Source: Published in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/897-to-the-masses), pp. 536-539
Translation: Translation team organized by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission
Comrades, the submitters of this statement – representatives of the Communist Party of Hungary ‘Minority Faction’ – are in fundamental agreement with the theses presented by the Russian party. However, we are of the opinion that there are certain passages in these theses that – although not lending support to centrist or half-centrist currents – could possibly be reinterpreted by such tendencies in that fashion. We will address this issue through our own amendments and by supporting other such proposals. This does not mean that we reject all of the amendments now before us. It means simply that we cannot give these amendments our full support.
We want to define our position above all with respect to the role of the party in the revolution. That is the most significant problem of tactics and strategy, and it is closely linked to the March Action. Therefore, it is not surprising that almost all the comments here, whether approving or disapproving, have turned on the March Action. However, there are two issues at stake in the March Action, which can be distinguished in terms of principle, theory, and also tactics. First, there is the genuine essence lodged in the March Action, which we can learn from. Second, there is the way that the March Action was carried out and defined by its initiators.
We must here take note of an unusual phenomenon. Elsewhere, we see cases where putschist undertakings have been justified in Marxist terms after the fact. But in this case, a great revolutionary mass movement, which represented a significant step forward, was presented as if it was a matter of a putsch. This theoretical aberration arises from the theory that was constructed around the March Action. I will read a few quotations from the anthology that demonstrate a one-sided military and entirely putschist approach, which however is quite unrelated to the March Action itself. One passage in the anthology reads: ‘When the proletariat takes the offensive, the reactionaries do not have time to arm their scattered masses and bring them together in time.’
Comrade Pogány says here that unemployment today corresponds to the separation of the producers from the means of production in the period of primitive accumulation. This is complete nonsense. The factory worker is just as separated from the means of production as the jobless worker.
The spirit of this putschist outlook is most clearly expressed in the following passage: ‘Therefore, the party’s slogan can only be, “Offensive, offensive at all costs, using every means, in the present situation, which offers significant possibilities of success.”’.1
Pogány: You are quoting incorrectly.
Radek: That is from Lukács’s article in Die Internationale..2
Lukács: I will continue. This same article asserts that it was a question of a partial action, and the goal of this partial action is defined in the following way: ‘So it poses the final goal not as taking power but simply as disarming the bourgeoisie and arming the proletariat.’ This completely obscures the most important problem posed by the March Action. What was at stake in the March Action? What is different about the situation in Germany compared to all other countries? First, that there is a Communist Party in Germany that is a much more consolidated mass party than those of other countries. That imposes great responsibilities on this party. On the other side, there are the counterrevolutionary workers’ organisations.
The theses put the trade unions, controlled by a counterrevolutionary leadership, almost on the same level as the counterrevolutionary workers’ parties, although the function of the workers’ parties is in fact considerably different and much more dangerous than that of the counterrevolutionary trade unions. This distinction is expressed by the difference in our attitude toward them. In a word: we want to wrest the unions out of the hands of the Social Democrats and the centrists, while in the case of the right-wing and centrist parties, we want to shatter and destroy them. So the stakes in each of these two cases are quite different.
The essence of the difference lies in the effects. The counterrevolutionary effects of the trade unions are expressed in a tendency toward depoliticising the movement, making the working masses politically disorganised and amorphous. This enables them, very often, to hold back the masses from spontaneous action. But their most important function is to lead astray and sabotage actions that have already broken out. The counterrevolutionary workers’ parties, by contrast, provide their supporters with a definite and politically clear reactionary course. They are thus able to prevent even the possibility of spontaneous mass actions, even the possibility that a ferment could develop within the proletariat that the Communist Party could then utilise to press the revolution forward.
In Germany, even before the revolution, there was a certain differentiation among the workers’ parties. This became more pronounced during the revolution, and significant sectors were activated, especially among those most interested in politics – not only in a revolutionary direction, not only in the Communist Party, but also in the USPD and SPD. This differentiation has become much more pronounced in recent times and is expressed ideologically and organisationally in the parties. Among the masses organised in trade unions, on the other hand, or in areas where the struggle over ideas and lines of action has not yet penetrated so deeply, we do not observe a hardened differentiation of this type. We observe this difference in individual sectors where, despite the counterrevolutionary trade unions, powerful spontaneous actions sometimes break out. That creates the specific challenge that now confronts the VKPD.
It is not enough to carry out propaganda and even to issue appeals for action in such a situation, because we are no longer addressing an amorphous political mass, no longer merely trade unions that seek to depoliticise the working class, but rather counterrevolutionary workers’ organisations with specific political programmes. Here the VKPD had to employ actions, because only initiatives in action can organisationally tear loose the masses that are ideologically and politically tied down. That is what partial actions are for.
However, the term ‘partial action’ cannot possibly encompass actions whose purpose is, for example, to disarm the bourgeoisie and arm the proletariat. That is a slogan that we must hold in view as a goal posed at the end of the struggle. We must work toward the goal that the movements will culminate in the arming of the proletariat. But we cannot start off actions today with that slogan, because it cannot attract masses who have grown counterrevolutionary. We must link our partial actions to issues of the day. This involves taking initiatives, that is, going on the offensive to set the working masses in motion, in ferment. This requires not just education but initiatives and actions by the VKPD. If such a movement comes into being, if the masses are torn loose from the counterrevolutionary workers’ organisations, it is then possible to propose other and more advanced slogans. The great error consisted of beginning the action with what might have been its ultimate demands. As a result, we did not achieve what was possible. Behind the action lay an incorrect theoretical approach of a sector of the leadership, which did not understand this problem. In this regard, we will propose amendments, which will be distributed. (Loud applause)
1. The quotation is from the article, ‘Vom Kapp Putsch zur Märzaktion’, Zentrale der VKPD 1921, pp. 22-3. The article is signed ‘I. Heyder’, whom Lukács identifies as Jószef Pogány, one of the ECCI emissaries in Germany during the March Action.
2. Die Internationale published two articles by Lukács on the March Action: ‘Spontaneität der Massen, Aktivität der Partei’ [Spontaneity of the Masses, Activity of the Party] (no. 6, 15 March 1921, pp. 208–15) and ‘Fragen der organisatorische revolutionärer Initiative’ [Organisational Questions of Revolutionary Initiative] (no. 8, 15 June, pp. 298–307).