Many revolutionaries of the west point triumphantly to the fact that Bolshevism is still in power, and apparently, even at the time when these lines are being written (May 1919), is still outwardly intact; yet the critics of Bolshevism at the very beginning of its rule prophesied a speedy collapse. This collapse would have actually taken place long ago, if the Bolsheviks bad been true to their programme. They have merely kept themselves going by discarding one after another same part of their programme, so that finally they have achieved the very contrary to that which they set out to obtain. For instance, in order to come into power they threw overboard all their democratic principles. In order to keep themselves in power they have had to let their Socialist principles go the way of the democratic. They have maintained themselves as individuals; but they have sacrificed their principles, and have proved themselves to be thoroughgoing opportunists.
Bolshevism has, up to the present, triumphed in Russia, but Socialism has already suffered a defeat. We have only to look at the form of society, which has developed under the Bolshevik regime, and which was bound so to develop, as, soon as the Bolshevik method was applied.
Let us now briefly recapitulate what has been the development. We find in present-day Bolshevik Russia a peasantry established on the basis of unlimited private property and of fullest possibility for production. These peasants live their own lives, without any organic association with town industries. Since these industries cannot produce any surplus goads for the uncultivated land, the voluntary and perfectly legal transport of agricultural products into the towns becomes more and more handicapped. In compensation for this, recourse has been made to requisition, to plundering without payment, on the one hand; and on the other, to illegal smuggling, which succeeds in depleting the towns of the last remnants of industrial products, which have been accumulating for some time past.
After the destruction of the large estates Bolshevism had nothing more to offer the peasants. Indeed, the peasants love for the Bolshevik was soon changed to hatred for the town workers, who did not work and who could not deliver goods for agricultural, purposes; to hatred also against the ruling powers, who sent soldiers into the villages in order to commandeer the commodities; to contempt, moreover, for the town profiteers and smugglers, who seek to foist on the peasants, by all sorts of deceptive means of exchange, their surplus stocks of every kind.
Besides this purely bourgeois state of affairs, in the country, there has arisen in the towns a form of society which insists on being socialistic; only it endeavoured to abolish class differences. It began by humiliating and destroying the. upper classes, and hence it really threatens to end in a new kind of class-society. It comprises in fact three classes. The lowest consists of the former bourgeois, capitalists, the small middle class, and the so-called intellectuals, in so far as they show any opposition. Deprived of all political rights, and robbed of all means of subsistence, they are from time to time forced to do compulsory labour of the most objectionable kind, for which in return they receive rations in food, which barely represent the most wretched form of hunger rations, or, more truly said, starvation rations. The infernal state of such slavery can only be compared with the most horrible excesses that capitalism has ever shown. The creation of this state of affairs is the original and most characteristic act of the Bolsheviks. It represents their first step towards the emancipation of the human race.
Above this lowest class there stands the middle class, representing the paid workers. This class has political privileges. It alone, according to the actual words of the constitution, has a right to vote in the town; it has, moreover, complete freedom in regard to the Press, and the right of forming its members into associated bodies. The members of this class are allowed to choose their own occupations, and are sufficiently well paid for the work which they themselves choose. Or rather such was the case; for it soon became more and more obvious that, as a result of the low level of the great mass of the workers in Russia, industry threatened more and more, in consequence of these arrangements, to cease functioning altogether. In order to save industry, therefore, a new class of officials had to be formed and put in authority over the workers. This new class gradually appropriated to itself all actual and virtual control, and transformed the freedom of the workers into a mere illusory freedom. Naturally all this did not happen without opposition on the part of the workers themselves; and this opposition became all the stronger, since, in consequence of the general decay, both in industry as well as in the means of transport and on account of the increasing isolation of the open land from the towns, the food problem became more and more hopeless, even for the workmen, in spite of their increased wages. So enthusiasm for the Bolsheviks disappeared from one set of workers after the other. But the opposition that these latter could offer remained unorganised, dissipated, and could form no compact phalanx in opposition to the more highly organised bureaucracy. They could not compete with them.
Out of the absolute authority of the Workmen’s Council there developed the absolute authority of a new class of governors, which was formed, in part, of representatives who were formerly in the Workmen’s Council; in part of men who were appointed by them; and also in part of members of a new form of bureaucracy, which was thrust upon them. This new class of governors was formed under the leadership of the old Communist idealists and fighters.
The absolutism of the old bureaucracy has come again to life in a new but, as we have seen, by no means improved form; and also alongside of this absolutism are being formed the seeds of a new capitalism, which is responsible for direct criminal practices, and which in reality stands on a much lower level than the industrial capitalism of former days. It is only the ancient feudal land estate which exists no more. For its abolition conditions in Russia were ripe. But they were not ripe for the abolition of capitalism. This latter system is now undergoing resuscitation, nevertheless in forms which, for the proletariat, are more oppressive and more harmful than those of yore. Private capitalism has now taken on, in place of the higher industrial forms, the most wretched and corrupt form of smuggling, of profiteering, and of money speculation. Industrial capitalism, from being a private system, has now become a State capitalism. Formerly the bureaucrats of the State and those of private capital were often very critical, if not directly hostile, towards one another. In consequence the working-man found advantage sometimes with the one, and sometimes with the other. To-day, however, both State and capitalist bureaucracy have merged into one system. That is the final result of the great Socialist upheaval, which the Bolsheviks have introduced. It represents the most oppressive of all forms of despotism that Russia has ever had. The substitution of democracy by the arbitrary rule of the Workmen’s Council, which was to serve for the “expropriation of the expropriators,” has now given place to the arbitrary rule of a new form of bureaucracy. Thus it has been made possible for this latter to render democracy for the workmen a complete dead letter; since the working-class community has, at the same time, been driven into greater economic dependence than it ever had to endure before.
Moreover, this loss of liberty is not compensated for by an increase of prosperity. Certainly the new economic dictatorship functions in a better way than the economic anarchy, which preceded this dictatorship, and which would have led to a sudden end. This end has been merely delayed by the dictatorship; for, economically considered, this new bureaucracy is incapable of functioning.
How very unsatisfactory the functioning of the new organisation has been is proved, among other things, by the following outcry of the Commissioner for Transport, M. Krassin, which he published recently in the Pravda (Truth). His manifesto ran as follows
Of all the Soviet Government officials, Krassin has shown most talent for organisation in a scientific and educated manner, born of experience. The railway workers form, as it were, the elite of the Russian working-class. Already, under Tsarist regime it had developed into a good organisation, which. always showed great intelligence. Yet in spite of all this, such are the conditions at the present day!
This manifesto shows clearly enough that the consequences of the war are not alone responsible for this necessitous condition, as has often been maintained. These consequences of the war have merely aggravated the stress. It is the immaturity of the existing relations which threatens to destroy all that has been achieved by the Revolution. In order to save the Revolution it seems to be absolutely imperative to discard the reforms, to restore the old positions, and to replace the old apparatus – in other words, to nullify the Revolution of the system, in order to save the men of the Revolution. Naturally enough this decree will succeed in changing the men who are to carry it out as little as any other decrees have succeeded in the past.
Like the old capitalism, this new “communism” has itself produced its own “gravediggers.” But the old capitalism did not merely produce these gravediggers; it provided these latter with strength and productive energy to infuse fresh life into what was already moribund.
Communism, under present conditions in Russia, can only do harm to the productive forces that it finds in existence. Its “gravediggers” will not be able to develop some higher form of life, but they will be forced to begin all over again with barbarian forms of life which are coming into existence. Even provisionally such a kind of regime could only continue by having some powerful means of violence to support it, such as a blindly obedient and disciplined army. Such the Bolsheviks have created, and even in this determination their principles had to suffer defeat, in order that they themselves might be saved. They started off with the intention of destroying ready-made State machinery, with all its military and bureaucratic apparatus. After they have settled this, however, they find themselves compelled, in the interests of self-preservation, to erect anew the self-same apparatus. They came into power as pioneers of the dissolution of the army by means of Soldiers’ Councils, which were to appoint their own officers at will, and which should obey those whom it pleased them to obey. The Soldiers’ Councils, alongside of the Workmen’s Councils, formed the Alpha and Omega of Bolshevik policy. By this method they were to become possessed of all power. But after this was done things turned out very differently. As soon as the Bolsheviks met with open opposition they needed an army to fight – one which would be obedient to every command; not an army which was dissolving, or in which the battalions decided on operations according to their own liking. At the beginning, enthusiasm seemed successfully to compensate for sheer blind obedience; but what was to be done when the enthusiasm of the, workers began to dwindle, when volunteers became rarer and rarer, and when single divisions of troops began to get out of hand? In industry a democratic system of management and control requires a certain mature development of material, as well as spiritual conditions. Democracy by its very essence must be excluded from an army that is to be developed up to perfect fighting strength. The war was always the grave of democracy; even civil war, if it went on for any length of time. The Bolsheviks of necessity were responsible for civil war and, as a result also of necessity, for the abolition of the Soldiers’ Councils. The Bolshevik dictatorship has reduced these Workmen’s Councils to mere shadows, by opposing all sorts of difficulties to the new elections, and by excluding every possible form of opposition. But it has taken from these Soldiers’ Councils all their most important functions, and even their right of election of their own officers. As in former days these latter are now appointed by the Government; and since the volunteers are not sufficient, they have had recourse to compulsory recruiting, as in the times before Bolshevism existed. This forms another object of conflict between the population and the Government. Numerous peasant revolts have their origin in this, and it also makes imperative an increase in the army. Desertions in whole numbers belong to the order of the day, and they are punished by mass executions.
The Humanité of May 29th, 1919, published a very friendly account of Bolshevism, based on the observations of an eye-witness who had been in Russia. The article under the title of Les Principes Communistes et leur Application closed with the following words: “The Red Army is the work of the Entente. The Bolshevik regime has repeatedly proclaimed its anti-militarism. The peace-loving people has as much horror of war to-day as it had yesterday, and at all times in the past. It is making very strong opposition to recruiting – in the Red Army there are as many cases of desertion as there were formerly in the Tsarist Army. It often happens that a regiment does not accomplish what has been prescribed for it, because all the men concerned have fled.”
This behaviour on the part of the Red Army is a curious and unusual means of showing its enthusiasm for Bolshevik principles. Even if we merely confined ourselves to facts, without giving them an apologetic foundation, it would seem that in military matters the old Tsarist conditions have returned, only in some worse form; for the new form of militarism without doubt is developing far greater energy than the old, in spite of its proclamation of anti-military discipline.
Thus the conditions are repeating themselves which prepared the way, at the time of the great French Revolution, for the transformation of the Republic into a Napoleonic Empire. But it is certain that Lenin is not destined to end as a Russian Napoleon. The Corsican Bonaparte won his way to the hearts of the French people, because he led the banners of France triumphant throughout the whole of Europe. This satisfied some people that it was the principles of the Revolution which were conquering Europe. Others, perhaps, were still more satisfied, because the armies of France were plundering the whole of Europe, and their booty was enriching France. But Russia is at present on the defensive. The same difficulties of transport, which would check an army of invasion, prevent Russia from allowing its own army to press triumphantly beyond its own borders. Lenin also would very much like to carry the banners of his Revolution triumphantly throughout Europe, but there is no prospect of that. The revolutionary militarism of the Bolsheviks will not enrich Russia. It can only become a new source of impoverishment. At the present moment Russian industry, in so far as it has been set going again, is working for the army, and not for any productive ends. Russian Communism has, in very fact, become in this respect a sort of “barrack Socialism.”
The economic, and with it also the moral failure of Bolshevik methods is inevitable. It can only be veiled over if it should end in a military collapse. No world revolution, no help from without could hinder the economic failure of Bolshevik methods. The task of European Socialism, as against Communism, is quite different, namely, to take care that the moral catastrophe resulting from a particular method of Socialism shall not lead to the catastrophe of Socialism in general; and, further, to endeavour to make a sharp distinction between these methods and the Marxist method, and bring this distinction to the knowledge of the masses. Any Radical-Socialist Press must ill understand the interests of social revolution, i£ it really imagines it serves those interests by proclaiming to the masses the identity of Bolshevism and Socialism, making them believe that the present form of the Soviet Republic, just because it is sailing under the flag of the omnipotence of the working-classes and of Socialism, is in truth the realisation of Socialism itself.
The development we have just sketched did not, of course, arise in accordance with the intentions of the Bolsheviks. On the contrary, it was really something, quite different from what they wanted, and they sought by all means in their power to arrest its development. But in the end they had to resort to the same recipe from which the Bolshevik regime from the very beginning had worked, i.e., to the arbitrary force of a few dictators, whom it was impossible to affect by the slightest criticism. The Regiment of Terror thus became the inevitable result of Communist methods. It is the desperate attempt to avoid the consequences of its own methods.
Among the phenomena for which Bolshevism has been responsible, Terrorism, which begins with the abolition of every form of freedom of the Press, and ends in a system of wholesale execution, is certainly the most striking and the most repellent of all. It is that which gave rise to the greatest hatred against the Bolsheviks. Yet this is really no more than their tragic fate, not their fault – in so far as it is permissible to speak of fault or blame in so enormous an historical upheaval as we are now experiencing. In any case, at bottom any fault or blame can only be a personal one. Whoever sets about to discuss a question of culpability must set about to examine the defiance of certain moral laws on the part of individual persons; since the “will” taken in its strictest sense can only be the will of individual persons. A mass, a class, a nation cannot in reality will. It lacks the necessary faculties for such. Therefore it cannot sin. A mass of people or an organisation can act universally. Nevertheless, the motives of each person actively concerned may be very different. But it is the motives which form the determining factor in the question of apportioning culpability.
The motives of the Bolsheviks were certainly of the best. Right from the beginning of their supremacy they showed themselves, to be filled with human ideals, which had their origin in the conditions of the proletariat as a class. Their first decree was concerned with the abolition of the death penalty; and yet if we would consider the question of their culpability, we should find that this came to light at the very time when this decree was promulgated, namely, when they decided, in order to gain power, to sacrifice the principles of democracy and of historical materialism, for which they during many long years had fought with unswerving determination. Their culpability comes to light at the time when they, like the Bakunists of Spain in the year 1873, proclaimed the “immediate and complete emancipation of the working-classes,” in spite of the backward state of Russia; and with this end in view, since the democracy had not fulfilled their expectations, established their own dictatorship in the name of “The dictatorship of the proletariat.” It is here where the culpability can be looked for. From the moment they started on this path they could not avoid terrorism. The idea of a peaceful and yet real dictatorship without violence is an illusion.
The instruments of terrorism were the revolutionary tribunals and the extraordinary commissions, about which we have already spoken. Both have carried on fearful work, quite apart from the so-called military punitive expeditions, the victims of which are, incalculable. The number of victims of the extraordinary commissions will never be easy to ascertain. In any case they number their thousands. The lowest estimate puts the number at 6,000; others give the total as double that number, others treble; and over and above these are numberless cases of people who have been immured alive or ill-treated and tortured to death.
Those who defend Bolshevism do so by pointing out that their opponents, the White Guards of the Finns, the Baltic barons, the counter-revolutionary Tsarist generals and admirals have not done any better. But is it a justification of theft to show that others steal? In any case, these others do not go against their own principles, if they deliberately sacrifice human life in order to maintain their power; whereas the Bolsheviks most certainly do. For they thus become unfaithful to the principles of the sanctity of human life, which they themselves openly proclaimed, and by means of which they have themselves become raised to power and justified in their actions. Do we not indeed all equally oppose these barons and generals just because they held human life so cheap and regarded it as a mere means for their own ends? It will be urged, perhaps, that it is the object in view that makes the difference; that the higher object in view should sanctify means, which, in the case of mere seekers after power, become infamous and wicked because of their evil ends. But the end does not justify every means, but only such as are in agreement with that means. A means which is in opposition to the end cannot be sanctified by that end. One should just as little strive to defend one’s principles by surrendering them, as to defend one’s life by sacrificing what gives to that life content and purpose. Good intentions may excuse those who have recourse to wrong means; but these means nevertheless remain reprehensible, the more so the greater the damage that may be caused by them.
But not even the aim of the Bolsheviks is free from objection. Its immediate endeavour is to preserve the militarist bureaucratic apparatus of power, which it has created; but most certainly this should be done by opposition to the corruption that has made itself manifest within that apparatus.
In the Pravda of April 1st, 1919, Prof. Dukelski insisted that Bolshevism and the government institutions should be cleansed of all the rogues and adventurers who had thrown in their lot with Communism, and who were simply exploiting it for their own criminal ends. Whereupon Lenin replied: “The writer of this letter demands that we should cleanse our Party of the adventurers and rogues – a perfectly justifiable demand which we ourselves have for some time past been making and have carried out. The rogues and adventurers we shoot down, and we shall continue to shoot them down. Yet, in order to carry out more expeditiously and more thoroughly this cleansing process, we need the help of sincere and unbiased intelligence.”
Shooting – that is the Alpha and Omega of Communist government wisdom. Yet does not Lenin himself call upon the “intelligentsia” to help him in the struggle against the rogues and the adventurers? Certainly he does; only he withholds from them the one and only means that can help, namely, the freedom of the Press. The control exercised by the Press, in every respect free and unimpeded, alone can keep in check those rogues and adventurers who inevitably fasten on to any Government which is unlimited in its powers and uncontrolled. Indeed, often through the very lack of the freedom of the Press these parasites thrive the more.
Yet the Russian Press is at the present day entirely in the hands of those government institutions in which the rogues and adventurers have found their place. And what guarantee has Lenin, under the present circumstances, that these very rogues and adventurers shall not somehow work their way into the revolutionary tribunals and the extraordinary commissions, and will not cause the sincere and unbiased “intelligentsia” to be shot down with their aid? It is just the extraordinary commissions corruption which have the most absolute and supreme power. They are entirely free from every form of control, i.e., they work for the most part under conditions that are actually favourable to corruption.
The Revolutionary Tribunal of 1793, even at that time, possessed an unheard-of degree of arbitrary power. The guarantees in favour of the rights of those who were indicted were at a minimum. Nevertheless, the Tribunal at that time did at least function in public, so that a certain control of its activity was possible. But the Extraordinary Commissions of the Soviet Republic deliberate in secret, without any sort of guarantee that the accused shall have their due rights. For it is not absolutely imperative that the accused himself should be heard, let alone his witnesses. A mere denunciation, a mere suspicion suffices to remove him.
This evil took on such enormous dimensions that it had to be abolished. It was therefore determined that these Commissions should no longer proceed to execution without examination and judgment. But despotism is so much of the very essence of dictatorship that it cannot be abolished without abolishing dictatorship as well. Hence this particular decree becomes itself annulled, by reason of an exception which admits summary execution in the case of “obviously counter-revolutionary conspiracy.” Thus naturally the door is wide open for every kind of arbitrary execution! If, however, this decision is observed within the proper bounds, it merely succeeds in protecting the robbers and the rogues; but not the sincere and unbiased “intelligentsia,” through whose appearance the Government institutions are to be cleansed. For what is such a cleansing process if it is not a counter-revolution? The slightest expression of discontent is threatened with the same severity as is any form of roguery. And the threat is not rendered abortive by any countermeasure, since it relates to matters in which the sincere communist as well as the rogues have equal interest. For in their criticism of the Soviet regime they both work hand in hand. Hence any modification is out of the question. Thus, quite recently, the “All Russian Extraordinary Commission for Opposing the Counter-Revolution” made the following proclamation:-
“A series of revolts, which have broken out recently, proves that the laurels acquired by Krassnoff, as well as the Socialist revolutionaries of the Left Wing and the Mensheviks of the Left Wing, have not caused them to cease their activity. It is their exclusive aim to undermine our army (Briansk, Samara, and Smolensk), to destroy our industry (Petrograd and Tula), as well as our means of transport and food supply through railway strikes. The `All Russian Extraordinary Commission’ declares herewith that it will make no difference whatever between the White Guards among Krassnoff’s troops and the White Guards belonging to the party of the Mensheviks and of the social revolutionaries of the Left Wing. The chastising hand of the Extraordinary Commission will work with equal severity in the one case as well as in the other. The Left Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks who have been arrested by us will be held as hostages, and their fate will depend entirely upon the attitude of both parties.” – President of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission, F. Jershinski (taken from the Izvestia of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, Number 59, March 1st, 1919).
Hence, because in the army there are signs of dissolution visible, and because discontent is growing among the industrial workers and the railway employees, the leading elements of the non-Bolshevik Socialists are to be arrested, so that they may be summarily shot at the sign of any further proletarian opposition. The quelling of a discontented proletariat – that is the sublime object with which it is attempted to sanctify the fatuous means of wholesale executions in Russia. It cannot possibly turn economic failure into a success. It can only lead to the possibility that the fall of Bolshevism will not be accepted by the masses of Russia in the same way as the fall of the Second Paris Commune was received by the whole of the Socialist proletariat at that time; but rather as the fall of Robespierre of the 9th Thermidor 1794 was received by the whole of France, namely, as salvation from some heavy load, and by no means as a defeat felt with intense pain and sorrow.
Lenin’s government is threatened by another 9th Thermidor, but it may come about in some other way. History does not repeat itself. A government that gets an object in view, which under the circumstances is unattainable, may go to pieces in two different ways. It will in the end be overthrown if it stands by its programme and falls with it. But it can only maintain itself if it makes some corresponding change in its programme, and finally abandons it altogether. Whatever happens, one way just as much as the other, will lead to failure, so far as the thing itself is concerned. For those persons implicated, however, it makes an enormous difference whether they retain the State power in their own hands, or whether they are to be delivered up as fallen idols to the rage and fury of their enemy.
Robespierre fell on the 9th Thermidor, but not all the Jacobins shared his fate. By means of clever adaptation to circumstances many of them rose to a high position. Napoleon himself originally belonged to the Terrorists, and indeed was a friend of Robespierre’s brother. Their sister said later on; “Bonaparte was a Republican. I will even go so far as to say that he was on the side of the Mountain. His admiration for my elder brother, his friendship for my younger brother, and perhaps also the sympathy he showed in my misfortune, were responsible for my receiving from the Consulate a donation of 3,600 frs.” (Quoted by J.H. Rose, Napoleon I, 1916, volume 1, p.50.)
But not only individuals. Whole parties can so transform themselves as to extricate themselves from an untenable position, not only with a whole skin, but even with enhanced power and respect. It is not impossible that the collapse of the communist experiment in Russia may not equally transform the Bolsheviks, and save them as a governing party. They are already on the way. As thorough-going, practical politicians, the Bolsheviks have developed the art of adaptation to circumstances in the course of their rule to a remarkable degree. Originally they were wholehearted protagonists of a National Assembly, elected on the strength of a universal and equal vote. But they set this aside, as soon as it stood in their way. They were thorough-going opponents of the death penalty, yet they established a bloody rule. When democracy was being abandoned in the State they became fiery upholders of democracy within the proletariat, but they are repressing this democracy more and more by means of their personal dictatorship. They abolished the piece-work system, and are now reintroducing it. At the beginning of their regime they declared it to be their object to smash the bureaucratic apparatus, which represented the means of power of the old State; but they have introduced in its place a new form of bureaucratic rule. They came into power by dissolving the discipline of the army, and finally the army itself. They have created a new army, severely disciplined. They strove to reduce all classes to the same level, instead of which they have called into being a new class distinction. They have created a class which stands on a lower level than the proletariat, which latter they have raised to a privileged class; and over and above this they have caused still another class to appear, which is in receipt of large incomes and enjoys high privileges. They hoped in the villages to cripple the peasants who had property, by meting out political rights exclusively to the poorest among the peasantry. Now they have granted these propertied peasants some measure of representation. They began with a merciless expropriation of capital, and at the present moment are preparing to hand over to American capitalists the mineral treasures of half Russia., in order to gain their assistance, and in every way to come to some terms with foreign capital. The French war correspondent, Ludovic Naudeau, gave a report recently in the Temps of a conversation he had had with Lenin, in which the latter, among other remarks, gave the following account of his friendly attitude towards capital:–
We are very willing to propose that we should acknowledge and pay the interest on our foreign leans; and since we lack other means of payment, that this should take the form of the delivery of wheat, petroleum, and all kinds of raw material, of which we without doubt have superfluous stacks, as soon as work in Russia can be undertaken to its fullest extent. We have also decided, on the strength of our contracts, which, of course, must first receive diplomatic sanction, to grant concessions to subjects of the Entente Powers for the exploiting of forests and mines, naturally subject to the condition that the essential basis of government of the Russian Soviet Republic be acknowledged. We know that English, Japanese, and American capitalists are keenly striving for such concessions.
Interviews are not documents upon which one can swear, but the views of the Soviet Republic, about which we are here speaking, are proved by other responsible reporters on Russia. They give evidence of a strong sense of the actual realities of life; but show that they have already renounced their Communist programme, since its realisation will be delayed for some long time to come, if they are prepared to form out to foreign capitalists a part of Russia for eighty years. Communism, as a. means towards the immediate emancipation of the Russian proletariat, has now collapsed. It is now only a question whether Lenin’s government will announce in a veiled manner the bankruptcy of Bolshevik methods, and seek thereby to maintain its position; or whether a counter-revolutionary power will overthrow this government and proclaim its bankruptcy in a very brutal way. We should ourselves prefer the first way, namely, that Bolshevism should once more consciously establish itself on the basis of Marxist evolution, which holds that natural phases of development cannot be precipitated. It would be the least painful, and it would also be the most beneficial way for the International proletariat. But, unfortunately, the course of world-history does not always run according to our wishes. The hereditary sin of Bolshevism has been its suppression of democracy through a form of government, namely, the dictatorship, which has no meaning unless it represents the unlimited and despotic power, either of one single person, or of a small organisation intimately bound together. With a dictatorship it is as with war. This should be borne in mind by those in Germany who are under the influence of the Russian method, and who are now coquetting with the idea of a dictatorship, without thinking it out to its logical conclusion. It is easy to begin a dictatorship as it is to begin war, if one has the State power under control. But when once such steps have been taken, it is as difficult at will to stop the one as the other. One has to choose between two alternatives, either to triumph or to end in catastrophe. Russia has an imperative need of foreign capital. But this help will not be forthcoming to the Soviet Republic, unless it upholds the National Assembly and the freedom of the Press. This is not to imply that the capitalists were ever democratic idealists. Without hesitation they gave millions in support of Tsarism; but they have no strong confidence in regard to the business capacity of the present revolutionary government. They are in doubt as to its constitution, when it suffers no criticism to appear in the Press, and obviously has not the majority of the population behind it. Will the Soviet Government find a way to preserve the freedom of the Press and to convoke a Constituent Assembly? A certain number of Bolsheviks have declared that they fear the one just as little as the other. But why, then, do they not uphold them? Why do they despise a means which, if they use it well, must help towards an enormous increase of their moral strength, and of other people’s confidence in them? In the aforementioned preface to Bucharin’s Programme of the Communists there is written:–
“he conditions which Kautsky and company would impose upon a revolution appear to be that the revolution certainly has the right to dictate its will to the bourgeoisie, but that at the same time it is pledged to grant the bourgeoisie every facility, whether through freedom of the Press or through the Constituent Assembly, to air its complaints. This masterly suggestion of a learned expert, who does not seem to bother whether he has right on his side, but only whether he can lodge his accusation on the particular man for whom he is looking, might quite well be put into practice, abstractly regarded, without its doing any harm to the Revolution. But the Revolution consists in being a civil war, and those classes who have to fight with cannons and machine-guns readily forego such Homeric form of controversy. The Revolution never discussed with its enemies. It destroys them, and the counter-revolution does the same thing, and both are quite capable of shouldering the reproof that they have disregarded the orders of the German Reichstag.
This justification of slaughter, also in regard to the counter-revolution, is all the more sublime, when it is compared with what the author says a few pages before concerning the revolution:–
The Socialist Revolution is a long process, which begins with the dethronement of the capitalist class; but it can only end with the transformation of the capitalist system into one for the community of Labour. This process will take a generation, at least, in each country. This period is exactly the period of the proletarian dictatorship; the period, that is to say, in. which the proletariat, with one hand, must continue to crush the capitalist class, while the other hand alone is free to aid in other Socialistic reconstruction. (p.18)
That is to say, the revolution is synonymous with civil war, with a war in which no pardon is given, in which the one side attempts to crush the other without any lasting effect, since this pleasant process must continue “for a generation at least.” This devastating civil war, carried on by means of machine-guns and gas-bombs, which must work more dire destruction on land than ever happened before in the Thirty Years’ War; which decimates the population, increases their brutality until it becomes the wildest barbarism, and which completely stops all sources of production – this, indeed, is to be the way to the working out of the higher form of life for which Socialism stands! This masterly conception of the Socialist Revolution is certainly not that of a “learned expert,” but of a professional revolutionary for whom insurrection is synonymous with revolution, and who really loses his health and life if such revolution assumes the form of democracy, and not that of a civil war. But one thing is certainly correct. There are only two possibilities – either democracy or civil war. Whoever abolishes the one must be prepared for the other. He can only escape from a dictatorship where he has to deal with an absolutely hopeless and apathetic population, which by its very nature represents the lack of human material on which to build the structure of a Socialist society.
As we have only the two alternatives – democracy or civil war – I myself draw the conclusion that wherever Socialism does not appear to be possible on a democratic basis, and where the majority of the population rejects it, its time has not yet fully come. Bolshevism, on the other hand, argues that Socialism can only be introduced by being forced on a majority by a minority, and such can happen only through dictatorship and civil war. The fact alone that Bolshevism feels itself to be in a minority among the people makes it clear why it so obstinately rejects democracy, in spite of its assurance that democracy cannot “harm the revolution.” If it thought it had the majority behind it, it would not need to reject democracy, even if it did regard fighting with cannons and machine-guns as the one and only possible form of revolutionary struggle. Moreover, this struggle would be made easier for Bolshevism, as it was for the revolutionary Parisians in 1793, if a revolutionary Convention was behind it all. But such a Convention would not stand behind it. When the Bolsheviks came into power they found themselves at the height of their influence over the workmen, the soldiers, and a large section of the peasants; and yet they themselves at that time did not dare to appeal for a universal election. Instead of dissolving the Constituent Assembly and introducing a new election, they simply smashed it. Ever since, the opposition against the Bolsheviks has been increasing from day to day. The growing nervousness betrayed by its disciples over every kind of Press which is not official, as well as the exclusion of Socialist critics from the Soviets, shows the transition to the Regiment of Terror. In such a situation, to demolish the dictatorship in order gradually to return to democracy is scarcely possible. All such attempts hitherto have quickly come to an end. The Bolsheviks are prepared, in order to maintain their position, to make all sorts of possible concessions to bureaucracy, to militarism, and to capitalism, whereas any concession to democracy seems to them to be sheer suicide. And yet that alone offers any possibility of bringing the civil war to an end, and of leading Russia again along paths of economic progress and prosperous development, towards some higher form of existence. Without democracy Russia will go to pieces; but through democracy the proletariat must go to pieces. The final result is quite predictable. It need not be a 9th Thermidor, but I fear it will not be far removed from that.
The Bolsheviks themselves seem to have no great confidence in their ultimate victory. Yet they have anchored all their hopes on one thing. For if Russia ceases to be a chosen people of the revolution then the World-Revolution must be the Messiah that shall redeem the Russian people. But what is this world-revolution? It may be regarded in two quite different ways. One may regard it as representing such a growth of the Socialist idea in the world, alongside of the strengthening of the proletariat, accompanied by an increased bitterness of the class-struggle, that Socialism will become a great power, capable of stirring the whole world, and affecting the life of more and more States as it develops. On the other hand, one might understand under this head a revolutionising of the world in the Bolshevik sense, i.e., the conquest of political power by the proletariat in all the great States; otherwise, the Soviet Republic can no longer save the Revolution. It would mean, further, the establishment everywhere of Soviet Republics, and the depriving of all non-communist elements of their rights. It would mean the dictatorship of the Communist Party, and, as a consequence, the letting loose of a civil war throughout the whole world for at least a generation to come.
A strenuous propaganda is at work to bring about this result. To produce a world-revolution, in the Bolshevik sense is beyond their power. But they might certainly be able, should they succeed, in exerting a very considerable influence on Western Europe, and so endanger the world-revolution in the other sense of the word. For the chief task of the preachers of the world-revolution, in the Russian sense, is the letting loose of a fratricidal war among the proletarian masses of the world.
Being from its very beginning a child of party dissension, and having come to power as the result of its struggle with other Socialist parties of its own country, Bolshevism endeavours to establish itself in Russia by means of a civil war, which makes it into a war between brother and brother; and, as a final means towards its supremacy, it adds the attempt to split up all other Socialist parties which have still remained in unity – so long as they do not prove to have a Bolshevist majority. Such is the meaning of the Third International. By this means they hope to introduce the world-revolution. Yet this is not the consequence of a mere whim or of sheer malice, but proceeds from the very essence of Bolshevism itself, which is incompatible with the higher form of existence, for which pioneer work has already been done in Western Europe.
In Western Europe, democracy is not a thing of yesterday, as is the case with Russia. It has won its way through a series of revolutions, and is the result of a struggle extending over hundreds of years. It has been absorbed by the masses in their very flesh and blood. As a consequence, it is absolutely impossible to deprive all society of all political rights. In France the peasants represent a power which one dare not flout, and which very jealously watches over its own private property. Moreover, the bourgeoisie in France, and still more in England, is a class accustomed to struggle. The proletariat in Russia is certainly weaker than that in Western Europe; but infinitely weaker in the Russian Empire is the bourgeoisie itself. There, as everywhere in those countries where a strong military autocracy has been in power, the bourgeoisie is just as much in cowardly fear of the State power, as it is inspired with blind confidence in its protection. Hence the miserable state of present-day Liberalism. The collapse of State power, the failure of the military “wall of protection,” the transference of all powers of a State into the hands of the proletariat, so frightened the bourgeoisie, which has never accustomed itself to undertake any energetic political fight, that it absolutely collapsed, and left the ground uncontested in the hands of its opponents.
In Western Europe the lower classes, as the result of their class-struggle extending over hundreds of years, have educated not only themselves, but also the upper classes. These latter have gained respect for the proletariat; but they have become, moreover, masters of the art of meeting any attack at the right moment by making concessions, thus avoiding catastrophes. In the Anglo-Saxon countries, however, the bourgeoisie has had, for a long time since, to fend for itself without any strong standing army. It has learnt, both in relation with the State-power as also with the proletariat, to depend on its own strength alone; hence it does not easily turn tail when any danger is threatened. And it is these countries that have been victorious in the war.
The war has not crushed and dissolved the armies of these countries as it has those of the Central Powers and Russia. In Eastern Europe, at the time of the dissolution of the army, it was the soldiers, from whatever class of the population they may have been drawn, who always represented an element of revolt. But this enormous power, which hastens a revolution, may also have the effect of bringing weak revolutionary factors to power prematurely, thus causing them to be faced with problems which they are not competent to solve. It is this power which is lacking in the victorious countries. For there Socialism will only acquire for itself State power when it is strong enough, within the framework of democracy, to gain the balance over the other parties. In such countries it has not the slightest cause to abjure democracy; for it is just in such countries that the highest and best strata of the proletariat could never be found ready to accept the substitution of democracy by a dictatorship, which after all simply means the dictatorship of a single person. It is certain that at the present day in France Bolshevik sympathisers among the Socialists are very strong; but they arose solely in consequence of the very justifiable opposition to all attempts of their own capitalist government to crush Socialist governments abroad.
There are also many who think that Bolshevik methods are suitable for Russia; but they have no intention of recommending the same methods to be applied in France. Nevertheless, even there the Blanquiste traditions of revolt, and the Proudhonist traditions of anti-parliamentarianism have not quite died out. These two hostile elements have gained fresh life by some strange fusion in syndicalism. They might offer some basis for Bolshevism. But it is quite out of the question that they should ever gain hold of the proletariat of France, or indeed of England and America. Its growth there would only end in its splitting up, just at the time when it would have great and decisive struggles to fight – struggles in which it could only possibly become victorious by showing the utmost cohesion and co-operation. The Bolshevik propaganda for a world-revolution, as we have already said, cannot therefore further the world-revolution, which is already in preparation. The utmost it can do is to endanger it.
Communism, as a result of its divisive tendencies, has already endangered the revolution in Germany. German Social Democracy before the war was a strong Socialist party in the country. United on the basis of a common and single aspect of society shared by all its members, it was on the point of embracing the majority of the population, as soon as it had succeeded in winning over the Catholic workers, who followed the banner of the Centrum. If it had possessed the majority, the struggle for democracy, that is to say the struggle for the voting reform in Prussia, would have become a struggle for political power. If this had been gained the party would at once have reaped the finest fruits of its activity, considering the wealth which German capitalism had developed and amassed, and which made it possible to ameliorate rapidly the general condition of the masses. The world-war has made a complete end to this wealth. Peace has now found Germany in the most desperate situation. It precludes any attempt at creating better conditions for the masses, whatever the means of production may be. But this world-war, as a result of the collapse and the dissolution of the army, has also caused social democracy, not through its own strength but through the bankruptcy of its opponents, to come to the fore, at a time when itself has become weakened through the cleavage which the war has brought about. If social democracy wishes to become the dominating party, its immediate reunion has become an imperative necessity. One would have thought that the demands of the present moment would have been carried out all the more expeditiously, since the cause of the cleavage within the Socialist party, namely, the attitude towards the war, has now disappeared.
But, unfortunately, since the rise of the Soviet Republic, a new wedge has been driven through the Socialist ranks of Germany by Bolshevik propaganda, which has demanded that our Party should relinquish the essential claims of democracy, and set up the dictatorship of the workmen’s council as a form of State. In, order to be under no false impression, the Bolsheviks ceased to call themselves social democrats. They therefore called themselves Communists, apparently in order to ally themselves with the true form of Marxism laid down in the Communist Manifesto. They forgot, however, that Marx and Engels, towards the end of 1847, published the Communist Manifesto, and a few months later issued the Neue Rheinische Zeitung as the organ of democracy, so little in their eyes was the antagonism between democracy and communism. The opposition between dictatorship and democracy has created in Germany, alongside of the two Socialist parties which existed before the revolution, yet another, namely, that of the Communists. It has given rise to uncertainty and division in the politics of each of these two parties, and among the Independents has produced strong Bolshevik tendencies. Further, it has resulted in a. reaction among a section of the Socialists of the Right against these very tendencies, which, however, overshot the mark, and caused leanings towards the Bourgeois party, with which the Socialists of the Right; already as the result of the war policy, had a good deal in common.
The revolution of November 9th broke this coalition with the bourgeoisie, and brought about an understanding with the Independents. Unfortunately this was only temporary. In Germany it is just as little possible as in Western Europe to introduce a real, permanent, and active form of dictatorship, which should embrace the whole Empire. The population has progressed far too much for this. All attempts of separate and proletarian sections to assume the dictatorship can have only temporary success. They are bound to lead to one result, namely, the increase of the political and economic dissolution of the Empire, and to prepare the way for a counter-revolutionary military dictatorship. But this latter also can never become a permanent and universal power. It is impossible in Germany to continue to govern against the interests of the workers.
The excesses of the Noske Guards in Berlin, the terrible fury in Munich, are no proof of the dictatorial power of the government. They show rather the helplessness of the, government in its attitude towards those spirits, which it has conjured up, which are certainly capable of committing with impunity horrible deeds of revenge, but which are nevertheless incapable themselves of guiding the State:
This striving for dictatorship, whether from the Left or the Right, cannot lead to a real dictatorship, but only to anarchy and complete ruin, which. will lead us, not to any higher forms of life but to cannibalism, when all production will be at an end, and all food commodities will have been consumed. And even before it can get so far, it may happen that all attempts to introduce a dictatorship will only lead, as the one result of its activity, to an increase of the cruelty and brutality with which political and economic struggles are being fought out, as well as to an increase in the number of victims. This will render any positive construction quite impossible. This is just as true of Noske’s regime as of the Soviet dictatorship.
At the present moment propaganda is being made for a certain form of dictatorship, which is to be only temporary, and which, in any case, is not to have recourse to violence. This is the worst of all possible illusions. In a country in which all classes have already awakened to the importance of political life, no party can exercise a dictatorship without same recourse to despotism. However peaceful their views may be, however great their determination to use the dictatorship merely as a. means of acquiring the strength necessary for positive work, it will soon happen, after they have once started their regime, that nothing will remain over of their dictatorial methods but despotism itself.
Democracy alone offers the one means of avoiding despotism, and of coming to some calm and positive construction. But at the present moment democracy has been overpowered theoretically by the Left, and practically by the Right Wing of the Socialist Party. The National Assembly itself is far from being a democracy; for no democracy is possible without the representation of the people by means of a universal and equal vote. The one and only institution at the present moment that might to same extent keep the Empire together can come, not through Workmen’s Councils, nor through a dictatorial government, but only through a National Assembly, consisting of representatives from all parts of the Empire. Certainly the present constitution is highly unsatisfactory, but who has elected the majority in it? It is the active population, the very people who are to elect the Workmen’s Councils, so soon as these latter have been erected into a system. The votes of the Independent Social Democrats in the constitution form not one-tenth of the. National Assembly. The working classes represent nine-tenths of the whole nation.
The Workman’s Councils present a. very different picture from the National Assembly, only so long as they embrace the wage-earners of the great industries. As such, they can become important for progressive policy, and they are, indispensable for all attempts at socialisation. But, as such alone, they are incapable of being an adequate substitution for the National Assembly. For the more this system of councils is extended over the whole province of large industry, and the more it embraces the whole of the working population, so much the more must the central council in its constitution approximate to the National Assembly, without investing its majority with that authority which the majority of the National Assembly possesses, as the result of its openly claiming to be the majority of the nation.
Nothing can be more erroneous than the assertion, which has also figured lately in the discussions of the recent Congress of the Third International in Moscow, that parliamentarianism and democracy in their very essentials are bourgeois institutions. They are forms which may be utterly different in content, according to the kind of people they represent. If in any parliament the bourgeois elements are to be in the majority, then parliamentaranism will be bourgeois in character; and if these parties prove to be of no use their parliamentarianism is also useless. But as soon as a Socialist. majority appears in Parliament, the whole situation is radically changed. Now it has been said that such a Socialist majority is out of the question, even with the most liberal and complete secret ballot, because the capitalists dominate the Press and buy off the workers. But if the capitalists are really in a position to buy off the workers in this manner, especially after a revolution like the present, they should be just as capable of influencing those who have the right of voting for these Workmen’s Councils. The further assertion that, for the Socialists, even by the complete secret ballot, and even with a majority of wage-earners in the population, it is impossible to gain a majority in any parliament, on account of the financial power which the capitalists exercise over the proletariat, is equivalent to calling the proletariat nothing but a feeble and cowardly band of illiterates, and simply announces the bankruptcy of the proletarian cause. For if the proletariat were of such poor and wretched constitution, then no institution in the world can help it, however elaborately it might be decked out to ensure victory in spite of its moral and intellectual impotence.
If the German National Assembly of the present day has a specifically bourgeois character, it is the Bolshevik propaganda which has contributed not a little to that. It has caused among the working-classes, and also among the independents, a certain mistrust of the National Assembly, and has further impaired the latter’s interests in the elections. And the other working-class elements, namely, the Catholics, who were on the point of disassociating themselves from the bourgeois cliques, were likewise weakened, and given over to bourgeois guidance.
It is quite certain that Germany cannot recover her health under the present National Assembly. The process of convalescence will not be furthered, but on the other hand hindered, if the struggle against the existing Assembly is transformed into a fight against democracy, against universal suffrage, and against the constitution of the National Assembly as such. For in this way a hindrance will be caused, which will prevent the struggle from concentrating on the one point where reform can proceed, namely, the election of a National Assembly, in which the representatives of the proletariat shall form the majority, and be prepared to set about as energetically as they can the socialising of the country, in so far as it is possible. They must also be determined unhesitatingly to carry on the democratisation of Germany, which has only just begun. This, and not a dictatorship, must be the programme of any purely Socialist Government that may came into power. In this way it would also gain the allegiance of the Catholic workers, and indeed of all bourgeois circles, if they could see in such a programme the means to help rescue the Republic from the civil war, which has arisen as a result of the dictatorial tendencies among those parties struggling for pre-eminence. If the Communists assert that democracy is none other than the method of bourgeois domination, the answer to that would be, that the alternative to democracy, namely, the dictatorship itself, could lead to nothing else but a revolution, and to methods of violence characteristic of bygone days. Democracy, with its universal equal suffrage, does not represent the domination of the bourgeoisie; for the bourgeoisie in its period of revolution did not introduce equal suffrage, but only suffrage according to census, which was introduced into France, England, Belgium and elsewhere. It was only after long and bitter struggle that the proletariat succeeded in acquiring universal and equal suffrage – a perfectly well-known fact, which, however, all Communists and their friends seem to have completely forgotten. Democracy, with its universal equal suffrage, is the method to transform the class-struggle out of a hand-to-hand fight into a battle of intelligence, in which one particular class can. triumph only if it is intellectually and morally on a level with its opponent. Democracy is the one and only method through which the higher form of life can be realised, and which Socialism declares is the right of civilised men. Dictatorship leads only to that form of Socialism which has been called Asiatic; but unjustly, for Asia has give birth to a Confucius and a Buddha. It would be more exact to call it Tartar Socialism.
Quite apart from the terrible consequences of the world war, which naturally bear the greater responsibility, it is due in a great measure to the subversive and destructive activity of the Communists, to their dissipation of the strength of the proletariat by fruitless adventures, that the working-classes of Germany have gained little from their own victory, and have not understood how to make democracy an adequate instrument for their own emancipation,
Democracy offers far better prospects for Socialism in Western Europe and America. These regions, especially the Anglo-Saxon countries, have issued from the world-war less weakened economically than the others. Every form of progress, and every gain of power on the part of the proletariat, must immediately bring with it an improvement in the conditions of life.
But at the same time the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeois world must assume more intensive forms than ever it did before the war.
The period of patriotic exuberance, which war and, after it, victory, had given rise to, is rapidly passing. The change has already begun, and will proceed at an increasing rate, when once peace has been signed. For, however great the burdens placed by the Peace Treaty on the conquered, the sacrifices entailed by the victorious peoples will be felt none the less, since everywhere saw the chief interest will be turned from external problems to problems of home policy.
The opposition of the proletariat will, in such case, always assume more and more energetic forms, according as its self-consciousness increases. The German, and still more the Russian, Revolution has in this respect acted as an incentive. Whatever one may think of the Bolshevik methods, the fact that a proletarian government in a great State has not only come to power, but been able to maintain itself for nearly two years under the most difficult conditions conceivable, naturally increases the feeling, of power among the proletariat of all countries. For the world-revolution therefore, in this respect, the Bolsheviks have rendered an enormous service, far more than they have through their emissaries and propagandists, who have been responsible for more harm to the proletarian cause than for any revolutionary achievement.
The proletariat of the whole world has now been set in motion, and its international pressure will be strong enough to cause all economic progress of the future to develop on Socialist, and no longer on capitalist lines.
In this respect, therefore, the world-war has made this epoch significant; for it has meant the end of capitalist and the beginning of Socialist development. Clearly, we shall not be able to leap at one bound out of a capitalist into a Socialist world. Socialism is not a piece of mechanism, which one can put together on a pre-conceived plan, and which, once it has been set in motion, can go on working in a regular manner. On the contrary, it is in reality a process of social co-operation, which has its own special laws just like any other form of social activity; which however, within these laws can assume the most varied forms, and is also capable of fuller development, the outcome of which it is impossible for us at the present moment to see.
We of the present day have no “ready-made Utopias to introduce by popular decision.” What is now happening is the liberating of those elements that mark the beginning of Socialist development. If we care to call that the world-revolution, because this is happening throughout the world, then we are certainly confronted with a world-revolution. It will not proceed on the lines of a dictatorship, nor by means of cannons and guns, nor through the destruction, of one’s political and social adversaries, but only through democracy and humanity. In this way alone can we hope to arrive at those higher forms of life, the working out of which belongs to the future task of the proletariat.