advertisements for houses of ill-repute in Paris which exist for the delight of the noble public with fat wallets.
Just imagine, in this newspaper on the day of great ‘national ordeal’ when this paper utters especially rabid abuse at Moscow and the working class, right here on the first page are these enticing advertisements for night entertainments, fleshpots for the lords who have fled to Paris in a jitter.
This patriotic newspaper gathers its sinless revenue both from the defence of King, country and the freedom of the Press and from houses of ill-repute. [Applause.]
From a speech to the All-Union Conference of Agricultural Workers, 28th May 1926 (For Quality, Against Bureaucratism, For Socialism!)
If the advanced bourgeoisie has banished inertia, routinism and superstition from the domain of productive technology, and has sought to build each enterprise on the precise foundations of scientific methods, then in the field of social orientation the bourgeoisie has proved impotent, because of its class position, to rise to the heights of scientific method. Our class enemies are empiricists, that is, they operate from one occasion to the next, guided not by the analysis of historical development, but by practical experience, routinism, rule of thumb, and instinct.
Assuredly, on the basis of empiricism the British imperialist caste has set an example of wide-flung predatory usurpation, provided us with a model of triumphant farsightedness and class firmness. Not for nothing has it been said of the British imperialists that they do their thinking in terms of centuries and continents. This habit of weighing and appraising practically the most important factors and forces has been acquired by the ruling British clique thanks to the superiority of its position, from its insular vantage point and under the conditions of a relatively gradual and planned accumulation of capitalist power.
Parliamentary methods of personal combinations, of bribery, eloquence and deception, and colonial methods of sanguinary oppression and hypocrisy, along with every other form of vileness, have entered equally into the rich arsenal of the ruling clique of the world’s greatest empire. The experience of the struggle of British reaction against the French Revolution has given the greatest subtlety to the methods of British imperialism, endowed it with utmost flexibility, armed it most diversely, and, in consequence, rendered it more secure against historical surprises.
Nevertheless the exceedingly potent class dexterity of the world-ruling British bourgeoisie is proving inadequate—more and more so with each passing year—in the epoch of the present volcanic convulsions of the bourgeois regime. While they continue to tack and veer with great skill, the British empiricists of the period of decline -whose finished expression is Lloyd George—will inescapably break their necks.
From ’Military Doctrine or Pseudo-Military Doctrinairism’ (dated 5th December 1921), Kommunisticheskii Intematsional, 17th December 1921
Buckle, the son of a progressive merchant, sincerely believed that the rule of ‘enlightened businessmen’ would finally make war—as a form of zoological struggle and not as the social rivalry of man against man—the property of the murky past, yet today the omnipotent organ of the bigoted British bourgeoisie, in its Christmas editorial, The Times, resounds with brazen hypocrisy: ‘It is the business of combatants to kill each other but … they ought to kill each other "as Christians should". . .’
And today in connection with the behaviour of Britain in South Africa and the activity of the ‘enlightened businessmen’ like Cecil Rhodes, Chamberlain and Co. and their protectors like Roberts and Kitchener, what murderous irony echoes in the following words of John Stuart Mill: ‘The British state comprehends the meaning of freedom more than others and whatever might have been its mistakes in the past it has reached in its dealings with other states an honesty and frankness that other great nations consider impossible or even undesirable.’
The evolution of the bourgeoisie with its glorious beginning and its grievous end is present before us. While the bourgeoisie fought against feudalism, absolutism, catholicism, guild restrictions and so on it embodied progress and movement forward, it was the bearer of advanced ideals and it carried society along with it.
But when having captured the field it tried to entrench itself in this position for good and preparing to retreat backwards rather than move forward. history condemned it for lack of ideals and for moral and political decomposition. Life is merciless: it strikes those who, like Lot’s wife, look back, with a fearful punishment.
Feeling the real soil under its feet shaking the bourgeoisie even gradually renounces its free-thinking and begins to seek support from supernatural powers. Mysticism becomes its spiritual diet. Brunetière more and more often goes to Rome to kiss the Pope’s slipper.
From "A ‘Declaration of Rights’ and a ‘Velvet Book’" Vostnochnoe Obozrenie, 13th and 14th March 1901
The entire philosophy of British utilitarianism is derived in the last analysis from a cookery book. In order to make people happy it is necessary to introduce such and such reforms, such and such improvements. In order to prepare a pudding for twelve it is necessary to take two pounds of flour, so many eggs, so much sugar, plums, and so on. In its specifications the cookery book presupposes that flour, plums, etc., are always available in necessary amounts and ready to hand. Similarly, the empiricists-utilitarians from Jeremy Bentham down to the latter-day pragmatists consider it sufficient to issue `practical’ prescriptions in order to assure the salvation of society. So far as the organic laws of society itself are concerned, they prefer not to bother their heads about them. These gentlemen have not become accustomed to thinking about the organic laws which govern the development of society, for the simple reason that their forefathers had achieved uninterrupted progress without understanding either its sources or its laws. It is noteworthy that British methods have found their greatest flowering on American soil.
Fragment written in 1940 and first published in Fourth International, January 1942
It is remarkable that the common sense of the Anglo-Saxon philistine has managed to wax indignant at the ‘Jesuit’ principle and simultaneously to find inspiration in the utilitarian morality, so characteristic of British philosophy. Yet, the criterion of Bentham-John Mill, ‘the greatest possible happiness of the greatest possible number’, signifies that those means are moral which lead to the common welfare as the highest end. In its general philosophical formulations Anglo-Saxon utilitarianism thus fully coincides with the ‘Jesuit’ principle, ‘the end justifies the means’. Empiricism, we see, exists in the world only to free us from the necessity of making both ends meet.
Herbert Spencer, into whose empiricism Darwin inculcated the idea of ‘evolution’ as a special vaccine, taught that in the moral sphere evolution proceeds from ‘sensations’ to ‘ideas’. Sensations impose the criterion of immediate pleasure, whereas ideas permit one to be guided by the criterion of future, lasting and higher pleasure. Thus the moral criterion here too is ‘pleasure’ and ‘happiness’. But the content of this criterion acquires breadth and depth depending upon the level of ‘evolution’. In this way Herbert Spencer too, through the methods of his own ‘evolutionary utilitarianism, showed that the principle ‘the end justifies the means’, does not embrace anything immoral.
It is naive, however, to expect from this abstract ‘principle’ an answer to the practical question ‘what may we, and what may we not do?’ Moreover, the principle, the end justifies the means, naturally raise the question ‘and what justifies the end?’ In practical life as in the historical movement the end and the means constantly change places. A machine under construction is an ‘end’ of production only that upon entering the factory it may become the ‘means’. Democracy in certain periods is the ‘end of the class struggle only that later it may be transformed into its ‘means’. Not embracing anything immoral, the so-called ‘Jesuit’ principle fails, however, to resolve the moral problem.
The ‘evolutionary’ utilitarianism of Spencer likewise abandons us half-way without an answer since, following Darwin, it tries to dissolve the concrete historical morality in the biological needs or in the `social instincts’ characteristic of gregarious animals, and this at a time when the very understanding of morality arises only in an antagonistic milieu, that is, in a society divided into classes.
Bourgeois evolutionism halts impotently at the threshold of historical society because it does not wish to acknowledge the driving force in the evolution of social forms: the class struggle. Morality is one of the ideological functions in this struggle. The ruling class forces its ends upon society and habituates it into considering all those means which contradict its ends as immoral. That is the chief function of official morality. It pursues the idea of the ‘greatest possible happiness’ not for the majority but for a small and ever-diminishing minority. Such a regime could not have endured for even a week through force alone. It needs the cement of morality. The production of this Cement constitutes the profession of the petty-bourgeois theoreticians and moralists. They radiate all the colours of the rainbow but in the final analysis remain apostles of slavery and submission.
From ’Their Morals and Ours’ (dated 16th February 1938) New International, June 1938
Last year I was visited by a young British professor of political economy, a sympathiser of the Fourth International. During our conversation on the ways and means of realizing socialism, he suddenly expressed the tendencies of British utilitarianism in the spirit of Keynes and others: ‘It is necessary to determine a clear economic end, to choose the most reasonable means for its realization’ etc. I remarked: ‘I see that you are an adversary of dialectics’. He replied, somewhat astonished: ‘Yes, I don’t see any use init.’ ‘However’, I replied to him, ‘the dialectic enabled me on the basis of a few of your observations upon economic problems to determine what category of philosophical thought you belong to—this alone shows that there is an appreciable value in the dialectic.’ Although I have received no word about my visitor since then, I have no doubt that this anti-dialectic professor maintains the opinion that the USSR is not a workers’ state, that unconditional defence of the USSR is an ‘outmoded’ opinion, that our organizational methods are bad, etc. If it is possible to place a given person’s general type of thought on the basis of his relation to concrete practical problems, it is also possible to predict approximately, knowing his general type of thought, how a given individual will approach one or another practical question. That is the incomparable educational value of the dialectical method of thought. . . .
In the same conversation the young British scholar said: ‘I understand the weight of the proposition that everything undergoes change and that, given these conditions, the immutability of’ the syllogism is incomprehensible; but I think that the syllogism is simply an agreement among people to understand specific concepts in one and the same sense., something like a rule in a game . . .’
I replied to him that in the sphere of logic he had arrived at Rousseau’s social contract in sociology. He took my remark as a joke. As a matter of fact it is quite precise and perhaps even too indulgent an appraisal of the logical method of my opponent. If one thinks the matter through as one should, it is difficult to believe that any man in the twentieth century with a knowledge of science, with a knowledge of evolution, could talk about the syllogism as being the product of agreement among people. Precisely in this is revealed the entire hopeless backwardness of the ‘scientific’ method of this anti-dialectician.