The Proletarian State and War
(Battaglia Comunista, no.14-1950)
The Russian bourgeois democratic government, which succeeded the Tsarist government in February 1917, continued the war alliance with the French, British, Americans, and Italians, and in May and June placed at the center of its policy the preparation of the "great offensive" against the Austro-German armies.
On this position were not only those parties which since August 1914 had supported the Tsar’s war policy with the typical watchwords of defense of the Fatherland and of the National Sacred Union, but also those parties which, like the Social Democrats and the Social-Revolutionaries, had, at least in part, campaigned against the war since the days when Russia mobilized in support of Serbia, and Germany responded in turn by mobilizing its troops – We are alluding to the groups who were at the internationalist conferences in Switzerland: at the first, Zimmerwald, September 1915, with Lenin was also the Menshevik Axelrod; at the second, Kienthal, April 1916, there were the two Committees of the Russian Social Democratic Party and the internationalist fraction of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, in addition to the Polish Party, the Jewish Bund, etc. These "centrist" elements after the February Revolution switched in turn to a policy of open social-patriotism.
The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin and Trotsky, posed themselves with extreme resolution against this policy of military offensive.
In his book History of the Russian Revolution to Brest-Litovsk, Trotsky sets out the events of this entire conflict. The campaign for the offensive was a real campaign against the Bolsheviks, defined as defeatists and enemies of the fatherland.
On June 18, in Petrograd, called by the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets, in which, however, the Bolsheviks were a small minority, a huge workers’ demonstration took place, which resulted in a great political success for the Bolsheviks themselves. The masses demonstrated for peace, against the war and against the offensive.
The coalition government between the openly bourgeois "cadets" (CDs., constitutional democrats) and the right-wing socialists felt the ground trembling under their feet: enslaved by the bourgeoisie, it only precipitated the offensive on the front, while on the 19th, in the elegant streets of Petrograd, well-dressed officers and ladies held a patriotic and anti-Bolshevik demonstration. Too little on the one hand to intimidate the German military force, and on the other to stop the revolutionary proletariat. Marx would have repeated at that moment: the Russians need to be beaten. Who were the Russians? State power, the government of that June 1917, the cadet politicians, the social-traitors, the kepties of the bourgeoisie, a class that they now termed "propertied elements" in order to disguise their class collaboration from the impatient masses, as “bourgeoisie” had become an “insulting” term.
Soon the news came from the front of the revolts, of the disorderly retreat, of the troops’ refusal to obey, of the massacres of the officers who were alone between the insurrectionaries and the enemy. The government resigned and while the right-wing socialists once again claimed a policy of coalition, the Bolsheviks launched the watchword of the passage of all power to the Soviets.
As early as June 3 in a declaration to the Congress they had denounced the policy of the military offensive as counterrevolutionary, and this at the same time with the obvious arguments given by the temporary situation, like the disarray and technical inadequacy of the army, which completely ensured defeat, but also with arguments rooted in political principles: "the counter-revolutionary circles of Russia are waiting for the offensive to lead to a concentration of power in the hands of the military-diplomatic groups, that is, the groups that are allied with British, French and American imperialism."
From July 3 to 5, the Bolsheviks led a major street insurrection, but did not succeed in overthrowing the government. In the days of July 3 and 4, the government could not rely on the military garrison units, with the exception of the cadet officer. The other units began to fraternize with the revolutionaries, led by the Kronstadt sailors who wanted to attack. The hour had not yet come, Kerensky could catch his breath when some "safe" regiments arrived from the front. It was not a battle lost but postponed, and meanwhile the revolutionary left was gaining ground throughout the rest of Russia.
At the end of August 1917 the counter-revolutionary elements took advantage of this temporary pause in the struggle to attempt a restoration: the famous Kornilov coup. But the proletariat had become too strong, both at the front and in the capital. Kerensky was forced to pretend he wanted to defend himself against Kornilov and to call in the naval rifle squads from Kronstadt: they took it seriously and quickly wiped out the Kornilovists.
Among other things, this episode revealed the patriotism of the bourgeoisie. The Germans were advancing overwhelmingly, and Kornilov had ceded Riga, the capital of Latvia, to them. The former president of the Duma, Rodzianko, went so far as to declare, to the horror of the revolution, that the fall of the Baltic fleet, and of Petrograd itself, into German hands was not a great evil. The front, on the eve of a new winter of war, was unraveling; the soldiers’ section of the Petrograd Soviet gathered with the cry: "Is the government incapable of defending Petrograd? Well, let there be peace! It’s not capable of concluding peace? Then, it can go to hell".
The great conflict that led to the conquest of power by the revolutionaries, broke out precisely on the field of war, for the garrison of Petrograd. On October 25 it was expected that the new Pan-Russian Congress of Soviets would make taking power the watchword, supported by the working masses of the capital in its replacement of the "parliamentary" ministries. The government then planned to remove two-thirds of the military garrison from the city, requested by the General Staff to help stem the German invasion. Immediately the Bolsheviks took position, and the Military Revolutionary Committee was born, which, in direct connection with the Executive Committee of the Party, was the instrument of insurrectionary action. Lenin returned from Finland, where he had been since the anti-Bolshevik reprisals of July; he convinced all hesitants, the masses were in action: Down with war! All power to the Soviets! While the government was still sitting in the Winter Palace, the military units of the Revolutionary Committee, which sat in the Smolny Institute, occupy, often without a struggle, the decisive points of the city. On the evening of October 25, in the hall where the Congress of Soviets is gathered, comes the announcement: The Winter Palace is taken, Kerensky has fled, the other ministers have been arrested. The revolution has won, a tenth of the delegates to the congress leave the hall. The Soviets assume all power.
As in the Paris Commune, so in Leningrad the revolution won by marching in the opposite direction from the war front, not by firing on the foreign enemy in the military and national struggle, but by turning those very men and guns against the internal enemy, against the government of the capital city, against the class power of the bourgeoisie; "turning the national war into civil war." History has given us no other examples.
The proletariat took power and Lenin’s Bolshevik Party immediately followed its demands: to end the war.
Already on October 26, in the historic night session, the Second Pan-Russian Congress of Soviets voted unanimously a decree establishing the conclusion of peace. On November 7 the Government of People’s Commissars formally proposes to all belligerent countries immediate peace negotiations as its first act of foreign policy. The allied governments respond not only by refusing, but with the open threat that if the Russian government makes a separate peace, they will attack Russia militarily! On November 11 the proletarian government responded with the "Proclamation to the Workers, Soldiers and Peasants".
What did the Bolsheviks say in that proclamation? They announced the separate peace, the publication of the secret diplomatic treaties, and concluded, "under no circumstances will we tolerate our army shedding its blood under the whip of the foreign bourgeoisie."
The magnitude of this historic commitment is incalculable. Those words are fundamental to sifting the situation today. It’s asserted that there is in Russia a proletarian state, and that its army would fight as a proletarian army in the war against America. But the army of a proletarian state could not have fought in the years 1941-’45 on the side of this very same capitalist America, and practically "under the whip of the foreign bourgeoisie."
Negotiations with the Germans began on December 9, but only on the 25th did the Germans formulate their proposals, including brigandeering demands for annexation. The Russian delegation could not accept them; the situation was made difficult by the fact that Ukraine had not yet gone over to the Bolsheviks, and the "Rada" of Kiev separately stipulated peace with the Germans on February 9. But in the meantime in Vienna, in Berlin, there are political strikes and workers’ revolts. The Russians could not declare war, they could not accept one-sided conditions, they broke off the negotiations refusing to sign the peace, but, announcing to the world that the Russian army would not resist the invader, they appealed to the German proletariat and to the proletariat of all countries to rise up against their own imperialist governments and their war.
So we had a historical example of this method of the non-resistance of the proletarian state to invasion. This must be understood: We do not elevate such an example to a general principle, and even less on the basis of some general philanthropic aversion to bloodshed. We only wish to point out that this historical example did not have an unfavorable conclusion. It is precisely the advocates of the ultra-militaristic, ultra-nationalist Russian state of today who mobilize for their campaign the hypocrisies all of a pacifism "in general.”
The Germans denounced the armistice and resumed their forward march five days ahead of schedule. The situation was terrible. The Ukrainian and Finnish counterrevolutionaries, pressed by the Bolsheviks, were sending appeals to the German military forces. The revolutionary proletarians oscillated between furious indignation and complete despondency. In the ranks of the Bolsheviks themselves, a disagreement opened up: to ask again to negotiate for peace and capitulate completely, or to fall into a desperate resistance? It is known that Lenin had to work hard, especially against Bukharin who was "for the war".
Lenin looked, as he always did without a moment’s interruption, at the path of the world revolution. There was nothing to do but take time, using the contradictions between all the enemy imperialisms, all equally ready to try to strangle the revolution in Russia. At the Congress of the Party as at the IVth Congress of the Soviets the thesis of peace won.
The delegation of the Soviets returned to Brest-Litovsk and found there even more inexorable conditions. It signed them "without even reading them". The war was over.
On March 16, the Congress ratified by 724 votes to 276 with 118 abstentions. "We do not expect a change in these conditions from military force, but from world revolution."
In the polemic with Kautsky Lenin vindicates what the former designated as a mistake: having aimed at European and world revolution. As State and Revolution closes abruptly with the announcement of October 1917, so Antikautsky closes with the announcement of the German revolution that began in Kiel and Berlin on November 9-10, 1918. A few months have passed since the mobbing of the German generals, and already the front and the frontier of Brest Litovsk have collapsed.
The German revolution did stop the war, but was in its turn stopped by the social-traitor cops in its attempt to side with the Bolshevik dictatorship. In 1919 the Russian Revolutionary State, having reorganized the Red Guard and the army, will lead the fight on new fronts: Siberia, Kuban, Don, Odessa, Archangel, etc., against the expeditions of French-English imperialism, beating them in a long struggle in its territory. There will be no real declared war between the states, except in 1920 against Poland, which was strongly supported by the capitalist powers, and it will end without the conquest of Warsaw, while the revolution in Europe was starting to retreat.
Since then, the problems that relate to Russia, its military strength, and the war, revolve around this dispute: the prospect of Lenin has fallen, the Revolution has stopped at Russia. Given this, there was nothing left for the Soviet State but to organize its army so that it could counter a punitive and restorative expedition of capitalism.
In effect, by renouncing the prospect of the world-wide spread of the proletarian revolution, the Russians renounced the development of their own revolution, which could wait a few years, as Lenin argued against Kautsky, but then had no other historical fate but to advance or retreat. Stalinism is the political expression of this regression.
Lenin had come to say, "If tomorrow world imperialism, through an agreement, say, between German and Anglo-French imperialism, crushed Soviet power in Russia, even in this case, which is the worst possible one, Bolshevism would nevertheless have brought the greatest utility to socialism and would have promoted the advance of the invincible world revolution."
The tactic that Lenin defends is the one that in 1941 was brazenly betrayed: no alliance with one of the two imperialisms! That’s the tactic that made the continuation of the alliance be rejected in 1917, and triumphed with the ruin of Germany and the impotence of the Franco-English to defeat the Russia of the Soviets.
The opposite tactic, that of the Mensheviks and Cadets in 1917, and that of Stalin in World War II, is not only defeatist towards the Revolution, but is even so in the national-military sense. That is why it would remain inexplicable, if it were not followed in parallel by the realization of the return of the domestic economy under world capitalist influences.
In fighting against the tactics of the alliance, in 1918, Trotsky had clearly said: "Even if the camp which Russia had joined on account of the international intrigues of Tsardom and the bourgeoisie – the camp, that is, at the head of which stands Great Britain – should come out of the war completely victorious (granting for the moment this rather improbable eventuality), it does not follow, comrades, that our country would also have come Out victorious, since Russia, inside this victorious camp, would have been still more exhausted and ruined by the long-drawn-out war than it is now. The masters of that camp, who would have gathered all the fruits of victory – that is, England and America – would, in their treatment of our country, have displayed the same methods which were employed by Germany at the peace negotiations. It would be absurd and childish, in appraising the policy of the Imperialist Countries, to start from other premises than their naked self-interest and material strength."
Since World War II, what has unfolded, from the immense sacrifice of human lives and resources to the Anglo-American cause to the pacifist whining about "imperialist aggression" of today, corresponds, in essence, to that mighty perspective of Trotsky, back in February 1918.
This analysis cannot lead to the conclusion that we are dealing with a general-staff of the proletariat, which has simply made the enormous mistake of believing that the Anglo-American capitalist powers were seriously fighting against imperialism and for all the popular liberties, so that the commitment to respect the ally was sacred to them! This interpretation would be such a terrible mistake that it could not be defined as anything but betrayal.
On the contrary, the analysis leads to the demonstration that the State and government in Moscow do not express the interests of the Russian proletariat and of world revolution, but have long depended on the influence of capitalist imperialism, and the relation of force they express is not that of the class struggle in the various countries, but that of the diplomatic and military economic forces in the capitalist camp.
As they can come into confrontation with these or with a specific grouping of these forces, there is no reason of a purely social nature which places limits on the possibilities of compromise or even subordination with the imperialist centers for the Moscow State and regime.
If there were a proletarian State today, and if it had an army of an efficiency comparable to that of the bourgeoisie, it would not exclude using it to cross the frontiers in aid of a workers’ revolution if the ratio of forces suggested that it would be expedient to do so, it would not exclude revolutionary "aggression"; we would not hear its foreign propaganda reduced to the ignoble opportunist words: avoidance of war – struggle for peace – army formed only for the war of defense and to repel aggression!
Saragat and Togliatti speak the same language: pre-Leninist, pre-Comintern. Neither of them wants war for the proletarian struggle, but only for defense. Defense of what? Of what they defended together in the Second War, defense of the bourgeois regime and its principles. For this alone, proletarians, they allowed you and will allow you to kill and be killed.