Nikolai Bukharin

A Great Marxian Party

Source: The Communist Review, May 1923, Vol. 4, No. 1.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

[This year the heroic and brilliant leader of the international proletarian revolution, the Russian Communist Party, is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. Last month we showed how the Russian Party organised and built up its fighting journal—“Pravda.” This month we publish several articles which help to explain the nature of the work and the stuff from which the Russian Party is made. The first article is the one following, herewith by Comrade Bukharin.—ED. OF COMMUNIST REVIEW.]

FOR five years the Russian proletariat has maintained its power. And even the opponents of the proletariat have to admit that this power is securely established. It is a power rooted deeply in the Russian soil; it transforms the Russian people; it leads with an iron hand millions of human beings along a stony and thorny path, crossed by barbed wire and exposed to the fire of the enemy; it leads them through the steppes of hunger to the glorious victory of united humanity. How has this miracle been accomplished, despite the impotent rage of bourgeois mediocrity?

Undoubtedly the first factor which is to “blame” is the historical circumstances under which the toil-stained battalions of labour have advanced with mighty strides. History has created extraordinarily favourable circumstances for the success of the Russian working class: an autocracy whose devilish organisation was shattered by the war, a weak bourgeoisie not yet capable of wielding the weapon of imperialism, and stupid enough to have undermined the power of Czarism during the war. Mighty masses of peasantry not yet awakened to patriotism, filled with passionate hate against their land-owning lords, and longing to possess the land they tilled. These are the circumstances which rendered the victory of the proletariat possible, which enabled it to unfold its young wings and soar aloft.

But there was yet another cause. The existence of an iron cohort absolutely devoted to the revolution; the existence of a party, unexampled in the whole history of great class struggles. This party had passed through the hard school of illegal action, its class will had been developed in the stress of conflict, it had won and trained its comrades in suffering and deprivation. The very hardness of the school evolved admirable workers, whose task it is to transform and conquer the world. In order to gain a clear idea of how this party has been formed, let us cast a glance at the main features of its development.

First a few words regarding the general staff. Our opponents do not deny of we have excellent leaders. One of the greatest ideologists of the German bourgeoisie, one of the present masters of German thought, Count Kayserling, states in his book “Economics, Politics, Wisdom,” that the power of Soviet Russia can only be explained by the superiority of its statesmen, who far surpass the statesmen of all bourgeois countries. The exaggeration is obvious. This alone is not decisive. But it is nevertheless incontestable that the fact explains much. What is the truth in this respect? The main point is the careful choice of leaders, a choice ensuring a combination of competence, cohesion and absolute unity of will, With this watchword the leadership of the party was formed. It, this respect the party owes much to Lenin. That which narrow-minded opportunists call anti-democracy, mania for conspiracy, or personal dictatorship, in reality one of the most important principles of the organisation. The selection of a group of persons possessing absolute unity of thought, and filled with the same revolutionary flame, this was the first pre-requisite for successful action. And this pre-requisite was fulfilled by merciless combat against any deviation from orthodox Bolshevism. This utter rejection of compromise, this constant self-purging, welded the leading group so firmly together that no power on earth could divide it.

The most important elements of the party grouped themselves around these leaders. The strict discipline of Bolshevism, its iron cohesion, its uncompromising spirit, even during the period of joint work with the Mensheviki, its absolute unity of viewpoint, and its perfect centralisation—these have invariably been the characteristic features of our party. The comrades were blindly devoted to the party. “Party patriotism,” the passionate enthusiasm of struggle against all other groups, whether in workshop, public meeting, or prison, converted our party into a sort of revolutionary religious order. For this reason Bolshevism aroused the abhorrence of all liberals, of all reformists, of all tolerant, vacillating, and weak-minded elements.

The party demanded real work among the masses from all its members, whatever the conditions and difficulties. It was precisely in this regard that our first differences with the Mensheviki arose. In order to carry out our purpose we formed fighting units. These were not composed of fine speakers, sympathising intellectuals, or migratory creatures here to-day and there to-morrow, but of men ready to give their all for the revolution, for the fight, and for the party; ready to face imprisonment and to fight at the barricades, to bear every deprivation and suffer constant persecution. Thus the second concentric circle was formed around our party, its fundamental proletarian working staff. But our party has never been narrowed or limited within any sectarian confines. It must be energetically emphasised that the party has never considered itself to be an aim in itself; it has invariably regarded itself as an instrument for the formation of the mind of the masses, for gathering together and leading the masses. The whole art of political dialectics consists in possessing firm and coherent formations, but not in being a sect, manœuvring in mere emptiness; in being a really mobile fighting power, capable of setting in action the mighty apparatus of the whole class, the whole of the working masses. The history of our party, especially during the years of revolution, shows how closely it has followed the tendencies in the masses. Who was the most active revolutionist in the army under the old system, constantly in danger of being martyred or killed by the officers? It was the Bolshevik. Who was the most unweary agitator and organiser? It was the Bolshevik. He missed no opportunity of influencing the masses. In the imperial Duma and in the trade union, in the workers’ meeting and in the workers’ club, in the Sunday school and in the factory canteen, the Bolshevik was to be found everywhere; the Bolshevik penetrated into every corner, so that a contemporary writer said of him that he “functioned energetically.” He has never ailed to “function energetically,” this Bolshevik.

We must further draw attention to some peculiarities in the policy of the party, to which is largely due the great success attained by the Russian Communist Party. In the first place comes the firm Marxian foundation of the party. Martov was, not wrong when he explained the continuance of the, proletarian dictatorship, after the crisis in the spring of 1921, by the remark: “The Bolshevist Party has at least gone through the Marxian school.” This is true. The party has studied Marxism thoroughly. The theoretical pre-determination of events, the analysis of class relations, that calculation “in millions” which Lenin has so aptly described as being the essence of politics; all this is in the highest degree characteristic of the leaders of our party. At the same time another peculiarity must be specially emphasised, applicable to our leader Lenin. In our hands, Marxism has never become a dead dogma. It is always a practical instrument, it is not a word but a spirit, it is no scholasticism and no Talmudism, but the actual spirit of Marxian dialectics as a practical working weapon. We possess Marxian training, but no, Marxian prejudices. We have an admirable instrument, and it is under our control, not the reverse. And this living revolutionary Marxism is really capable of working miracles.

This explains the extraordinary tactical elasticity of the party. Political errors almost invariably arise from the application of methods which are eminently suitable under certain circumstances, but are harmful under others. The inability to grasp a concrete situation is the cause of the majority of political mistakes. And it is precisely in this grasp of a concrete situation that our party excels. The party has understood how to exercise the utmost patience in dealing with the errors and naïveté of the masses. We only need to recall the days following the February revolution, when we had patiently to make clear so much, and had to proceed so carefully in drawing the masses over to our side. But the party has not only shown its capacity for patience, but for bold, determined, and unexampled rapid action. The days of the October revolution were ample proof of this. At that time history confronted the party with a whirlwind. There was nothing for it but to plunge into a whirlpool, and to emerge from it on the crest of a gigantic wave. The slightest false move would have been fatal. What was required was unlimited boldness, obstinacy and determination; the party plunged into the vortex, and emerged with power in its hands.

The party has proved itself capable of adapting its course to the need of the hour. Nothing can be more instructive than its policy in this respect. If we remember how the Russian Communist Party utilised the support of the social revolutionary party, and how rapidly it steered its own ship, and the ship of State, out of the waters of war communism into those of the new economic policy, these two examples suffice to show the tactical elasticity of the party, which combines absolute realism with a clear consciousness of the final goal to which it is steadily proceeding.

It is not possible for the working class, under the rule of capitalism, to so educate itself as to be capable of undertaking the leadership of society. Under the rule of capitalism the working class is enslaved and oppressed. In order to rise, it must break down the capitalist shell which envelops society. It cannot train its forces, prove its powers of organisation and undertake the leadership of society, until the period of the dictatorship. During this period the working class develops its real nature, the slave is transformed into creator and lord. This gigantic work is one demanding the utmost exertions on the part of the masses and their vanguard. Our Russian Communist Party may well be proud of what it has accomplished. It has created its generals and its soldiers, its administrative and governmental forces, its nuclei for mental culture and economic construction. Its younger generation enters right into the gigantic laboratory of the Soviet state. After the frightful civil war, and the famine, the great Red Land advances triumphantly, and its trumpet of victory calls upon the workers of the whole world, the slaves in the colonies, the coolies, to take up the final struggle against capital. The innumerable army of the exploited is headed by a mighty troop, seamed with scars, their standards riddled with bullets and torn with bayonet thrusts. This is the troop which leads the advance, the guide and helper of all the others—it is the Communist Party of Russia, the iron cohort of the proletarian revolution.