Bela Kun

Discipline and Centralised Leadership

Source: The Communist Review, Special Double Number, January-February 1923, Vol. 3, Nos. 9 & 10.
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.

THE time has not yet come to write the history of the five years of the Russian revolution, and even if it had, it would not be the task of the Fourth World Congress to write that history, although it has been a first rank and file participator in the making of that history. All the more reason for us, therefore, to carefully and discriminately collect all the experiences of the Russian Revolution and to take judicious views of these experiences in our revolutionary struggle. All of us who have fought in the Russian revolution and have led in revolutionary fights outside of Russia have built up some more or less faulty generalized theories. Almost none of us has avoided these errors. We ought to avoid Utopianism of every kind, applying our experiences with the utmost discrimination in regard to West European conditions. We ought to endeavour to inaugurate, on the basis of the experiences of the Russian revolution, a similarly realist revolutionary policy in the West, as the policy of the Russian Communist Party has always been and continues to be.

It is now my task to point out the subjective factor of the proletarian revolution, to describe the role of the Russian Communist Party in the proletarian revolution, even if only in fragmentary outline. Permit me in this connection to draw a parallel between the great Russian revolution and the abortive Hungarian revolution. On looking back at the history of these five years we have to confess that a miracle has happened.

The power of the Soviets is alive and strong to-day in spite of the offensive of the now defunct German imperialism, the united offensive of the capitalists of all countries, and the vicious activities of Russian and the international Mensheviki. The invincibility of the Russian revolution, of the Russian Soviets, is due to factors, the absence of which in Hungary was the cause of the collapse of the Hungarian proletarian dictatorship.

I do not intend to enlarge upon the international and internal political causes which were favourable to the Russian revolution, and which, on the other hand, were detrimental to the Hungarian revolution. I shall only point to the fact that in Hungary we failed to provide, not only what Comrade Lenin described as a plan of retreat, but even a line of retreat. In regard to the Russian revolution, I think that the circumstance which has belied all the Thermidor prophesies about Soviet Russia was the following:—In Russia there was a centralized, disciplined and self-sacrificing Workers’ Pary in the shape of the Russian Communist Party. The absence of such a Party or of anything approaching it in Hungary was the cause of the inevitable collapse of the proletarian revolution, notwithstanding all the sacrifices and enthusiasm of the Hungarian proletariat and poorer peasantry. Apart from military defeat at the front, the downfall of the revolution was accelerated by the vacillating influence of the social democracy upon the Hungarian working class. The Russian proletariat and its glorious Red Army at that time and afterwards sustained a number of defeats on the various counter-revolutionary fronts. There were moments in Russia when, in the midst of great dangers, the Russian working class began to waver. There were times when the state of mind of a section of the working class was, if not positively, at least passively, counter-revolutionary. There were times when the wavering, starving and tired working class gave to the superficial observer sufficient reason for prophesying a Thermidor to Soviet Russia. It is enough to recall the period of the Kronstadt mutiny. Yet all the effects of these waverings of a part of the working class were neutralized.

We, in Hungarv, did not have the benefit of a mature Communist Party, and I am safe in saying that at the time we could not have such a Party. We had no mature Communist Party that could cling to the helm of State at the most critical moments, in spite of the wavering of the working class, in spite of the passive, and at times even hostile, attitude of part of the working class. In Hungary influence was brought to bear upon the masses of the proletariat by the fusion between the class-conscious active and determined minoritv and the social democracy, which, together, led the masses to the conquest of power. On the other hand, in Russia there has been, and there is now, a Communist Party with years of fighting experience, whose influence in the critical moments of the Russian revolution was enormous. This party, whose class character stands out in prominent relief during these last five years of revolution, has become the party of the Russian people. The German Social Democratic Party, at the Goerlitz Conference, finally discarded its class mask, declaring itself the “Volkspartei” (People’s Party), instead of the greatest class party in the world, which it was as the German Social-Democratic Party. It is now really the party of the petty bourgeoisie, and, as such, it has become the servant of the big bourgeoisie of Germany. As against this, the Russian Communist Party, having strictly maintained its class character during the entire period of the dictatorship, has truly become the party of all the toiling elements of the Russian people. This will not be believed in social democratic circles, and there are even communists who doubt it. But I will quote just one instance which will suffice to show that the Russian Communist Pary is really the party of the Russian people ands that every Communist is, so to speak, the spokesman of the toiling elements of the Russian people. Last year we had a party cleaning of the Russian Party of elements that were undesirable. This cleaning was conducted at public meetings of non-party workers, in the presence of the entire mass of the unattached factory workers. Every non-party worker and every non-party peasant had the opportunity to object to any member remaining in the Communist Party, and the non-party workers and peasants made full use of this right. To be a Communist in Russia—let me repeat it once more—is to be the spokesman of the people. This makes the Communist Party in Russia a real party of the toiling people, although it has strictly maintained its proletarian character throughout the five years of the revolution.

This is the real reason of the wonderful development of the Party. It rests, naturally, in its revolutionary policy and in its wonderful flexible tactics. Nevertheless, we must ask whence did the Party obtain such a policy and such an influence over the working class. What is it that enabled the Russian Party not only to gain a majority at the time of the October revolution, but to retain it throughout the vicissitudes of the revolution? The secret lies first of all in the close organization of the Party. No other party, bourgeois or proletarian, had such a carefully picked and strongly welded nucleus, or to, use a favourite military metaphor of Comrade Bukharin, a uniform ideological general staff, as has the Russian Party.

This party, this General Staff, this nucleus, this fundamental group, was built up during the long years of struggle. During these struggles the opportunist elements were swept out of the Party, not only mechanically, but also by deliberate elimination. All elements that were unsuitable to the close circle of fighters were weeded out of the ranks. On the other hand, the Russian Communist Party, in the course of its struggles, not only developed its nucleus, but also brought new elements into the movement which became welded to the nucleus. It has become a party really capable of organizing and leading the masses, not hangers-on, not intellectuals who refuse to submit to art disci line, but real workers. The characteristic feature of the five years of the Russian revolution was that all the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary elements who were really faithful to the workers and to the working class were gradually absorbed by the Russian Communist Party. There was nothing left in the Menshevist and Social Revolutionary Parties but a few intellectual scribes who had nothing whatever to do with the Labour movement; who were, so to speak, guests, and not leaders of the working class. The influence of the Communist Party over the large working class masses, with the State under Communist control, is naturally exercised not only by means of propaganda, but also by the authority of the State and of the administration

In this way, wherever workers go, wherever workers are occupied, you can meet a Bolshevik, a Communist. The Soviet institutions, the Soviet administration offices, may be as faulty as Comrade Lenin has said they are. Nevertheless, thanks to the Communist Party, they have become a kind of proletarian democracies. The Soviet organs, through the Communist Party, have become the organs of proletarian democracy, and not vice-versa. A comparison with the history of the Hungarian Soviets will show this clearly. In Hungary we have had Soviets —such Soviets as Gorter or the German Independents would have them —but without Communist leadership. The organs elected by the suffrage of the large masses of the proletariat did not really become the organs of the working class. They were not the expression of the will of the proletariat. Here, in Russia, where the Mensheviks demanded free election to the Soviets, where all reformist elements from Martov to Miliukov united for free Soviet elections against the Bolshevik dictatorship, the Soviet organs are much more the organs of the proletarian democracy than the freely elected ones of Hungary which were not led by Communists.

In Hungary there was no united Communist leadership of the Soviets and the Trade Unions. The Trade Unions claimed the leadership of the State because they were much more proletarian than the Soviets, which contained non-proletarian elements. It was a struggle between the Soviets and the Trade Unions, and the Trade Unions could claim with right that they represented to a greater extent than the Soviets the opinions of the large masses and the class character of the proletariat. There resulted a conflict between the reformistic, social-democratic Trade Union leaders and the Soviets. The workers went more willingly into the Trade Unions, which were led by Labour leaders, even though reformists, than into the Soviets, where no Communist leadership existed. In Russia, with the help of the Communist Party, the Soviets became a real popular institution, an organ of proletarian democracy. In Hungary we could not achieve this because there was no Communist leadership. But how is it possible to achieve united action in such a large country with so many State organs, with so many labour organizations? How is it possible, in a country where there are single districts much larger than France, Germany and England together, to find a unified party leadership which could be felt even in the smallest village?

How is centralization at all possible in such a country as Russia? I would like to answer this question by a comparison. In Germany the social-democracy, having attained power, was practically dissolved as a party organization. The governmental organs influenced the social democracy much more than the latter influenced the government. The deciding factor in the social-democracy is the governmental social-democratic bureaucracy which originated from the old party bureaucracy. If is just the opposite in Russia. The Russian Party always saw to it that the leading elements of the Party should influence the Soviet organs, and not vice-versa. To bring this about something was required from the Communist Party which is still not understood by many persons otherwise well acquainted with the Russian movement. This is what I said yesterday to one of the comrades of our Party: Russia is not a Prussian sergeant, and we are not recruits. Moscow represents the best leadership of the world revolution. Those who do not understand the significance of centralized discipline as the experience of the Russian Revolution created it are not good recruits of Communism or of the Communist Party. The leadership of the whole State apparatus by the Communist Party in a country as vast as Russia is a most difficult task. The history of the last five years shows that the forces of the Party are to be totally regrouped to meet the new task which the revolution put before the Party. Such a weapon as the New Economic Policy could not possibly be applied without a strict discipline in the Communist Party. It was only by a radical regrouping of the forces of our Party that we were able to carry out this policy without any great crisis in our Party.

How can we explain this discipline? Of course, there is the story that old-time Bolsheviks were an organization of conspirators under the leadership of Comrade Lenin. I am sorry to say that I was not a party to such conspiracy, and do not know what sort of conspirators they were. I know, however, that these conspirators have become the best leaders of the masses. Why? Because during this conspiring period of the Russian revolution a strict discipline was created and the members of the Party were trained in this discipline. Naturally, this discipline comes not only from the masses, but mainly from the leaders, and it requires therefore a great confidence in the leaders. This leadership is really the heart of the Russian Communist Party, the authoritative body of the whole Communist movement. Allow me to quote these few words from the Austrian poet Anzengruber: —“Thou shalt honour thy father and thy mother, but they must be worthy of it.” The leaders of the Russian Revolution have gained the confidence of the masses and of the Communist Party because they have been worthy of it.

The iron discipline of the Russian Communist Party was what made it possible to carry on their elastic policy. I do not intend to say why this policy is elastic. The cause and source of the elasticity is well known to all. There is no body in the world where Marxism has been so completely incorporated as in the Communist Party of Russia; but the best Marxian analysis remains only an historical document when there is no organization sufficiently elastic to act in accordance with this analysis. Without a strict discipline, without well-organized cadres, the accomplishment of such a policy would be impassible. At the present time, in the sixth year of the revolution, the Communist Party of Russia is being faced with its greatest problem since the beginning of the revolution. It is, how to apply the Economic Policy under the leadership of a working class political party so that the realization of this policy might not bring into the Party certain petty bourgeois elements. The Communist Party of Russia has stood the test, thanks to its discipline and its elastic organization. Centralization and centralised discipline are the greatest lessons which we have been able to learn in the Russian Communist Party. Some of the best theses of the Comintern, it seems to me, are those of the Second Congress on the rule of the Communist Party in the proletarian revolution. These theses have had the same effect, on a less intense scale, than the Communist Party of Russia has had in the Russian revolution. The activity of the Communist Party of Russia should be a subject of study for every leader and organizer of the Western parties so that they may make critical use of the Russian experience in the Western situation and prepare their parties for the conquest and maintenance of power. The application of this experience is not the least problem of the International Revolution.

I am far from being an adherent of the free will doctrine, but I believe that for a realization of the prospects of a world revolution, the subjective factor of a Communist Party is one of the most important. We cannot determine the objective factors, at most we can influence them through the Communist Party. Nevertheless, I believe that if we had had Communist parties like the Russian one in 1919 in every country, at the time of the demobilization crisis, we would have been able not only to seize power, but also to have held it. The importance of the Communist Party as a subjective factor remains the same even in this period of comparative apathy. The question before us is: Considering the prospects for a world revolution, how can we build up such Communist parties which, in Western circumstances, perhaps through different means, can gradually win over the majority of the proletariat, before the revolution and after the revolution? Is it possible to create such Communist parties? I believe so. I have been working within the Communist Party of Russia, and I can say that the masses of its membership do not stand on a higher intellectual level than the German proletariat. I might even say that the masses of the German proletariat stand higher in culture than those of the Russian Communist Party. Of course, behind the Russian proletariat are five long years of experience in revolution; it is this experience which has made possible the elastic policy of the Russian Party.

But such elasticity is possible in all parties. I believe that the main problem in building up such subjective factors of the world revolution is the creation of basic revolutionary cadres. I believe that if we are able to form these cadres, these vanguard troops, we will be able to lead the Western proletariat to the conquest of power, and retain this power after we have gained it. That is why this is one of our chief tasks, and the lessons which the Russian Communist Party has given us from five years of experience in the Russian revolution are most important.