The following piece was translated by Mike Jones from the weekly published by Paul Levi, Sozialistische Politik und Wirtschaft, of 8 July 1927, republished in Zwischen Spartakus und Sozialdemokratie, a collection of articles, speeches and letters by Paul Levi, edited by Charlotte Beradt, published by EVA, Frankfurt a.M. 1969, pp.148-150.

Leaving Leninism

Paul Levi

“The present oppressive bureaucratic regime in the party reflects the pressure of the other classes against the proletariat.”

Trotsky said these words – unfortunately not until May 1927. It was already time to speak out during 1921: perhaps the cannons in Kronstadt during the March of 1921 had already thundered the same language which Stalin now speaks and the language-teacher had indeed been Trotsky. But today it is not at all a question of how far the Russian Opposition helped create the erroneous policy of the party, which was the issue which caused it to go into opposition, how much it had itself created the preconditions for what is occurring today and under which it is suffering today. One must be content with determining the nature of the tragedy now unfolding in Russia and what it signifies.

We have already often pointed this out: the interests of the proletariat and the land-owning peasantry are opposed to each other. The Bolsheviks made two errors. The first: with their peasant policy of 1918 whereby the land-hungry peasants and agricultural labourers were elevated into land-owning peasants they have created the causes for the sharpening of the contradictions so manifest today in Russia. It is very probable that in 1918 the Bolsheviks had no other choice but to give the peasants the land. If they had not accommodated them it is likely that the movement would have removed them: the least that would have occurred would be that the peasants would have taken the land anyway. But if giving away the land was an error – in any case from a theoretical point of view – from the standpoint of Socialism, a second error was added to it, a greater one. If the giving away of the land was theoretically a mistake, although unavoidable in practise, then the party should recognise it when setting out its aims. Instead of doing that they made a theory from their errors: the theory of a solidarity of interest between the workers and the peasants. That was already the case under Lenin. But his descendants made a canonical law out of the theory.

Yet it was nevertheless obvious, both for Marxists as well as for the historically aware, what this solidarity was worth. If there had been any solidarity of interests between landed peasants and propertyless industrial workers then the European history of the last three centuries would be incomprehensible. The Bolsheviks believed themselves capable of skipping over this disharmony between the both classes, to be able to master it, because they brought the both of them, so to speak, into one retort. These retorts were called the soviets: within which the opponents were united, just as for the believing catholic the spirit and the body are united in the host he has swallowed. Now these errors are totally incomprehensible for politicians educated in the school of Karl Marx: there are absolutely no state forms which can cancel out the existing class contradictions; since the form of the state is indeed the expression and the result of the class contradictions and not their cause. If there were state forms which could prove the cancelling out of those class contradictions: if there were, then it would be incomprehensible why one could not also accomplish such witchcraft with a coalition government. Yes, we confess: the pretence of a class solidarity where class contradictions exist – historically seen – then this delusion is much more acceptable in the form of the coalition government than in the form of the soviet government in the Russian model. When the illusion of class solidarity is destroyed in the coalition government and the contradictions become apparent again, then the coalition separates out into its constituent parts, and the parties which were previously paralysed in the coalition once again take up their natural functions. But in the soviet form in the Russian model, we see happening – precisely what we now see in Russia. Previously the contradictions had no form: they seek the form in the one existing party, separate the party into factions and then into fragments, result in those previously called friend and leader being called traitor and finally put the comrades under the gun of the comrades of yesterday. In the countries in which that error occurs in the form of the coalition government, its disintegration is already the solution of the crisis and the start of convalescence; in the regime of the soviets, the grave crisis is only beginning, in which although the illusions are destroyed, the independent functional forms of the different classes are still not found. That is the status in Russia. Since the worker is ground down by the peasant, so must Stalin and Bukharin grind down the Opposition.

While for the deeper observer the function of the party leadership and the opposition in Russia is in any case clear, for the Russian masses everything is still concealed events, perhaps mostly incomprehensibly in the discussion over China, for where that is concerned, and – we have to say this – the Russian opposition is not clear itself about the starting point of its opposition. Either not at all clear or it will not express it. Yet the root of the problem can be found in the above explanation. That ‘solidarity’ between worker and peasant is the real kernel of so-called Leninism; it is that which Leninism believed that it had developed beyond Marxism. In reality one can only grant Lenin one thing – which is indeed no small thing and which made him a great man: that he recognised the particular conditions of the seizure of power in Russia, that he indicated the creation of new forms of a state and raised the concept “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, for once and if only for a short time, above and beyond a phrase, into reality. But the generalisation of all this beyond Russia and into a Leninism, the canonisation of tactical strokes in particular situations is just as much an error as the canonisation of tactical or strategical moves of a military commander. With the canonisation of the Schlieffen Strategy the Germans came unstuck in 1914, just as the Bolsheviks now with Lenin’s tactic from 1917. No: we speak out quite frankly: Lenin remains, but Leninism is the past. Where he believed he had developed Marx he has failed. We have to say: nowhere has the correctness of Marxism been more alarmingly proved than in the end Leninism is undergoing.


Erich Hausen (5.2.1900-19.12.73) Murkau/Oberlausitz (Silesia). Electrical Fitter. Called up WW1. War resister. Return January 1919 to Weisswasser/Lausitz. Joined USPD. Became USPD chairman then Secretary of USPD In the area. 1920 joined KPD with USPD-left. 1921 local editor of the KPD paper in Cottbus. Elected to party council at Jena Congress 1921. Member of Lausitz District Committee, from end of 1922 its secretary. Delegate to 8th Congress KPD in 1923, re-elected to party council. 7.12/23 imprisoned and sentenced to 3 years gaol for “preparation of high treason” (during the period of KPD illegality). 26.8.25 released and returned to Weisswasser. Unemployed a while, then secretary for Red Aid in Thuringia. 1926 secretary for KPD in Silesia. At the 1927 Essen Congress, as CC candidate, together with Heinrich Galm and Albert Bassüner, advanced the position of the Brandler group. On account of his protests over the Hamburg corruption (Wittorf case) removed from his functions in Silesia (Hausen demanded an open enquiry over the Wittorf Affair, and Thälmann’s role in it, before the working class, and advanced far-reaching demands for the reintroduction of the accountability of KPD functionaries: “election and recall by the rank-and-file”, “no removal without election”, etc.). Nov-Dec 1928, together with Galm, called to ECCI in Moscow, to enquire into their oppositional attitude. Both refused to capitulate (Hausen tells an interesting anecdote about attempts by various ECCI figures to persuade him to capitulate, or at least appear to do so, and Bela Kun told him that the CI leadership knew that Thälmann was a “dummkopf” and Neumann a “schweinhund”, but one had to close ranks in the CI, as the SU was passing through difficult times). Expelled KPD December 1928. Founded Gegen den Strom, 17.11.28. Leading KPO functionary and DMV activist. Led illegal KPO in Berlin for a while after Nazi take-over. Arrested but deported to France after 6 months because of his French passport. During the 1938-39 internal differences in the KPO he sided with the minority and broke with it. Interned in many camps until 1941 when he succeeded in entering USA. Lived in Swarthmore Pennsylvania as an electrical fitter till his death.

Updated by ETOL: 28 November 2009